EXCLUSIVE: Cageprisoners interview with French former Guantanamo detainee Khaled Ben MustaphaWritten by Arnaud Mafille Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Khaled Ben Mustafa was detained in Afghanistan and rendered to Guantanamo Bay, however, his return to France did not end his ordeal.
Cageprisoners: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: My name is Khaled Ben Mustapha. I am a 40 years old French national.
CP: You were arrested at the Afghani border. During your trial, you declared that you were “neither a tourist nor a terrorist”. What lead you to Afghanistan?
KBM: I decided to go to Afghanistan in order to live under shari’a. At that time, I judged that the Talibans represented this Islamic state. My approach was to see with my own eyes what an Islamic state was, bearing in mind that I am convinced that Muslims should live under the Muslim command, the Law of God.
CP: Was what you found there in accordance with your expectations?
KBM: I arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, just a month before the 9/11. Praises be to God, it was completely different from what could be watched on television, listened on the radio or read in the newspapers. Indeed, it was a poor country, however people were not the unfortunate creatures described. I discovered a pleasant “Muslim atmosphere”. Local habitants honoured us. They used to honour Arabs because they knew that we emigrated towards them. The welcoming was nice, so was their behaviour. There was no problem. I was in Jalalabad. I travelled around. I went to Kabul and Kandahar. Then, the 9/11 attacks occurred.
CP: You were arrested soon after. Could you describe for us the circumstances of your arrest?
KBM: I was arrested in December 2001, not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. We left Afghanistan to enter into Pakistan and eventually go back home because we could not stay in the country anymore. We were arrested by the Pakistani army. They first told us: “we are just going to check your identity”. But they threw us in prison, handcuffed and shackled. They called the Americans over to interrogate us. We were tortured in Pakistan.
CP: Were you tortured by the Americans or by the Pakistani army?
KBM: In Pakistan, it was by the Pakistanis under the American authority. It was under their presence. I stayed there for a week. Then, I was taken to an airport and transferred to the Americans. We were put in a plane and taken to the American base of Kandahar.
CP: Is it at that time that you were sold to the Americans by the Pakistanis?
KBM: Yes. The Pakistanis sold us. When I say “sold”, it literally means “sold”. There was a financial transaction. Many among us saw cash money flowing from the Americans to the Pakistanis. Each time they would hand over a person, the counter part was money.
CP: Then, were you transferred to Guantanamo?
KBM: I stayed a month and a half in Kandahar camp. We were tortured during a month and a half. I was personally transferred to Guantanamo mid-February 2002.
CP: What were the conditions of this transfer?
KBM: Very harsh. We were in planes, chained, blindfolded with masks on our mouths and anti-noise headphones. Our flight must have lasted 20 hours from Afghanistan to Cuba. We stopped somewhere but we do not know where it was. During the whole trip, we were beaten up. We were kicked, beaten with a stick...
CP: Did you know the Guantanamo camp and what were you expecting at that moment?
KBM: We knew that we were taken to Cuba island. We were told by the Red cross just before. We knew that we would not be there just for a week or two. We knew that it would be long and difficult. In Cuba, the welcoming was... Torture carried on, probably until today for those who are still over there.
CP: Did you have any contact with tour family?
KBM: No contact. The only “contact” we had were through the letters that we were given by the Red cross. However, these letters were redacted. Many paragraphs were blacked out. We had almost no information. We did not know what was going on.
CP: What did the American question you about?
KBM: The Americans deadly wanted us to say that we were terrorists, that we were Al Qaeda members and that we knew Osama Ben Ladden . “Where is Ben Ladden?” Questions were always the same... Each time our answers were not good to them, they would torture us...
CP: Were you accused of anything specifically?
KBM: No. No precise charges. Questions were very broad. “What did we do there?” I answered them that I was willing to live under shari’ah, that leaving with the Talibans did not bother me and that they did not harm me in any way whatsoever. It needs to be known that the Americans called over the secret services from all over the world in order to interrogate the GITMO detainees. During the four years I spent over there, several secret services from different countries came to question pretty much everybody. We could be interrogated by anybody. For sure, I was interrogated by the Americans. I was also interrogated by the Frenchs. The Frenchs came several times in order to interrogate us under the American torture. They wanted us to denounce people in France. The British used to interrogate the British but they use to interrogate everybody. I was also questioned by people with an accent. They were neither English nor American. All the services could interrogate whomever they wanted. For sure, the Mossad was part of the delegation.
CP: Were you interrogated by the Tunisian services?
KBM: They came and interrogated all the Tunisian nationals, threatening them of torture when they would be back in Tunisia. That was at the time of the tyrant Ben Ali.
