We speak with William Sampson, a Canadian citizen who was jailed for over two and a half years in Saudi Arabia where he was accused of being a British spy. He was never tried, only tortured–including being beaten, raped and deprived of sleep. Under mounting international pressure, the Saudi government released Sampson in August 2003. He has written a book about his ordeal titled "Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison." [includes rush transcript]
Five years ago this month, car bombings in Saudi Arabia killed two British nationals and wounded two others. Most of the targeted were working as foreign engineers in the country. The bombings set off another nightmare for several of their colleagues, who were accused by the Saudi government of carrying out the attacks.
One of them was William Sampson. Sampson, a Canadian citizen, was working as a consultant in the Saudi Arabian pharmaceutical industry. Within weeks of the bombings, he was imprisoned along with seven others and placed in solitary confinement.
Sampson remained in jail for over two and a half years, where he says he was tortured, beaten, and sexually assaulted. Medical tests subsequently backed up his claims.
In February 2001, after weeks of torture, Sampson appeared on Saudi Arabian television and confessed to the bombings. He later claimed he had endured torture so painful in prior weeks he had begged his captors to let him confess.
The televised confession elicited a world-wide campaign to secure his release. Sampson’s case was taken up by the Association In Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted, and championed by prominent advocates such as the late attorney Johnnie Cochran and wrongfully imprisoned former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Under mounting international pressure, the Saudi government granted him clemency. In August 2003, Sampson and five others were set free.
Since his release, Sampson has initiated legal proceedings against the Saudi government. He’s also written a book about his ordeal — "Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison."
- William Sampson, arrested and held in a Saudi jail for almost 3 years where he was tortured into confessing to crimes he did not commit. He is the author of the new book "Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison."
AMY GOODMAN: William Sampson joins us in our Firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Thank you for inviting me.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about the day you were arrested.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Well, it started off as a normal but stressful day. I got up in the morning, made myself coffee, ran out of my house, late as always.
AMY GOODMAN: Why were you in Saudi Arabia?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I was in Saudi Arabia working as a consultant for the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, which is a government development bank. I was there as a marketing consultant, reviewing project proposals by startup industry in Saudi Arabia.
AMY GOODMAN: How long had you been there?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: About two-and-a-half years at the time of my arrest. And as I said, I ran out the front door, saw that there was a flat tire on my car, turned to get a taxi. And I saw another car pull up and almost run me over. A couple of individuals jumped out of it, stripped my possessions off me, a third got out of the car, waved a gun at me, and the next thing I knew, I was on my way to a Saudi Arabian prison.
AMY GOODMAN: And then what happened?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: When I first arrived at the prison, I was chained to the door of my cell, chained upright in the door of my cell and assigned an initial number. I think it was 23 or 26 at the time. And I stood in that position for about an hour or so before I was taken up for my first interrogation session. During that session, I was beaten and punched and asked various questions about what I had been doing in the proceeding weeks, specifically around about the times of two bombings, one that occurred November the 17th, one that had occurred on November the 22nd of 2000, and also about a bombing that had occurred only two days previously on December the 15th of 2000. And as I said, I answered those questions in between —
AMY GOODMAN: These were all bombings of cars?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: These were all bombings. Yes. The first bombing that occurred on November the 17th was on the car of a British national called Christopher Rodway, which killed Christopher Rodway and injured his wife.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know him?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I didn’t know him, but I had a friend who knew him, who worked in the same department at the military hospital in Riyadh. On the night of the second bombing, November 22, a car with four British expatriates — well, three British and one Irish expatriate — were driving on the way to a party at one of the sort of western residential compounds in Riyadh, and a friend of mine was in the car immediately behind them following them to that party. A bomb went off, and that one injured the occupants and almost, but not quite, killed — severely injured a chap called Mark Paine. If my friend, Raf Schyvens, who was following the vehicle had not been there, the severely injured party, Mark Paine, would possibly have bled to death. Raf, being a trauma nurse, actually stopped and rendered first aid assistance until the emergency services were actually able to take up the slack. For his pains, Raf was subsequently arrested and tortured, much as I was.
AMY GOODMAN: For how long?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: He was in prison for a week longer than myself. So, I was in for 964 days. He was in for 971.
AMY GOODMAN: And he had already been arrested at the time of your arrest?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Yes. He would have been arrested about a week before me, and what had happened was after the second bombing had gone off, all of the witnesses to the bombing were questioned by the police. And they were asked lots of odd questions, like all the names of people they knew and all of the relationships with all the other Westerners. And Raf was the last of them to actually be questioned. And during his initial questioning sessions, they kept making statements at him that they knew he was the bomber. But they released him. So he just assumed, we all assumed, that those were just sort of threats to unsettle him.
The next thing happened was that about a week before my arrest, about September the 10th, he just disappeared. I had phoned — I had been intending to actually meet him that day. I phoned him from my work, just before leaving work, and just by chance got him on his cell phone at the time his villa was being searched by the secret police, and he was being arrested. And from that moment on, for the next week, I spent my time chasing around all the contacts I had at various police stations, trying to find out where he might be, until I eventually got told to back off, because where he was was somewhere I wasn’t going to find.
And so, when that car pulled up about seven days after he disappeared, when that car pulled up in front of me, I knew they were coming for me, because it was just standard. I was a friend of Raf’s. They had arrested Raf Schyvens, were going to pin the bombing on him, at least the second bombing on him. I was a friend of Raf’s. I was also known to the secret police or to the intelligence — Ministry of Interior intelligence people, because I had been involved in assisting a number of Westerners on different occasions with difficulties they had at police stations over infringements of alcohol laws or socializing laws that they have in Saudi Arabia. It is, for example, illegal for the conversation that is taking place to happen out there. I’m not married to you. You’re not related to me. I can’t be technically in your presence socially, and I can be arrested for that, and so can you. And these types of minor infringements, Alexander Mitchell and myself had been involved in smoothing over the process at the police station so that the paperwork didn’t get too sticky for most people.
With that on our background, and we obviously seemed to fit the frame, and on December the 17th, I disappeared, as I found myself in this police cell, and there the beatings started from the very, very start. Within a couple of days, the beatings had progressed from just punching, kicking, being thrown around the room, having my testicles stood on, to being lain down on the floor in a hog-tied position, hands shackled behind my back and attached to my ankles, and then beaten over the soles of the feet. And this then followed on to something called falanga, where you are strapped over a metal bar and hung upside-down off the floor so that your feet and buttocks are prominently exposed, and then you are beaten across the soles off the feet, across the buttock, and then every once in a while I would have a quick shot into my scrotum. The damage that was done there, I mean, within a few days of that, I literally had testicles the size of oranges. And my feet were swollen. I discovered I was just a tapestry of bruises.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was doing to this to you?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: My Saudi Arabian interrogators. Two individuals, Ibrahim al-Dali and Khaled al-Saleh, principally. There was in those initial days, a third individual who was torturing me, but I was never able to determine his name. And that, as I said, went on until after about six-and-a-half days. I broke, and I told them what they wanted to hear. But everything that —
AMY GOODMAN: What —
WILLIAM SAMPSON: — they wanted me to confess to was that it was the car bombing that killed Christopher Rodway. They initially started off accusing me of the three car bombings, the ones on the 17th, the 22nd of November and then the one on December 15. They couldn’t fit the one on December 15 to me, because it would have been impossible for me to be in Riyadh and in Daman, three-and-a-half hours drive away, and back in Riyadh again. I couldn’t — the timings of it just wouldn’t work for me actually being up there to be fitted for that one. So, they backed off on that, and then just focused in the initial phase on the first car bombing, the one that killed Christopher Rodway.
There’s obviously — you’re obviously going to resist confessing to something which you know in Saudi Arabia carries the death penalty, which is murder, but all the while that they’re actually interrogating me, they’re actually giving me the information that they want me to confess to. They’re not asking me any direct questions about my activities, they’re telling me where I went, what I did, who I saw, how I did it, and they’re repeating this over and over again and telling me that you’re going to confess and continuing the beatings, and then eventually, I just couldn’t take any more pain, and I began to tell them what they told me.
AMY GOODMAN: When did they videotape your confession?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: That was about six-and-a-half weeks in. Now, I had, as I said, an initial period of about eleven days of imprisonment, my first eleven days of imprisonment, in one of their interrogation centers where I was tortured, was broken to confess to (1) committing the bombings that killed Christopher Rodway, and (2) to being a British spy, doing it at the behest of the British government, which was to my mind absolutely crazy. I mean, if there’s ever a government that’s helped keep the Al-Sauds in power, it’s the British government, and yet here I was confessing to being a spy and trying to destabilize that self-same government, but that’s what they wanted me to confess to.
I got transferred to another prison, to the main political prison in Al-Hayar, where I was tortured over another about 14 or so days. I then had about two weeks off after that, and I had a visit with my embassy. But unlike the normal, the sort of norm in those situations which is that you have free and unhindered access to your diplomats and that you have a private conversation with them, the two people that were torturing me were in the room during the entire conversation, and I was briefed by them before I went into —
AMY GOODMAN: Khaled and Ibrahim.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Khaled and Ibrahim. I was briefed by them before I went in there as to what would happen to me if I told my embassy officials anything of what had happened to me. A couple of day after that —
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t you embassy officials insist that they leave?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Never, never, never, never.
AMY GOODMAN: What did the Canadian government do for you?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Told me that I was guilty to my face. That’s about all that they did for me. And they also told my father the same thing. That was the full extent of it. And yet, I know that the Canadian government has never been provided with any forensic evidence that would confirm my guilt. They have never been given a sight of the confessions I signed. And I signed more than twenty different books of confessions, each one variations on a theme, and each one almost contradictory of the others, because they were refining the story as they went along.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean, when they weren’t satisfied with the first, they would say to do it again.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: They would come back in after a couple of hours of giving me a break, start beating the hell out of me again, and then start on a new confession.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they speak English?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: My interrogator, one of my interrogators, Khaled, he was the English speaker there, and he did all of the English work, so to speak, of the interrogation sessions. Ibrahim focused on asking questions in Arabic, and he was the main swinger of the bat on it, I would say. He was the one who did most of the physical brutality during the interrogations. But —
AMY GOODMAN: How did they do the videotape confession?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Oh, it was relatively simple. It was done at Al-Hayar Prison, up in the interrogation suites. They had taken one of the rooms and sort of made it up into — cleaned it up a little bit and made it look a bit more presentable, put a rather fancy desk in there and a board and the rest and had basically a small studio set up in one corner. We came — we were brought in and sat down and basically told to read off a script.
Now, before the confessions — before I was led in to do the confession, I was taken into one of the other interrogation rooms and told that I was being made — I was going to make a video, which was to be shown to members of the royal family so they didn’t have to come down to the prison to see me testify to them directly. I — firstly, I knew that was the biggest load of nonsense I’d ever heard. I knew that they were taping this for general broadcast, but I was hardly in a position to challenge them on the veracity of their statements. So, they began telling me what I had to say, and I persuaded my captors that I should be allowed to write a script for it, in which I then tried to make my language as stilted and odd as possible, because I would have had difficulty actually being that stilted naturally for some reason.
I went in and did various takes after take after take of the video confession, going over and over, sometimes with the script in front of me, sometimes without it in front of me, sometimes indicating at the wall chart that had been — with the movements that I was supposed to have taken part in on the night of the bombings. And that went fine, and then a couple of days after that, they came up and they wanted now, they said, "Oh, we have to do some more videoing for the royal family." Once again, I knew it was a load of nonsense, but this time, the videos contained, not the mechanics of the bombing, which is what the first ones were, but the second video session was all about why we did it and why I was a spy for the British government, and what I hoped to achieve in setting off bombs, which were ostensibly against Western targets within Saudi Arabia. And from that, they made what you have seen on television, that which was broadcast on Saudi Arabian television.
AMY GOODMAN: William Sampson, I want to play an audio excerpt of that so-called confession.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I admit and acknowledge that I participated with Mr. Alexander Mitchell in setting up an explosive device on the vehicle belonging to Mr. Christopher Rodway, a British national. I detonated the explosive device using a remote control switch. Mr. Mitchell and I then headed South towards Al-Jazeera. Two days later, Mr. Mitchell ordered me to set up a second explosion with the participation of Mr. Raf Schyvens, a Belgian national.
AMY GOODMAN: That was William Sampson in 2001, after how many weeks of imprisonment and torture?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: That would have been, as I said, six weeks, two days — six weeks, three days, when that video was made. It wasn’t broadcast until February 5th, oddly enough, my father’s 70th birthday.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response of people around the world?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Those who knew me did not believe that I had done those crimes, and they believed that I had been forced to make those confessions. I am certain that there may have been other people out there who would think, well, he’s confessing, he must have done it, but then they don’t know the background behind those tapes, and they aren’t experienced enough to analyze that video performance. I have certainly seen a number of reports from psychologists who reviewed it, and they have basically said whoever was making those statements had been coerced into them. They said that about my statements. They said that about those of all of the detainees that were forced to do the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: When did your father first get to see you?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: He didn’t get to see me until the summer. He first got to see me on February 5th, on his birthday, as I said, when he saw those videos, but he didn’t see me personally until in June of 2001. He came out to Saudi Arabia on a visit. And that was part and parcel of a — all I can think of, as a propaganda exercise. I had had a couple of heart attacks as a result of the torture.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Forty-seven, well, forty-six going on forty-seven, and at the time that I had the heart attacks, that would have been 2001. I would have been forty-two.
AMY GOODMAN: And did you have a history in your family of heart trouble?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Yeah, when they’re about eighty years old. Most of my family die of heart disease at some stage. Usually some stage between about — let’s see, my uncle Bill was one of the younger ones. He died at seventy-eight. He was a life-long smoker, as well. Most of the rest of them died in their mid-eighties and up to their nineties. So, yes, we have heart disease in the family, but it doesn’t tend to take us out until we’re of a ripe old age, as is most cases with most families. So, I wasn’t a prime candidate for heart disease at that age. I would have been forty-two, although my cardiologist that I have been seeing in London has said to me that sleep deprivation, which I had been subjected to quite prolonged periods of was probably the single the most important factor in causing the heart condition.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to William Sampson, who was imprisoned by the Saudi regime for over two-and-a-half years and has written a book that is brand new, just out, Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison. He was released in 2003. Can you talk about your first hallucination?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Well, that happened about five days into my imprisonment, and I hadn’t had — as I said, I was under a regime of sleep deprivation, chained to my door so I couldn’t sit down and I couldn’t sleep. And all I can remember was seeing something moving on the wall. I don’t like spiders. I have never liked spiders. And what I thought was moving on the wall was a spider, and within a few minutes I had a prison cell full of spiders, the sort of — how does one put it? — the sort of things you might see in some ridiculous horror film or at the New York Zoo or something like that, the sort of Amazonian bird-eating spiders, the things that are about the size of your hand. And I saw these walking all around my prison cell. And then I could feel the sensation of something creeping over my body, my entire skin tingling with it, and I spent my time in the cell — I — one part of me was battling with the fact that these were illusions, this was an hallucination. The other part of it thought it was completely real. And it was — you know, it drives you to the edge — that was driving me at that time to the edge of sanity.
AMY GOODMAN: How long hadn’t you slept for?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: By that stage, five days, a full five days. And I wouldn’t sleep until I had been — had gone through a total of eleven days of sleep deprivation on that first session. Then the next session of sleep deprivation was fourteen days. I had the hallucinations again, but I had learned to cope with them better. My third period of sleep deprivation, which led to my heart attack, was twenty days.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to come back to our discussion with William Sampson, find out about his meetings with his father, what the Canadian and British governments were doing, what the Saudi regime was saying, how he finally got out. This is Democracy Now!, DemocracyNow.org. Our guest is William Sampson, author of Confessions of an Innocent Man.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is William Sampson, a Canadian citizen, also British citizen, held in a Saudi jail for close to three years, has written a book, Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison. So, you’re talking about your time in prison. They tortured you, you say?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Raped you?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Who?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Khaled and a chap I call the Spiv. I never had his name; I never knew what his name was. But about day nine, after I had confessed to being a bomber, but before I confessed to being a spy, they had begun to soften me up again with demands to confess to being a spy. And one day, as I said, on day nine, I was led into the office. The usual participants, Khaled and Ibrahim weren’t there, and I was only in the company of Spiv who had always —
AMY GOODMAN: You nicknamed him that?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I nicknamed him that. I had no other name for him. So I just gave him a nickname, because of what he reminded me of. He had this very thin little moustache that sort of reminded me of a particular period of fashion for that sort of thing back in the 1940s. Worn by sort of —
AMY GOODMAN: Is this how you kept your sanity, by —
WILLIAM SAMPSON: By these sort of references and these sort of rude remarks about my captors under my breath, yes. That was one of the methods, one of the tactics that I used. Dehumanizing them to a certain extent in the way that they were trying to dehumanize me, I guess, would be one way of putting it.
But all throughout the interrogation, I had always found him a bit strange or a bit unsettling, because he had been using sort of almost sexual intimidation as part of his interrogation strategy. But rather than it just seemed to be sexual intimidation, it did actually seem to be some real sexual overture in it. And I then discovered that there was, because I was taken across the hall from where — from the interrogation office into the room where I had normally been beaten, and there I was raped by him and then I was raped by Khaled, the next. And that seems to have been done with everyone’s foreknowledge, because the next day he repeated the process, and he got into an argument with Khaled about it. So obviously, day nine I was supposed to have been raped, but day ten I wasn’t supposed to have been.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you keep your sanity?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: It was very, very hard to. I think at the time of the rape on day nine I came as close to losing sanity, of coming to a complete mental and emotional breakdown, as I was ever likely to. And I, just as I said, had a realization — I mean, describing it takes longer than the actual realization itself. And the realization came in a split second. A piece of poetry filtered into my mind from my childhood, from my adolescence, and I had this realization that nothing they could do to me, no matter what pain they inflicted upon me, could be any worse than had already happened, and I had survived that. And I was still — there was still some small part of me intact that I could find and retreat into. And at that moment, I knew I could endure, but I — you know, and I knew that I could survive. And that was it, from that point on, I was — let’s say, not — I was on my way back. I wasn’t going to be up to resist the torture and not give them what they wanted, but I could survive emotionally intact nonetheless.
AMY GOODMAN: When you see the pictures at Abu Ghraib, the reports of what’s happened at Guantanamo, what is your response?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: It’s damned barbaric. It’s that simple. It is morally wrong. There is no other way of describing it. And not only is it morally wrong, it’s a political mistake. And it is also a mistake in terms of intelligence gathering. Politically it’s a mistake, because all it is going to do is continue to store up ill-will towards the United States and towards the Western countries that are allies of the United States in various regions around the world. And that is not going to make anyone any safer, regardless of the information that they gartner from the techniques that they apply in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. But worse still is the fact that in doing that, the information that they gather is oftentimes, most of the time, it is bad information, bad intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: As in your case? What you confessed to?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I can point to at least nine confessions that I know of in Saudi Arabia, including my own, that were false, myself and my fellow detainees that were held in Riyadh. But I can also point to false confessions of British nationals held in Guantanamo, such as the Tipton Three, three British nationals of Pakistani ethnic origin, who were released from Guantanamo, although they had confessed to being al-Qaeda operatives that had been in Tora Bora with Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, during the timings of their supposed confessions extracted from them in Guantanamo, British intelligence actually discovered CCTV footage of them being at their workplace in Tipton, Yorkshire at the Currys electrical goods store.
That’s the product of coercive — what the people in Guantanamo are trying to define as coercive interrogation, but which does conform to torture under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. That’s what you get from it. You get bad information that has the wrong people in prison and has your intelligence operatives following bad leads. It does not make you safer. It does not protect you as a society.
AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration is seeking a C.I.A. exemption from torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: I’m sure Adolf Hitler did the same thing in 1939. It’s as simple as that in my mind. It’s wrong. And you should be — anybody who — anybody who indulges in an act of torture should be liable for prosecution. That’s it.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you suing?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: No exemptions because you’re working for a government, no exemptions because you’re claiming right on your side. It is morally wrong, and it is a bad thing to do. It’s bad, as I said, morally, it is bad politically, and it’s bad in terms of intelligence. And you should be held accountable for doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you suing your captors?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Yes. In a British courtroom. Because I have no chance of redress in Saudi Arabia and little chance in Britain, but at least a little bit more.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you going about this? Are you suing the Saudi regime itself?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: No, we’re suing the individuals, because we have something in Britain called the State Immunity Act 1978, which prevents us from suing the state. So what we have — what my lawyers, Geoffrey Bindman, quite intelligently decided to do, because he has been involved in attempting to overturn state immunity in a previous case and wasn’t successful, so in our case, we decided to pursue the individuals, but not just the individuals who tortured us, but also the individuals who we could name, who colluded in the torture or who ordered the tortures.
So we are suing Khaled and Ibrahim, because we can name them, and they are the torturers. We are suing Mohammed Said, who is the governor of the prison, who ensured that we were prepared for torture, when he should have prevented it, as we were his responsibility. And we are suing Prince Naif, because he was the one who has constructed a regime in which torture is legitimized as a normal state tool when that is not supposed to be the case.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the British or Canadian government ever contest that torture went on in Saudi Arabia?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Against us, no, they never did. They have actually denied it, and they have been silent about that. Privately, they have sort of — privately, the British government, in example, has sort of said that they believe that we are innocent and that they believe that we were tortured. They, the British government, has actually got medical reports from a number of us who have had medical investigations that prove torture.
AMY GOODMAN: You and —
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Myself, Alexander Mitchell, Les Walker, James Cottle, Peter Brandon —
AMY GOODMAN: These are all men who were picked up for these bombings?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: All men picked up for these bombings. Ron Jones is another one. There’s a total of six Britons, I believe, who got — who have been to the Parker Institute and had the medical examinations done there, and have confirmatory evidence, evidence that can stand up in court from a medical technique that has being peer-reviewed in the scientific literature.
AMY GOODMAN: The Canadian embassy officials who came to see you, did they know you were being tortured at the time?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: No, they did not. They were working under the — it would seem that they were working under the assumption that I wasn’t being tortured, or they certainly didn’t want to know if I was.
AMY GOODMAN: Could you convey it to them in your meetings?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: The answer to that is, not really. I should have conveyed it to them in my meetings, but the problem for me was that all of my meetings that were conducted with the Canadian embassy officials were done in the presence of the two men that tortured me. Although, one or two of the meetings were done in just the presence of one of the ones who tortured me, it was normal that somebody who had tortured me was there at the meetings with the embassy officials.
AMY GOODMAN: You were afraid?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Oh, yeah. I mean, the first couple of meeting — before — in just about every embassy meeting I had, I would be taken before Khaled and Ibrahim prior to the meeting and told what I could and could not say and threatened. And the result is that when I had the first meeting at about week six, I had just come through 28 days of extreme brutality and during which I had been sodomized. I was not in a frame of mind that had enough courage to actually turn around and say that I had been tortured. I eventually did so when I got so — became angry enough to do it, but that took a while before that happened?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how you communicated with your father, when he came to visit you, in code?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Well, the simple fact was that my father knew my background better than anyone else. And I reckon that if he — if I said something to him, which contained deliberate mistakes at the beginning, he would get that I was trying to say something to him. He would understand that there was, you know — I don’t recognize what he is saying now, and this must be a deliberate mistake; maybe there’s something in what he’s going to say.
AMY GOODMAN: Or he would think you were just crazy.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: No. I knew my father better than that. And he knew me better than that. And so, I delivered him a message about, you know, tell the boys in St. Stephen’s — well, I have never been to a school called St. Stephen’s in all of the academic institutions I have attended in my life — that it’s just like being back in boarding school — well, I have never been in a boarding school. I have gone to a — I was educated in a private school, but I was not a resident of that school. But it’s just like being back in boarding school, the mattresses are lumpy, the food is lousy, and there’s plenty of attention from Dr. Birching. That was again a sort of semi-coded reference again to the practice of birching, the medieval practice of birching in the United Kingdom, which is being beaten with a stick; alright, which my father understood. I also pointed out to him that he should remember me to my friends in Rosyth, which is a British naval dockyard, which I have never been to and which I don’t have any friends in, and my father would know that.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did you say that?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Because of the fact I said, to remember me to my friends in Rosyth, tell them it’s just like being back in the navy. It’s just like being in the navy; there’s no rum, but there’s plenty of the other two. And that’s response to the sort of criticism of the royal navy, that it was nothing, but rum, sodomy and the lash. By saying that there’s no rum but plenty of the other two, he would understand the other two meant sodomy and the lash. And he picked up on both of those things, and he informed the embassy, I believe my son is being beat and brutalized, and they were in denial about it, so much in denial about it that they actually told him during one of his visits that I was guilty of the crimes that I had committed. Yet they had, as I said, never seen any evidence of that.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get out?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Well, we were released in August of 2003, but how — and lots of things were talked about, you know, back-channel diplomacy and building bridges, but what really got us out was, plain and simple, an illegal hostage exchange. We were exchanged for five Saudi Arabians detained in Guantanamo as al-Qaeda operatives. Now, whether or not these people were genuine al-Qaeda operatives, I cannot say. They could have been innocent, just as we were, or they could have been guilty. In either case, what was then conducted was something which was completely and utterly illegal. You had at least what would have been eight innocent men, eight, nine innocent men in Riyadh being bartered for five people of a status I can’t comment on one way or another. And I haven’t heard anywhere that that sort of thing is legal. As a matter of fact, I keep hearing countries like Britain and the United States saying they don’t negotiate in hostage taking situations. Well, what were they doing in our case?
That all took — started around about October 2002 and was finalized sometime in February. The process was speeded up because — I think as a means of speeding the process up and reaching the final agreement on it, the Saudi Arabian Appeal Court finally handed down their final verdict on myself and Alexander Mitchell and sentenced us to death in February of 2003. We had already been sentenced to death, but we had undergone a second set of appeals, and that was finally handed down around about January/February of 2003. And then the process of finalizing the negotiations for our release was done. The Saudis were supposed to be released in May 2005; they were. We were supposed to go home either at the end of May or the beginning of June, and we didn’t. And then followed some further arm-twisting.
AMY GOODMAN: They were released in 2005?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: 2003.
AMY GOODMAN: 2003.
WILLIAM SAMPSON: 2003. Sorry. And as I said, we were supposed to be released within a couple of weeks of them; that didn’t happen. And there were various — there was various questions raised about this, particularly by the Belgians who were taking a back seat in the negotiations, because the negotiations centered around, as far as I have been made aware, the British, American, and Saudi Arabian governments were involved in this. The Canadian and the Belgian governments who had nationals involved were on the sidelines. They were informed, but they were not involved.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to go. For ten seconds, your life right now, what are you doing?
WILLIAM SAMPSON: Basically, I’m promoting the book, obviously. I have been doing a lot of work with human rights organizations over the last couple of years. And I’m getting ready to go back to law school.
AMY GOODMAN: William Sampson, I want to thank you for being with us. He tells the story of his imprisonment in a Saudi jail in his book, Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison.