Today, a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive. A victim of the CIA rendition program—kidnapped, held in secret jails and tortured—speaks out in his own words. His name is Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, one of hundreds of men to have passed through the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” Today, he tells his story.
A citizen of Yemen, Mohamed came to Jordan with his wife in the fall of 2003 to arrange surgery for his ailing mother. He was living in Indonesia at the time. Jordanian authorities took him into custody shortly after seizing his passport. There, he says he was tortured, threatened and forced to sign a false confession. He was turned over to the CIA within days and flown to a secret prison he later found out was in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In CIA custody, Mohamed says he was held in a freezing-cold cell, interrogated, shackled, force-fed, subjected to sleep deprivation and loud music for days. He attempted suicide at least three times. He talks about his interrogators and the American psychiatrists or psychologists who also played a role.
Mohamed has brought a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary accused of abetting his kidnapping. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Jeppesen Dataplan on behalf of Mohamed and four other victims of CIA kidnapping and torture. The lawsuit accuses Jeppesen of providing direct logistical support for the CIA flights.
Yesterday, I spoke to Mohamed Bashmilah on the phone from his home in Yemen, in his first broadcast interview. We’re going to play that interview in a moment, but first I want to turn to Meg Satterthwaite. She is director of the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University Law School. She’s Mohamed Bashmilah’s attorney, joining us from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Meg Satterthwaite.
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of what Mohamed Bashmilah describes happened to him.
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: So, one of the reasons that Mohamed Bashmilah’s story is so important is that he is one of a very small number of individuals to have actually come out of the so-called “high-value detainee” program. This is a program that targeted individuals who were suspected of being quote/unquote “high-level al-Qaeda” members or had associations with such members. Mohamed is one of very few people who was later released from that program, rather than being sent to Guantanamo. And for that reason, he is able to tell about some of the black sites that, really, we haven’t heard much about from any perspective outside of the US government perspective.
AMY GOODMAN: He was never charged and then ultimately released, after being—
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: —held in—the last jail was in Yemen for ten months, he says, at the behest of the Americans.
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: Right. So he was never charged by the Americans in any way. In fact, he still doesn’t know to this day why the Americans picked him up and why they requested his transfer from Jordan. He was charged finally by the Yemeni government. When he was transferred to Yemen, the Yemeni government has said that they were told to hold him on behalf of the US government. They later received a file from the US government, and essentially they felt that they didn’t have any evidence that he was a terrorist, so they interviewed him and they found that he admitted to using a false identity document at one point when he was in Indonesia, and they charged him with forgery. They then sentenced him to time served, and they counted the time that he spent in secret prisons abroad.
AMY GOODMAN: Meg Satterthwaite, why is he and the other men who you’re representing suing this Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen?
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: So the Jeppesen suit, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, is a suit that challenges corporate complicity in the rendition and secret detention program. And the point here is to show and to try to stop the complicity of regular corporations in the secret detention and forced disappearance program.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Meg Satterthwaite, director of International Human Rights Clinic at New York University Law School. And what is the Boeing subsidiary’s response—Jeppesen?
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: Well, we actually haven’t had a response from the defendant, Jeppesen, in this case. What has happened instead is that the US government has made a motion to intervene, and they’ve also at the same time made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or to get a summary judgment granted in their favor on the basis of the state secrets doctrine. So the idea is the US government needs to come in and say, “Wait, we can’t forward with this case. We can’t even go forward to have a response from the defendant, because the issues in the case are so linked to national security that the entire case must be dismissed on the basis of state secrets.”
AMY GOODMAN: Meg Satterthwaite, we’d like you to stay with us. We’re going to turn now to the interview that I did with Mohamed Bashmilah. Fuad Yahya provided the translation. I spoke to Mohamed at his home in Yemen. He began by talking about his initial capture in Jordan before he was turned over to the CIA.
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] It was approximately six days, but what I endured there is worth years. They took me there, and in the evening they started their interrogations process. They started putting some psychological pressure on me. They wanted me to confess to having some connections to some individuals of al-Qaeda. They tried several times to get me to confess, and every time I said no, I would get either a kick, a slap or a curse. Then they said that if I did not confess, they will bring my wife and rape her in front of me. And out of fear for what would happen to my family, I screamed and I fainted. After I came to, I told them that, “Please, don’t do anything to my family. I would cooperate with you in any way you want.”
AMY GOODMAN: CIA torture and rendition victim, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah. He was speaking to me yesterday from his home in Yemen. We’ll come back to this interview in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to this broadcast exclusive, the interview with CIA torture and rendition victim, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah. I spoke to him at his home in Yemen late yesterday and asked him to talk about his transfer to CIA custody after his detention in Jordan.
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] They took me at 1:30 in the morning out of the detention facility. I was told that I was being released. I was cautiously optimistic, because how could someone be released at 1:30 in the morning?
They took me to the room where I deposited my belongings. And my belongings consisted of my passport, $200, an ID card and my wedding ring. I signed receipt of these items, but they were not given to me. They were put inside an envelope. In addition, they put also the paper that I had signed, the confession, which was essentially a false confession.
While we were walking out, I asked one of the guards where I was being taken and where is my family? At that time, my heart was in distress. I felt there was something wrong, there was some kind of a conspiracy regarding my fate.
At that time, the guard lifted the blindfold partially so that I would speak to the interrogator, and I saw another man who had a Western look. He was white and somewhat overweight and had dark glasses on. I realized then that they were probably handing me over to some other agency, because during the interrogations I had with the Jordanians, one of the threats was that if I did not confess, they will hand me over to American intelligence. At that time, I did not take that threat seriously, because they had threatened me before that they would rape my wife, so I thought this was just psychological pressure. But at this moment, I realized I was being handed over to some other parties.
When we left the building and we got into the vehicle and the vehicle started to move, so I realized if the vehicle turned left and then turned right, that would mean that I was being taken to the airport, and that could mean that I would be handed over to some other parties. On the other hand, if the vehicle turned left and then turned left again, then that would mean that we were going to the city center, and that could mean that I was being released. I could not see or hear, but I could feel the movement, and the vehicle went into the direction toward the airport. I became increasingly afraid, increasingly worried, because I was being handed over to some other parties, and I didn’t understand why.
When we arrived at the airport, they took me to a hall. And without any precautions or anything, I felt that I was being pulled violently by some other people. They took me to another room. They started tearing down my clothes, from above all the way down. And I was being stripped completely naked. They started taking pictures from all directions. And they also started to beat me on my sides and also my feet. And then they put me in a position similar to the position of prostration in Muslim prayer, which is similar to the fetal position. And in that position, one of them inserted his finger in my anus very violently. I was in terrible pain, and I started to scream. When they started taking pictures, I could see that they were people who were masked. They were dressed in black from head to toe, and they were also wearing surgical gloves.
And then, they started in the process of preparing me for travel, and that consisted of putting a diaper on me. And then they put pants, which went down to below the knee, and a top with the sleeve to the middle of the forearm. And then, they also put some gauze on my eyes. And then they put what looked like headphones on my ears—sorry, these were not headphones; they were like little plugs inside the ears, plastic. And then they put gauze on that, on the ears. And then they taped that with very strong adhesive tape. And then they put a hood over my head. And then, on top of that, they put a headphone. This is as far as the top of my body was. And then they handcuffed me with a chain, and also they chained my ankles. Then they put a belt above the pants, and then they tied the hands and the ankles to that belt. This was after being slapped and kicked until I almost fainted.
And then they took me into an aircraft, and they had me lie down on the floor of the airplane. Then they strapped my legs at my chest so that I wouldn’t move right or left. The aircraft flew for about two-and-a-half to three hours. And I was in such a terrible psychological state, only God could determine. There was a lot of physical pain because of what I had endured, and also all the thoughts regarding what might happen to my wife and my mother. This is knowing that my mother was seriously ill, and my wife could not speak Arabic very well so she could be of much help to my mother. And so, throughout this flight, I was in some kind of a coma, and I would come to and I would faint and come to. And so, during those times when I was thinking of my wife and mother, I would be distracted from the pain, and then the pain would distract me from the thoughts to my wife and mother.
