SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, (AP) – A Guantanamo detainee phoned a Middle Eastern TV network to say he was severely beaten for refusing to leave his cell, giving the first media interview with someone held at the U.S. prison in Cuba.
Mohammed el Gharani, a 21-year-old from Chad, told Al-Jazeera that guards beat him with batons and sprayed him with tear gas, according to the network. The comments were published on its Web site Tuesday.
The U.S. has never allowed journalists to interview Guantanamo prisoners and Al-Jazeera did not say how it managed to speak with el Gharani.
A spokesman for the prison, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, told The Miami Herald that el Gharani apparently used one of his weekly phone calls to his family to speak to the reporter. The spokesman also said there was no evidence to substantiate the abuse claims.
DeWalt and lawyers for el Gharani did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
El Gharani did not give the date of the alleged abuse but said it occurred after the election of President Barack Obama, who has ordered Guantanamo closed by the end of the year.
The prisoner says he refused to leave his cell because he was not being permitted to interact with other detainees and was denied “normal food.” He said a group of six soldiers in protective gear removed him from the cell and beat him, breaking one of his front teeth.
“I could hardly see or breathe, ” el Gharani said.
A U.S. judge ordered el Gharani released in January, dismissing as unreliable the military’s allegations that he was part of al-Qaeda and had worked for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is held in a section of Guantanamo where prisoners are permitted more privileges while he awaits release.
El Gharani was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 at a mosque by local police and turned over to U.S. forces in 2002. He was one of the first Guantanamo Bay detainees and one of the youngest.
The U.S. holds about 240 men at the U.S. base in Cuba, most on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.