CP: To summarise, you were interrogated by the Americans, the Frenchs...
KBM: And many other interrogators with different accents in English. But I do not have any mean to know what nationality they were exactly. It is simple. I spent four years of interrogations. That is what needs to be understood. Four years of non-stop interrogations. Four years...
CP: What were the conditions of these interrogations?
KBM: It depended on people... If they were not satisfied, they would torture us in different ways. There was physical torture. There was psychological torture; they would not allow us to sleep, rooms would be highly refrigerated. It was very cold. They would fill the room with noise using very big speakers. The volume of the music was extremely high. We were deprived of many things. We had almost nothing. The only thing I had was a “short”. I was put in a room for months and all I have was a “short”. I had nothing. No blanket, no towel. There was no hygiene. Torture was very harsh.
CP: You have pretty much answered my next question which was the following one: You are the first French GITMO ex-detainee to lodge a complaint for “torture and act of barbaric acts”.
What kind of abuse did lead you to take this action? What is the result of this action?
KBM: We lodged a complaint in France for “kidnapping, torture and barbaric acts”. At the beginning they rejected our action. We insisted and the complaint was accepted. A judiciary procedure against X has been opened. The enquiry is taking place. We understand that it will be very long...
CP: Do you think that the investigation will be conducted objectively?
KBM: It would be very difficult for the judge to do otherwise... All the elements he has are pointing towards the same direction. There are Amnesty International reports, other Human Rights defence organisations reports from all around the world, UN reports and our declarations. It is difficult to deny.
CP: Despite the attempt to dehumanise you, do you think that your experience has helped you to become a better human being?
KBM: Praise be to God in all circumstances. I always knew that I was on the straight path. I have not harmed anybody. I have never been reproached with that, neither in France nor in the US. Praise be to God, we have not threaten anybody, we have not endangered anybody’s life. What we are reproached with is our ideology. What we are reproached with is to love Islam to the extent of being willing to live under Islamic laws. Praise be to God, it strengthened me. I am convinced that we need to live under shari’ah, in the country into which we want to live, freely. I came out extremely weakened, which is normal, but much more convinced that I was on the straight path and that those facing me did not inspire me trust.
CP: What relation do you have with the “Human being”? Have you been disgusted?
KBM: Not at all, a Muslim is objective and clear. We have never had any hatred towards anybody whatsoever, Muslim or non Muslim. It has not affected my daily life. I have a job; I still have the same neighbours. However, it has strengthened me in my thought and in my religion. I know that war is declared against Islam and not against us specifically.
CP: What was the attitude of the French government towards you while you were incarcerated in Guantanamo?
KBM: The French were accomplices of the Americans, like other states. They took advantage of their system to interrogate us. They took advantage of the lawlessness in that part of the world. They are still taking advantage of it. Ten years later, they are still accusing and judging us. They have prosecuted us several times but they have lost very often. Until today, there is still no clear accusations. But they keep on calling us “terrorists”. The evidence that they are not truthful is that we are free. We work, we have a family... We live like anybody. If we were terrorists, they would not let us free.
CP: Did the French witness the torture of which you were victim?
KBM: The French investigators came to interrogate us under the American torture. They were witnesses and accomplices.
CP: Afterwards, you were cleared and released by the American authorities. What happened to you then?
KBM: They made an arrangement with the French authorities so that they can come and repatriate us. Hence, a French military plane came. As soon as we arrived in France, we were jailed, straight away.
CP: Were you placed under a special regime in prison?
KBM: Not at all. We were with the ordinary prisoners. We were respected. There was no problem. We had a lot of respect from the other detainees.
CP: In 2007, you were convicted of “criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise”.
You were sentenced to a year of imprisonment. However, this period was covered by the time you had already spent in jail waiting for your trial and you, therefore, left the Court free. Why did you appeal this decision?
KBM: We appealed the decision simply because we disagree with the fact of being judged as terrorists while we are not. It was unacceptable to be labelled as terrorists while we were not reproached with any terrorist acts. We were sentenced formally only. Even a five years child could understand that. We were sentenced to a year of prison. A terrorist is not sentenced to a year of prison. He is sentenced to 20 years. There is no “half-way measure”. Either you are a terrorist and you stay in jail, or you are not and you come out. Therefore, we appealed and we won. They realised that there were a lot of mistakes which were harmful to us, so we were proven to be right.
CP: That was in 2009.The Court of Appeal confirmed your allegations and affirmed that your right to defence were violated. Could you explain it to us in more details?
