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Amid Renewed Scrutiny, Qatari Man Tortured on US Soil Demands Justice

"I do not need apologies, I need accountability," he says. "What they said and did to me was torture."


Ali Salah Kehlah al-Marri, who faced abuse and torture while he was incarcerated for 13 years in the United States, says he pleaded guilty to get home and is demanding justice for his treatment. (Photo: CAGE)

As the U.S. government faces renewed criticism for its history of torture amid Gina Haspel's nomination to head the CIA, a Qatari man who says he was tortured on U.S. soil before accepting a plea deal is maintaining his innocence and demanding that his interrogators face justice.

Ali Salah Kehlah al-Marri, who was incarcerated for 13 years—more than seven of which came before a trial for him was approved in 2009—told the Guardian he ultimately pleaded guilty to get home. "Everything in that plea bargain that has to do with al-Qaida and terror is 100 percent false," he said. "My battery was at 1 percent."

He arrived in the United States with his family on Sept. 10, 2001 with plans to conduct research for banking operations. The very next day, terrorism attacks rattle the nation and resulted in widespread Islamophobia that garnered early public support for the so-called War on Terror.

In the months that followed, al-Marri was approached twice by FBI agents, then arrested in December on allegations that he was funding al-Qaida and had been in contact with those who had conducted the attacks. He was held in New York City and Peoria, Illinois before former President George W. Bush named him an "enemy combatant" and he was sent to the Charleston Naval Brig in South Carolina.

There, he was abused and tortured, according to the Torture in America (pdf) report by the U.K.-based group CAGE, which is supporting al-Marri's quest for justice. CAGE obtained and published a dossier of 35,000 documents to support his allegations, which are summarized in the report, and has produced a series of videos in which al-Marri describes his time in U.S. custody:


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"The experience of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, by all international standards of law, constituted torture," the CAGE report declares. "As a result, all those involved in his solitary confinement, in the use of behavioral science to harm him, in enforcing isolation, in instigating religious and cultural abuse, in perpetrating physical abuse, and in making threats against his family are to be included in any allegations of torture."

In South Carolina, al-Marri was deprived of the ability to engage in Muslim prayer time and ritual cleansing; threatened with violence against him and his family; forced to sleep in a freezing cell on a bare metal rack; deprived of sleep and socialization; and repeatedly interrogated. The interrogations included "dry-boarding," a practice that involved stuffing socks in his mouth and taping it shut.

"I was choking, I was dying," al-Marri said about being dry-boarded while he was shackled to the floor. Recalling his incarceration, al-Marri told the Guardian:

The suffering, you taste the pain, you taste it. Threatening to sodomize me, threatening to rape my wife, threatening to bring in my kids, that's torture. Threatening to send me to a black site, to become a military lab rat, choking me to near death. This is torture...

I knew I had no rights, I was down the rabbit hole. It was dark times. My cell was six steps one way and, to lay down the other way, I'd have to bend my knees. I cannot see if it's day or night. I felt as though I was buried in a concrete grave.

"Nobody has been held accountable," noted al-Marri, who returned to Qatar following his release three years ago. "There are people who admit they have done this and people who deny it. I do not need apologies, I need accountability. What they said and did to me was torture."

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