Midnight. Islamabad, 31 January 2002
The house was silent. Zaynab and the children were all asleep. It had been a long day for them: a friend from Kabul and her two childrenwere staying over for a visit. They were in bed too by now. I was still awake, at my computer, writing a letter, then playing a game. I checked my watch at the sound of the doorbell. My first thought was that someone had got the wrong door, or that there was an emergency with the neighbours.
I didn’t feel worried, although it seemed a little strange because of the time. I opened the door, and stood there in my socks, stunned. I saw a group of people standing in front of me, and the first thing I knew was a gun at my head. I was pushed right back, through the forecourt, through the open front door, into the living room where my peaceful evening had just ended in shock and rising fear. I was made to kneel. In front of me was a baffling group of people, not dressed as policemen, but in local Pakistani and Western clothes.
They didn’t say a word. They didn’t even ask me who I was. I could have been anybody. As I knelt there, I saw from the corner of my eye that some of them were walking in towards the rooms in the back where my wife and the other family were. With an instant reflex to protect them, I said, ‘That’s my family in there, don’t go in there.’ Then I couldn’t see anything more, as they put a cloth hood over my head. They pulled my hands behind my back, handcuffed me, and fastened flexicuffs (a disposable plastic shackling device) tightly around my ankles. I was physically picked up and carried into the vehicle, which they had parked in my driveway. If any neighbours had been awake they would not have known that anything was wrong. The house was detached, and the walls and gates high.
I was dropped in the back of a 4×4, lying flat.Within seconds, as we started to move, somebody pulled up my hood just enough so that I could see. Instantly a camera flashed in my face. Behind it, I saw a very badly disguised American, dressed to look like a Pakistani. He had a cloth wrapped round his head in a style that attempted to be but was obviously not Pakistani. My first reaction, despite the terrifying position I was in, was laughter. He looked ridiculous. He didn’t say a word, but just took a photograph. Then the person on the other side of me, also an American but dressed a little better with an Afghani cap, produced a pair of handcuffs. I was cuffed behind my back already, but he waved these at me, and he said,‘Do you know where I’ve gotten these handcuffs from?’
‘I’ve no idea, how would I know where you got your handcuffs from?’
‘I was given these by the wife of a victim of the September 11th attacks.’
I was calm enough to tell him that she would think he was really stupid, having caught the wrong person. Then he put them on top of the ones I already had on. I was incredulous. Could this scene really be happening?
I tried to plead with the Pakistanis, speaking to them in Urdu as a local, someone familiar to them, as the Americans obviously were not.
I told them, ‘Look, if I’ve done something wrong, then do this the proper way, get me access to the British Consul, or get me a lawyer, and let me have some contact with my family, let me phone to see if they are all right.’ I went on trying to plead with them as we drove along. I couldn’t believe they were ignoring me, but in only about ten minutes we stopped.
At first, in front of the Americans, the Pakistanis wouldn’t say anything – they just wouldn’t react at all.They kept themselves very hard and rigid. I spoke to them, in the Urdu way, as you do to somebody who is older than you, who you call ‘uncle’, but they were cold and unresponsive, which was so uncharacteristic of how things usually were between people in Pakistan. But this was a secret world, and I’d been kidnapped with full government approval. It was obvious to me because they didn’t react, and from the whole strange, tense, atmosphere, that they were under some severe pressure.
They carried me out of the car and I assumed the Americans had left (after taking back their handcuffs); I never saw them again. I found myself in what I imagined was an intelligence service facility of some sort, and I was expecting to be put in a cell. In fact the Pakistanis put me into a fairly decent room with a sofa, a chair, a mat on the floor, and a quilt, a pillow, even a window. But they soon covered the window up with masking tape, so that I could not look outside, and then for about forty-five minutes the man I had been calling ‘uncle’sat down next to me, alone, and asked some formal details such as my name, address, places I’d visited, what I was doing here in Pakistan, no more than ten questions. He had a blank sheet of A4 paper, and he wrote all this down as though these were normal formalities and there was nothing exceptional about what was happening. But I could really see the strain in his face, and the struggle he was having with himself about having picked me up in that way from my house and my family. He was very uncomfortable.
