Adil Kamil al Wadi
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
MANAMA, Bahrain — Adil Kamil al Wadi said that he and the other prisoners at the U.S. detention camp near Kandahar Airfield slept outside on plastic tarps, surrounded by bales of concertina wire. It was December 2001, and they shook all night and day in the cold.
That, he said, was bearable.
Then the American soldiers guarding the men began to taunt them during their prayers, he said. The detainees would stand in small groups in their pens and, five times a day, fall to their knees, crouch forward, touch their foreheads to the ground and pray.
At first, he said, the guards watched silently, bemused and smirking.
Wadi was among the first prisoners taken to the camp, and many of the soldiers, young men from small towns and cities across America, probably had never seen Muslims at prayer.
As the days passed, Wadi said, the soldiers began to laugh at the prisoners when they prayed. He said that some shouted obscenities about them being terrorists. The prisoners, he said, continued without acknowledging the hecklers with M-16s.
Then the soldiers began to demand that the prisoners stand up for head counts, he said. When the prisoners refused to get up and continued to pray, the soldiers hoisted them to their feet and sometimes punched them.
That, Wadi said, is when things changed.
"The soldiers told us, 'We will teach you a lesson.' We told them, 'If you want to do something, you will be sorry. We are not afraid to die for our religion,' " Wadi said. "We told them, 'If you want to stop us from praying, we will fight you to the death.' "
Wadi said that for him and many other prisoners, the battle came to seem like a religious war between Muslim prisoners and American soldiers who seemed to hate Islam.
Four years at Kandahar and Guantanamo, where he was shipped in January 2002, only hardened that impression, Wadi told a McClatchy reporter. Speaking at a coffee shop in Bahrain, Wadi — a former clerk at the Bahraini Defense Ministry — turned his wrists for inspection. He had pencil-thin scars across his flesh, left by tight handcuffs and shackles, he said.
Far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Wadi and other detainees believed that they were fighting for the dignity of Islam.
After his first month, at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray, Wadi was given a copy of the Quran.
Shortly after that, he said, guards began to include the Qurans in their searches of cells.
During one of the first searches, he said, "they threw mine (Quran) on the floor; a soldier kicked it."
"We became angry and asked him, 'Why did you do that?' He said, 'What did I do?' We said, 'You kicked our holy Quran. He said, 'Oh, this book?' And then he kicked it again. We started to scream and kick the fence."
An officer came to the cellblock to see why the detainees were making so much noise. Told that a soldier had kicked a Quran, the officer apologized, Wadi said.
"He said the soldier was a fool," Wadi said. "We said, 'OK, please do not let it happen again.' "
Five days later, a different soldier threw a Quran to the floor and kicked it, Wadi said.
Wadi was moved to Guantanamo's Camp Delta in May 2002, where he stayed until his release. He said he was called in for interrogation less frequently than he had been before; months passed without him being asked a single question. When he was called in, he said, the pointed questions about his role in al Qaida were gone.
"They didn't give me any idea about my case; they just said, 'What do you want to talk about?' They didn't ask me any questions," Wadi said. "I said, 'Are you joking? You have me here and have no questions?' "
As the interrogations faded away, however, things were heating up between the detainees and the soldiers, Wadi said.
"Some days they (soldiers) would be nice; they would ask us what we needed. But other days they would be mean, for no reason, just to get us to react so they could beat us," Wadi said. "The soldiers who pushed us got spit at, peed on or had (feces) thrown at them."
As he spoke about detainees throwing feces at soldiers' faces, Wadi cracked a grin: "It would scare them. They would run to the medic for a shot."
But when those soldiers came back from the medic, he said, they'd go directly to the cell of the detainee in question and beat him until he couldn't stand up.
Years in prison and what passed for a legal system in the Bush administration's war on terrorism, however, did nothing to establish whether Wadi was who he claimed to be or whether he was an al Qaida member who'd fought American troops and their Afghan allies, as the Americans alleged.
Wadi told interrogators that he'd gone to Afghanistan in October 2001 to give cash to poor families as part of his Islamic duty to give a portion of his salary to charity.
He left Kabul, he said, after his hotel manager told him that it was no longer safe for him to be in Afghanistan because Arabs were being kidnapped and sold for bounties to the Americans. In Pakistan, he said, he went to a checkpoint — he wasn't sure whether it was police or military — to ask for help getting to the Bahraini Embassy. Instead, he said, the Pakistani authorities turned him over to the Americans.
The interrogators said he was an al Qaida member whom the Pakistanis had arrested after he fled Afghanistan, where he fought in the battle of Tora Bora. The timing of his flight from Afghanistan, early to mid-December, coincides with that fight, in which Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaida leaders escaped to Pakistan.
Wadi's attorney, Mark Sullivan, said he didn't track down the details of his client's story but that he'd found nothing in the American military's files that disputed it.
"There was an absolute lack of evidence that would disprove anything he said," he said. "There was no credible evidence."
Sullivan said he'd submitted a list of reasons that the government's case was flawed but he never heard anything back.
"You have stories like Adil's: It sounds plausible, but if you were of a suspicious mind you could say it's vague . . . and we don't have any corroboration," Sullivan said. "But what we keep coming back to is what does the government have in the way of proof?"