Ammar al-Baluchi: After 15 years of brutal torture, the US does not want to grant him a fair trial

2019-01-16T18:07:36+00:00 January 16th, 2019|Articles, Guantanamo, Survivors|

Ammar al-Baluchi was born on August 29, 1977. His family is from Balochistan, a region divided by nation states including Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

The Baloch have a rich culture and are known for their generous hospitality. “They are very good and religious people,” said his cousin Muhammed Baloch. “They are highly educated, and they know a lot about Islam.”

So much so that Ammar’s paternal grandfather, Ali Muhammad, settled in Kuwait in the 1950s, where he was an Imam.

Ammar’s late father was among the first Baluchi writers, and wrote the first Baluchi grammar book for Arabic speakers – a treasure for any Baloch living in the Gulf.

Ammar has lived in Kuwait, Balochistan, Karachi and Dubai. Besides being well educated in both secular and Islamic knowledge, he was also easy-going and made friends wherever he went.

Pictures of Ammar as a child and a young computer engineer.

He was able to speak many different languages from a young age including Arabic, Baluchi, Farsi, Urdu and English.

Ammar had high aspirations of working as a computer engineer. “Masha’Allah, Ammar did his masters in computers,” said his cousin. “He is very good at computers.”

He was among the first Baloch to work in this field in Dubai, which made his community proud.

He moved to Karachi when his visa for Dubai expired, and he hoped to return to Dubai once it had been sorted out.

But after the tragedy of 9/11 his whole world changed.

Kidnap and torture in black sites across the globe

Ammar was kidnapped in Karachi in April 2003 and transferred to US custody. He was 25 years old.

For three years, he was held in a black site, a mysterious hidden prison where he suffered unspeakable torture.

In 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay prison, and placed in isolation at Camp 7. A year later he was classified as an “enemy combatant” (EC).

This meant he would be tried and prosecuted with no rule of law protections guaranteed to prisoners by the Geneva Convention.

During his “trial” by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) – known among prisoners as the “theatre” of Guantanamo – the US included coerced statements taken under torture, and unreliable hearsay evidence against him.

Recent photo of Ammar al-Baluchi

They also said he could not cross-examine witnesses. This continued for three years. Then in 2010, all charges against Ammar were dropped.

Ammar had hopes of being released, but he continued to be detained without charge until a year later, when the CSRT resumed processes against him.

The US alleged that he helped finance 9/11, but they have refused to give him a fair trial. They are trying their best to keep the details of his torture secret, and as a result will not offer him a means to rebut the allegations.

Used as a human experiment

Ammar’s torture was so bad that the US has censored most of the details. They have even destroyed evidence, including the black site where the torture took place.

But Ammar has not forgotten. He recounts:

“After US government agents shaved my head, they smashed my head against the wall repeatedly. It continued until I lost count at each session.

“As my head was being hit each time I would see sparks of lights in my eyes. As the intensity of the sparks were increasing as a result of repeated hitting. All of a sudden I felt a strong jolt of electricity in my head then I couldn’t see anything and everything went dark and I passed out.”

To this day, the US keeps saying that the details of his torture are not relevant to his prosecution, and yet they keep trying to use “evidence” from that time against him.

“The US government had both my hands tied together by tight handcuffs for about 120 days straight,” he said. “They had to cut the handcuffs by bolt cutters because the handcuffs got so rusted that wouldn’t open with keys.”

Images on unclassified documents where Ammar speaks about some of the torture he endured.

Ammar was also used as a human experiment, and doctors were complicit in his torture. He describes one incident:

“I wasn’t just being suspended to the ceiling, I was naked, starved, dehydrated, cold, hooded, verbally threatened, in pain from the beating and water-drowning [sic], as my head was smashed against the wall for dozen and dozen of times.

“My ears were exploding from the blasting harsh music (which is still stuck in my head), and I was sleep deprived for weeks, I was shaking and trembling my legs barely supported my weight as my hands were pulled even higher above my head.

