It has been 13 years since Guantanamo Bay was opened, 779 men have been renditioned, systemically tortured and detained without charge or trial for a number of years. There are still 127 men being held in this extrajudicial detention facility despite being cleared for release numerous times.
CAGE conducted a number of interviews with former Guantanamo detainees, here Imad Achab Kanouni describes his order in much detail – shedding light on the realities of enduring numerous interrogations and being detained without due cause.
Imad Achab Kanouni: Walaykum salaam
CAGE: Could you introduce yourself?
Imad: Achab Kanouni Imad
CAGE: Could you tell us a bit more?
Imad: I’m a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, detained from 2002, or end of 2001, until July 2004.
CAGE: French GITMO detainees were judged after their return. You were found not guilty.
Imad: That’s correct. I was arrested at the AfPak border by the Pakistani’s who handed me over to the Americans. They kept me in Pakistan for about 20 days. Then, they handed us over to the US. They bought us for $5000 per head. Then we remained in a camp in Kandahar for 40 days.
Thereafter, at the beginning of 2002, we ended up at Guantanamo base for two-and-a-half years. We were released without explanation and without being charged with any crime. Then, we returned to France where we were put under investigation and released on bail a year later. After the trial, I was found not guilty in 2006.
CAGE: Could you explain why you were found not guilty?
Imad: I was found not guilty because they didn’t find anything. Normally, in a criminal case, you have a crime and you look for the accused (i.e the perpetrator). In many of our cases, they had an accused in their hands and they needed to find a crime. They were trying to find something.
They tried to link me to a Moroccan network, an Algerian network, a Chechen network, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. However, they couldn’t find anything. Therefore, I was released and found not guilty.
CAGE: Coming back to the time you spent in US custody, do you remember your first interview by a US agent?
Imad: The first time was in Pakistan, I believe I was interviewed by the CIA, but Allah knows best. They took our fingerprints and they interrogated us. As for myself, I was interrogated in Arabic. There was also an interrogator who could speak German. She would ask me questions in German.
CAGE: How would it happen?
Imad: It happened in a Pakistani prison under Pakistani supervision. They asked us about our whole life, from childhood until our detention. Their questions were not specific. They didn’t know anything about us. They wanted to know what we were doing in Pakistan and then tried to find something. They had people in front of them whom they were told were terrorists, Al Qaeda or Taliban.
CAGE: Were you questioned under normal conditions?
Imad: In Pakistan, it was under normal conditions. There was no torture. That was the first interrogation by the Americans of course. Just before, there was an interrogation by the Pakistanis.
CAGE: Altogether, how many times you think you were interrogated?
Imad: Many times. Over 100 times. By many people of many nationalities.
CAGE: How many interrogators did you see?
Imad: I saw Pakistanis, French, Moroccans, Americans from the military, civilians, and other nationalities.
CAGE: Former detainees explained to me that interrogators, depending on how you behave, it will have an impact on your conditions of detention. What’s your view on this?
Imad: Actually, your conditions of detention depended entirely on your interrogations. I witnessed many examples of this. It’s really true. For example, one of my interrogators told me : “I can put you with your friends. You just have to cooperate with us”.
CAGE: And if you don’t?
Imad: They would put you in isolation or with other nationalities. Towards the end, just before being released, a female interrogator tried everything to make me change my version of the story. It was their last card. She wanted me to come up with the version she wanted, so for the last three months, she put me in a block where there were only Pakistanis, about 40. I was the only Arab. Virtually none of them could speak Arabic.
In other cases, I witnessed that interrogators could have an impact on your health conditions. For example, one Yemeni had a throat issue and could not speak. They put the medicine on the table during the interrogation and told him: “If you want your medicine, you need to answer the questions.”
Likewise, sometimes, they would send soldiers in the cell of the detainee to disturb him. This was planned by the interrogators. Whenever the interrogation did not go well, the detainee had to expect problems the very same evening or the day after.
CAGE: Would you know which agency she was from?
Imad: No. She was dressed as a soldier. She was Hispanic and she was accompanied by another Hispanic. I could see she was higher in rank. She was the head. Then she handed over the interrogation to the other woman. She would show me pictures which were very far from my story, of people of other nationalities.
CAGE: According to you, what was the role of the interrogators in the system?
Imad: At that time, we didn’t really understand what they wanted; they would ask us about everything and anything. What I have understood today is that Guantanamo was a database for them. They would look for information which sometimes had nothing to do with the detainee. Sometimes, from the very beginning, they knew the detainee had nothing to do with anything but they would take advantage of him to get information on other detainees or other nationalities or on how life is there (i.e in Afghanistan).
They were trying to gain time. They would send new interrogators for you to tell your story again. Sometimes – I‘m not saying all the time and I don’t know if they were sincere or not – they really thought that they were coming to help you prove your innocence. Once they had completed their report for their superiors, they left and another came to do the same thing.
CAGE: To you there was no organisation?
Imad: No, it was badly organised. They wanted to keep us as long as they could to get information. As for those against whom they really had evidence against, or those whom they thought were involved in something or committed crimes, they would take them away and make them disappear. They would not leave them with others. This meant that they knew that all the people who were together had nothing to do with anything.
CAGE: Is there any interrogator that was worse than the others you can remember?
Imad: There was the one just before. She was also Hispanic. She was a bit big. Once she brought me a document that she pretended was from Morocco, signed by some general, a fake document, according to which I was member of an Algerian terrorist group and at the same time member of a Moroccan group. This is something unheard of: someone who belongs to two different groups from two different countries.
She told me: “We received this document from Morocco this morning”. Each time she would finish her interrogation, she would leave me in the room with the AC for several hours until someone came to bring me back to my cell.
CAGE: How do you react when you know that some interrogators have committed crimes and are free when you haven’t committed any crime and yet have spent years in prison?
Imad: I don’t think they will ever be tried. All I can do is to pray to Allah the Mighty and Majestic to punish them and for justice to be done. I do not expect anything from the Americans, I know they won’t do anything about this, especially against the interrogators.
CAGE: Do you think they are responsible or was it just the system? Do you think some went further than what was asked of them?
Imad: The system, for sure, was cruel. As for the interrogators, I’m not saying all were guilty. Some, I think were sincere. They were just doing their job. Some even rebelled from what I heard.
However, the majority couldn’t care less about laws and human rights. Some went very far. What I went through was not the same as other detainees from other countries. Because we were from a European country, they were careful. They wouldn’t go that far. But for other nationalities, they did abominable things.
CAGE: What do you think of the Muslim community? Are they supportive enough?
Imad: A bit, but not too much. Support came mainly from European human rights organisations. Muslim countries didn’t do much.
CAGE: I mean in France.
Imad: They did a lot for for two detainees in their city. Even the mayor was with them. They raised their voice. They were empathic. But with time, people did not remain motivated. Only a few brothers did not stop and remained in solidarity with them.
For more information on Guantanamo Bay see here.
CAGE continues to call for the release of all detainees and the closure of Guantanamo Bay – for more details see here.
(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.)