The original article can be found on SFGate.com here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/07/17/MNGKQDPCV51.DTL
Sunday, July 17, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
Writing poetry was the balm that kept Guantanamo prisoners from going mad/Former inmates say they wrote thousands of lines Thomas Coghlan, Chronicle Foreign Service
Peshawar, Pakistan -- During three years in Guantanamo Bay, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost says that poetry kept him from losing his sanity. By the time of his release this spring, he had written more than 25,000
lines in his Cuban prison cell.
During the first year of his imprisonment, the 44-year-old Afghan prisoner didn't even have paper or a pen. Instead, he scratched lines of verse with his fingernail into Styrofoam cups.
One poem reads: "Just as the heart beats in the darkness of the body, so I, despite this cage, continue to beat with life. Those who have no courage or honor consider themselves free, but they are slaves. I am flying on the wings of thought, and so, even in this cage, I know a greater freedom."
"Poetry was our support and psychological uplift," said his brother and fellow Guantanamo inmate, Badruzamman Badr, in an interview at the family home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where they have lived as expatriates since 1975. "Many people have lost their minds there. I know 40 or 50 prisoners who are mad. But we took refuge in our minds."
Dost was already a respected religious scholar, poet, journalist and author of 19 published books before his arrest about a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. His prison writings would significantly increase that number, he said.
Along with thousands of poems in his native Pashto, he completed a book intended for future poets with an alphabetical list of all the rhyme in the Pashto language. He also wrote a book of Islamic jurisprudence in verse form and translated Arabic poetry into Pashto.
Both brothers deny that they ever supported al Qaeda. They admit they felt initial enthusiasm for the Taliban but say they became disillusioned with the unworldly attitudes of the movement, particularly its opposition to the education of women.
Instead, they say, their arrest by Pakistani intelligence officers on Nov. 17, 2001, was an attempt by their political enemies to frame them. Both are proponents of Pashtun nationalism, a movement to create
an independent state for ethnic Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and wrote for three magazines that promoted the cause.
Ater their arrest, they were held for three months in Peshawar, then transferred to U.S. custody at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul and to a detention facility in Kandahar, in southeastern Afghanistan, before
being flown to the U.S. Naval base lockup at Guantanamo Bay on May 1, 2002.
U.S. authorities in Pakistan declined to comment about the case, but Pakistan Embassy spokesman Zafar Ali Khan said: "In late 2001, the Pakistani authorities had good reason to be suspicious of them. The authorities were receiving guidelines on people that the Americans wished to question. Many Afghans who had been involved in terrorist activities in Afghanistan had moved to Peshawar at that time. These two
men were arrested and passed to the Americans. The U.S. has subsequently questoned them and established during the past three long years that they were, in fact, innocent."
So far, 234 suspected "enemy combatants" have been freed from Guantanamo and 520 remain imprisoned, said Maj. Susan Idziak, a spokesperson for the detention facility.
Although Dost, who was freed in April, is happy to be home with his wife and eight children, he frets about the whereabouts of his poems. To date,he has received about 2,500 lines from the U.S. military.
His concern that his poems and other writings may never be returned is not surprising, since he took particular pleasure in composing satirical verses at the expense of his captors. In one 14-line poem, he compared Guantanamo to the monotonous bowls of boiled rice and black beans that made up the prison diet.
"He said that the food was like the prisoners. Black and white, good and bad mixed up together without distinction, without verification. It was expressed in a very comic way," said his brother. "Many prisoners
learned this poem. We whispered the lines to each other."
In another poem popular with his fellow prisoners, he satirized what the prisoners saw as the sexless appearance of their male and female guards. Short- haired women and clean-shaven men in their identical fatigues often seemed indistinguishable to Muslim prisoners, used to men with long beards and fully cloaked women, Badr said.
The last line of the poem read: "They may have weapons and missiles, but we can find no sign of manhood in this army."
U.S. Army linguists read all the poetry found in Dost's cell, Badr said.
"In interrogation, the Americans often said to him, 'We understand the allusions in your poetry.' "
Capt. Jeffrey Weir, a Guantanamo spokesman, said he could not comment on when Dost's writings would be returned to him but said documents aresubject to "intelligence screening." Petty Officer Chris Sherwood, a spokesman for Southern Command in Miami, which oversees Guantanamo, said "inmates' mail is translated, and any information considered sensitive for security reasons is blacked out before it is sent."
Dost says he was interrogated more than 100 times at Guantanamo but was never subjected to physical torture in Cuba. Although he never witnessed desecration of the Quran at Guantnamo, he said an Arab prisoner had told him interrogators threw a Quran on the floor and stepped on it.
Both brothers say they suffered harsher treatment at detention facilities in Afghanistan, including intimidation with dogs and sleep deprivation. There and on three occasions, they say, they were
photoaphed naked and had their beards and hair shaved. They also saw guards there kick the Quran. Such treatment was in contrast to the latter stages of their time in Guantanamo, when they say conditions
"The Americans gave me books toward the end," said Badr, who speaks English fluently. "I read Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens."
He added: "We don't hate the U.S. for being Americans," he added. "Hating a nation for being a nation is completely wrong. We criticize America if we don't agree with their policies."
In his cell, Dost wrote thousands of lines in a strict Pashto form of poetry somewhat similar to the sonnet: 14 lines of 14 syllables, rhyming alternately after an opening couplet. A year after his imprisonment, when the detainees began receiving paper and pencils from the International Committee of the Red Cross, he was able to accelerate his output.
Other prisoners also composed verse, he said, including Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who destroyed all his religious poetry before a room search by the prison authorities, fearing it might be used in evidence against him.
For the major Muslim feast of Eid last year, Dost composed a poem written from the viewpoint of a child of a Guantanamo inmate.
Part of it read: "Eid has come, but my father has not. He is not come from Cuba. I am eating the bread of Eid with my tears. I have nothing. Why am I deprived of the love of my father? Why am I so oppressed?"
When he read it aloud, many of his fellow inmates wept.
Yet as he received a steady stream of guests in the library of his large Peshawar home, Dost was surprisingly magnanimous about his experience in Guantanamo.
"The positives have outweighed the negatives," he said. "I was not unhappy for being detained because I learned a lot. I wrote from the core of my heart in Guantanamo Bay. In the outside world I could not
have written such things."
Copyrght 2005 SF Chronicle