Background Briefing

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VI. Punishment

Former detainee Shah Mohammed Alikhil told Human Rights Watch:

I was [in] the first group of people who were detained there and it was compulsory for a detainee to pass a month in Container Camp [the name of the camp’s isolation wing].  This rule was modified later.  So I passed a month there.  It had a cold environment and cold weather [air conditioning] was blowing.  Sometimes I was freezing cold, but we were denied blankets except during the night we were given blankets.  The other difference was food.  I was deprived of having regular normal food but instead I was given pills to use as food and sometimes packaged food military men take during abnormal condition [i.e. MREs].55  

Other detainees, such as Mohammad Sangir from Pakistan, also complained of the very cold conditions in the punishment cells, where he was twice held, caused by air conditioning.56  Former detainee A., from Afghanistan, stated:  “The isolation room was for punishment.  It was a dark room and cold air was blowing.  I had two blankets but still I was feeling cold.  I was there for a month each time.”57   Jamal al-Harith told the British Daily Mirror newspaper: “I’d wake up at 3a.m. shivering like crazy.  Just to keep a little bit warm I’d try to sleep under a metal bed to protect me from the cold air that was blowing in.”58

Shafiq Rasult describes conditions in an isolation block as follows: 

I was placed in a metal cell painted green inside.  It was filthy and very rusty. There was a tap, sink, toilet and a metal bunk.  It was extremely hot, hotter than the other cells I’d been in previously.  Although there was an air conditioning unit, it was turned off so the cells were much hotter … because they were completely closed off and no air could come into the cell.  There was a glass panel at the hatch at the front of the cell so they could keep an eye on us. Whilst it was extremely hot in the daytime, at night when it got cold, anyway, they would turn the air conditioning up so that it became freezing.  I didn’t have a blanket or a mattress and had only my clothes to keep me warm so I was absolutely freezing at night.59

Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, in their May 13, 2004 open letter, commented: “Punishment within Guantanamo Bay was consistently imposed for the breaking of any camp ‘rule’ including, for instance, having two plastic cups in your cage when you were only allowed to have one or having an extra prayer bead or too much toilet paper or excess salt.”60  Jamal al-Harith stated: “You would be punished for anything—for having six packets of salt in your cell rather than five, for hanging your towel through the cage if it wasn’t wet, even for having your spoon and things lined up in the wrong order.”61  Ruhal Ahmed has stated that on one occasion he was put in isolation as punishment for writing “Have a nice day” on a polystyrene cup: this was deemed to be “malicious damage to U.S. government property.”62  Sayed Abbasin, in an interview with the BBC, alleged that he was put in a punishment cell for five days because he had exercised in his cell, something that had been recommended to him by a camp doctor, because he was experiencing problems with his knees.  Abbasin also told Amnesty International that while in the punishment cell he had no blankets and was not allowed to wear his prayer cap during prayer.63

Tarek Dergoul had his first experience of the punishment regime after five days in the main part of Camp Delta, for breaking the rule against talking to detainees in the next block (“cross block talk”): 

They came and took everything out of my cell and left me ‘on the metal’ with nothing at all.  They said they had stripped me of all ‘comfort items’.  This is how they classified basic sanitary items. I was freezing and it was very cold.  I had my clothes and flip-flops but no blanket or bed mat and only a metal bed…  After four or five days without anything I was given back my stuff.64

Within days Tarek Dergoul had again broken the rule against “cross block talk” and was this time taken to the isolation block, where his description of the freezing conditions caused by constant air conditioning matches what other detainees have described.  He estimates that in total, about fifteen out of the twenty-two months he was at Guantanamo were spent in the isolation block as punishment for various breaches of the rules.

One former detainee, Mohammad Sangir, has described an episode of collective punishment, wherein the occupants of his entire line of twenty-four cells were placed in solitary confinement after one of them spat at a guard.65

Another form of punishment, according to British ex-detainee Jamal al-Harith, was to turn off the water supply to detainees’ cells: “They would shut off the water supply before prayers so we couldn’t wash ourselves according to our religion.”  Jamal al-Harith added: “They would play tricks on people by denying them things—you might be the only person on your block who didn’t get any bread.”66

Three British detainees claimed that many of the more abusive interrogation techniques and enhanced use of isolation increased after General Miller arrived at the camp around the end of 2002:

That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people’s ‘comfort’ items, the introduction of levels, moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of A/C air.  Isolation was always there. ‘Intel’ blocks came in with General Miller.  Before when people were put into isolation they would seem to stay for not more than a month.  After he came, people would be kept there for months and months and months.  We didn’t hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did. Although sexual provocation, molestation did not happen to us, we are sure that it happened to others…. It seemed to happen most to people in Camps 2 and 3, the ‘intel’ people, i.e. the people of most interest to the interrogators.67

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Shah Mohammed Alikhil, January 3, 2004.

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

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

[58]  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.

[59] Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, “Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,” released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 182, available online at:, accessed on August 19, 2004.

[60] Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, Open letter to the US Senate Armed Services Committee,, May 13, 2004.

[61] 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.

[62] David Rose, “How we survived jail hell,” The Observer, London, March 14, 2004.

[63] BBC Panorama, “Inside Guantanamo”, broadcast October 5, 2003, transcript available online at:ánamo.txt, accessed on August 19, 2004; Amnesty International, “United States of America: The threat of a bad example,” AI Index: AMR 51/114/2003, August 19, 2003.

[64] On first being assigned to his cell, Tarek Dergoul had been given a blanket, a bottle, a towel, soap, toothpaste, and a finger toothbrush.  Statement by Tarek Dergoul provided to Human Rights Watch.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Sangir, January 17, 2004; James Meek, “People the Law Forgot,” The Guardian, London, December 3, 2003, available online at:,3604,1098391,00.html, accessed on May 17, 2004.

[66] 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.

[67] Statement of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, “Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,” released publicly on August 4, 2004, para. 161, available online at:, accessed on August 19, 2004.

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