About three hours later, we landed somewhere. And then some [inaudible], and they handled me very roughly. They took me to a detention center. I was in a very poor psychological state. Then they took me to a room where they took my weight, and they examined my eyes and my ears. Then they put me in a solitary cell.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you beaten in this place?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] In this place, I was not beaten. They did not seem to have anything that indicated that I should be treated that way. In addition to that, they could see that I was in a terrible psychological state. It did not make any sense to pressure me in interrogations.
I was terribly agitated, and I was crying inconsolably, thinking of my mother and my wife. Also, I was thinking what they were thinking—why would they take me from one detention center to another? And I remained in this cell for three months, during which I had no relief at all, despite the fact that they brought a number of psychiatrists, in addition to the general practice physician there.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed, who were you being held by here?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] Based on what the Jordanians had told me, that they would hand me to American intelligence, in addition to the interrogators in this place who came to see me with interpreters, I realized quite certainly that I was being held by American intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: What clues did you have? Why did you think American?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] Some of the interrogators would come to me and interrogate me in the interrogation room, and they would tell me, “You should calm down and be comforted, because we’ll send all this information to Washington.” And they would say that in Washington, they will determine whether my answers are truthful or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, speaking to us from Yemen, CIA torture and rendition victim. We’ll come back to this conversation with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the last part of my interview with Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, the CIA torture and rendition victim. In the previous excerpt, he described his ordeal while he was sent to the secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. I asked him to talk about the conditions at that prison.
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] In the beginning, it was totally dark. It was as if you were inside a tomb. Then, after that, they would turn a light on. Above the door, there was a camera. And there was constant loud music.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of music?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] It was loud Western music, and it was very noisy.
AMY GOODMAN: In English?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] After a while, they switched to Arabic music.
AMY GOODMAN: How loud was it?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] It was loud enough so that you could not hear what happens in the other cells when the doors opened and closed.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you hear other prisoners?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] Yes, I heard other people very clearly, because sometimes there would be power outage, and during that time the music would stop and you could hear the other people.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you hear?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] Sometimes I would hear a call for prayer, and sometimes I hear them conversing about this new person who has just arrived, and that’s me, because I didn’t talk. So I would hear them once in a while.
AMY GOODMAN: What language were your guards and the interrogators speaking?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] The guards would not speak a single word, but the interrogators spoke in English, and they had interpreters with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you try to hurt yourself in this cell?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] During these three months in this cell, I tried hurting myself three times, because I could not take it in that place, because I had not done nothing wrong.
The first time, I tried to pull some thread from the blanket, trying to fashion a rope to hang myself. I tied it to the window that was opposite to the door, where the sound of music would come. I think they saw me through the camera, so the guards came and stopped me.
After a while, I collected some of the medicine that they were giving to me every day. I kept a number of these pills, about twenty, and then I dissolved them in a cup of water. But it just happened that at that time, the guards came, and it was just the wrong time.
And the third time was, I tried to slash my veins with a piece of metal that I had. But this piece of metal was not sharp enough, so I injured myself, but the wound was not deep enough.
Because of the recurrence of these incidents, then they started having the psychiatrists see me. And what these psychiatrists did was just give me the opportunity to speak and express myself. And the therapy mainly consisted of trying to look at my thoughts and try to interpret them for me, and in addition to some tranquilizers whenever they thought I needed some.
