Friday, October 15, 2010

Case of Abou Elkassim Bitel Part One (Summary of Interview)

RELATED items in post below and in posts to follow...

Here's just the "bare bones" of an earlier extra- long interview (excerpted and sometimes re-organized by date/topic into a rough summary). The interview is with Britel Kassim's wife - a case which involves Italy, US, Morocco and Pakistan (NOTE dates go WAY back). Hopefully some of these methods and lack of oversight have changed in some ways and places and by certain officials - although reassurances are hard to come by - see the link for full interview with Cage Prisoners below):

FROM Interview with Khadija Pighizzni Written by Asim Qureshi
Wednesday, 09 January 2008

Abou Elkassim Britel is an Italian citizen of Moroccan ethnicity, married to an Italian convert to Islam. On 10th March 2002, whilst in Lahore translating books on Islam, he was detained on a false passport charge, and subsequently interrogated and tortured by Pakistani security services. Transferred to Islamabad to be questioned by US intelligence agents, he was prevented from contacting the Italian embassy to prove the authenticity of his passport. On 24th May 2002, he was rendered to Morocco (with the co-operation of the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs), where he was detained incommunicado in Témara by the Moroccan secret service until February 2003. Released without charge and granted a border pass by Italian Embassy, he was again arrested on 16th May 2003 before the bomb attacks in Casablanca. He was brought to Témara in secret detention for other 4 months. Condemned to fifteen years in jail, his sentence was reduced to nine years on appeal. Despite the European Parliament having solicited the Italian government to obtain his immediate release, he remains incarcerated in the Äin Bourja prison of Casablanca, where he is to be released in 2012. Cageprisoners spoke exclusively to Britel’s wife, Khadija Anna Lucia Pighizzni, about her husband’s plight and her fight for justice. (NOTE that a lot has happened between interview on 2008 and today October 15, 2010)

CAGEPRISONERS: How long had your husband been in Pakistan before he was first arrested?

KHADIJA PIGHIZZINI: My husband had been travelling since June 2001.

CP: What had brought your husband to Pakistan?

KP: Kassim and I had an ongoing project, involving the translation of Islamic books from Arabic to Italian. My husband was seeking funds to finance the translation of Tafsir Ibn Kathir. We have a small website, Islàmiqra' translations of topics and authentic Islamic texts...( )...useful for the Italian-speaking people who do not understand Arabic.

CP: When did you find out about the arrest of your husband?

KP: My husband disappeared on the 10th of March 2002. I had spoken to him on the phone that day. In the evening, he was stopped in Lahore at a police road block while he was travelling with his luggage on a taxi. As soon as they saw his Italian passport they told him it was false and took him to the police station. Then he disappeared until the 11th of February 2003.

CP: You claim your husband was tortured by Pakistani security services during his initial detention?

KP: Kassim still finds it difficult to relate what he’s been through. Even though he does speak about it now, he is not up to telling the whole story.

My husband was psychologically tortured with death threats against him and threats of violence against the female members of his family. They told him that the Italian ambassador was not interested in him “because he was a terrorist”.

As for the physical torture, I know he was beaten severely, with a cricket bat at times. The handcuffs he wore around his wrists were tied behind his back with chains and he would be hung from the prison bars or off the ceiling for a long time. He would be blindfolded and his hands and feet would be chained so that he could not defend himself nor predict where he was going to be hit. The cell did not include a toilet and he was not allowed to relieve himself except once every 24 hours, when he was given a bucket. For three days he was sleep deprived, while tied to a gate.

When I saw him again after 11 months, he still had patches of yellow on his skin where he’d been severely beaten. This treatment, inflicted on him by the Pakistani police and secret services, lasted a very long time. At the beginning of April 2002 after another violent interrogation, Kassim was in critical condition, exhausted and continuously prone to fainting, so they gave him medical attention for about a week.

My husband was transferred to Islamabad the 5th of May 2002, to the Pakistani secret services. He was then taken four times, tied and blindfolded, to a villa where he was interrogated by US agents

CP: In what way was your husband denied access to the Italian embassy in Pakistan?

KP: Kassim was never allowed to meet or talk with the Italian Ambassador, which was something my husband kept asking for, since the day he was stopped by the police. He wanted to prove the authenticity of his passport. He kept asking both the Pakistanis and the Americans...

