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Russian Mothers Plead for Sons to Stay in Guantanamo By: Nick Paton Walsh
The Guardian | Monday, August 11, 2003


The mothers of the eight Russians held with other prisoners from Afghanistan at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay have begged Washington not to extradite their sons to answer terror charges in Russia, fearing that conditions in their jails and judicial system are even worse than those at Camp Delta.

"In Guantanamo they treat him humanely and the conditions are fine," Amina Khasanova, the mother of Andrei Bakhitov, told the newspaper Gazeta. "I am terribly scared for my son in a Russian prison or court system."

She said her son wrote to her that conditions were so good in Camp Delta in Cuba that "there is no health resort in Russia that can compare".

Camp Delta has been criticised by human rights groups for the "torturous" conditions under which inmates are held awaiting trial by a special military tribunal.

They are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and occasionally subjected to "sensory deprivation techniques" involving goggles, gloves and mufflers which impede their senses. Lights are left on in cells during the night.

There have been 28 suicide attempts among the 612 prisoners at the facility.

Russian jails, where inmates may be held 20 to a cell, tuberculosis is rampant and hygiene minimal, have been condemned as "deadly".

Although the death penalty has been abolished in Russia, Muslim prisoners held on "terrorism" charges may be persecuted by fellow prisoners and prison staff angered by the terrorist attacks on civilians by Chechen rebels.

Allegations of torture and beating in remand custody are commonplace. By contrast, Mr Bakhitov told his mother that in Guantanamo "everything is fine with me".

"They give me books here and I am held in a clean place. The food is tasty. I want for nothing but freedom. Good people are sat around me."

Mrs Khasanova said her son was an innocent victim of circumstances. He was arrested after he went to Chechnya in 1999, "to visit a renowned Islamic institute". He fled from Russia to Tajikistan, and from there to Afghanistan, where he was arrested by the Taliban as a suspected KGB agent.

"The [Russian authorities] have failed to prove he participated in any military actions [in Chechnya]. He ran from Russia because he spent two and a half months in jail."

Ms Khasanova is not the first mother of a Russian in Guantanamo to plead with Washington not to extradite her son to face Russian justice.

Earlier this year Nina Odizheva, the mother of Ruslan, 29, from Kabardino-Balkaria, wrote several times to the US ambassador, Alexander Vershbow, begging Washington to resist Moscow's calls for extradition. She said she had not heard from her son for 18 months when the Russian prosecutor contacted her to say he was suspected of being a member of the Taliban.

Ruslan wrote to his mother that at Camp Delta "what we see around us is a complete miracle".




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