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Guantánamo guard converts

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Guantánamo guard converts

Post by .:Hibat Allah:. on Sat Oct 10, 2009 7:13 pm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009...namo-bay-islam

Terry Holdbrooks arrived at Guantánamo detention camp in the summer of
2003 as a godless 19-year-old with a love of drinking, hard rock music
and tattoos. By the time he left Cuba the following year, he had
alienated his army colleagues, won the respect of the detainees and,
most astonishingly, converted to Islam in a midnight ceremony in the
presence of one of the detainees, who had become his mentor.

When I meet Holdbrooks, now 26 and named Mustafa Abdullah, he is
wearing a black Muslim cap, a thick beard and long-sleeved traditional
robes that almost obscure the tattoo on his right arm that reads "by
demons be driven".

Holdbrooks grew up in Arizona, the only son of junkie parents who split
up when he was seven years old. He was raised by his ex-hippie
grandparents. Tired of being poor, determined not to follow in his
parents' footsteps and keen to see the world, Holdbrooks signed up for
the military. He was stationed with the 253rd Military Police Company,
mostly doing administrative support work, when he was told he was to be
deployed to Guantánamo.

During a two-week training course, the new guards took it in turns to
act as detainees, and were also taken to Ground Zero. "We were not
taught anything about Islam," he says. "We were shown videos of 11
September and all we kept being told was that the detainees were the
worst of the worst – they were Bin Laden's drivers, Bin Laden's cooks,
and these people will kill you the first chance they get."

Holdbrooks skims over the words, as if he is quoting from his
forthcoming memoir, Traitor? "I was questioning things from day one,"
he says. "The first thing I saw was a kid who is all of 16 who had
never seen the ocean, didn't know the world was round. I am sitting
there thinking, what can he possibly know about the war on terror, what
could he possibly know?"

Holdbrooks' duties at Guantánamo including cleaning, collecting
rubbish, walking up and down the block to ensure detainees weren't
passing anything between cells and ferrying them to and from
interrogations. There were plenty of opportunities for communication.
Holdbrooks's friendliness towards the detainees – they called him "the
nice guard" – earned him unwelcome attention from his fellow guards.

"I didn't have a very high impression of my colleagues," he says. Many
of them were "ridiculous Budweiser-drinking, cornbread-fed,
tobacco-chewing drunks, racists and bigots" who blindly followed
orders, and within months he had stopped talking to them altogether.
There were frequent physical altercations: "One time one of them said
to me, 'Hey, Holdbrooks, you know what we are going to do today? We are
going to skull-**** the Taliban out of you – you're a sympathiser and
we don't like that." That led to another fist fight."

While the guards indulged in alcohol, porn and sports, Holdbrooks says
he needed to learn how the detainees could endure abuse and still
smile, while he was utterly miserable.

"I knew nothing about Islam prior to Guantánamo," he says, "so this was
a complete culture shock to me. I wanted to learn as much I could, so I
started talking to the detainees about politics, ethics and morals, and
about their lives and cultural differences – we would talk all the
time." What began as curiosity turned to disciplined study, with
Holdbrooks spending at least an hour a day learning about Islam and
talking in chatrooms online. Among those he talked to were the Tipton
trio of British Muslims who featured in Michael Winterbottom's
docudrama, The Road to Guantánamo; another was a man the other
detainees referred to as the General – Moroccan-born Ahmed Errachidi,
who had lived in Britain for 18 years, working as a chef, and spent
five and a half years in Guantánamo accused of attending al-Qaida
training camps. (He was later released and cleared of any wrongdoing.)

"We'd talk for hours and hours," Holdbrooks says. "We'd talk about
books, about music, about philosophy: we would stay up all night and
talk about religion."

Finally, six months into his time at Guantánamo, Holdbrooks was ready.
On 29 December 2003, in the presence of Errachidi, he repeated the
shahada, the statement of faith that is the sole requirement for
converting to Islam: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his
prophet". The Guantánamo guard was now a Muslim.

He stopped drinking and even gave up music, because his interpretation
of Islam suggested that this, too, was unacceptable. "It was not easy
praying five times a day without my colleagues finding out," he says.
"I told them I had to go the bathroom a lot."

Converting to Islam made Holdbrooks even more unhappy about his work –
he felt he was worse off than the detainees. "They were having a lot
more fun than I was. The Tipton trio were always playing tricks on the
guards and the interrogators. The detainees had a lot of freedom in
their confinement: I had all the freedoms they didn't have, but I was a
slave to what the army wanted me to do."

This claim sounds implausible, but Holdbrooks says he is referring to
their freedom of thought: he was impressed by the independence he saw
in the detainees, compared to his fellow guards. This still seems a
rather self-pitying analysis, particularly when he goes on to describe
how he had seen detainees being tortured. "It was my job to take
prisoners to interrogations, so sometimes I would sit and watch," he
says. "I would see detainees who would be locked up for hours in
horrible positions – for hours upon hours upon hours, in a room that
might be 50 degrees or 60 degrees.

"There was one man who had defecated on himself and this ogre of an
interrogator would douse water on him and then ask him if he was going
to talk, and he would say he had nothing to talk about, and I remember
thinking, what good is this going to accomplish? You cannot abuse and
torture people and expect to get results that are accurate and
credible."

In the summer of 2004, Holdbrooks left Guantánamo and was later
discharged from the army on the grounds of a "general personality
disorder". The alcohol problem that had plagued him before enlisting
returned, and when his marriage dissolved, he sought solace in the old
comforts of drinking, casual sex and music. "I was having nightmares
about my time in Guantánamo," he says, "and I spent the best part of
three years just trying to drink Guantánamo out of my mind."

Today, Holdbrooks is a practising Muslim again, but he does not seem to
be at peace. There is a blankness in his gaze that hints at the scars
his childhood and Guantánamo have left on him.

Why had this hard-living Arizona boy embraced Islam? The question
needles me throughout our conversation. It is only when, towards the
end, Holdbrooks reveals that his favourite words are "structure",
"order" and "discipline" that the pieces fall into place. Holdbrooks's
life had been a search for order: the regimentation of army life had
appeared to offer structure, and when it let him down, he turned to
religion.

Holdbrooks has more in common with his former colleagues than he
realises: their allegiance to the army is matched by his adherence to
faith. "Islam is a very disciplined, regimented faith and it requires a
great deal of effort and conviction," he says. "I've had an
unbelievable fascination with structure and order for as long as I can
remember: structure, order and discipline – I just love them."
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.:Hibat Allah:.

Join date : 2009-04-14
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