Assalamo Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatahu.

Woman accepts Islam on 24th Nov 2007 in Mumbai  ||  Many Revert Stories

============ ========= ========= ========= ========= ========= ====
http://www.newsweek .com/id/190357/ page/1
The Guard Who Found Islam
Terry Holdbrooks stood watch over prisoners at Gitmo. What he saw made him 
adopt their faith.

By Dan Ephron | NEWSWEEK

Published Mar 21, 2009
>From the magazine issue dated Mar 30, 2009
Army specialist Terry Holdbrooks had been a guard at Guantánamo for about six 
months the night he had his life-altering conversation with detainee 590, a 
Moroccan also known as "the General." This was early 2004, about halfway 
through Holdbrooks's stint at Guantánamo with the 463rd Military Police 
Company. Until then, he'd spent most of his day shifts just doing his duty. 
He'd escort prisoners to interrogations or walk up and down the cellblock 
making sure they weren't passing notes. But the midnight shifts were slow. "The 
only thing you really had to do was mop the center floor," he says. So 
Holdbrooks began spending part of the night sitting cross-legged on the ground, 
talking to detainees through the metal mesh of their cell doors.

He developed a strong relationship with the General, whose real name is Ahmed 
Errachidi. Their late-night conversations led Holdbrooks to be more skeptical 
about the prison, he says, and made him think harder about his own life. Soon, 
Holdbrooks was ordering books on Arabic and Islam. During an evening talk with 
Errachidi in early 2004, the conversation turned to the shahada, the one-line 
statement of faith that marks the single requirement for converting to Islam 
("There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet"). Holdbrooks pushed a 
pen and an index card through the mesh, and asked Errachidi to write out the 
shahada in English and transliterated Arabic. He then uttered the words aloud 
and, there on the floor of Guantánamo's Camp Delta, became a Muslim.

When historians look back on Guantánamo, the harsh treatment of detainees and 
the trampling of due process will likely dominate the narrative. Holdbrooks, 
who left the military in 2005, saw his share. In interviews over recent weeks, 
he and another former guard told NEWSWEEK about degrading and sometimes 
sadistic acts against prisoners committed by soldiers, medics and interrogators 
who wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks on America. But as the fog of secrecy 
slowly lifts from Guantánamo, other scenes are starting to emerge as well, 
including surprising interactions between guards and detainees on subjects like 
politics, religion and even music. The exchanges reveal curiosity on both 
sides—sometimes even empathy. "The detainees used to have conversations with 
the guards who showed some common respect toward them," says Errachidi, who 
spent five years in Guantánamo and was released in 2007. "We talked about 
everything, normal things, and things
 [we had] in common," he wrote to NEWSWEEK in an e-mail from his home in 

Holdbrooks's level of identification with the other side was exceptional. No 
other guard has volunteered that he embraced Islam at the prison (though 
Errachidi says others expressed interest). His experience runs counter to 
academic studies, which show that guards and inmates at ordinary prisons tend 
to develop mutual hostility. But then, Holdbrooks is a contrarian by nature. He 
can also be conspiratorial. When his company visited the site of the 9/11 
attacks in New York, Holdbrooks remembers thinking there had to be a broader 
explanation, and that the Bush administration must have colluded somehow in the 

But his misgivings about Guantánamo—including doubts that the detainees were 
the "worst of the worst"—were shared by other guards as early as 2002. A few 
such guards are coming forward for the first time. Specialist Brandon Neely, 
who was at Guantánamo when the first detainees arrived that year, says his 
enthusiasm for the mission soured quickly. "There were a couple of us guards 
who asked ourselves why these guys are being treated so badly and if they're 
actually terrorists at all," he told NEWSWEEK. Neely remembers having long 
conversations with detainee Ruhal Ahmed, who loved Eminem and James Bond and 
would often rap or sing to the other prisoners. Another former guard, 
Christopher Arendt, went on a speaking tour with former detainees in Europe 
earlier this year to talk critically about the prison.

Holdbrooks says growing up hard in Phoenix—his parents were junkies and he 
himself was a heavy drinker before joining the military in 2002—helps explain 
what he calls his "anti-everything views." He has holes the size of quarters in 
both earlobes, stretched-out piercings that he plugs with wooden discs. At his 
Phoenix apartment, bedecked with horror-film memorabilia, he rolls up both 
sleeves to reveal wrist-to-shoulder tattoos. He describes the ink work as a 
narrative of his mistakes and addictions. They include religious symbols and 
Nazi SS bolts, track marks and, in large letters, the words BY DEMONS BE 
DRIVEN. He says the line, from a heavy-metal song, reminds him to be a better 

Holdbrooks—TJ to his friends—says he joined the military to avoid winding up 
like his parents. He was an impulsive young man searching for stability. On his 
first home leave, he got engaged to a woman he'd known for just eight days and 
married her three months later. With little prior exposure to religion, 
Holdbrooks was struck at Gitmo by the devotion detainees showed to their faith. 
"A lot of Americans have abandoned God, but even in this place, [the detainees] 
were determined to pray," he says.

Holdbrooks was also taken by the prisoners' resourcefulness. He says detainees 
would pluck individual threads from their jumpsuits or prayer mats and spin 
them into long stretches of twine, which they would use to pass notes from cell 
to cell. He noticed that one detainee with a bad skin rash would smear peanut 
butter on his windowsill until the oil separated from the paste, then would use 
the oil on his rash.

Errachidi's detention seemed particularly suspect to Holdbrooks. The Moroccan 
detainee had worked as a chef in Britain for almost 18 years and spoke fluent 
English. He told Holdbrooks he had traveled to Pakistan on a business venture 
in late September 2001 to help pay for his son's surgery. When he crossed into 
Afghanistan, he said, he was picked up by the Northern Alliance and sold to 
American troops for $5,000. At Guantánamo, Errachidi was accused of attending a 
Qaeda training camp. But a 2007 investigation by the London Times newspaper 
appears to have corroborated his story; it eventually helped lead to his 

In prison, Errachidi was an agitator. "Because I spoke English, I was always in 
the face of the soldiers," he wrote NEWSWEEK in an e-mail. Errachidi said an 
American colonel at Guantánamo gave him his nickname, and warned him that 
generals "get hurt" if they don't cooperate. He said his defiance cost him 23 
days of abuse, including sleep deprivation, exposure to very cold temperatures 
and being shackled in stress positions. "I always believed the soldiers were 
doing illegal stuff and I was not ready to keep quiet." (Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey 
Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said in response: "Detainees have often made 
claims of abuse that are simply not supported by the facts.") The Moroccan 
spent four of his five years at Gitmo in the punishment block, where detainees 
were denied "comfort items" like paper and prayer beads along with access to 
the recreation yard and the library.

Errachidi says he does not remember details of the night Holdbrooks converted. 
Over the years, he says, he discussed a range of religious topics with guards: 
"I spoke to them about subjects like Father Christmas and Ishac and Ibrahim 
[Isaac and Abraham] and the sacrifice. About Jesus." Holdbrooks recalls that 
when he announced he wanted to embrace Islam, Errachidi warned him that 
converting would be a serious undertaking and, at Guantánamo, a messy affair. 
"He wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into." Holdbrooks 
later told his two roommates about the conversion, and no one else.

But other guards noticed changes in him. They heard detainees calling him 
Mustapha, and saw that Holdbrooks was studying Arabic openly. (At his Phoenix 
apartment, he displays the books he had amassed. They include a leather-bound, 
six-volume set of Muslim sacred texts and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to 
Understanding Islam.") One night his squad leader took him to a yard behind his 
living quarters, where five guards were waiting to stage a kind of 
intervention. "They started yelling at me," he recalls, "asking if I was a 
traitor, if I was switching sides." At one point a squad leader pulled back his 
fist and the two men traded blows, Holdbrooks says.

Holdbrooks spent the rest of his time at Guantánamo mainly keeping to himself, 
and nobody bothered him further. Another Muslim who served there around the 
same time had a different experience. Capt. James Yee, a Gitmo chaplain for 
much of 2003, was arrested in September of that year on suspicion of aiding the 
enemy and other crimes—charges that were eventually dropped. Yee had become a 
Muslim years earlier. He says the Muslims on staff at Gitmo—mainly 
translators—often felt beleaguered. "There was an overall atmosphere by the 
command to vilify Islam." (Commander Gordon's response: "We strongly disagree 
with the assertions made by Chaplain Yee").

At Holdbrooks's next station, in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he says things began 
to unravel. The only place to kill time within miles of the base was a Wal-Mart 
and two strip clubs—Big Daddy's and Big Louie's. "I've never been a fan of 
strip clubs, so I hung out at Wal-Mart," he says. Within months, Holdbrooks was 
released from the military—two years before the end of his commitment. The Army 
gave him an honorable discharge with no explanation, but the events at Gitmo 
seemed to loom over the decision. The Army said it would not comment on the 

Back in Phoenix, Holdbrooks returned to drinking, in part to suppress what he 
describes as the anger that consumed him. (Neely, the other ex-guard who spoke 
to NEWSWEEK, said Guantánamo had made him so depressed he spent up to $60 a day 
on alcohol during a monthlong leave from the detention center in 2002.) 
Holdbrooks divorced his wife and spiraled further. Eventually his addictions 
landed him in the hospital. He suffered a series of seizures, as well as a fall 
that resulted in a bad skull fracture and the insertion of a titanium plate in 
his head.

Recently, Holdbrooks has been back in touch with Errachidi, who has suffered 
his own ordeal since leaving the detention center. Errachidi told NEWSWEEK he 
had trouble adjusting to his freedom, "trying to learn how to walk without 
shackles and trying to sleep at night with the lights off." He signed each of 
the dozen e-mails he sent to NEWSWEEK with the impersonal ID that his captors 
had given him: Ahmed 590.

Holdbrooks, now 25, says he quit drinking three months ago and began attending 
regular prayers at the Tempe Islamic Center, a mosque near the University of 
Phoenix, where he works as an enrollment counselor. The long scar on his head 
is now mostly hidden under the lace of his Muslim kufi cap. When the imam at 
Tempe introduced Holdbrooks to the congregation and explained he'd converted at 
Guantánamo, a few dozen worshipers rushed over to shake his hand. "I would have 
thought they had the most savage soldiers serving there," says the imam, Amr 
Elsamny, an Egyptian. "I never thought it would be someone like TJ."

With Dina Fine Maron in Washington
© 2009

Enjoy a safer web experience. Upgrade to the new Internet Explorer 8 optimised 
for Yahoo!7. Get it now..

Instant Messaging, free SMS, sharing photos and more... Try the new Yahoo! 
Canada Messenger at

Reply via email to