A Jihad Unspun Guest Article
Mentally ill, the USA locked Abdul Razaq, a schizophrenic, away in Camp X-Ray, for five long and damaging months. He was detainee 356 - one of the 400 most dangerous killers and terrorists in the world, according to President George W. Bush. Abdul Razaq was captured at the massacre of Mazar-e-Sharif in the wake of the Taliban’s collapse in Afghanistan. Shackled, drugged and blindfolded, he was flown half-way round the world to Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Today, five months on, Abdul is a free man - the first to be freed from the much-criticized detention centre.
Far from being an al-Qaida terrorist and supporter of Osama bin Laden bent on the destruction of America, 25-year-old Abdul is a simple farmer’s son from a tiny village north of Kabul. And all he had done was to shout at some passers-by in the street - hardly surprising since he is a schizophrenic. His treatment raises disturbing questions about the conduct of the American military.
Abdul’s family say the Americans knew he was mentally ill before they flew him to Cuba. But instead of treating him at a US base in Afghanistan or sending him to the Kabul hospital where he eventually ended up five months on, America decided to treat him like a terrorist. Abdul appears to have been so heavily drugged at Camp X-Ray that his life became a blur. “I remember thinking I just wanted my God to take me to my family and to see them again. I was very emotional, I suffered there.”
Last month the Americans finally admitted Abdul is an innocent man with mental health problems. Two weeks ago, he was reunited with his family. We secured an exclusive interview with Abdul and his family in his village near Pol-e-Khomri in Afghanistan.
They told how his nightmare began as the Americans rounded up large numbers of al-Qaida “suspects” following the fall of the Taliban. Abdul was picked up by the Americans at Mazar-e-Sharif doing “nothing more sinister than shouting at passers-by”, according to witnesses.
Abdul?s uncle, Abdul Halim, 32, said he had a history of disappearing. “He went missing in the middle of the night like he often did. “We were so worried about whether he was alive or not because we all knew he had some mental problems. When you were talking to him sometimes he used to hit his head with a stone. “All our family went out looking for him in the villages around here but no-one could find him. We were going crazy with worry. His grandmother broke down on her knees crying out of fear that she would never see him again. His mother too was crying.”
One month on, after their search led them 110 miles north to Mazar-e-Sharif they discovered what had happened to Abdul. The family had been told someone matching his description had been arrested by the Americans. Frantic with worry, they tried to contact US military officers. But they were fobbed off with assurances that Abdul was in the hands of people who wanted to help him.
“The US military told me not to worry about him,” said Abdul’s father, Abdul Hamid. “They said they wanted to put him in a military hospital and treat him. Afterwards when he was feeling better they would send him back. They said they accepted he was not from al-Qaida but they still wanted to send him to America to treat him because Afghanistan was a poor country and didn’t have the right medical facilities.”
The family is penniless but devoted to Abdul. They live in a three-room home on the edge of a village destroyed in the civil war that saw much of Afghanistan reduced to rubble. Last week surrounded by his father, sister and three younger brothers, Abdul recalled his ordeal at Camp X-Ray.
“I remember going on the plane. There were 30 of us. All the rest were al-Qaida and they were all talking to each other. I didn’t speak to any of them.
“I was wearing a red suit, glasses and ear muffs. When we got to Cuba there were some translators. They asked me if I was al-Qaida and I said I was sick. Then they saw my papers and said I was ill and they were sending me to the hospital.”
Abdul remembers little of the following weeks.
“After two months I realized I was in America,” he said. “I remember being in a cell with two mountains on either side. Abdul added that the Americans “told me I was al-Qaida. I told them I was not. I was confused. “I said, ‘I am not a terrorist. I had never put a gun on my shoulder and I was a farmer’. I told them I had mental problems and I didn’t know what to do there.”
Abdul’s schizophrenia is now controlled by medication - given to him by the Americans. He says the Americans had a “good manner” and speaks like a child of how he had eggs for breakfast each morning.
He repeats the statements made to his father about him being sent to America for treatment rather than interrogation. Neither father nor son had ever heard of Camp X-Ray. “They all knew that I was not al-Qaida,” said Abdul. “They were just taking me to America as a patient.”
However, medical notes made by doctors at US bases in Afghanistan and Camp X-ray reveal the extreme distress of a mentally ill man plunged into a frightening world. They show Abdul arrived at Camp X-Ray on January 21. Doctors at first thought he was in his 40s. No family history was said to be available even though the US military in Afghanistan had been in contact with his father. Yet two weeks later he still had not been transferred to a medical centre - despite over-riding evidence.
On February 6, notes show Abdul is yelling and throwing water and stones at staff. He is restrained by being shackled to a rack. Two days later things are no better. Abdul is biting himself and when allowed to go to the toilet, throws excrement. Finally a doctor notes: “The environment in the cell area is not conducive to patient recovery.”
By February 19 - four weeks since his arrival - Abdul is finally transferred to the “fleet hospital”, and what he refers to as his “comfortable bed”. Over the months he spent as a detainee, medical staff reported a range of disturbing behavior from crying, mumbling and singing to mixing urine with toothpaste and drinking shampoo.
Two weeks later, Abdul’s doctors report that he is friendlier and more alert. An entry describes Abdul sitting on a mat with his legs crossed, quietly watching the guards, smiling, waving and saying hello to staff. But four days later his mood changes. A doctor says he is crying and shouting in his cell and no interpreter is available to help calm him down.
Throughout his detention, Abdul tries to talk about an old arm injury suffered during an attack on his village years ago. Psychologists decide he is psychotic. One writes: “This man’s thinking is fraught with all kinds of difficulties. Examples of this include very symbolic thinking such as “this represents the end of things”, we are all here for a celebration”, “this means we are all brothers”, “these are the lions climbing the sides of the world and getting ready to fight”.
“His flow of thinking is circumstantial and according to our translator he takes a very long time to get to the point and sometimes never does. He likes to use idiosyncratic words and appears very involved with numbers, constantly paying attention to his wrist number or yelling out numbers or repeating in English “number one, number one”. The psychologist added: “The prognosis for this man is poor. He is not likely to recover in any near future.”
On April 26 - three months after he was flown to America - a doctor concludes that Abdul is suffering from a “serious chronic illness”. He says he has a high risk of relapses, especially if put under stress. By the beginning of May the Americans appear to be tiring of Abdul and he is finally transferred back to Afghanistan. On May 2, Abdul - still referred to as a detainee - is handcuffed, shackled, strapped down and sedated for the flight to Kandahar. Even there, at the US “detainment facility”, he is still held in isolation, handcuffed and shackled according to notes made by medical officer Sgt James Colbert. A week later, he is refusing meals, yelling at guards and banging his head against a wall.
Soon afterwards he is finally transferred to the civilian Four Hundred Beds Hospital in Kabul. “I told the Americans many times to take me to my own house and finally they did,” said Abdul. However, for now Abdul and his family are thrilled to have finally been reunited. “When I saw my family again I was really so happy,” he said. “I really missed my family. I was there for five months. Now I have come back and I will never leave them again.”
Jean Pascal Moret, of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the ICRC had pushed for Abdul’s release from Camp X-Ray. He said it was clear to ICRC staff that Abdul was mentally ill and should not be there. “We visited him in Guantanamo Bay and noticed that he had a problem. We discussed that with the detaining authorities. They agreed with that and acknowledged that he had a mental health problem. “The Americans decided that they wanted him to be repatriated and requested ICRC assistance to do that.” He added that the US embassy sent letters to the Afghan authorities making it clear that they no longer regarded Abdul as a suspect, rather as a medical case.