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13 years in Guantánamo without any evidence

Ahmed Ahjam was captured in Pakistan in 2001, accused of belonging to Al Qaeda. Although the United States never found any evidence, he was imprisoned at Guantánamo for 13 years.


Ahmed Ahjam is one of the six political prisoners who came from Guantánamo to Uruguay in 2014. It was an agreement between Presidents José Mujica and Barack Obama that made this possible. They have not yet found their way here – far from their families, language and culture. They are still strictly guarded, and both the CIA and Mossad have agents in Uruguay who control what they do.

Ahmed Ahjam talks about his time as a prisoner in Guantánamo. He was taken prisoner in Pakistan, accused of belonging to al-Qaeda, and was allowed to spend 13 years in prison – despite the fact that the United States never found any evidence against him.

I ask him how it feels that the United States captured him and released him after 13 years without the slightest compensation, without even apologizing: We took you who was innocent. Now you are free.

Sold to USA

Ahmed – born in Aleppo, Syria – had traveled to Pakistan to attend a religious school and read theology for a famous imam. But he was sold to the US forces for five thousand dollars. It was Pakistani border police who sold all men with Arab appearance, he claims.

«Officials from the CIA offered us to be free of visa cooperation with them […] We would get
house, car and salary. ”

They were interrogated and tortured, the interrogators wanted to know if they were members of al-Qaeda, and if they had met Osama bin Laden. They were taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan and from there to Guantánamo.

There, Ahmed and his fellow prisoners were tortured almost every day for five years. No evidence was found, US lawyers defended them pro bono, they were not allowed to contact families.

Ahmed and five other prisoners were allowed to come to Uruguay, far from the family, language and culture. One of them, Jihad Diyab, born in Syria, has fled the country with a false passport and tried to enter Turkey to meet his family, his wife and their children, who live as refugees on the Turkey-Syria border.

Was forcibly fed

Religion was their only security in Guantánamo. Ahmed prays five times a day. He tells him that religion is the ceremonies, rituals, fasting, meals. In Guantánamo, they got to eat the soldiers' food, impersonal, cooked elsewhere, wrapped, anonymous. They often hungered, demanded Arab food and meat from animals slaughtered according to the halal method, but they refused this and became forcibly fed.


Ahmed says that of course he knew about Assad's prisons, many of his intellectuals and dissidents were already imprisoned under Assad's father. Everyone who did not like his way of government was labeled dangerous, Syria has one of the world's largest security police with hundreds of thousands of members.

“There were lots of viewers and people reporting their neighbors. A good way to get rid of an enemy or a business rival, ”Ahmed writes to me.

“I did the bump in Damascus and lived there for two years. I was stationed at the airport in Damascus. It was a fun time, and many foreign airlines flew there. But even then, the riot was felt in the air. We used to go to different cafes and drink coffee and tea. Just like when we were teenagers in Aleppo. ”

Guantánamo Prison was full of innocents – their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were photographers from Al Jazeera and nurses from the Red Crescent [Red Cross], people who had been kidnapped in Bosnia and Turkey. It didn't matter what profession you had or whether you were there at work – they took you anyway. There were Bosnians who had been taken captive in Sarajevo after looking at some websites where al-Qaeda presented itself and its visions. The Americans thought it was recruitment sites, and everyone who looked at them was suspicious.

The Aleppo childhood home is empty

A Qatar man who was a journalist for state television spent 13 years in prison. When he was released, he returned to Qatar and received a million dollars and a house from the government.

“There were lots of viewers and people reporting their neighbors. A great way to get rid of an enemy or a business rival. "

«We others got nothing. The United States has said that they will not pay any compensation for us, even though we were in prison without trial and that they could not prove that we were guilty of any crime. ”

Ahmed did not have contact with his family of 13 years. He was as afraid of Assad's agents as of the CIA.

"It was great to see them again via Skype. My little sisters are married, and I have several nieces and nephews. My mother died in the meantime, and my father has remarried. There are many changes, they have lost everything, the war has affected Aleppo the most, their businesses have been looted and their houses bombed. Only my father and our childhood home remain because it is located in the part of Aleppo that is protected by Assad's soldiers. That part of the city is not as destroyed as the neighborhoods that became battlefields between the rebels and government soldiers. I call them via Skype every day, they have helped me and taught me to cook. Now I can cook exactly the same hummus that I ate as a child and that my mother did, "says Ahmed.

"I knew nothing about phones or computers, in Aleppo I learned to forge in gold and silver. Damascus has been known since ancient times for its metals and weapons. A sword made by a blacksmith in Syria was a status symbol. Here in Uruguay there are no such traditions, and you hardly have any jewelers. By the way, why don't women wear jewels here? I hardly see anyone wearing a necklace here, some rings only, no bracelets, no gold. ”

Now Ahmed has saddled around and is becoming a chef or confectioner: "I've learned to do backlava and the hardest of all: knafe from Nablus."

Contact with the CIA. Ahmed says that CIA officials contacted the prisoners:

«Officials from the CIA offered us to be free if we only worked with them. If we went to any Arab country and went to the mosque and listened to conversations between people. If anybody was planning any attack. If we cooperated, we would get a house, a car and a salary. I replied that if I lived on Guantánamo for a thousand years, I would not villa cooperate with them and spy on my countrymen. They got sour, and I was beaten. But it didn't matter; now I had a goal: to survive. ”

Ana L. Valdés
Ana L. Valdés
Valdés is a writer, anthropologist and activist.

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