We speak with Mansoor Adayfi, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who was held at the military prison for 14 years without charge, an ordeal he details in his new memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo. Adayfi was 18 when he left his home in Yemen to do research in Afghanistan, where he was kidnapped by Afghan warlords, then sold to the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. Adayfi describes being brutally tortured in Afghanistan before he was transported to Guantánamo in 2002, where he became known as Detainee #441 and survived years of abuse. Adayfi was released against his will to Serbia in 2016 and now works as the Guantánamo Project coordinator at CAGE, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of the war on terror. “The purpose of Guantánamo wasn’t about making Americans safe,” says Adayfi, who describes the facility as a “black hole” with no legal protections. “The system was designed to strip us of who we are. Even our names were taken.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with Mansoor Adayfi. At the age of 18, he left his home in Yemen to do research in Afghanistan. Shortly before he was scheduled to return home, he was kidnapped by Afghan warlords and sold to the CIA after the September 11th attacks. He was jailed and tortured in Afghanistan, then transported to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo in 2002, where he was held without charge for 14 years, many of those years in solitary confinement. Mansoor became known as Detainee 441. In 2016, he was released against his will to Serbia, which he compares to Guantánamo 2.0. By the time Mansoor was released, he had spent more than half his life in prison.
Mansoor Adayfi has just published a memoir titled Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo. I spoke to him Friday from his home in Belgrade. I began by asking him to talk about how he ended up at Guantánamo.
MANSOOR ADAYFI: OK, let’s fly back like 38 years, which, actually, I — like, when people ask me, “How old are you?” I say I’m like 24, because I don’t count Guantánamo, like try to cheat. Anyway, I born in a tiny village in Yemen, Raymah, born like with 11, 12 — 11 brothers and sisters, large family, very conservative family. I studied my primary school and secondary school in the village. We had no high school, so I had to go live with my aunt in the capital, Sana’a, which was like a new world.
When I finished with my high school, I was assigned to do some research in Afghanistan. I was like a research assistant in Afghanistan. This is how my journey started there. In Afghanistan, I spent a couple months researching and doing some of the research required to be done.
One day, after 9/11, I was kidnapped by the warlords. They were actually interested in the car; they weren’t interested in us. Then, when Americans came, the American airplane, they were throwing a lot of flyers offering a large bounty of money, which could change Afghanis’ life. So, Afghanis found out that the more you give them high-rank people, the more you get paid. The price ranged between $5,000 to like $200,000, $500,000.
First of all, we were taken as — held for ransom. Then I was sold to the CIA as an al-Qaeda general, middle-age Egyptian, you know, a 9/11 insider. I was taken to the black site, where I was, like, tortured for like over two months, then from the black site to Kandahar detention — was one of the funny things.
When I arrived at Kandahar detention, I was totally naked there. It’s like another — it’s a long journey. Second day of my arrival, guards came to move me to a tent. After the interrogation, I was asked to sign a paper that the Americans have a right to shoot me and kill me if I try to escape. I said, “No, I’m not going to sign. Of course I will try to escape. I shouldn’t be here in the first place.” So, yeah, I was beating — I refused to sign. They put my hand on the paper; they signed it themselves. I said, “No, that doesn’t count. I have to sign with my — like, willingly.”
AMY GOODMAN: And when you talked about a bounty being paid to the warlords who handed you over to the U.S. CIA and then you were tortured at a black site, do you know where that black site was? And when you say “tortured,” what actually happened to you in that two-month period? If I — I hate to bring you back there, but what actually happened?
MANSOOR ADAYFI: You know, I don’t know where — until that day, I don’t know where the black site is, where that place. But I was kept, before that, at one of the warlord home. I was treated like a guest, teaching his kids classes — math, Qur’an and so on. And after that, I was — when the Americans came, they stripped naked. They put me in the bag, hooded, and they shipped me to somewhere I don’t know, ’til that day.
So, in the black site, it was one of the worst experiences in my life. Sometimes I’m afraid to get back there, because — not because fear. It’s just, you know, to relive that trauma, because there was no limit to whatever they can do to us, 24 hours.
AMY GOODMAN: And these were U.S. soldiers?
MANSOOR ADAYFI: Yes, U.S. soldiers and with also Afghanis, where people actually lost their life there, because they were looking for Osama bin Laden, where is Mullah Mohammed Omar, where are the new attacks, the sleeper cells. And they have a long list and photos and all kind of things.
So, yes, I mean, those black sites, I believe no one knows how many people in that ended there and how many people actually died there. But there was no limitation to whatever they can do to you. I mean, we spent — hang on the ceiling all the time, upside down, even blindfolded, naked. The food and drink, just pour rice and water in our mouth. Sometimes they — we also do our thing sort of standing, and there’s no rest. Twenty-four hours, there’s a programming, like sleep deprivation. We have only sleep — they give you 30 minutes, like, then six hours, then 20 minutes, if you can sleep — loud music, beating, waterboarding. They used to put us in kind of like a barrel and roll it in the ice and shoot. And the first time I did, I thought that I died, because they rolled it, and they shot with a gun. I, like, was looking: “Where are the holes?” But I was still alive. So, yes, I mean —
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you were taken from there to Kandahar, and then you were held where in Kandahar before being brought to Guantánamo?
MANSOOR ADAYFI: I think, Kandahar, we were at the airport. They have a detention — they built a detention prison in Kandahar. It was tents surrounded with like high walls of barbed wires. We could see the airplanes taking off every time.
So, when we saw — when we used to see the small airplanes, we knew they bring a new group of people. But we called — the big one, we called “the beast,” the Air Force really big one. So, that, when it comes, we all, like, panic, because we knew some people was going to leave, and they’re going to disappear. So, even that trauma, just waiting for your name or number to be — no, name — our name to be called.
They took us. And they call it a process station. Or they just drag me to that place, hang on the pole, strip naked, shaved. And there were all kind of humiliation, I mean, just too much to talk about it. So, we were packed on orange jumpsuits. Everything was orange — shoes, socks, uniform, shirt, T-shirt, pants. Everything was orange. And they have also goggles, ear muffs. My mouth was duct-taped, my eyes, too, also then hood. And they put one more thing upon me special, because as a big fish: They put a sign around my neck which said, “Beat me.” So, every 15, 10 minutes, I get beaten all the way for the next over 40 hours, until we arrived at Guantánamo.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did they say you did? What were the charges against you?
MANSOOR ADAYFI: You know, at the black site, I was accused to be an Egyptian. They asked me I was in Nairobi and was recruiting, money laundering, I was al-Qaeda camp — head of the camp, trainer, a commander — all kind of accusations. I tried to deny them, but I admit to everything, you know? But the problem was with the details. I couldn’t give them the details. By the end, like two months and a half, when they found out I wasn’t that person, they just throw me in Kandahar detention. And from Kandahar, the same files were sent with me, where the interrogation started again about the same person, and in Guantánamo over and over and over again.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to just be very clear: You were 18 years old.
MANSOOR ADAYFI: Yeah, I turned — I was 18 years old when I was kidnapped. I turned 19 in the black site.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi. We’ll be back with him in 30 seconds.