January 7, 2006
A letter from the Aljazeera cameraman prisoner in Guantanamo, to
his British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith (the first of three letters)
Punished for three grains of rice and four ants
By Sami Muhydin al-Hajj,
Guantanamo Bay, November 6, 2005
me make a confession: I cannot stop asking myself this question, why do
they punish me? It is becoming an obsession, but I cannot get it out of
my head. All these punishments began when they put me in prison in
only allowed us to go to the athroom twice a day, the first time just
after dawn and then just before dusk. We could only go when it was our
turn. I remember that once I was very desperate and I whispered to the
man in front of me in the queue, to let me get in front of him. The
soldier, guarding us, bellowed with fury, "Do not speak!" and then
ordered me to get out. He tied my hands to a wire and left me there all
day on my feet and shivering with the cold weather. Eventually, I
soiled my trousers, to the enjoyment of the soldiers and the whores
Then to Kandahar:
In full summer, under the blazing
sun and walking on the burning soil, one soldier shouts, "You! Hold it
there... the second one... the third one and also the fourth one! Why
did you speak? Get on your knees with your hands on your head!
were left like this, under the torrid sun and kneeling on the burning
stones until one of us collapsed and the rest went to his aid.
week, after arriving in Guantanamo, the soldiers got to the cages, very
early in the morning and ordered all the prisoners to put their arms
through the gap in the door that they used to get our food to us,
because, they said, they were going to vaccinate us against tetanus.
it was my turn, I said to them that I had been vaccinated before I left
Doha, against tetanus, yellow fever, cholera and other illnesses and
that according to the doctor there that these vaccines were active for
five years. There was no point in having them again. The officer
bellowed telling me not to argue, " Get your arm out or we'll get it
out for you!" I refused.
They left me alone for the moment, and
then, they returned after finishing with the rest. However, I kept
refusing again and again. As a punishment they took all my things, from
the mattress to the toothbrush, and I had to sleep on the floor for
three days and three nights. I kept asking myself the same question
that torments me: Why do they punish me?
Are we to take
medicines by force? Have we suddenly turned into a flock of sheep? Do
we have to accept everything without protest; without objecting to the
excesses—without finding out at least what all this is about?
things worse than what I have described happened to me. One night I
went to bed quite early. I was exhausted after spending many hours
under interrogation. I was awakened by the shouts and commands from the
soldiers. "Get your head and your hands out of the blanket!" I was
startled so I complied. As a matter of fact, it was forbidden for us to
sleep with our heads or hands covered by the blanket.
went to slept again. Some time later a soldier started hitting the door
of the cage as hard as he could and started bellowing, "Why did you put
the toothpaste in the place of the toothbrush?" He accused me of
refusing to obey military laws and regulations and ordered me to get
all my things together. I was punished for a whole week.
here I am again, asking the same question. Why do they punish me? How
can they justify punishing me for a week, taking away all my things,
leaving me with no mattress or blanket, obliging me to sleep on the
floor? Another time, I was having breakfast, which consisted of the
cold contents of a can. When I finished a soldier collected the
leftovers and the plastic bags. He stopped at the door of the cage and
counted the pieces, trying to put them together again. Suddenly he
shouted, "Where is it... the piece that is missing?" I started looking
among my things but I did not find it.
He immediately went away
to report the problem to his superiors and came back with his orders. I
had to be made an example. Yet again, they took away all my possessions
for three days and yet again the same old question came back...Why do
they punish me? What on earth would I want with a small piece of a
plastic bag?Once more, providence reunited me in the same cage block
with Yamel from Uganda, Mohamed from Chad and Yamel Blama from Britain.
The colour of the skin and the hated orange of our boilersuits also
united us. The black of our skins was enough to make the guards hate us
and make our lives hell. Often they woke us up during the night under
the pretext of searching the cage.