CP: To what extent were US government agencies involved in the questioning of your husband?

KP: Kassim was interrogated four times in a villa where the Americans were based. He was taken there blindfolded and under great secrecy. He said he wouldn’t talk to the Americans because of the illegal nature of his situation, and also because they wouldn’t allow him to meet with the Italian ambassador. On the contrary, they claimed that the ambassador didn’t want to meet with him...

The head of the Pakistani secret services was present, and threatened to torture him. At that point Kassim said he would have them tried in The Hague, so they offered him money in exchange for information about Usama Bin Laden. My husband persisted in asking to speak to the Italian Ambassador. His attitude angered his interrogators, provoking them to swear against the Italian Ambassador, Italy, Europe and more subtle threats towards his family. On the last occasion, the interrogation was performed by a new person, who introduced himself as David Morgan. He said he had just arrived from Washington and wanted to know why Kassim was refusing to talk, to which my husband replied by reiterating that he wanted to speak to the Italian Ambassador. Once again they told him that the Ambassador didn’t want to talk to him, so my husband asked them to bring him the phone and let him speak to him directly. They refused to do so because he was “a prisoner”. At this stage, Morgan asked him several questions about his life and filled in a form. He informed him he would meet the Moroccan Ambassador, rather than the Italian one, but that meeting never took place.

After a few days the Pakistanis told him he would be going back to Italy.

CP: What is your response to this?

KP: I understood from an NGO report that the Americans were paying very well for non Pakistani prisoners, perhaps, because of this, my husband, like many others, was 'sold'.

The Pakistani police denied him all rights. He complained when he saw a policeman putting Kassim's wrist watch in his pocket - the policeman in turn just laughed at him.

CP: How much communication did you have with your husband during his imprisonment in Pakistan?

KP: I understood that something had happened to him, but didn’t know exactly what.

On the night of the 7th June 2002, his brother (who was also living in Italy) received a telephone call from someone who claimed to have been in prison with Kassim in Pakistan. The caller asked for something to be done urgently for Kassim, as his life was in danger.

However, what we didn’t know at that time was that Kassim had already been EXTRAORDINARILY RENDERED via a CIA flight to Temara, Morocco, at the headquarters of the DST (Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory).

CP: Do you know if he was granted legal access during that time?

KP: Yes, we know that he wasn’t given any rights whatsoever, it was no other than illegal and secret detention, he was never asked to sign anything NOR WAS HE EVER TRIED FOR ANY CRIME.

CP: How long have you been married to your husband?

KP: We have been married now for 12 years. Our marriage has always been a source of joy and happiness for both of us. Even though Allah has not blessed us with any children, our relationship was still very strong and we tried living our lives based on the principles of Islam.

Kassim used to translate for me, initially to help me with the religion and from there the idea came to dedicate our time to translating books which were considered fundamental for Islam. We thought it was a way to help our community, the Italian Muslim community which was still very ‎’young’.

I would say that our relationship is healthy and fruitful because it allowed us to improve ourselves spiritually and for this I seek a reward with Allah. At the same time I thank Allah for this, it is a precious gift for both of us.

CP: What qualities make your husband special?

KP: My husband is an honest man, with sound morals. He is intelligent and inquisitive; he loves knowledge, just like me. However, he is more down-to-earth. He knows how to plan and write with patience and determination. He is observant and a good listener. We can have a heated discussion without causing bad feelings between us, as he can laugh at himself when needed.

CP: What effect has this ordeal had on you and his family?

KP: It’s been ALMOST SIX YEARS since my husband disappeared, and this has caused me perpetual suffering as I’ve never managed to get used to his absence. He left with a return ticket...

(the following excerpt has been slightly "re-organized" from interview to make sure certain facts/dates are more accessible)

(from KHADIJA): "The first organisation to help us in Morocco was the AMDH (Moroccan Association for Human Rights). Later in 2004, the FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) republished the story. I’ve always kept Amnesty and HRW informed of any changes in my husbands situation. In 2007 Amnesty did a report on Italy for the UN Convention Against Torture in which it highlighted Kassim’s case. HRW has also included a section in its last annual report. I reiterate that in Italy no human rights organisation has ever given us any help."

