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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

Tarek Dergoul

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Tarek Dergoul, a British national of Pakistani descent and a former London care worker, travels to Afghanistan with two Pakistani friends shortly after 9/11. They intend to invest in housing, so he claims, which they think will become scarce as soon as the impending US attacks cause refugees. “The plan,” according to Dergoul, “was to buy some property away from where the bombing was. We thought we could buy it very cheap; then sell it at a profit after the war.” (Rose 5/16/2004)

British national Tarek Dergoul and two Pakistani friends, who arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) to purchase houses, stay in the Afghan town of Jalalabad. That night, the house where they are sleeping is bombed, and Dergoul’s friends are killed in the blast. Dergoul goes outside when another bomb explodes nearby, wounding him with shrapnel. He then lies among the ruins, unable to walk, for at least a week. His left arm, hit with shrapnel, is severely damaged and a large part will later be amputated. At night the cold is so severe that his toes turn black from frostbite. Eventually, troops loyal to the Northern Alliance find him, treat him well and take him to a hospital where he undegoes three operations. But after five weeks, someone decides to make a profit on him. Dergoul is taken to an airfield, where a US helicopter arrives to pick him up. His captors are paid the standard fee of $5,000, according to Dergoul. From there, he is flown to the US air base at Bagram. (Rose 5/16/2004)

As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” (Branigan 3/13/2004; Rose 5/16/2004)

Tarek Dergoul is transferred from Bagram to the US detention camp at Kandahar. He is still suffering from frostbite (see January 2002). For weeks he is not given medical treatment and the infection spreads, turning a big toe gangrenous. There at Kandahar he undergoes a further amputation. During the ensuing three months, Dergoul is only allowed two showers. (Rose 5/16/2004) He will eventually be released in May 2004, never charged and never convicted.

Just before British detainee Rhuhel Ahmed is to be flown to Guantanamo in February from his prison at Kandahar, he is visited by an official from the British Foreign Office. An MI5 officer, who is also present, tells Ahmed his friends are in Guantanamo already and have confessed to everything. If he confesses too, the officer says, he will go home. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) “All the time I was kneeling with a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head.” (Rose 3/14/2004) Ahmed’s account is similar to that of another Briton, Tarek Dergoul, who claims to have been interrogated at gunpoint in early 2002 (see January 2002). The MI5 man alleges, according to Ahmed: “We’ve got your name, we’ve got your passport, we know you’ve been funded by an extremist group and we know you’ve been to this mosque in Birmingham. We’ve got photos of you.” But these statements are not true. (Rose 3/14/2004) Ahmed decides to agree to everything they charge him with, including being paid by Al Muhajeroon and intending to fight holy jihad. “I was in a terrible state. I just said ‘OK’ to everything they said to me. I agreed with everything whether it was true or not. I just wanted to get out of there.” On the day Ahmed leaves for Guantanamo, which is five days later, the Foreign Office representative comes to see him again simply to tell him he is going to Guantanamo. Ahmed has his beard and head shaven before being put on the plane. He arrives in the middle of February. On arrival at Guantanamo, Ahmed, is kicked so hard, he cannot walk “for nearly one month.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file)

Tarek Dergoul is forcefully injected with a sedative, shortly before being put on the plane from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. (Rose 5/16/2004)

Gen. Michael Dunlavey, head of the intelligence operations at Guantanamo, faces an outbreak of unrest among the prisoners after he announces that four detainees will be repatriated: three Afghans and a Tajik. According to an October 20 email sent by an FBI official from Guantanamo, these detainees “will be taken back to their respective countries in late October and the same plane will return with between ten and thirty-four new detainees.” After the announcement, the camp erupts in unrest and there is a “threat of mass suicide by the detainees.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/26/2002 pdf file) It is not clear what has caused the unrest. According to Shafiq Rasul, one of the detainees, “They would announce upon loud speakers (particularly when people were released) that if we co-operated with them they would release us. We knew this included acting as an informant.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) According to the FBI official, “no suicides [happen] and the Camp quickly [settles] down.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/26/2002 pdf file)

At Guantanamo, shortly before their release, Jamal Udeen, Tarek Dergoul, and the Tipton Three are asked to sign a document confessing to having links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iqbal remembers: “It was along the lines that I was a member of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however I have since changed. In other words I had changed my mind since I was detained at Guantanamo Bay. It went on to say that if I was suspected of anything at any time by the United States, I could be picked up and returned to Guantanamo Bay.” He is told that signing the document is a precondition for going back to Britain. “I didn’t really believe him,” Iqbal later says, and so he refused to sign. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) Jamal Udeen also has a confession statement presented to him by a British official. “This was given to me first by the Americans and then by a British diplomat who asked if I agreed to sign it. I just said ‘No.’ I would rather have stayed in Guantanamo than sign that paper.” (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004)

British nationals Jamal Udeen, Tarek Dergoul, Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul are released from Guantanamo without charges. Upon landing at the RAF Northolt airfield, all except Udeen are arrested by British police. They are released soon after questioning. (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004)

In a statement, British former Guantanamo prisoner Tarek Dergoul “condemns the US and [British] governments for allowing these gross breaches of human rights and demands the release of all the other detainees.” His treatment included “botched medical treatment, interrogation at gunpoint, beatings and inhumane conditions.” The statement adds: “Tarek finds it very difficult to talk about these things and his family believe his mental health has been severely affected by the trauma he has suffered.” When confronted with the allegations of Dergoul and Jamal Udeen, a Pentagon spokeswoman describes these as “simply lies.” The same day, Secretary of State Colin Powell says in a television interview that he believes the US treats the detainees at Guantanamo “in a very, very humanitarian way.” And he adds, “Because we are Americans, we don’t abuse people in our care.” (Branigan 3/13/2004)

Lt. Col. Leon Sumpter, a spokesman for the Guantanamo Joint Task Force, confirms that on every occasion that Guantanamo’s “Extreme Reaction Force” (ERF) has been called into action—often to deal with uncooperative prisoners—it has been filmed. The films are stored in an archive at Guantanamo, he says. (Rose 5/16/2004) The films could contain evidence of prisoner abuse at the facility. For example, Tarek Dergoul, a former detainee, alleges that the ERF was called in once when he refused to submit to a body search. “They pepper-sprayed me in the face… pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed,” he tells the Observer. “They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.” (Rose and Hinsliff 5/16/2004)


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