“After I complained that the handcuffs were so tight and it was as if they cutting through my wrist. Then my legs start to swell up as a result of long suspension.

“I started screaming and the doctor came with a tape measure, wrapped it around my leg and to my utmost shock the doctor told the interrogator: ‘no that wasn’t enough and my leg should get more swollen!’.”

These doctors tried unspeakable things on him. Court documents show how if one thing did not work, they said, try this or “‘No, no, you didn’t do that right. Do it again.”

They were using Ammar as a guinea pig to train other interrogators and “improve” their terrible torture programme.

The truth is slowly coming out. In May last year, one interrogator admitted that he had “personally drowned” Ammar by a method they call water-dousing: waterboarding without a board. He was also one of the guards who slammed his head repeatedly.

The US has gone to great lengths to keep his torture secret

Instead of admitting their wrongs, the CIA collaborated with Hollywood, and made a $40 million dollar film called Zero Dark Thirty, that starts with a character based on Ammar being tortured, in a manner that justifies it.

Screen grab of torture scene from the movie Zero Dark Thirty that glamorised Ammar’s torture

Even the UN said the film, in trying to influence the public, was prejudicial to Ammar’s right to a fair trial.

The US is so concerned with keeping the details of Ammar’s torture secret that they will not allow Ammar or any of the other prisoners to talk to a psychologist, because then the details will be recorded by someone else.

The result of over classification, Ammar says “is that my memories are classified, my thoughts are classified, my pain and suffering is classified, my post torture (post trauma) symptoms are classified.

“I am subjected to re-traumatization on daily basis. Every day I am being reminded of my torture, and this is not happening randomly, but systematically.”

Up until recently, Ammar found comfort in art. One piece of art, called ‘Vertigo’, which depicted the startling mental toll of his torture, was exhibited in New York City and got a lot of press attention.

But now, they are even afraid of art. Ammar is no longer allowed to show his artwork to anyone except his lawyers.

His health is waning as he suffers severe physical and psychological injury

Ammar’s health has deteriorated over the past year. He has problems with cognitive abilities, pain in his arms, legs, and back, bouts of vertigo, light sensitivity, and anxiety.

“After [they smashed my head against the wall] I lost my ability to sleep,” he says. “I was not able to have a normal or deep sleep. I am still reliving the nightmares of this incident every night; [each] time I try to close my eyes it just pops up and this was just one of many incidents.”

After seven years of asking, Ammar was finally granted an MRI in January last year. In June, he had a septoplasty to improve his breathing; struggling to breathe prevented him from sleeping.

Art piece by Ammar called ‘Vertigo’, it depicts the startling mental toll of his torture.

But the US continues to withhold adequate medical care. Ammar has had no therapy for the effects of his torture. He often relies only on painkillers.

The irony of American ‘democracy’ is bitterly clear. “It is so devastating to see a society that claims to be and portray itself as civilised and modern, employ doctors knowingly not to heal and care, but [to actually do] the opposite: to maximize and increase the pain and suffering of a human being, ” Ammar says.

“The first thing that comes to mind is Nazi Doctors conducting all kind of brutal and sadistic experiments on captives…”

Despite being in US custody for over 15 years, Ammar has never received a status hearing as required by the Geneva Convention. This means that his continued detention and trial by military commission is illegal under international law.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last year found that Ammar’s ongoing indefinite detention was arbitrary and that it breaches international human rights law. They called for his immediate release and “right to compensation and other reparations”.

Amnesty International collected nearly 30 thousand signatures from its supporters demanding justice for Ammar. Amnesty called for Ammar to have a fair trial and not to face the death penalty.

The US has not allowed Ammar to see his family in 15 years, but he tries his best to maintain family bonds through Eid greetings and letters.

Letters from Ammar’s young nephews and nieces.

Letters from his nephews depict pictures of the Eid table full of food, news of school tests, and wishes that they may meet him some day. One letter reads: “I see the moon and the moon sees me. Allah bless the moon and Allah bless you.”

Ammar remains hopeful that one day, he will see his family again.

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)