Abou Elkassim Britel was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002. What followed was eight years of imprisonment and torture in Pakistan and Morocco. Struggling to recover, Britel, with the support of his wife Anna and a legal team from the University of North Carolina, is demanding an apology from the US government. CAGE asked him to write about his time in prison, and this is what he told us.
From the first day in prison, I had no right to a mattress or a pillow, to a watch, or books, or a radio, or the library, or to training courses. Even certain foods were forbidden: olive oil, olives, butter, dates, and particular types of fruit. Everything was eaten cold because it was forbidden to reheat food.
From the first moment I set foot in the cell at 11:30 pm, I instead had the right––and how!––to the company of a tribe of roaches. An invincible army––I couldn’t leave even a tidbit of food out –– invaded everything, and infiltrated anywhere and everywhere. It was impossible to keep anything hidden from them.
Seeing I had never had the occasion or opportunity to meet these creatures as close as this before, I devoted all my attention to them: while I ate or went over a chapter of the Quran, walked in the cell, or performed ablutions, in short, I was condemned to observe the life of cockroaches.
(After having been treated like a roach, to imagine abandoning their world one day is very sad. The cockroaches became an army that surrounded me and never abandoned me.)
Who knows how many of these critters––drowned in food––I might have eaten without realising it?
You will not believe it, but the cockroach is in fact a domestic insect; so if it knows you won’t kill it or hurl it away, it will get into the habit (Glory be to Allah) of not leaving you. You begin to see how it takes its time to look around and eat. A cockroach is really not so bad as an animal friend.
The cockroach is a pure insect taaher that eats pure food: cheese, butter, sweets, oily food. It is continuously hopeful of finding more food, and can build an army of one hundred members if not more. The roaches in prison are not like cockroaches in the sewers.
“The cockroaches became an army that surrounded me and never abandoned me.”
It was asked of a few scholars if roaches are harmful, and they responded that they were not. So to adopt a “roach family” when this is all that is available in prison, is not a bad idea.
This is the only a part of my life in prison, which I wanted to share with you.
(P.S. I was subjected to kidnapping, physical and psychological torture, CIA rendition, secret detention, and long years in prison far from my loved ones, all in the absence of any legality. There is a campaign in progress to seek an apology and to redress the injustice that has devastated my life. Please sign the petition in support of this request and invite your friends to sign it.
A heartfelt thank you to those who have already signed, to those who decide to do so, and for those who are interested.)