KBM: There was a violation of our right to defence in the sense that the French investigators took advantage of the lawlessness in Guantanamo to interrogate us, which is forbidden in French Law. They did not have the right to interrogate us outside a legal procedure. There was not any legal procedure whatsoever against us when we were interrogated. They took advantage of the situation that was prevailing in Guantanamo to collect as many pieces of information as possible under that American torture. They secretly introduced these pieces of information in the case-file to utilise them afterwards when the investigation was opened. Here was the violation of our rights. But the French government is overproud. They decided to take the case to a higher Court (the Court of cassation).
CP: Very recently, Wikileaks has released several diplomatic cables in relation with French Gitmo ex-detainees. In one of them, one of the advisor of the Minister of State confessed that the French anti-terrorism legislation required mainly allegations rather than evidences. What is your reaction?
KBM: We knew it because we were at the very heart of the procedure. We know what happened. We were facing the investigating judge. There was no evidence whatsoever. In the media, we were labelled as terrorists but the most shocking is that the anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and his accomplice Jean-François Ricard cheated. They use to go secretly to the American embassy to give and take pieces of information about us. They stated clearly in Wikileaks cables that there was no evidence against us. They had nothing against us. That is the reason why we were sentenced to one year and not ten years.
CP: Do you feel that there is a will to condemn you at any cost?
KBM: Yes! It is clear since the beginning. There is an obvious fierceness to condemn us. But we will not stay passive. We will defend ourselves as much as we can.
CP: Why is that?
KBM: It is very simple. In France, everything is condemned. Hijab is condemned, niqab is condemned, people who pray outside due to the lack of space are condemned, halal food is condemned. In France, everything that is Muslim-related is condemned. It is not simply terrorism. You just have to watch television to see that in France everything that is linked with Islam is condemned.
CP: Recently, the Court of Cassation overturned this decision and you are to be judged again. Why is that and what sentence do you face?
KBM: We were judged a third time before a Court of appeal. We are expecting the verdict in March, God willing. We do not risk a lot. They can confirm the one year sentence that we have already served. In reality, the French realised that they have made a grave mistake. They want to find an arrangement to save face. They say: “we do not send you back to prison but we say that the year you spent there is fine”. But it does not work with us. We will not disgrace ourselves to please them.
CP: Was it said to you explicitly?
KBM: It was implied but since we do not agree, they persist. But we will not give up God willing. If they condemn us, we will go before the Court of cassation. If we lose there, we will go before the European Court of Human Rights God willing. The story is not over yet, God willing, even if it has to take ten years.
CP: Do you think that the concept of justice is being abandoned in France?
KBM: French justice is known. When the “judicial machinery” makes a mistake, it hardly reverses. It is a recorded fact. It is arrogance. Whoever says that there is a justice in France says so because he has not tasted injustice yet. Our case is a pure injustice.
CP: What kind of life do you live now?
KBM: Praise be to God, I live with my family, I have got children, I work just like anybody. I take part to the economic, professional and social daily life. Praise be to God, my life has not changed. Life goes on.
CP: How are you treated by people in general?
KBM: Reactions are mixed. Some people understand that we have been the victims of an injustice. Some others are shocked and believe what is said on television. It is mixed. Many among Muslims have also stopped believing American lies. We have seen it with Iraq and Afghanistan. They cannot lie to people anymore, we perfectly know the truth.
CP: Do you think that an awakening is taking place?
KBM: Of course. As a specific category of people is constantly targeted, i.e the Muslim community, at a certain point, even people who do not pay attention will realise that they are told lies.
CP: What message would you like to address to our readers?
KBM: I request them not to forget those who are still over there. We went through it but we have started a normal life again. We should really worry for those who are still there. We must not forget them in our invocations. We must absolutely not stop the positive actions that will be successful God willing and will close Guantanamo camp. We must remember that Guantanamo is not only in Cuba. There are Guantanamo camps all around the world. In Iraq, there is Guantanamo. In Afghanistan, there are Guantanamo camps. In Pakistan, there are Guantanamo camps. Guantanamo is everywhere. There are American secret prisons. We all know that Muslims are in there. We must not forget them in our invocations nor in the actions you take to denounce this injustice. We have to do everything possible to free our brothers in Guantanamo. We do not want for them a “prison of substitution” as they try to suggest. They need to go back home. There are people who were freed three years ago but they still have not seen their families. They were sent thousands of kilometres away from their place and they still have not seen their children, mothers and fathers. Is that freedom? Everybody is innocent in Guantanamo ,that is known. Guantanamo was created to make people believe that we were guilty. Eventually, praises be to God, we are all innocents.
CP: That was my last question. BarakAllahou fik.
KBM: May Allah reward you for your work.
Note: The French Court of Appeal recently reconfirmed the sentence of the French Guantanamo detainees.
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