There was one time also when I started beating my head against wall. And then what happened was, they brought me a helmet, similar to what people wear when they play golf. So all of my attempts were unsuccessful.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed, why did you try to commit suicide three times?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] The main thing was that I had not done anything that would call for being transferred from one prison to another and to endure such suffering. In addition to that, knowing that my mother was seriously ill, and she and my wife were in a foreign country—imagine any mother having her son snatched away from her and taken away, even for just one week. Imagine what this person would suffer and how the mother would suffer also. This made me want to have nothing to do with life anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: How long were you held in Yemen?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] Ten months.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you tortured there?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] I was not tortured. I was questioned about the places where I had been detained, which, of course, I didn’t know. There was no need to torture me or even ask me about anything else in terms of violations of the law or anything. My detention in Yemen, as far as I could determine from what was written in the press, was at the behest of the Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe finally being released to your family?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] My joy was indescribable. I could not believe that I was going to be released. As much as I was happy to be released and to be reunited with my wife and mother, I was also worried about what my wife and mother had endured during my absence. I did not tell them what I had suffered in Jordan or elsewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have a message for the American people?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] I believe that the American people are helpless during the administration of George Bush. When I was in detention, I would speak to the interrogators, and I told them that the policies of George Bush was wrong, especially sending American people to areas where they don’t belong. And I told them that it seems that the policy consisted of addressing wrongs with wrongs. I didn’t know that one day when I would be released, I would find out that there are American victims of this policy, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed, did they ever charged you with anything?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] I was not charged with anything. This is what I have found. I was handed to Yemen, and they asked them to detain me.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any communication with your family?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] And there were no charges against me.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any communication with your family from Jordan to the time you were released?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] I could not contact my family or any human rights organization or the Red Cross or any agency, other than my interrogators, the doctors and the psychiatrists.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the Red Cross ever visit you?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] They never did. I wished they did.
AMY GOODMAN: So you did not speak to your family, even when you were ten months in Yemen in jail?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] After a month and a half of being in Yemen, I was able to communicate with my family.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did the Yemen authorities hold you?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] They said this was at the behest of the US authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any message for other prisoners who are held at places like Guantanamo or the same prisons you were held in, who remain there?
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] I want to tell all prisoners in all places that one day truth and justice will prevail. They want to be released, but their jailers want to keep them, and God has a plan for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed, I want to thank you for taking this time to tell us your story.
MOHAMED FARAG AHMAD BASHMILAH: [translated] You’re welcome. It is my duty to sit here and express what has happened to me and also to hope that no one else will endure the same.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Bashmilah, he was a victim of CIA rendition, imprisoned at black sites run by the CIA. I spoke to him at his home in Yemen, telling his story for the first time in a broadcast interview. He was translated by Fuad Yahya.
Mohamed Bashmilah’s lawyer, Meg Satterthwaite, is still with us from Washington, D.C. You have brought a suit on his behalf. You are not, though, suing the US government. You are suing Jeppesen for being part of extraordinary rendition, is that right, Meg?
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: That’s right. First, I’d just like to clarify that the suit was actually brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, and I’m co-counsel in the case, representing Mohamed Bashmilah. The case is against Jeppesen Dataplan for its complicity and essentially for enabling some of the flights that were used to take individuals into the rendition and secret detention program. This is a program that could not exist without corporate complicity. Jeppesen is a crucial example here. The CIA used purportedly civilian planes to avoid certain procedures that they normally would need to use if they used, for example, military planes or official government planes. So the corporate complicity is actually a crucial part of the CIA program.
AMY GOODMAN: And why not the US government, as well, a suit against the government?
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: There has been, of course, several suits against the government for the rendition and secret detention program. The most recent one that viewers and listeners may be familiar with is the case of Khaled el-Masri, also a suit brought by the ACLU. In that suit, the suit was dismissed on the basis of the state secrets doctrine, essentially for the reason that—the CIA and the US government was able to forward the argument that the case was so sensitive it should be dismissed, because it had to do with state secrets.
The point in this case is to say the government has already acknowledged the program’s existence, the President and other high officials have given lots of details about the program when it suited them, so it can’t be that the very basis and fact of the program is still a state secret. It cannot be that that is enough to get rid of a lawsuit about basic human rights and the violation of those basic human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Meg Satterthwaite, were the interrogations of Mohamed videotaped?
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: We don’t know. What we do know is that there were video cameras in his cells and also in interrogation rooms. I would like to know, of course, if my client was videotaped. We have filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all records, which would include videotapes, if they existed, or transcripts. And all we’ve gotten from the CIA is the claim that they can neither confirm nor deny having any records of my client.
AMY GOODMAN: Meg Satterthwaite, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University Law School.
MEG SATTERTHWAITE: Thank you very much. Democracy Now!