Exhausted, 16 Afghans freed after Guantanamo
Thursday, October 12, 2006; 6:26 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Exhausted, but happy, 16 Afghans were freed in Kabul on Thursday after being released by the U.S. military from its Guantanamo Bay jail.
Aged from 25 to more than 55, they had been held as suspected fighters for the Taliban or its allies in Afghanistan after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Several of the bearded men interviewed by journalists, some wearing green, hospital-style ID tags on their wrists, said they were treated badly by the U.S. military during their detention in Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo base in Cuba.
One, Sayed Mohammad Ali Shah, a doctor, said he had been arrested on false information given to the U.S. military by an Afghan with a personal grievance against him.
"They imprisoned me without any reason," he said at a ceremony held by Afghan authorities for the release of the prisoners. "Here, we were persecuted physically, but at Guantanamo we were persecuted mentally."
He was held for four years. The prisoners were freed recently and handed over to Afghan authorities, who held them for several more days before Thursday's release ceremony.
They are the latest batch of detainees to be freed from Guantanamo, where the treatment of prisoners has drawn widespread international condemnation.
More than 400 suspected militants, captured mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, remain there.
Sixteen Afghans return home from Guantanamo alleging torture
Thu Oct 12, 10:59 AM ET
Sixteen Afghans held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for four years were released as free men, alleging they had suffered mental torture at the hands of their US military jailors.
The 16 men, visibly weary and shaken, all denied links to Islamist terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban -- the basis for their arrest by the US after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
They arrived home with an Iranian who was released to the Red Cross for repatriation.
Relatives of the Afghans gathered at the Kabul offices of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission to welcome home the men in tearful reunions at which supporters vouched for their innocence.
Habibul Rehman, 20, said he was arrested four years ago in eastern province of Paktia. He said he had been carrying light weapons -- as do many men in war-ravaged Afghanistan -- but said he had never fought for the Taliban.
Rehman described his harsh treatment at the Guantanamo camp.
"We were put in isolated rooms, we were often deprived of sleep, given mental torture or kept in a cold room," he told AFP.
"Four months before I was released, they deprived me of sleep for 38 nights telling me that what I have told them so far has not been true."
Sayed Mohammad Ali Shah, a doctor by profession, told journalists that he and many of his fellow detainees still suffered mental anguish.
He said he was pleased to have been able to talk to the commission chief, ex-president Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, about his ordeal although it was sometimes difficult to speak.
"Someone who has spent four years only speaking to walls, it is difficult for him to talk in presence of leaders," said Shah, who said he was arrested after returning to Afghanistan from exile after the Taliban were toppled in 2001.
"You must be assured that all those sitting here and most of those still in Cuba -- none of them have done anything to deserve (what happened to them in) Cuba.
"None of them have been criminals but, because of wrong reports based on tribal, ethnic, religious and political reasons, were given to Americans. They, without any investigation, arrested people and put them in jail," he said.
Around 500 Afghans have been released from Guantanamo and the US detention facility at Bagram, north of Kabul, in batches but around 70 are still at the Cuba camp.
Afghanistan is working to have all its nationals returned, with a special wing of Kabul's Pul-e-Charki jail intended to accommodate those who will not be released.