Background Briefing

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VII. Beatings and other inappropriate use of force

Several of the detainees report having witnessed or heard about beatings.  The Afghan former detainee A. told Human Rights Watch: “I saw some other prisoners who were beaten and blood was running from their heads.  Specifically I saw two Arabs who were acting obstinately who were beaten.”68  Mohammad Sangir, from Pakistan, says he witnessed the beating by seven guards of an Arab prisoner for spitting at a guard: “They all went into the cell and were beating him and kicking him.”69 

Three British detainees described the following use of excessive force: 

[I]f you said you didn’t want to go to interrogation you would be forcibly taken out of the cell by the [Initial Reaction Force] team. You would be pepper-sprayed in the face which would knock you to the floor as you couldn’t breathe or see and your eyes would be subject to burning pain.  Five of them would come in with a shield and smack you and knock you down and jump on you, hold you down and put the chains on you. And then you would be taken outside where there would already be a person with clippers who would forcibly shave your hair and beard. Interrogators gave the order for that to be done; the only way in which this would be triggered would be if you were in some way resisting interrogation, in some way showing that you didn’t want to be interrogated.  Or if during interrogation you were non-cooperative then it could happen as well.70 

Asif Iqbal, a British detainee, reported the following incident:

In our block, one of the detainees who had wrapped around his waist to pray (our jump suits would open at the side when we prayed which is contrary to Islam, in that we are required to be covered when we pray) and an MP told the detainee, who’s [sic] name was Qureshi from Saudia Arabia … to remove the towel. Qureshi was in the middle of his prayer and ignored them. The MP then opened his cage, which was a breach of the rules, and when Qureshi still wouldn’t stop his prayers, the MP punched him violently to the face, knocking him to the ground and then kicked him.

Iqbal did not see the incident but he heard about it from others.  But another British detainee, Shafiq Rasul, said: “I saw the incident happen about ten to fifteen meters away from me. I clearly saw the MP punch him, knock him to the ground and beat him violently.”71

Rasul also recounted the beating of Bahraini prisoner Jummah Al-Dousari, who was mentally ill and used to shout all the time, say silly things, impersonate the soldiers. One day, he impersonated a female soldier. The upshot was that an Initial Reaction Force (IRF) team was called:

When Jumah saw them coming he realized something was wrong and was lying on the floor with his head in his hands.  If you’re on the floor with your hands on your head, then you would hope that all they would do would be to come in and put the chains on you.  That is what they’re supposed to do.  The first man is meant to go in with a shield.  On this occasion the man with the shield threw the shield away, took his helmet off, when the door was unlocked ran in and did a knee drop onto Jumah’s back just between his shoulder blades with his full weight.  He must have been about 240 ponds in weight. … Once he had done that the others came in and were punching and kicking Jumah.  While they were doing that the female officer then came in and was kicking his stomach.  Jumah had had an operation and had metal rods in his stomach clamped together in the operation. … the MP Sergeant … was punching him.  He grabbed his head with one hand and with the other hand punched him repeatedly in the face.  His nose was broken.  He pushed his face and he smashed it into the concrete floor.  All of this should be on video; there was blood everywhere.  When they took him out they hosed the cell down and the water ran red with blood.  We all saw it.72

Asif Iqbal, a British detainee, claims that a guard punched him in the face numerous times and kneed his thigh, leaving a huge bruise, on one occasion.73

Shah Mohammed Alikhil told Human Rights Watch that he had witnessed the beating of detainee Abdul Salam Zaeef, who had been the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, while they were both in the punishment cells: 

He along with other prisoners shouted at one of the guards who threw down a holy Koran one day.  He and other prisoners had shouted as a way to show their anger and protest. So he was put in this cell.  I saw him one day while he was circled by many guards equipped with protection guards [shields] which were like reflecting mirrors.  He was resisting getting into the cell, but the guards were pushing him forward.  During this time I saw that one guard got angry and hit Abdul Salam Zaeef with a punch and then other guards also beat him with the protecting guards.74

Afghan former detainee N.H. told Human Rights Watch:

Sometimes the prison guards would throw water bottles or other things at prisoners to agitate them, and then two or three of them would badly beat the angry prisoner.  In many instances, I have seen prisoners badly injured with blood coming out of their mouths, noses and ears.75

Tarek Dergoul alleged that he was himself assaulted and had a chemical spray administered during cell searches, which he claims were staged repeatedly, sometimes during the times when prisoners would be praying.  He stated: 

I often refused to cooperate with cell searches during prayer time.  One reason was that they would abuse the Koran.  Another was that the guards deliberately felt up my private parts under the guise of searching me.  If I refused a cell search MPs would call the Extreme Reaction Force [the actual name is the Initial Reaction Force] who came in riot gear with plastic shields and pepper spray.  The Extreme Reaction Force entered the cell, ran in and pinned me down after spraying me with pepper spray and attacked me.  The pepper spray caused me to vomit on several occasions.  They poked their fingers in my eyes, banged my head on the floor and kicked and punched me and tied me up like a beast.  They often forced my head into the toilet.76

Jamal al-Harith, another Briton released in March 2004, also alleges that he was subjected to two separate beatings by IRF squads (he referred to them as Extreme Reaction Force -ERF) within an hour.  During the first, he alleges that he was punched, kicked and struck with batons by a five-person IRF squad for refusing an injection:


I could hear their feet stomping on the ground as they got closer and closer to my cell.  They were given a briefing about me refusing the injection, then I heard them readying themselves outside.  I was terrified of what they were going to do.  I had seen victims of ERF being paraded in front of my cell.  They were battered and bruised into submission.  It was a horrible sight and a frequent sight. … They were really gung-ho, hyped up and aggressive.  One of them attacked me really hard and left me with a deep red mark from my backbone down to my knee.  I thought I was bleeding, but it was just really bad bruising. [Half an hour after this beating, Jamal al-Harath was attacked again]:  They accused me of biting a military policeman.  I said nothing.  I knew it wouldn’t help whatever I said.  They laid into me again.  When they were finished I sat down, picked up the Koran and started reading.  Then two guards put me in more chains and said: ‘Will you comply?’[He was then taken to a punishment cell].77

A., the Afghan interviewed by Human Rights Watch, described how prisoners staged acts of disobedience or open belligerence towards their guards after a guard handled a prisoner’s copy of the Koran disrespectfully by throwing it into the prisoner’s cell.  According to A., over the course of more than three months the protest actions ranged from shouting at guards to throwing excrement at them.  On five or six occasions, A. claimed, the guards responded with the use of what may have been a chemical spray:

During that three and half months of the strike we had a difficult time.  Guards were using gas on us. They would throw a bottle of gas and we could not take a breath and we felt like we were suffocating.  Sometimes they were taking one or two unconscious prisoners to the hospital.78

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with A. (name withheld), February 6, 2004.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Sangir, January 17, 2004.

[70] Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, “Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,” released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 290, available online at:, accessed on August 19, 2004.

[71] Ibid., para. 114.

[72] Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, “Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,” released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 167, available online at:, accessed on August 19, 2004.

[73] Ibid., para. 168.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Shah Mohammed Alikhil, 3 January 2004.  Other sources have corroborated that Abdul Salam Zaeef is in Guantanamo.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with N.H. (name withheld), June 2, 2004.

[76] Statement by Tarek Dergoul made available to Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2004.

[77] Rosa Prince and Gary Jones, “My Hell in Camp X-ray,” Daily Mirror, London, March 12, 2004, available online at:, accessed on July 1, 2004.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with A. (name withheld), February 6, 2004.

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