Prisoners Of Jihad: Freed To Serve A Life-Long Sentence

Prisoners Of Jihad: Freed To Serve A Life-Long Sentence
Being imprisoned carries a huge stigma in Pakistan. For people who have spent time in jail, it is difficult to find jobs and to assimilate into society after serving the sentence. Entrepreneurial ventures are even tougher to pursue given that it is difficult to inspire confidence and trust. All this multiplies by manifold if the individual was imprisoned as a terror suspect overseas.

These individuals are heavily surveilled by law enforcement agencies. Their CNICs, phones, bank accounts and nearly all activities are monitored. At the societal level as well, there are many challenges. The stigmas attached to such incarceration often mean that relatives either get distant or abandon them completely. Their mobility is also extremely diminished, and in many cases, they are left stranded in Pakistan with few prospects of a return to normal life.

And it is so much worse if you have returned from the prison of Guantanamo Bay, which makes reintegration almost impossible.

The Prisoner Of Guantanamo Bay

Qari Mohammad Saad Madani spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay. Upon returning, he found that his life had been uprooted completely. His relatives don’t contact him. They don’t visit him and he cannot visit them.

Madani has been denied jobs wherever he applied. The government of Pakistan has not provided him with any financial, or medical, assistance. Madani has filed cases in UK and US courts seeking compensation. “Unfortunately, I spent days of my youth in an iron cell where I was severely tortured,” he says.

As he recalls the story of his arrest, his expression hardens and tears roll down his cheeks. Madani was arrested by the Jakarta police in a pre-dawn raid at his house on January 9, 2002. “I was confident about getting a quick release, thinking that initial questioning would be enough to make the authorities realise they had the wrong man,” he adds.

At the time, the 24-year-old Pakistani was known best for recitation of the Holy Quran for which he had won many trophies and gold medals in international competitions. He had never, in the wildest of his dreams, imagined that he would be spending the next eight years of his life in Guantanamo Bay.

He barely made it out alive, on a stretcher, badly wounded and abused, paralysed from the waist down, deaf in one ear, and with a life-threatening bone disease needing immediate cure. Released and repatriated on September 8, 2008, his torment was far from over as the local administration and intelligence agencies kept him in separate detentions for many months, debriefing and investigating him for the same reasons the US officials did.

“I was the only one out of thousands of Guantanamo Bay prisoners who was released without making any deal or compromise with the US administration,” he narrates.

Madani was exonerated by a US federal court after prosecutors were unable to prove any charges against him including links with Al Qaeda or the Taliban or the 9/11 attacks. He later filed a law suit against the US, British, Egyptian, and Indonesian authorities for illegal detention and torture. The cases are still pending.

Born in Lahore on October 17, 1977 to Qari Mohammad Iqbal Madani, a scholar of Arabic and employed as a lecturer at Medina University, Qari Saad Iqbal Madani emigrated to Saudi Arabia with family at the age of four. He learnt the Holy Quran by heart at the age of right, participated in several qirat competitions globally and won prizes. In 1992, the family moved to Jakarta where his father was posted at a Saudi educational institute. His father died of a cardiac arrest in April 2001 during a visit to Pakistan. Saad returned to Indonesia in November 2001 in search of employment and was arrested two months later.

“You happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he recalls the words of a top US official interrogating him at Guantanamo Bay. “When I asked, why am I still here and being tortured then, the reply was, ‘Your innocence is bad for the US’”


For many years after his release and repatriation to Pakistan, Saad struggled to resume normal life as police kept a round-the-clock watch on him. Broke and unable to pay for his medical treatment, he had to suffer a series of problems, as relatives and neighbours avoided meeting or helping him for fear of police persecution. It took a few years for him to be able to get on to his feet, marry, and start a new life under the constant watch of law enforcing agencies. He says he still has frequent nightmares.

“You happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he recalls the words of a top US official interrogating him at Guantanamo Bay. “That was when I asked why I was arrested when the US had no evidence against me. When I asked, why am I still here and being tortured then, the reply was, ‘Your innocence is bad for the US’” he narrates.

Now 44, he still looks back and wonders what went wrong.

“My life has been torn apart. It will never be the same man again. Nothing can compensate for the ugly scars on my body and soul, those missing eight years, the worst imaginable torture that even beasts can’t take, the lost relatives and aching, shaky limbs, impaired hearing and sight,” he laments.

Heartbroken by the lack of justice in the world, he says, he “prays to God to compensate him best in the Hereafter”.

Qari Versus The US

Qari Saad Iqbal Madani has very little hope of winning the case against Washington. Initially, some cases were admitted and allowed, but later all the remaining appeals were stayed under the US Military Commissions Act of 2006 holding that Guantanamo captives were no longer entitled to access the US civil justice system. 

A ray of hope came when the US Supreme Court ruled on June 12, 2008 in Boumediene v Bush, that Military Commissions Act could not remove the right of Guantanamo captives to access the US Federal Court system. US judges began considering all previous Guantanamo captives’ habeas petitions as eligible to consider if the evidence presented could substantiate the allegations that the prisoners were ‘enemy combatants’.

“My hands were kept tied and I was blindfolded, badly tortured, given electric shocks that left me unconscious many times. I was denied food and medical aid. During the 92-day detention, I could not sleep or stand in the place. They kept asking me about my links with Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, the 9/11 incident and Richard Reid.”



“When the Indonesian police arrested me, they did not give any reason despite my repeated asking, kept me handcuffed and blindfolded for two days. They only told me that I was wanted by the US and would soon be sent to Egypt. They kept asking about my links with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. I told them, I had never been to Afghanistan, or the US,” recalls Madani.

“My torture began two days later when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents arrived to fly me to Cairo in a special plane. They beat the bones out of me while I was handcuffed and blindfolded. They kicked, punched, and threw me against walls and floors until I became unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I found that I was bleeding from my head and left ear. I was unable to hear,” he says.

Before taking him to Egypt, the CIA kept Madani at a British Island territory in Indian Ocean, Deigo Garcia, where the interrogation and torture continued. In Egypt, he was interrogated by intelligence agencies of many countries including the US, the UK, India, France, Australia, Canada and Italy.

Prominent among his interrogators, was President Hosni Mobarak’s son Alaa Mubarak who was heading the country’s intelligence agency. He was locked in a 4 x 6-foot (1.8 m) iron cell, which was “like a grave” where he could not even stand properly, sit up, or lie down. 

“My hands were kept tied and I was blindfolded, badly tortured, given electric shocks that left me unconscious many times. I was denied food and medical aid. During the 92-day detention, I could not sleep or stand in the place. They kept asking me about my links with Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, the 9/11 incident and Richard Reid, the British man known as the shoe-bomber.

“They knew I was speaking the truth. I told them I was in Pakistan, mourning my father’s death when 9/11 happened and learnt about it from the media. But keen on getting an affirmative reply, they kept torturing me,” he says.

As a result of the electric shocks to his head he developed a life-threatening bone infection, paralysing his limbs, but medical treatment was denied because interrogators accused him of being uncooperative. According to him, he was also “confined to the psychiatric wing for six months as punishment.”

Madani learnt about his stay in Deigo Garcia after his release when the British Foreign Minister David Miliband rang and apologised for his abduction and detention on British soil. After Egypt, he was sent to Bagram prison in Afghanistan, with a few hours of stay in Islamabad en route. 

During his one-year stay in Bagram, the brutal torture continued without food and water, and a chance to say the prayers. “I was kept with some Arab prisoners in Bagram. I also learnt about the Dr Aafia Siddiqi episode there. I met some noted prisoners like Moazzam Beg, in addition to Mulla Abdus Salam Zaeef, the former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, and Mulla Abdul Wakeel Mutawakkel, the former foreign minister.”

The Hellhole

On April 13, 2003, Saad Madani was taken to Guantanamo Bay where he recalls meeting many noted prisoners from the Arab world, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world. He says that of the nearly 800 prisoners there, most were Arabs. 65 were Pakistanis.

“I learnt that the prisoners were sold to the US for huge sums of US dollars by the intelligence and law enforcing agencies of Muslim countries, and not a single prisoner was captured by the US agents”, he says.

Saad Madani spoke fluent Arabic, a satisfactory level of English, and some other languages. They suspected him of being a criminal, and kept him among those suspected to be among top Al Qaeda operatives.

For his refusal to confess links with Osama and Taliban, he was thrown into many months of solitary confinement in a 6x4 iron cell with an open toilet. He was given ‘frequent flier status’, a term that meant the detainee was not allowed to sleep.

“Guards used to come after every quarter of an hour, beating me if I dozed off for a moment, abusing me, yelling and cursing at me. The torture soon beat what remained of the nerves out of me and I thought I was going to die soon. I lost control over myself. After several months, I attempted suicide by hanging. The special rapid squad rescued me as soon as I hung myself, but my woes did not end as they subjected me to more torture.”

Ahmed clearly remembers the day he came back home from Afghanistan, where in a small South Punjab village, he was warmly received on his homecoming.


Madani says prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were sexually molested and paraded naked before the entire assembly of guards. Fingers and other objects were thrust into their buttocks. Dogs were sometimes let loose on naked prisoners, causing them serious injuries. No medical treatment followed. They were not allowed to say prayers and were made to witness prison guards flushing Quran down toilets, putting papers containing abusive words into the Quran and soiling it with menstrual blood. This enraged the prisoners and they either began shouting, protesting or stopped cooperation with interrogators.

Madani was regularly asked about his links with extremist groups in Pakistan. “At times I was beaten up with iron rods, causing fractures and bleeding. I was paraded naked and put into small cages naked with the air conditioner turned on. I was made to lie down on ice blocks. The infection in my damaged ear reached very close to the brain. I was told by the doctors there I could have died. The doctors admitted that I was not treated as a patient as I was considered a terrorist and an enemy of the USA,” he adds.

“The Guantanamo Bay prison camp was nothing short of hell. The torture meted out to prisoners was not suitable even for beasts,” he continues.

“After desecration of the Holy Quran before me, I protested before Maj Gen Jay Hood who was in charge there. He was later nominated for a diplomatic assignment in Pakistan. Not getting any response, I began a hunger strike that took me close to death from malnutrition.

“The Americans realised early that they had no evidence against me. They often offered relief from torture and release only if I admitted to being an aide to Osama Bin Laden. A top official admitted that I was innocent, saying the CIA viewed my meetings with different Islamic leaders and groups in Pakistan and Indonesia suspicious enough to warrant my arrest. Indonesian law enforcement officials did it for a handsome sum of money.”

During the final stages of his detention, ‘Reprieve’, a British legal support group, helped him pursue his case in court. Madani was also helped by Richard L Cys of Davis Wright Tremaine. The Red Cross and some other European welfare groups visited the prison camp, but did not provide practical help to prisoners, he says.

“The only thing the Red Cross did was convey messages and bring our letters to families, but months passed before a letter [would] arrive and they were badly censored,” he maintains 

Back And Fourth 

Those who were militarily involved in Afghanistan, or had participated in the war against the Soviets are put on an Afghan Trained Boys [ATP] list. It is a list was prepared by the Punjab government’s home department. 

The ATB also includes names of the people who went to Afghanistan after 9/11 and joined the Afghan Taliban in war against the USA. Everyone listed is under surveillance of the law enforcement agencies of the province.

Azam* was placed on the ATB list after he returned home in a small village of South Punjab’s Rajanpur district. He had no idea about the repercussions of being ATB listed, including the fact that all his movements were being monitored. 

“I received a call from the local police station and was told that my name had been placed on the list of ATB. The Station House Officer met me warmly and said that you would have to visit the police station once in a month. Restrictions had been imposed on me, which was shocking for me. Some hidden forces were watching me,” says Azam. 

Azam believes that he did nothing wrong by joining the war in Afghanistan. “I did jihad against foreign occupation and infidels. I am a hero in the eyes of people. 

The lives of jihadists have left a strong impression on Azam, who maintains that he had wanted to die for Allah. “War for Islam is my mission. Life after death is real and eternal,” he says.

Azam reveals that one day he met a ‘beautiful man’ wearing a black turban whose face was ‘glowing’. Azam was impressed by the personality of the man who went on to share the blessings of jihad with him. “I wished to join them. So, I was taken to Afghanistan where I fought in the way of Allah,” Azam adds.

After the US invaded Afghanistan, it became difficult to live over there, says Azam. Hence, he decided to return along with his fellows. He was welcomed by his family and relatives. 

“People from Rahim Yar Khan to Kashmore in Sindh came to visit me. They were impressed by me. I started teaching at a local seminary. I told stories of my bravery to the students,” he says.

One Friday, as Azam was teaching at the seminary, some policemen came and asked him to come to the police station. An angry looking Station House Officer (SHO) met him. He told Azam that he could no longer teach at any seminary. “I protested that you could not stop me from serving the religion,” Azam says.

The SHO then told Azam that his name had been placed in the Fourth Schedule list. It is a list of “proscribed” individuals who are suspected of terrorism or sectarianism under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997. 

Security officials maintain that after credible intelligence information, the name of an individual is incorporated in the list of fourth schedule prescribed by the home department of a province who can be subjected to restriction on travel, speech, and business. Names of proscribed persons are also referred to in local police and LEAs as fourth schedulers. 

“It was, again, shocking for me! I was told I cannot leave the limits of the police station without getting prior permission. My mind was not ready to accept it,” maintains Azam. 

His bank accounts were seized, his CNIC was blocked and he was barred from addressing religious gatherings. “I am not allowed to teach. I cannot travel. No one is ready to give me a job. Even some of my friends and relatives abandoned me. My whole family has become dependent on the brothers of my wife He suffered a lot. I am living in hell!” 

Azam feels he has been left stranded by the government and nothing has been done for his reintegration. “Some people label me a terrorist, even though I was not a terrorist. I have given up militancy and have been living peacefully.”

The Prodigal Son

Ahmed is a Daras-e-Nizami scholar who graduated from a renowned seminary. He now teaches Quran and Sunnah voluntarily, without getting money from the seminary that was established by him. Ahmed joined a jihadist organisation when he was studying in a school. 

He left for Afghanistan in the year 2000 and joined the Taliban where he was equipped with weapons, linked with the ideological basis for warfare. For a year, he was trained how to fight. 

“After 9/11 as the US invasion started in Afghanistan, we fought with bravery but could not defeat them. Our enemies were equipped with sophisticated weapons while we were fighting with the power of ideology. We had decided to leave Afghanistan, so I left when I recovered from injuries,” says Ahmed. He had no difficulty reintegrating into the society because of a soft corner for jihad and hatred against foreign invasion. 

Ahmed clearly remembers the day he came back home from Afghanistan, where in a small South Punjab village, he was warmly received on his homecoming.

“I entered my house my mother embraced me and kissed my forehead again and again. Tears of happiness trickled down from her face. Her face started glowing with happiness and gloomy eyes turned into brightness. Within no time my siblings and relatives gathered around me,” he recalls.

“I could see questions in their eyes but I had pretended that I was dead tired. My father allowed me to go into the room and take a rest. I had already made up my mind to tell them the truth.” 

After resting for four hours he was finally asked by his mother where he had been. Ahmed told her that he had gone to Afghanistan. “I could read her perplexed expression because she had never heard the name Afghanistan as she was illiterate and had not even seen a big city of Pakistan,” he narrates.

Ahmed told his mother that he had gone to Afghanistan for jihad, hearing which made her extremely happy. His father came to him with a similar expression of happiness.

“But there was inquisitiveness as well. I told him about jihad in Afghanistan. He kissed me with pride. The next day I met with all my relatives residing in the village. Some people also came from a nearby village to see me as I returned after two years. Most male members know about the importance of jihad and they liked it. They took pride that I fought against infidels in Afghanistan,” he adds.

Ahmed became a hero in his village. He was embraced as a brave person. The youth of his area consider him as an ideal. Ahmed started calling the azaan in a local mosque. He used to meet people five times a day. Friends regularly ask his why he had left for Afghanistan.

Ahmed told them the tales of how he had been injured in a bombing by America in Afghanistan. He spoke of his friends who lost their lives in US shelling. He also narrated his journey as to how he managed to flee the scene given his injury. 

“Somehow, I had reached the camp established by the Taliban, where my treatment continued for two month. As I recovered, I took permission from my friends and came back,” Ahmed tells those asking about his escape.

He is often asked what he plans to do now. “I'll serve my people as a teacher,” he maintains.


*The name has been changed to protect the identity