The first thing he said to me was, ‘Look, son, I don’t know what you’ve done or why the Americans want you so desperately, but you can see that I’ve put you in a room here and not a cell.You’ve done nothing wrong in Pakistan that I know about and I feel bad at having come to your house in the middle of the night. I’ve seen how your house is; I’ve seen how your family are.You just don’t seem to be the type of person that would cause any sort of trouble.’ He went on,‘The only reason we’re doing this is because of the Americans.’
I asked him, ‘Why are you doing this for them, if you think that I haven’t done anything, which I haven’t? Why are you doing this to me,why are you bending over backwards to please the Americans?’
‘If we don’t, we’ll be hit so hard by the Americans, by President Bush’s army. You know that statement of theirs, “You’re either with us or against us”? Well, we’ve had to take a position.’ I had assumed by now these men were the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistani intelligence. Who else had the capability to kidnap me like this, with full American support?
One of the guards had already taken the handcuffs off and cut off the flexicuffs, which took some time as he only had a very blunt pair of scissors.There were some building repairs going on in the room, there was a little hole in the wall where some bricks were missing, and I could see through to the outside. When we had finished talking, the guard shackled my hand to a chair for the night. Although he didn’t say anything, it was quite obvious why. However, the shackle was so big that my hand could slide right through it. Once he’d gone, I took it out for the rest of the night, and just slid it back in again when anyone came into the room. I really expected this ordeal to be over within hours, if not days, that it was some mistake, so I didn’t think of escaping. Not yet.
I stretched back in the chair, and touched my pocket. I felt the outline of my mobile phone. It had been in my pocket, as usual, when I was on the computer, and they had never physically searched me. I had forgotten about the phone, but now it felt like a real lifeline. The first thing I did was phone a friend who lived fairly close by. It was about two in the morning. When he picked up the phone his voicewas very sleepy. I whispered down the phone, and, strangely, he whispered back to me. I told him what had happened, and asked him if he could first go and check my house to see if everybody was all right, and then see if he could get in contact with some of my uncles and aunts and other family members who lived in Pakistan. Then I phoned my father in Birmingham. I couldn’t believe my luck that I could make an international call from this prison room. Again I whispered down the phone to him. I told him what had happened, and also that all I knew was that Americans were there when they took me, and that it was on their orders that I was held. I asked him to tell my solicitor, Gareth Peirce, and also to contact some of the family here in Pakistan, and also to get Zaynab and the kids to a safe place. I felt terrible about how worried he would be, especially because I knew he’d just had a heartbypass operation. But I didn’t know what else to do.
It was obvious Dad was in complete and utter shock, though he too was whispering back down the phone, so it was difficult to tell from his tone how he really was. Then the battery began to die. There was one ring of a call, and it must have been international, as no number came up, but as I answered it, the battery went dead. There were plug points in the room, and I lifted the carpet up and found wires. In sheer desperation, feeling such longing for those outside contacts in my real world, I tried to connect them to the electricity and then to the mobile phone, but of course, as there was no adaptor to change the current, it couldn’t possibly have worked, and it probably broke the mobile.
Then I tried to sleep. I lay on the floor on the mat, with the quilt, but I just couldn’t sleep, my mind was racing. I was really afraid about what was going to happen, but at the same time I was holding onto logic, and telling myself that in the end justice would prevail. I told myself, ‘You know you haven’t done anything wrong, you shouldn’t feel worried about being prosecuted, or held to account for something that you haven’t done.’
I woke from a half-sleep full of all these thoughts when a different man came into the room. It was morning and he brought me tea, and a paratha (fried bread), and a battered pair of slippers. He told me that whenever I wanted anything I could just bang on the door and the guard would come. They came, but I soon found they knew nothing, so I kept asking for an officer.
On the second day they took me out of the room, but they hooded and handcuffed me first, so I knew this was not just a trip to the toilet. I saw an armed guard with a Kalashnikov rifle waiting by the door as they put the hood on. He walked along with me, and I was helped into the back seat of a vehicle.We drove a fairly long way, but it was obvious from the sounds of the cars and the fact that we had not been on a motorway that we were still in Islamabad. I could even very vaguely make some things out through the car’s tinted windows, because the hood was just cloth.
I overheard one of the Pakistani officers speaking to somebody in English, and as Pakistanis don’t generally speak English amongst themselves, I assumed he was speaking to Americans or British. I heard him mention ‘G10’ – the name of the district in Islamabad where one of my friends lived. The house where I was taken was very grand, typical of the G10 style. All four of my interrogations were held in this house, though not always in the same room. It was obviously in use as a normal house, and it was the home of a fairly wealthy person – big sofas, big television screens. I saw much of it, as they put me in various places to wait, even in a bedroom once, and in the huge main living room. Sometimes I needed to use the bathroom, so I saw those too. Sadly, the Pakistanis went about in the servile way that often typifies the inferiority complex of many people in the Indian subcontinent towards Westerners.They made a show of trying to make things as comfortable as possible for their friends, serving exotic dishes and drinks withtowels draped over their forearms, like waiters in some Victorian-style restaurant.
At the first meeting there were two Americans, both in civilian casual clothes, older men, perhaps in their late fifties.They didn’t identify themselves or their organization. We were in the dining room, sitting at the dining table. I was on one side, in my handcuffs, and they were on the other side. There was an armed Pakistani guard just outside the room. I was baffled. What was this all about? I hadn’t heard about this kind of kidnapping happening in Pakistan, although while I had been in Islamabad I had heard about many round-ups in Afghanistan since the Americans arrived. Later I heard from many detainees how they too had been picked up in similar raids in Pakistan, or worse, picked up from the streets.
I had been held now for over twenty-four hours since my abduction. One of the Americans produced my wife’s purse with her driving licence in it, and her mobile phone. When they brought out my wife’s personal things I became really afraid. Why would they have her things? Where was she? Had something bad happened to her? Already they had found my psychological weakness: acute anxiety I could not hide whenever I thought about my wife and children. I was looking for logic then, but later I understood that all these questions were just part of a huge fishing trip. I found out too that they had taken other things from the house, including my computer, and about £8,000, our savings and money my family and friends had sent from England.
They asked me what I was doing in Pakistan, and whether I had been in Afghanistan, but I refused to answer, saying I must be allowed to speak to a lawyer or to the British Consul. They said, ‘We can’t help you with that at all.’ They then made some subtle threats, suggesting, ‘You might be sent somewhere worse.’
The next day they brought me back again, but this time there were different people in the room. There was a woman who asked me where our British passports were. I had left the passports at somebody else’s house, where I had stayed for a few days until I got my own house. Some of my personal belongings were still there. This American woman was really keen to know where our passports were. I told her, ‘Never you mind, they’re in a safe place.’
They had taken my Pakistani passport, which I did have at home with me, and at the first interrogation, the previous day, they had produced it and said, ‘We notice that you have dual nationality.’ I tried to understand what they really meant by drawing attention to this, but there were no clues. The Pakistani passport was just a one-year document, which I had got in Birmingham, thinking that when I was in Afghanistan, if I needed to travel into Pakistan and back it would probably be easier to use that instead of a British passport.
That day, one of the two Americans from the day before was there again, and there were also two British intelligence officers, who identified themselves as from MI5. One was a young woman, the other told me his name was Ian. In fact, I had heard about him. A few days before I was abducted, I had spoken to a friend in Birmingham, Shakeel, who told me that a person called Ian from MI5 had come to visit our Islamic bookshop, and said that he was really interested in speaking to me and he was coming to Pakistan to try and meet me. I had told Shakeel to give him my telephone number, and say that when he got to Pakistan he could give me a call and we could meet up. Shakeel had described him as a ‘fat bloke with glasses’. It was a perfect description, and I had recognized him before he even said his name.
