May 05, 2011
TUNIS - Adel Ben Mabrouk has seen the inside of Italian prison cells from Milan in the north to Benevento in the south. He also spent eight years behind the barbed wire of a certain U.S. military prison on the island of Cuba.
Last February, a Milan Judge convicted this 40-year-old Tunisian of criminal association with terrorist intent, but then freed him from jail, citing the time he'd spent incarcerated at Guantanamo as "not democratic" and the conditions "inhumane". Mabrouk is a survivor of Afghanistan, where he was arrested at the end of 2001 for his alleged associations with Al Qaeda.
I met him at his house in Tunisia. By chance, it was this past Monday, soon after Osama Bin Laden's death had been announced. On the television screen in his living room, France 24's Arabic channel was broadcasting the images of the collapsing Twin Towers, Bin Laden, and the stories of some of his many victims.
Looking at the screen, with a strange smile on his face, Mabrouk says: "The Americans… they are smart and bastards at the same time." He then picks up the remote control, and starts looking for the Italian Rai TV channel, in vain. "I love watching Italian soccer. How did Inter of Milan do yesterday? What a team."
I ask him what Bin Laden meant for him: Martyr? Madman? Killer?
"He was a respectable man. Even his enemies should recognize that he deserved respect," Mabrouk responds. "He was a man of honor."
After eight years in Guantanamo, American authorities handed Mabrouk over to Italy. In 2005, Italian authorities had issued an arrest warrant accusing him of international terrorism, falsification of documents, aiding illegal immigration, theft and drug trafficking.
Following Milan judge Armando Spataro's decision to free him, Mabrouk was expelled from Italy. He now lives in the notorious Zaharouni neighborhood of Tunis, an area that is too dangerous to frequent at night.
Mabrouk spends his new life between the local mosque and the garage he runs with his brother. People who pass in front of the garage stop to say hello. They show a sort of respect and admiration for him. Mabrouk's brother, who convinced him to accept this interview, had also been arrested in Afghanistan, accused of terrorism and jailed for seven years in Tunisia.
Prior to his release, Mabrouk spent a total of 10 years in jails. He has been incarcerated in the Italian prisons of Pesaro Asti, Fossombrone, Macomer, Benevento, and Milan, as well in the United States-run Guantanamo and Kandahar military prisons in Afghanistan.
His tales are related to life in jail. He speaks about the fetters used in Pakistan. "It's like in the times of Christ. They put rings around your ankles which are connected by a bar and another bar across the legs. You have to raise the bar in order to walk," he explains.
Does his body have the signs of all this tortures? "Maybe, but I don't realize it. Perhaps Guantanamo inmates like me are all crazy without knowing it," he says with a dry laugh. "It's only when we are out surrounded by people, and we see them looking at us, that we realize."
Every now and again, Mabrouk falls into impenetrable silences. He had said after the second question, "Look, it's better if I just speak. I don't like to answer questions, because I feel like if I am back there. I was interrogated 200 times in Guantanamo, by the CIA, the Italian special forces and those bastards of our Tunisian secret services -- Ben Ali's men. I knew all the questions. They were always the same. There were three questions to which I would never reply: what do you think about kamikazes? How did you become a radical Islamist? Have you ever fired a gun?"
On the question of his faith, he denies that radical imams he met during a stint in an Italian jail for drug-dealing had an impact on him. "This is bullshit. I just had many things to confess, that's all. It was like to be born again. We Muslims have God inside, our faith comes from our souls… I stopped taking drugs, started working as a barber, then as a driver for a company in Cernusco. I had even applied for a regular Visa, but there was that old conviction for drug trafficking. Always the same…"
He finally opens up about Afghanistan and why he went there in February 2001 "It was a place where good Muslims felt at home. I was scared that the Italians authorities would hand me over me to Ben Alì, accusing me of being a radical Islamist. In Afghanistan I lived in a shelter for foreigners. The Taliban took us in, they gave us a home."
After 9/11, when the Taliban regime fell apart, Mabrouk crossed the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, under the US bombing. There, Pakistani authorities arrested him and 150 other people. "They sold me to the Americans for $5,000 just because Bush needed people to fill up the jails as part of the war on terrorism."
He was jailed in Guantanamo. "Look, in Guantanamo there was a lot of good, not just evil. I would like to write a book about it. The title would be Guantanamo, Between Good and Evil. Yes, there we understood who the Americans really are, and we also understood our faith better. We were from 50 countries, and 80% of us learned the Koran by heart. That is not a prison. It is a war camp where psychologists and psychiatrists are in charge. If you do not have faith, you cannot survive in those conditions. I could tell about some amazing gestures, even from the guardians. In Guantanamo I understood one thing: the human being is good, even there."
photo - JTF Guantanamo
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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