7 years in Bagram cost a Pakistani his youth – and then, his life

Yusuf was only a teenager at the time of his capture. Under detention, he suffered humiliation and abuse.
Published Sep 27, 2019 01:55pm

The following is the story of Hamid Yusuf, a Pakistani national who spent seven years in extrajudicial detainment at the Parwan Detention Facility in Afghanistan – popularly known as the Bagram prison – and died of cancer soon after his release.

Yusuf and his father ran an import business, buying wood in Afghanistan and selling it in Pakistan. In 2007, Yusuf was travelling through Kunar when he was stopped by the Afghan police and interrogated. He claims that the policemen tried pressuring him into offering a bribe.

When he refused, the police accused him of being a terrorist and handed him over to the United States military. While in Bagram, he was never communicated of the charges against him.

His account is part of Justice Project Pakistan's report, Faces from the Frontier: Stories from Bagram Returnees and their Families, released on September 25, 2019. It is an incisive look into the lives of 43 Pakistanis who returned in 2014 after years of incarceration at the notorious American detention facility in Afghanistan.

All names have been changed to protect identity.

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Yusuf Hamid was only a teenager – 16 years old – at the time of his capture in 2007. Under detention, he suffered humiliation and [alleged] sexual abuse. The young boy underwent brutal treatment by the US officers and spent seven years in Bagram, Afghanistan.

After five months, he was sent to segregation where he was made to wear only his undergarments while cold air was blasted at him in the winter. He was made to endure sleep deprivation; if Yusuf accidentally dosed off, jail keepers would deliberately create a racket to rouse him, or they would douse him in cold water.

He also alleged that a female sergeant would enter his cell and touch his genitals. Yusuf also described her beating him, and then injecting him with a sedative that would make him lose consciousness. He suspected he was raped during these incidents.

“While in solitary confinement, a female US officer would regularly grope me and undress me. On several occasions I remember being injected with something and then waking up later completely naked. She teased me for having a small penis…”

Yusuf was repatriated from Bagram in 2014 but his freedom seemed a pipe dream. Upon his return to Pakistan, he was jailed again. First, he was detained for three months in Mohmand Agency where he reported that the political agent demanded Rs500,000 from his family and threatened him with further imprisonment. All this while, his charges were never communicated to him.

He was then jailed in Central Prison Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of his failure to pay the amount. He was sentenced to an additional 18 months. The mental instability he experienced upon being re-jailed was evident in Yusuf's behaviour in the jail.

In 2014, I met Yusuf at the high-security prison guarded by the army that holds several Afghan nationals. The jail was crowded and noisy, but Yusuf and I were able to meet privately.

When I got inside, Yusuf hugged me and started crying, saying that he thought no one would go see him there or help him. He said his family lives far away in North Waziristan; his father is very old and the family poor. As Yusuf’s father can’t travel all the way here, he visited only once.

On my way out, Yusuf showed me around the jail like a small kid showing off his playthings. He was so excited to see me that he didn’t want me to go; he even went to the superintendent of the jail and introduced us. The superintendent told me that Yusuf was one of the best inmates who takes care of other prisoners and helps staff with their work around the jail.

While in Haripur jail, Yusuf was diagnosed with cancer. He started feeling pain in his left leg, in the area where he had received injections while in Bagram. He was taken for medical tests to Central Jail Peshawar, where the cancer was detected.

He was then shifted to Central Jail Ghallanai in Mohmand Agency, imprisoned for another 15 days, and thereafter released permanently. Yusuf came to live with his family only for a few weeks. Bagram cost him his youth, and then eventually, his life.

Bahadur, Yusuf’s brother, described how the family came to realise Yusuf was increasingly unwell. He remained sick for days, with a negligible appetite, unable to eat. He was quiet and hardly spoke. Bahadur now found his brother silent and reserved, the opposite of his happy and friendly boyhood self.

As the pain in Yusuf’s leg worsened, he was admitted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. There he received medicine to relieve the pain, but it persisted, and he was taken to another medical facility in the city, Imran Hospital, for further tests. It was then that the doctors decided to amputate his left leg.

The cancer, however, had spread to his shoulders, and more surgery was required. The doctors said that in a semi-conscious state while recovering from anaesthesia after what would be his last surgery, Yusuf recited the Holy Quran. That same day, he died.

Yusuf was very close to his mother, and even today she cries all the time. She does not talk about anything; she only remembers Yusuf and cries afterwards. She is now in the habit of going and sitting at every place in the village where Yusuf used to play with his friends. She sits there for hours and cries.

Bahadur burned all the pictures of Yusuf and kept only the ones from his childhood.