This was now the third time in my life that MI5 wanted to speak to me, so I wasn’t particularly alarmed. Perhaps I was naive in thinking that he’d just come over for tea, in the way that his colleague had done before, to air some concerns, and hopefully, I’d dispel them. I’d done nothing illegal; I wasn’t hiding from anyone. When I saw him it was very different from the antipathy and tension that I felt with the Americans. In fact I felt some relief to see him, knowing that he was British; that he was from England. I began,‘Look, can I speak to you by myself, away from these other people?’
‘No, you can’t.’ That was the first indication that the Americans and the British were completely intertwined in this business.
‘OK, can you give me access to the British Consulate if you’re not going to take that kind of responsibility for me . . . if that’s not your job here.’
‘I can’t help you there, I’m not a social worker.’
‘Well, from one Briton to another, at least can you tell me, or reassure me, that my family are OK? Just give me information about that.’
Again he said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not in a position to do that, I’m not here for that.’
I was taken aback that he obviously had no reciprocal feelings about me being British, even after I told him the harrowing story about my evacuation from Kabul, and tearful reunion with my family. ‘So, what do you want me to do, why are you here?’I asked.
‘Well. It seems like you’ve got another chance. How often does anyone get a second chance? All you have to do is cooperate with the Americans. That would be the best thing for you.’
Ian asked me a few questions. First of all he wanted me to tell him why I was in Afghanistan, what I was doing there, and who I had met. Then he asked me all about Bosnia and my visits there, and my trip to Turkey back in 1999. I told him exactly what I was in Afghanistan for, what I did there, what made me go there. Then I answered all the other questions he asked me. I was still thinking that I had nothing to hide, and therefore nothing really to fear.
I noticed that the Americans were taking some notes, and at one point one of them got up, went to the corner, and made a phone call. I didn’t hear all of it, but I heard one part, and it stuck in my mind: ‘We have another one for Kandahar.’ I looked at the woman officer, and I had a sudden feeling of complete hopelessness. She looked back at me, and just turned away. Ian and the other MI5 officer then got up and went, just as abruptly as they had come in. This was a side of Britain that I’d never seen, not like this. ‘He’s just a Paki,’ they probably thought. That’s what I thought too.‘Why should they care? I’m just a Paki to them.’I never saw either of them again.
Back in my room, alone with my thoughts, I had stabs of guilt for what I had put the family through by underestimating the seriousness of the situation. I just had not understood what September 11 was going to mean for Afghanistan. I stopped going over what might be in the future, and hurt myself going back into the past, and letting my guilt well up. I hadn’t got over the terrifying experiences of the last two months when the US bombing had forced us to flee from our new, exciting home and work in Kabul.
The next interrogation was just with Americans. One of them, Paul, seemed upset that I had spoken to the British, but not to him. He said 'It takes your own people for you to talk.You’ve clearly shown that. But the British have washed their hands of you; you’re not going to see them any more. So your only opportunity is to cooperate with us. We’ve released people in the past . . .’There was a long pause, then, 'We can make life easy for you, or we can make life difficult. You can answer our questions here, or you can do it in Kandahar and Guantánamo.’
Again I asked him to get me reassurance that my family were all right. It was obvious that the British were not going to do it, so I had nobody else to ask. But the Americans too were uninterested, and just said, ‘Uh-huh, there’s nothing we can do about that.’ We left the G10 house.
Later, back in my cell-room, I pleaded with the Pakistani guards, although Uncle, who I felt I had a bit of a relationship with, was not there that day. I begged them, ‘Please, please, at least go to the house and find out how they are, what they are doing, and ask my wife if she can write me a letter.’
One of the Pakistani officers agreed. ‘I’ll go to your house, and I’ll find out if everything’s OK, and I’ll try and bring you a change of clothes, and get you some things from home.’ Later he told me, ‘I did go to the house, and I found there was a padlock on the door, and the neighbours told me the family had left two or three days after you were taken.’
I felt totally confused, more than ever on my own, and I tried to put out of my mind what might have happened to Zaynab and the children, and where they might have gone.
Meanwhile, days went by, and sometimes nothing at all happened. Lunch and dinner were always chapattis and curry, and I got into a routine of optionally fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, the supererogatory fasts that Muslims often do; ISI officers would buy me food to break the fasts. During these days, in fact, I increased my practice of Islam and hoped for Divine mercy more than ever before. Just as my fasting and Quranic recitation increased, so did my prayers and supplications.
Normally the only people I spoke to were the guards. And the guards really knew nothing. I continually asked for one of the officers in charge. I bugged the guard every ten minutes, every fifteen minutes, knocking on the door and saying,‘Look, I need to know what’s going on, I need to have contact with my family.’ The guards made it clear they felt very sorry. They were very apologetic and very sympathetic because they didn’t know what I was there for. They were used to people who had committed murder, rape, robbery, and even acts of terrorism. But they really didn’t know why I was there. I did eventually speak to a senior officer, a man who spoke fluent English and was obviously quite high up the scale. He just said, as Uncle had said on the very first night, ‘You are here because of the Americans.’ None of them would tell me their name, and when I asked, they said, ‘It’s better that you don’t know.’ They would not even tell me if they were ISI.
Any time I needed anything I just knocked on the door, and eventually somebody came. Sometimes no one came, and I just knocked louder and harder. But eventually somebody always came and asked me what I wanted. If I wanted water they filled up a bottle and left it for me. If I needed to go to the toilet they brought a towel, put it over my head, and escorted me across the corridor into another part of the building where the cells were. The bathroom was really dark and filthy. It had running water, but there was no soap. The toilet was a hole in the floor,Middle Eastern style.There was a small hole near the ceiling, which allowed in a thin ray of light, during the day. That was when I saw the cells.
As I approached the toilet I could hear voices speaking in Arabic. I asked the guard, ‘Please, would you let me speak to these people?’
‘I’ll close the door, but you must speak to everyone quickly.’ He gave me five minutes with them. I went to each of those cells, and my heart sank when I saw the state of them.There was no natural light at all. They were dripping with damp. Some of the men had been in there for three or four months. All of them were Arabs; three were Libyan students from Islamabad University. They were desperately trying to get somebody from their embassy to come and speak to the authorities. But at least they could speak to one another and pray together.
After the meetings with the Americans, the talk about going to Kandahar and Guantánamo, the refusal of lawyers, having no access to my family, and then the British washing their hands of me, I began to think about escape. I thought about all sorts of things, from trying to attack one of the guards, grabbing his weapon and just fighting my way out, to sneaking out, or climbing out. My thoughts got desperate when I went over in my mind what was happening to my family. I thought that if anything happened to my family, I would hold America responsible for the rest of my life.
The window in the room, which they covered with masking tape, was left uncovered at the last few inches from the top. If I wanted to look out, I had to stand on top of the sofa and peer over, then I could actually see over the wall slightly, and I could see cars going past on the other side. Once, as I was doing that, I looked at the metal bars screwed across the window and they seemed like normal, rather flimsy, screws. I had a belt buckle, which, with a yank, I pulled off. It had a little protruding part that I got to work as a screwdriver. Over several days I undid these screws two by two until there were none left and the grille was movable. And every time I went to the bathroom, I threw them down the toilet. It was a sliding window, which I slid open.
My plan was to move at night, after around eleven when the guards stopped coming into the room and the lights went off. There was a guard outside by the guard shack, near the entrance, where the cars came in; I could see the shack, and I could see when he had fallen asleep. The most dangerous part would be getting out of the window and over to the wall. But I thought I could do it, with a strong leap. There was no barbed wire or anything like that on top, and I could see the road on the other side, a main road.