One night the soldiers woke
me up for yet another search. They did not find anything suspicious,
that is, except for three grains of rice on the floor that I had saved
for the ants. This time they punished me for seven days and yet again,
the same old question came back to haunt me… Why do they punish me?
I just couldn’t understand why three grains of rice and four ants were sufficient reason for them to punish me.
night two soldiers stood in front of my door. They were carrying chains
and shackles. They banged on the door very hard and I felt afraid when
I woke up. They chained me and took me to the Romeo Barracks. They
pushed me into a cage. They took my boilersuit and I was left in my
underwear. Nothing more, no soap or toothbrush or anything else.
matter how many times I asked them why I was being punished I never got
an answer. However, sometime later I was told that I was in solitary
confinement for two weeks, because a soldier found a nail sticking out
of the vent in my cage. I asked them from where they thought I got the
nail or how did they think that I managed to stick it onto the outside
of my cage. No answers—they just turned on their heels and left.
spent 14 days sitting there, able to say my prayers as I could not do
it with respect and dignity in that state of undress. I had to sleep
for 14 cold winter nights on the ground without a mattress or blanket.
harassment and the provocations from the soldiers went from bad to
worse. Once we found out that a soldier had trampled on the Holy Koran
and left the mark of his boots on it. All prisoners rebelled and
decided to return all the copies of the holy book to the administration
office so that they were not desecrated in front of us. The Camp
Commandant promised that it would not happen again. But, of course, the
promise was not fulfilled... The prisoners decided not to leave the
cages, not even for walks or desperately needed showers, until they
collected all the copies of the Holy Koran.
As always, the
culprits came back barking orders and threats. The ruthless riot units
arrived. They opened all the cages and beat up all the prisoners before
putting shackles and chains on them. They all had their hair;
moustaches and beards shaved by force and were thrown into isolation
As it happened to all the others, when my turn came, I
was sprayed with gas, beaten up and thrown onto the floor. Once there,
a soldier got hold of my head and started banging it against the cement
floor. Another one kicked me very hard in the face and immediately
blood started pouring out of the injury. All this was happening as I
was pinned down to the floor, chained and shackled. Like the others I
lost all my hair and was thrown, drenched in blood into an isolation
After an hour or so a soldier asked me through the vent if
I wanted to see a doctor. I said no and prayed to Allah, putting before
Him the injustices of those who had robbed us of our freedom and
dignity. At one point, I felt very faint and I asked to see a doctor.
When the doctor got there he gave me three stitches, put a dressing on
my head and gave me some sleeping tablets, saying they were
antibiotics. All that, through a gap of a few centimetres wide. I fell
asleep knocked down by the terrible injustice perpetrated by those men.
The following morning the same old question came back as a curse... Why do they punish us?
to defend my faith and my religion is a crime punishable with prison.
Is it also a crime to ask that all copies of the Holy Koran are
collected and kept in a safe place so they are not desecrated in front
of us? Why am I here? Because I travelled to Afghanistan with my camera
to film for four weeks the brutal war waged against the Afghan people,
working on behalf of Al Jazeera. Is this also a crime, which has to be
punished with (so far) more than four years in prison? Why did they
accuse me of being a terrorist?
Far too many questions are
swimming in my head and tormenting my spirit, together with all the
slogans promoting deception and the justifying so many crimes committed
by those who like to see themselves as promoters of freedom, defenders
of democracy and protectors of peace on earth.
Original : http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/08DE9B0F-391A-42B4-B391-A73AE742F133.htm/ Translated from Arabic into French by Ahmed Manaï, a member of Tlaxcala,the network of translators for linguistic diversity (email@example.com ), from French into Spanish by Juan Vivanco at http://www.rebelion.org , and from Spanish into English by Ernesto Paramo, a member of Tlaxcala. This translation is copyleft.French version : http://quibla.net/guantanamo2006/guantanamo1.htm Spanish version : http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=25069 . Italian version by Mirumir http://mirumir.blogspot.com/