NOTE: See URL just below for many other abuses to both wife and husband including:

*local newspaper had their headlines full of grand accusations, but never quite told the whole story. They never seem to miss an opportunity to write negative things against Muslims. "It is very difficult to keep going when the newspapers launch an attack on you in your face that your husband is a dangerous terrorist, when the neighbours stop greeting you and when, sometimes, you are afraid of being physically attacked because you see the hatred in their faces."

*There seem to be many people who are afraid; they react by insulting me verbally when I’m out on the streets or on the bus. I’m not sure if that’s due to my hijab or because they know who I am.

*In prison/jail/etc/Airplane, etc. her husband underwent: bruises and injuries and many other sorts of violent treatment such as food and healthcare deprivation; prohibition of reading and writing materials; no beds; they never have warm meals and are often given food that has gone off; scarce water; short and very infrequent visits; intimidating the families, forced to wait for hours and the requisition of goods (for example oil, honey or fruit.) However, there have been slow but constant improvements thanks to the struggle of the detainees (two prolonged hunger strikes in 2005 and 2006, and several others)...constantly suffers from head aches.

* KP: Pakistan, 24th May 2002. (blogger's note: Not quite clear whether officials here were all Pakistani officials and/or some US-directed or trained by CIA?) He was taken to the airport by car, travelling handcuffed and with a hood on his head. After about half an hour waiting, someone grabbed him abruptly, having come onto him very quietly. He seized his neck with powerful strength, so much so that Kassim thought he was going to die. He was taken to a place that turned out to be a bathroom. Everything happened very fast. Brandishing a knife, they cut his clothes and took them all off. He was then able to see 4 or 5 men all dressed in black, with only the eyes showing, all around him. They searched him all over, also in the intimate parts, took a picture and quickly put his clothes back on cutting most of his t-shirt off. They put a sort of nappy on him and blindfolded him again. They made him wear what felt like metallic underpants to which they attached chains connected to his handcuffs and to his legs.

They took him to the aeroplane and forced him to lie down on his back; another passenger got on the plane after him. He was forbidden from moving from that position and every movement was punished by being hit, maybe with a stick, maybe with a shoe... he could not tell. Not having realised he had a nappy on, he held his bladder the whole journey with tremendous discomfort. His back was in great pain, when he asked to be allowed to turn they covered his mouth with tape.

While the plane was landing, they managed to swap his metal handcuffs with some plastic ones. After hearing the Moroccan dialect he understood where he had arrived. Some Temara policemen were waiting for him and transported him to the town. The route of this plane was recorded among the documents of the TDIP (European commission for CIA flights): the Gulfstream N379P, known as the "Guantanamo Express", flew on the 24/25 May 2002 from Islamabad to Rabat, took off the same day in the direction of Porto and landed in Washington on May the 26.

(ongoing difficulties with Italy are mentioned and more abuses are named when husband held in Temara see dossier which was held by Amnesty as well: Temara is not a jail, it’s a place used in order to obtain confessions, statements, forced cooperation... Binyam Mohamed (currently held in Guantanamo) gives a tragic account about Temara...

Kassim’s first detention in Temara (25.05.02-11.02.03) was spent in total isolation. He had to undergo distressing interrogations, during which he was always tied and blindfolded. He was sleep-deprived and kept hearing the screaming of other detainees. Only when they thought he was broken to the point of accepting to work as their collaborator in Italy, the secret services decided to let him go...The second secret and illegal detention in Temara was extremely harsh. Not only was he given the aforementioned treatment, in fact, much harder because of the political repression occurring in the country, but also his own family was often interrogated in rooms near his. On top of that Kassim was denied a change of clothes, enough water, any soap and the comfort of a copy of the Quran. He was always handcuffed, except for fifteen minutes, for his meal. He was tied even in the toilet. He was trying hard to keep himself clean for prayer, he was in extreme conditions, in order to clean his teeth he would pull a thread from the only pair of trousers he had...
They let him out of that place only once he signed, like everyone else, a paper he was not allowed to read.

* brief release in Temara, on the 11th of February 2003.

...I rushed to Morocco to take care of him, with the intention of taking him home. But many complications took place"

I arrived in Morocco the 28th of September 2003. I went to see him in Salé and I noticed the deep marks of his handcuffs and how thin he had become, even though I could only see him from afar and through a double net. I saw many other incredible and shameful things, like the trial factory, where even three verdicts would be reached on the same day, given out by the same court...

(she also "feared the torture of the bottle" )

...that they would give him chemicals...I also had a different type of fear, a moral one: when you get such violent and humiliating treatment how is it possible to remain yourself and not be overwhelmed by the desire of revenge? Alhamdulillah, my husband has been cruelly harmed but he has preserved his balance and his intelligence, his mind is focused on the future and I am very proud of him.

SEE URL for interview for more of the many complications of this "release" - the results of the torture, the need for wife to go unpaid to attend husband, separation of family members from Kassim, long road to some small health improvements etc. Finally they tried to get Moroccan embassy to escort us to the airport, in order to guarantee our departure yet although they tried several times, they were always refused with the given reason “you are guests, this is not your country”. In the end, after giving it a lot of thought, Kassim notified the embassy that he would have crossed the frontier in Melilla.

Other possible sources to research more on the case:

Since 2006, despite the prominent involvement of the Parliament Commission on CIA flights (TDID), the newspapers are silent - with the exception of an important report by Claudio Gatti for the prestigious newspaper “Il Sole 24 Ore”, on the 30th of May 2007, just before Bush visited Italy. The enquiry related the actions of ACLU towards the company that catered for the logistic support needed for the rendition, and it also told Kassim’s story. This article was also published by the International Herald Tribune and by El Pais, while the other Italian newspapers ignored it, even though my husband is the only Italian citizen known to be a victim of rendition....The story is accurately followed by a newspaper called Carta, while one named Diario, that published two articles, today is no longer in the shops...See On it you can also listen to Kassim’s voice.There are several sites and blogs that talk about his story, I remember,, Cronique de Guantanamo, but there are others, like Cageprisoners that also talks about the articles published in the USA.

In September 2006 due to involvement of the TDIP Commission in Abou Elkassim Brite case, finally the Italian magistrates archive the case “considering that the latest enquiries, the phone conversations and the bank evidence do not support the accusations”...

In April, his Italian solicitor Francesca Longhi, who went to Morocco to meet him, was not allowed to enter the prison! [See "Italian authorities drag their feet in Britel case", ]

My husband’s health, as I have already mentioned, is in very bad condition. After enduring violent interrogation, he has incurred a great hearing and sight loss on the left hand side, he suffers from permanent pain in his joints and, especially, his back. He also has problems with his urinary tract. He gets tired very easily and he has difficulty in paying attention for a sustained period of time. I doubt he will be able to work with all these problems, once he manages to get out of prison, but what I know for sure is that he is wasting precious years of his life...

CP: What do you make of the findings of the European Parliament on the case of your husband? Does it give you hope in the justice of the legal system?

KP: The contribution of the European Parliament is very important for us, because it has established the truth regarding facts I have always told and that none seemed to believe.

Behind these findings there is the MP Mr Fava, who strongly believes in the fact that every person has the right to be treated humanely, with respect, and to be judged with fair justice. I have published most of these findings on my website because the sufferings we have been going through are everybody’s concern. Furthermore, I feel this is a very different attitude when compared to a political position of silence towards such serious crimes, so unworthy of Europe. I hope that the European Parliament manages to force the countries involved in this matter into allowing the truth to prevail.

CP: What has given you the ability to be patient in the face of your difficulties? What advice would you give to others in the same situation as yourself?

KP: The faith and trust I have in my husband...Alhamdulillah, I have tried to remain patient and to use my intelligence and knowledge in order to understand what was happening around me. I have tried not to lose hope, even in the most difficult moments, and I have knocked (and still do) at many doors, without losing faith.

In such difficult times I have managed to meet great people. It will be enough to mention one of them: Francesca Longhi, solicitor, has always tried to understand the situation and has also been very patient when explaining to me legal intricacies.

I advise those who are in my same situation to keep having faith and never lose hope. They should tell the truth and always struggle to make it well known as well as be patient, keeping in mind that “God never burdens a soul beyond its means: to its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits.” (Qur’an, 2: 286).

READ the interview intact and in full at Cage Prisoners here See three more EARLIER items listed below...

A more recent summary from October 2010 follows in nomorecrusades post just below this one:

1 comment:

  1. Amnesty and ACLU Reports:

    Site to free Abou Elkassim Bitel