THE NEW YORK TIMES
After Torture, Ex-Detainee Is Still Captive of ‘The Darkness’
The United States subjected Suleiman Abdullah Salim to harsh tactics in a secret prison and held him without charge for years. He was found not to be a terrorist threat, but he pays a deep price to this day.
By JAMES RISEN
Photographs by BRYAN DENTON
OCT. 12, 2016
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — At first, the Americans seemed confused about Suleiman Abdullah Salim. They apparently had been expecting a light-skinned Arab, and instead at a small airport outside Mogadishu that day in March 2003, they had been handed a dark-skinned African.
“They said, ‘You changed your face,’” Mr. Salim, a Tanzanian, recalled the American men telling him when he arrived. “They said: ‘You are Yemeni. You changed your face.’”
That was the beginning of Mr. Salim’s strange ordeal in United States custody. It has been 13 years since he was tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan run by the Central Intelligence Agency, a place he calls “The Darkness.” It has been eight years since he was released — no charges, no explanations — back into the world.
Even after so much time, Mr. Salim, 45, is struggling to move on. Suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, according to a medical assessment, he is withdrawn and wary. He cannot talk about his experiences with his wife, who he says worries that the Americans will come back to snatch him. He is fearful of drawing too much attention at home in Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania, concerned that his neighbors will think he is an American spy.
When he speaks, not in his native Swahili but in the English he learned from his jailers, Mr. Salim nearly whispers. “Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.”
Mr. Salim was one of 39 men subjected to some of the C.I.A.’s most brutal techniques — beatings, hanging in chains, sleep deprivation and water dousing, which creates a sensation of drowning, even though interrogators had been denied permission to use that last tactic on him, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the agency’s classified interrogation program.
In a series of recent interviews in Dubai, Mr. Salim described his incarceration by the C.I.A. and the United States military as a terrorism suspect. His account closely parallels those provided by other detainees, witnesses and court documents, and confirms details in the Senate report about his treatment.
Today, back in Stone Town, Mr. Salim is trying to support his family, though some of his attempts at jobs have not worked out. He now breeds pigeons, raising them for a local market. They are both his livelihood and his solace.
They help him, Mr. Salim said. They quiet his mind.
Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor.