THE now 36-year old, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of being an Al-Qaeda terrorist and sent back to Uganda
By Vision Reporter
WHEN Ugandan-born Anthony Kiyemba converted to Islam at the age of 20 and changed his name to Jamal Abdullah, he could not have imagined that he would one day end up in America's most notorious prison: Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The now 36-year old, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of being an Al-Qaeda terrorist and sent back to Uganda in 2006, still finds it difficult to talk about the four years he spent in various American detention centers: first in Pakistan, then in Afghanistan and finally in Cuba.
"When you are a Muslim, you must be ready to be persecuted," he told New Vision.
Kiyemba's childhood could have been the story of any Ugandan. He is a Muganda, born on February 22, 1979 to the late Simon Peter Musisi and Teresa Namuddu of Masaka. He comes from a strong Roman Catholic family.
He went to St. Savio Primary School in Kisubi and later joined the prestigious St. Mary's College Kisubi.
However, his life changed dramatically when his parents divorced. His mother migrated to the UK and his father died in a car accident in 1989. His maternal aunt found it increasingly difficult to look after him.
Finally, in 1998, Kiyemba joined his mother, brothers and sisters in London, where he continued his education at Pope Paul II Secondary School in Wimbledon. Later, he joined De Montfort University in Leicester to study Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Sciences.
"I was a heavy spender," he recalls his university time. "I loved partying, going out with girls and drinking. To maintain my lifestyle, I worked part-time in a restaurant. Dividing my time between working and studying became increasingly difficult. I decided to take a year off from college to work and earn some money," he recalls.
Becoming a Muslim
It was during that time that Kiyemba was introduced to the teachings of Islam. "I met a friend who made me listen to a cassette with an Islamic message. It was recorded by a new convert, an Afro-American, called Khalid Yassin.
For the first time, I looked at life differently. I realised that Christians were worshipping a messenger, whereas Muslims worship the real God."
After listening to the tape, the young Ugandan followed his friend to the mosque. Somebody asked him why he did not want to convert to Islam immediately. Kiyemba hesitated. He did not want to quit his freewheeling lifestyle, he said. He would convert to Islam in later years. "How sure are you that you will live tomorrow? You can die even today, before you reach home," the man said.
That convinced Kiyemba. "It was April 1999," he recalls. "I took the vows of Islam and suddenly felt like a newborn baby," he says.
Kiyemba's mother did not agree with his new religion. Nor did his relatives back in Uganda, whom he visited in January 2000.
Afghanistan, the promised land
On returning to London, Kiyemba returned to university. "But I could not concentrate," he says. "I was completely taken up by my new religion. I was no longer comfortable with my life at university. I disapproved of girls wearing short skirts and men drinking alcohol."
It was then that Kiyemba learned about Afghanistan and the Taliban. "I read about the Taliban in Dharbi Almu'min magazine," he continues. "It talked about the plight of Muslims worldwide and about Afghanistan, where the government was implementing Islamic laws.
"It said that Muslims from all over the world were moving to Afghanistan, where it was much easier to stay faithful to your religion. People were dressed in accordance with the Islamic culture and adultery was punishable by stoning to death.
"Islam teaches you that a Muslim should move away from a lesser Islamic environment to a better Islamic environment. That a person living in such bad surroundings would be punished, except when he had no means to escape," he says.
Kiyemba spent three and a half years at America's notorius Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Kiyemba was decided. He wanted to go and live in a country which offered few temptations. He dropped out of college and took on a job in order to save money and pay for his trip to Afghanistan.
But then, on September 11, 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the US were attacked, causing the Americans to invade Afghanistan.
"I don't support what happened on 9/11," Kiyemba comments on the attacks.
"But the way the US and Britain reacted was not good. They invaded and bombed Afghanistan, killing even more people. The attacks had an underlying cause, which needed to be addressed. What could have driven a pilot, who earns up to $50,000 a month, to carry out such attacks? I believe that such acts are caused by frustration, as a result of the oppression of Muslims in various countries."
"If you have a child in your house and you mistreat him badly, whom do you blame when the child reacts?" he asks.
Kiyemba cannot approve or disapprove of suicide attacks. "It is not a matter of approving or disapproving. It is a matter of understanding," he says.
"Any effort by Muslims to take away injustices is in the interest of Islam. The word Islam means to surrender to God. That is why, when God asked Abraham to surrender his only son, he obeyed. This is Islam. You do whatever God wants you to do. If Abraham did that today, he would be called a terrorist or a fanatic," Kiyemba asserts.
The long trek to Afghanistan
Reports on bombings in Afghanistan disturbed Kiyemba so much, that he decided to go and assist his brothers in their suffering.
"I said to myself, I will not stay in a country like UK that is killing my brothers. My plan was still to go to Afghanistan, but because of the war, I decided to go to Pakistan."
He first flew to Tehran, where he met other foreigners from Sudan and Mauritania who were also on their way to Afghanistan. "Together we hired a car to drive us across the border to Pakistan," he recounts.
"We decided to settle there and wait for the war to end. Then, Pakistanis started rounding up foreigners, especially Arabs, and selling them to the Americans, who paid $5,000 for any suspect handed over to them. We became worried about our security and decided to leave for Afghanistan. By now, I was ready to assist my brothers there in any possible way, financially or by holding a gun to defend them."
Nabbed in Pakistan
However, Kiyemba and his friends never reached their final destination. In March 2002, they were arrested by Pakistani security at a checkpoint, just before crossing the border, and handed over to the Americans. Kiyemba spent six months in American prisons, first in Pakistan and later at the American Bagram Airbase in northern Afghanistan.
Inside Guantanamo Bay
In October 2002, he was finally flown to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where he would stay for another three and half years.
Asked about his life in prison, Kiyemba keeps quiet.
He however, denies reports in the Red Pepper about acts of sodomy and other torture committed against him.
"It was very painful," he only comments. "I spent long periods in isolation. You were not treated as a human being. I was only 23 years old when I arrived but some of my fellow prisoners were even younger. There were boys of 14 and 15 years old," he recalls.
Kiyemba says he experienced the worst forms of physical torture at the prison in northern Afghanistan.
"In Guantanamo Bay, it was more of psychological torture," he says.
Back in Uganda
Since he came to Uganda, life is a lot better. "I am treated very well here. I eat and sleep well, unlike in Guantanamo Bay. But I am still not free. I am still being detained. This confuses me. If I am a prisoner, I should have certain rights, such as being able to receive visitors," he says.
His experience has not deterred Kiyemba or weakened his religious conviction to the contrary.
"As a Muslim, you must be prepared to suffer and die for your religion. Being in Guantanamo Bay taught me one thing: to be patient and to put my trust in God," he asserts.
When the Americans decided that Kiyemba was no longer a threat they wanted to return him to the United Kingdom where he was officially a resident. But the UK revoked his residence and said he should go back to Uganda where he came from.
Detained by Ugandan security officials, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate hoped to begin a normal life upon release.
This interview was originally published on 22 April, 2006
Guantanamo was a painful experience - Kiyemba