One problem was that I had no money, and no shoes, because they removed my slippers at night. I would have to run into the middle of the street, jump into a taxi barefoot, and then – where would I go? Home was the only place I really knew well (we’d only been in Pakistan since November), but would that be bringing more trouble on my family? Anyway they were not there any more. One possible friend’s house – the one I had phoned on that first night – I would have recognized, but I did not know exactly how to get there. Ideas ran through my mind, like, getting a taxi driver to take me to near his place, and when the time came to pay for the taxi, I would just run off, and run down the streets barefoot.
But I was put out of my misery the next day. A guard came in the room, walked up to the windows, looked around it, and shortly afterwards I was taken and put into another room. Nobody said a word. Perhaps they were going to use the room for something else anyway, or perhaps that guard knew what had happened with the screws but didn’t want to get me into trouble. That was the end of my escape plan.
I kept asking for someone to speak to. Eventually they did bring somebody else into the room – an Afghan refugee who spoke some Urdu, so we could communicate. We used to talk, and he told me about the times when he had fought against the Russians. I built up a rather good impression of him. But then I found that he was held for an unrelated reason. He was supposed to have been collecting money from hajj groups, and arranging their visas through the Saudi Embassy in Pakistan, because the embassy in Kabul had been closed. He told me that he arranged a deal with some officials at the Saudi Embassy to issue visas for the Afghans. But apparently one of these officials had made off, and left the country with $90,000 in visa money. This prisoner was accused of having had a hand in it. But he always maintained that he didn’t do it, and that anyway the sum was only $45,000.
This is when I learned first hand something about what Pakistani security officials could really do, and it jolted me out of some of my naivety. At night, I used to hear a banging noise, dull thuds. I thought it was workmen. And then one night they came and took my cellmate, and I heard the banging again. When they brought him back I realized what had happened. The banging was not workmen; it was torturers. It went on every single night.They had used a long, thick rubber pipe to whack him, he told me. He had bruises and lacerations all over his back.They also put him on sleep deprivation, and guards came in and out to keep him awake. They also said he could not sit. He had to stand up the entire time, and they made sure he did. He had to stand all night because they wanted him to admit that it was $90,000. He didn’t. The next day they brought him a doctor to treat his wounds and put on some sort of balm. But then he was taken again the following night, and they did exactly the same thing again. He came back, and he was still forcibly kept awake.
Once I gathered up the courage to complain to one of the guards, ‘Look, this is wrong, why are you doing this to him?’ The guard replied, ‘If you don’t watch your mouth, you’ll be getting the same treatment.’
It was rare for the guards to speak to me like that, because in Pakistan if you speak good English it means you are well educated, and therefore from a fairly wealthy or powerful background.Whenever they would start getting a little bit cheeky with me, I’d speak some English with great certainty, although they would not understand a word. In fact one of my small comforts was that I knew they would never have dared do anything to me.
Another time one of his interrogators, an ISI man, came in. He shook my hand, and said, ‘How are you doing? I think things will go better, things will go well for you, I think we are coming to a conclusion soon for you.’
I was really happy. But then his tone changed entirely when he turned and faced the Afghan, who was still on sleep deprivation, and he spoke to him in Urdu. He walked up to him face-to-face, almost nose-to-nose, and he said, ‘Have you got your tongue yet?’
The Afghan pleaded with him, ‘Please, you don’t understand, I’m telling you the truth, I’ve been telling you the truth all this time. I don’t know why you’re—’
All of a sudden the Pakistani intelligence officer punched him in the face. Then he did it again, and again . . . I was just transfixed. He turned around and looked at me, as if to say, ‘Don’t even think about it.’
Then he grabbed the Afghan by the shoulder, pulled him down and kneed him repeatedly in the groin.
The last words the officer said to him were, ‘Listen, if you haven’t got your tongue by the time I get back, I’ll teach you how to speak languages you’ve never even heard of.’
I could tell that the truth didn’t matter to him, the prisoner just had to say what he was told. This was my introduction to what physical torture can make a person do. Nothing matters any more after a certain amount of punishment.That man took a lot of punishment before he admitted the amount was in fact $90,000. Eventually he did, and I saw him sign the statement. Other people came into my room too at various times; every one of them had been beaten.
