With signs of a faint smile and his young son clutched tight in his arms, Qari Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni appears to be a man at war with himself – trying to make the most of his present, while fighting his way out of a disturbing past.
A former Guantanamo Bay inmate, Madni spent seven years in confinement out of which five years were spent in the “grave-like” cells of the world’s most notorious prison facility run by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The detention and torture took place on across the globe, across at least four countries.
Three years after he was released in 2009, the scars on his body and soul are healing — somewhat slowly.
Madni’s life back with his family is ironic for him – given that the conditions at Guantanamo compelled him to attempt suicide on at least two occasions.
The return has been difficult.
“I want to live a life full of happiness and peace. I look forward and don’t think much about the past. Those memories scare me. I want to run away from them,” said Madni, the last of the thus far 60 Pakistanis released from the facility in Cuba.
The 34-year-old was picked up by Indonesian authorities when he was 24 years old on the request of the CIA from Jakarta in January 2002 — months after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
His seven-year detention started in Cairo, Egypt, where he was interrogated and detained for around eight months at a facility run by the CIA in collaboration with Egyptian authorities. He was then kept at the Bagram detention centre, close to Kabul, for 14 months. But the torture – psychological or otherwise – aside, Madni is haunted by one question alone: Why was he picked up in the first place, and why did it take the Americans all of seven years to finally declare him innocent.
“They told me nothing. Just picked me up. Even at the time of my release, no explanation was given,” Madni told The Express Tribune.
“I need to know and it is my right to ask: Why me?” wondered Madni, who is currently involved in a legal battle with US authorities to seek financial compensation for his “illegal” detention.
“Money is no compensation… It cannot return to me what could have been the best years of my life,” said Qari, who was 24 when the CIA picked him.
One apparent reason, which he thinks could have caused US authorities to capture him, could have been his knowledge of Arabic and association with an institute in Jakarta being run with the financial help of the Saudi government.
For Qari, everything that he was subjected to while at Gitmo – from water boarding to physical torture, from mental agony to witnessing the desecration the Holy Quran and emotional breakdown due to sleepless nights for several months – was sheer pain.
But the most excruciatingly horrifying experience was what he faced in a fellow Muslim country, Egypt, by local intelligence authorities.
“Look, what the Americans did to me was expected. But the way I was treated by the Egyptians was unbelievable … That experience gave me scars that refuse to heal,” he explained.
Among his interrogators in Cairo, he claims, was Gamal Mubarak, son of ousted president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak. He says that, as the intelligence chief of his father’s regime, Gamal personally took part in the interrogation of all al Qaeda suspects in Egypt, including Qari.
The battle to forget is an uphill one, but in the continuing fight to bury the memories of his unfortunate past, Qari clutches onto the one of the few things that gives him hope: his son.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.
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