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Guantanamo captive phones TV office, claims abuse

MIAMI (Reuters) - A young Guantanamo prisoner from Chad was given permission to telephone a relative but instead called the al Jazeera television network and said he was being beaten and abused at the U.S. detention camp.

A rusting fence with barbed wire is shown at the unused Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 5, 2007. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Transcripts of the recorded interview with Guantanamo captive Mohammad el Gharani were posted on the Qatar-based television network’s English-language website on Tuesday.

It was the first known interview with a captive held behind the razor-wire encampments at Guantanamo, which journalists are allowed to visit only if they sign an agreement not speak to any prisoners. It was not immediately clear when the call was made.

Gharani, now 21, has been held at Guantanamo for seven years. He was ordered freed by a U.S. district judge in Washington in January, a week before U.S. President Barack Obama took office and ordered the prison operation shut down within a year.

The camp was opened by the Bush administration in 2002 to hold and interrogate suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members after the September 11 attacks. Critics have condemned the facility as a symbol of abuses in Washington’s war on terrorism.

Gharani lives with other detainees the courts have ordered freed, in a group housing compound under fewer restrictions than most of the 240 Guantanamo captives.

He told al Jazeera he had been beaten with batons and teargassed by a group of six soldiers wearing protective gear and helmets after refusing to leave his cell.

“This treatment started about 20 days before Obama came into power, and since then I’ve been subjected to it almost every day,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Since Obama took charge he has not shown us that anything will change.”

The U.S. military has said detainees are treated humanely.


A spokesman at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Commander Brook DeWalt, said some of those cleared for release were allowed weekly telephone calls to relatives, but did not know whether Gharani had dialed the call himself, which would have violated policy.

Another government official who asked not to be identified said Gharani phoned al Jazeera under the guise of calling an uncle. He did not know how Gharani obtained the television network’s phone number.

Gharani was captured in Pakistan in late 2001 and taken to Guantanamo Bay in early 2002. The U.S. government said the then-14-year-old had stayed at an al Qaeda-affiliated guest house in Afghanistan, fought in the battle of Tora Bora in 2001, served as a courier for senior al Qaeda operatives and was part of a London-based al Qaeda cell.

But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the “mosaic of allegations” came from two other Guantanamo captives whose reliability and credibility were questionable, and ruled the government had failed to show evidence he was part of or supported al Qaeda or the Taliban.

He ordered Gharani sent either to Saudi Arabia, where he was raised and his family lives, or to Chad. The Obama administration is studying how to carry out those orders and what to do with the other prisoners.

Editing by Peter Cooney