But the agents were offering them all the chance to go home for Eid, as though nothing had happened. Eid was going to be in the next few days, and suddenly I felt hopeful. A few days later the other prisoners were gone. I was still there. I asked, ‘Am I going home for Eid?’
The officer who had been so optimistic with me said, ‘No, probably not for Eid, but, you know,maybe a bit later, a little later than that. Not to worry, everything will be OK.’
The Pakistanis were always like that with me, ‘Everything will be OK, things are going your way, no problem, it’s just a few technical hitches that need to be sorted out, everything’s fine.’
In fact, up until the moment I was handed over to the Americans, they maintained that everything would be fine, nothing would happen. But despite all the reassurance, I had my first anxiety attack there in my room, two days before the handover. Nothing like that attack had ever happened to me before. I’m a very calm person and I can normally deal with difficult situations quite easily. But what was destroying me in there was worrying about my family.Thinking about them having to go through something like my disappearance, after suffering the US bombings in Afghanistan, and just not knowing what they were actually going through,was really killing me. I couldn’t control myself. I went crazy. I started ripping up the quilt and throwing things around, whatever there was to throw around, and eventually a guard came and tried to comfort me. I slapped him in the face. To his credit he didn’t retaliate, he didn’t try to hit me back, or anything. I was trying to plead with him,‘Please, how can you do this to me when you know I don’t know what’s happening to my family, and you’re holding me here without any charge and without any legal recourse.’
About two hours later a doctor came to see me, to see if I was all right. He gave me a complete physical check-up. Then, about two hours after that, the person that I used to call Uncle came along. He said,‘Uh, you’ve got to go. They want to see you.’
I wondered if perhaps it was because of what had just happened. Maybe they had realized that this had all gone a bit too far? They took me back to the house in G10. The officer in charge was someone who I later got to know, because I met him in Guantánamo – an FBI agent, Mike.
That day we sat as usual in the dining room – me with the handcuffs on and him across the table. There was a Pakistani officer in there too for the first time, but he said little. Mike had a very short message for me. He gave me the impression that he didn’t really like what was going on, but he was doing his duty.
‘I’m here to inform you that we’ve decided to send you to Kandahar, and then to Cuba. It’s going to be a military environment and it’ll be a lot harsher than this. Now, if you continue not to cooperate with us you will be spending a very long time there. And if you don’t speak the truth, regardless of whether you cooperate or not, you are still going to be spending a long time out there.’
I’d seen images of Guantánamo Bay. I just looked at him; I had tears in my eyes. ‘Is it going to be . . . going to be years?’
‘Oh no, just a few months.’
I thought this just couldn’t be happening, but I had the presence of mind to ask if I could at least write a letter to my wife before I left. He said yes, and gave me some paper and a pen. It was a terribly difficult letter to write, as I was trying to say, ‘I don’t know if or when we’ll ever meet again.’ I wanted to ask her to forgive me for anything I might ever have done to hurt her, and I wanted to give her some parting advice, for her life, for our children. Mike said,‘We’re not social workers, but I’ll get it to them.’ When I asked if he was sure he could find them, he said, ‘Well, we got to you, didn’t we?’ Zaynab never did get the letter.
The meeting ended with me pleading in Urdu to the Pakistani officer to help me. I appealed to his conscience, to his national pride, this was not even an extradition, how could he let this happen to me. He leant forward, poured some water into a cup and gave it to me, saying, ‘All I can offer you is this.’ I felt like picking it up and throwing it in his face.
‘Moazzam,’ one of the Pakistani officers said on the way to what I discovered was the airport, ‘you know,my friend, I have sold both this life and the next for what I am about to do.“. . . And there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth . . .” ’he quoted from the Quran.
I said nothing.
‘I will have to answer for it one day.’
As the vehicle came to a stop he said, ‘Everything will be all right, don’t worry. My journey ends here, but yours is about to begin.’
© 2006 by Moazzam Begg and Victoria Brittain. This piece originally appears in Moazzam Begg’s Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantánamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (The New Press, September 11, 2006).