KUWAIT: Events and secrets of 14 years were summarized by former Guantanamo Bay inmate Fawzi Al-Odah, who said that his fate led him to Afghan borders following the Sept 11, 2001 events, snaring him in a deal during which the US asked that any Arab be handed to it in exchange of $5,000.
He said the Americans treated him as an enemy, and he was beaten and verbally abused. He added that he left Kuwait in Aug 2001 in order to distribute aid on the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders, and did not enter Afghanistan. He said he worked as an employee of Zakat House for six months, and a teacher at the Dar Quran before traveling to Pakistan.
He said he gave himself up to Pakistani police to be returned to Kuwait, but they handed him to the Americans. About his requests at Guantnamo Bay, he said: “I was asking for vegetarian pizza and sodas from my lawyer, while my mother used to send me some sweets.”
QUESTION: When did you leave Kuwait?
I left Kuwait in Aug 2001, and before that I worked as a teacher at the Dar Al-Quran (Quran house) run by the Awqaf Ministry, and before that I worked at Zakat House for six months, so I had experience in Quranic activities. Many Afghans were suffering at that time, and my destination when I left was the Pakistani border with Afghanistan where many refugees live in miserable conditions with shortage of medicine, food, education, homes and the most simple of living requirements. I did not enter Afghanistan. I went there with a little money to give to the Afghan refugees. Afghans view Arabs as the children of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), and consider their arrival to teach them Quran as something great, raising their morale and brightening life for them.
Question: What happened to you after the Sept 11 attacks?
Odah: The Americans forced the Pakistani government and other neighboring governments to arrest any Arab citizen in Pakistan regardless of the reason for their presence in exchange of $5,000. The US interrogated those arrested and the Pakistani government had nothing to do with it. This is a black page in the history of the US, and 14 years later, America was not able to convict me of anything.
Question: Did you leave Kuwait alone on a personal basis, or was it an establishment work?
Odah: It was personal, and a start for me, and I wanted to experience charitable activity.
Question: Did you go alone or with a group? Did you enter Afghanistan?
Odah: I left on my own and I never entered Afghanistan. I was on the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders.
Question: How were you arrested?
Odah: I was in a border area called Kouta and the people there asked me to remain in a house until things calmed down, and it could be arranged for me to return to the Pakistani capital, then Kuwait. But my stay took longer as things worsened, so I went to Pakistani security and told them I was a Kuwaiti and worked for charity, and I wanted to be taken to the Kuwaiti embassy. But I was surprised by Pakistani police taking me to a military prison, then a month later, the Americans came in and interrogated me in the Pakistani prison before taking me to an American base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where I remained for two months before being sent to Guantanamo.
Question: How did the American authorities treat you when you were arrested?
Odah: Treatment was very bad, just because I was an Arab in that place at that time. I was treated like an enemy, I was beaten badly and exposed to various types of physical and psychological harm.
Question: What do you mean by psychological harm?
Odah: Insulting sacred and religious things. Insulting me verbally, and I was made to believe that I would be freed several times, then got punished for no reason.
Question: Did you meet other Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo?
Odah: We were in solitary confinement in the first years, and contact was almost impossible. After 2010, we were moved into group prisons, and at that time it was only Fayez and me who were left among Kuwaitis, so he was the only Kuwaiti I met the most.
Question: How did you spend your time in detention?
Odah: I read the book of Allah (Holy Quran) to understand its verses, and this is what sustained me there.
Question: What about the hunger strikes you carried out?
Odah: The first was at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, then in 2005 we carried out a major strike during which I was force-fed for five months, and I lost almost 50 kg. We repeated the strikes in 2010 and 2013, and it was a painful process as a pipe is inserted from the nose into the stomach.
Question: You seem to be calm. Was there a time when you lost your temper while dealing with a Guantanamo guard?
Odah: There were many instances, and the person who feels injustice will defend himself, and I was beaten hard and punished because of that.
Question: Was there a particular incident in this regard?
Odah: I entered a cell and found the Holy Quran on the floor, and the guard did that deliberately, and though I was cuffed, I attempted to pick it up, so the soldier pushed me down and sprayed me with pepper spray, and there were many similar incidents, but I do not wish to go through them.
Question: What was the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations?
Odah: There was no major change, other than having groups in cells.
Question: What do you want to tell your lawyer Abdelrahman Al-Haroun?
Odah: Lawyer Abdelrahman Al-Haroun is like my father. He was the first person to stand by my father, and dedicated his office to serve the detainees free of charge, and although the state offered him fees, he refused. – Al-Rai