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Afghans reveal Guantanamo ordeal

BBC News
March 25, 2003

Afghan prisoners released from US detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have told of being kept in small cages and interrogated dozens of times to try to prove links to al-Qaeda or the Taleban.

The 18 men returned to Afghanistan last week.

Most did not complain about conditions at the US base, but were angry at the way they were arrested and at what they said was brutal treatment by Afghan jailers before they left.

They also condemned how long it took to prove their innocence.

The men are only the second batch to leave Guantanamo Bay since October, when three men were freed.

'Harsh but better'

One man, Salaiman Shah, said he was a used-car salesman accused by troops of fighting with the Taleban.

He said he was held at the notorious Sherberghan prison in northern Afghanistan by troops loyal to warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam.

"At Sherberghan life was inhuman, all the prisoners had diarrhoea, some had tuberculosis, there was no food for days at a time and we were subjected to beatings and torture."

Mr Shah said the treatment at Guantanamo Bay was harsh but better.

A second returnee, Murtaza, said prisoners were sometimes hooded and handcuffed in their two-metre by two-metre cages in Cuba.

"Some of us were interrogated 20 times, others 50 times, others 60. But the food was good and they did not beat us," he said.

"Initially they told us it would take one month for the investigation and we would be released immediately if we were proven innocent.

"We spent two months in Sherberghan, five months in Kandahar, and more than one year in Guantanamo and finally now they release us because we are innocent."

Mr Murtaza said he had been forced to fight with the Taleban.

Deaf

Sher Gulab, from Jalalabad, said he did not have a hard time in Cuba "because God was with me".

He was caught while working as a labourer in Pakistan.

"I am not angry at the Americans, but I am angry at the Pakistanis because they arrested me," he said.

A fourth man, Bismillah, said he was arrested as an al-Qaeda suspect because he was deaf and could not understand the Americans' questions.

Guantanamo Bay still holds 660 detainees, many arrested in Afghanistan.

Washington describes them as unlawful combatants who can be held indefinitely without trial.

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