They would make me stand in a cage in freezing cold!’

‘They would make me stand in a cage in freezing cold!’ by Mohammad Azmath Jaweed, India Abroad, 7 February 2003. English language.

My ordeal began on September 11th, when my friend Ayub [Syed Gul Mohammad Shah] and I set out to Texas from Newark, New Jersey.

When our flight was terminated in St. Louis in the wake of World Trade Center (WTC) terrorist attacks, we took an Amtrak train on Sept. 12.

At Fort Worth, Drug Enforcement Administration agents singled us out and took us off the train. We were taken to the Fort Worth police station and interrogated by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents. We were made to sign some papers and kept in custody for the night.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents also interrogated us. “You are a Muslim,” they told me. “Are you religious? Do you offer namaaz?

In my bag, I had some letters in Urdu. They said those were in Arabic, that I was an Arab. I told them I was not an Arab. I showed them my Indian passport.

“You can get a passport anywhere,” they said.

Later, U.S. marshals took Ayub and me to Dallas Airport. We were brought to New York. We were taken from the airport under high security, with five or six escort vehicles.

At the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, we were put in solitary confinement. The warden used to tell his men not to show us any mercy.

I was subjected to physical torture by the security guards. They would slam me against the wall and threaten to kill me. They used to knock on the door in dead of the night. Round the clock, lights used to be kept on. Camera monitors focused on me all through.

They also [verbally] abused me, and berated Muslims and Islam. “You are al-Qaeda,” they told me repeatedly. “You are not going to see your family. You are going to die here.”

During solitary confinement, they used to take me out for a few hours to get air. Then they would put me in a cage. Some days they would make me stand in that cage for four to five hours in freezing temperatures.

We were not allowed any visitors nor given access to the outside world. I was allowed only to meet my lawyer. Even then, I used to be shackled and handcuffed. There was no privacy. They videotaped our conversation.

We were not allowed to receive mail or make phone calls. After four months, they allowed me to receive mail. After eight months, I was allowed to make a special phone call to my family.

For three months, the FBI interrogated me. At each session, eight to 10 special agents used to be there. They kept torturing me mentally.

“You will get the death sentence for your terrorist acts,” they used to tell me.

Once they showed me the photographs of the dead in the WTC attacks and said, “You Arabic guys did this to New Yorkers.”

They charged me with immigration offences under the USA Patriot Act. After one and a half months, they dropped the charges, and brought in money laundering charges. After 92 days, they dropped those too and charged me with credit card fraud.

They asked me to confess [that] I had prior knowledge of the WTC attacks. They said if I confessed my family would be brought to the United States and provided a house and enough cash so I would not need to work anymore.

If I didn’t, they told me, I would be sent to jail for 30 to 40 years, even if I am not guilty. They had no regard for human rights.

For nearly two and a half months, Indian consulate officials were not allowed to meet [with] me. They were even told we were not there in the MDC at all.

I spent almost a year in solitary confinement. When I wrote a letter to the warden, Michael Zenk, he replied, “You are under investigation for terrorism. We have information from intelligence agencies you have terrorist links. This is the reason you are kept in solitary confinement.”

On Sept. 18, 2002, the U.S. District Court, New York, sentenced me to a time-served, nine-month prison term on charges of credit card fraud.

On Sept. 19, I was arrested by the INS again and taken to Middlesex County in New Jersey. Later I was shifted to Passaic County and Hudson County.

After four months in INS custody, I was taken to the immigration office in Newark on Jan. 21. I was taken to the JFK Airport in New York and put on a flight to Mumbai via London the next day. I reached my home in Hyderabad on Jan. 24.

Mohammad Azmath Jaweed spoke to Syed Amin Jafri

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