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Afghans Describe Life Inside Gitmo

CBS News
October 29, 2002

KABUL, Three Afghans released after months of captivity at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba said Tuesday they were each chained up during frequent interrogations but generally treated well by their American captors.

The men — two of whom appeared to be in their late 70s — are the first former detainees to speak about their arrest and detainment. They spoke to The Associated Press at a military hospital in Kabul where they are convalescing, still under the watch of Afghan security guards.

The men were flown to Afghanistan on Sunday, and on Tuesday were handed to Interior Ministry officials. It was not clear when they would be allowed to return home.

A Pakistani man, 60-year-old Mohammed Saghir, was also released from Guantanamo and returned to Pakistan. He was being questioned by Pakistani authorities in Islamabad.

The group of four were the first prisoners released by the Americans, who determined that they no longer posed a threat.

The Afghan prisoners, looking frail and tired but in good spirits, said they had had no contact with their families since being taken away by the Americans from various places in Afghanistan. They said they were chained up during frequent interrogations by Americans, but that they were not mistreated and were allowed to practice their religion while in detention.

"They interrogated us for hours at a time. They wanted to know, 'Where are you from? Are you a member of the Taliban? Did you support the Taliban? Were your relatives Taliban? Did the Taliban give you weapons?"' said an elderly former prisoner with a white beard, Mohammed Hagi Fiz.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for its treatment of the prisoners, saying they were initially kept in outdoor cages and held indefinitely without access to lawyers.

Another former prisoner, 35-year-old Jan Mohammed, said he was forced to fight with the Taliban and was captured in the northern city of Kunduz last year by Afghan forces and handed over to the Americans. As he spoke Tuesday, Afghan soldiers stood guard inside a small room at the hospital.

"I wasn't Taliban, but the Taliban made me fight with them," Mohammed said. "I'm innocent. I'm a farmer."

Fiz said he was arrested by American forces eight months ago while he was in a clinic in the central province of Uruzgan. A frail older man, Fiz said he was tied up and blindfolded, then flown by helicopter to Kandahar and later by plane to Guantanamo.

"I don't know why the Americans arrested me. I told them I was innocent. I'm just an old man," he said.

A plastic wristband, apparently issued by authorities at Guantanamo, indicated the year of Fiz's birth was 1931, but he claimed to be 105. Another prisoner, Mohammed Sadiq, claimed to be 90 and said he was arrested in the eastern province of Paktia.

Many Afghans are not aware of their exact ages, and birth certificates usually don't exist, but both men appeared to be in their late 70s.

Mohammed said the American guards were respectful to him.

"They treated us well. We had enough food to eat. We could pray and wash with water five times a day. We had the Quran and read it all the time," he said.

All three said they were interrogated about a dozen times each for one to several hours at a time.

The Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo consisted of low-level Taliban fighters and mullahs, or religious leaders, Fiz said. He said they were kept in small cells that housed a dozen prisoners each.

Upon their release from Guantanamo, each was given a blue bag, a jacket and a pair of long-underwear, they said.

The United States is holding 625 men from at least 42 countries, calling them enemy combatants and saying it may legally hold them until the end of hostilities.

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