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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Hamoodullah Khan

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008


KARACHI, Pakistan — Hamoodullah Khan said that his body slumped over as the helicopter banked to the side. He said an American soldier kicked him and yelled, "Don't move!" His body shifted again as the helicopter pitched downward toward the landing zone, he said, and the soldier hit him with a rifle butt and screamed at him to sit still.

The helicopter touched down at Kandahar Airfield, where U.S. forces had built a prison camp.

"After we landed they told us to get on the ground," Khan said. "A soldier sat on me and another soldier came up, grabbed my hair and beat my face into the ground. My nose started bleeding, then I passed out. When I woke up, I was naked. They gave me some clothes."

A classified report compiled by Pakistani police intelligence officers in January 2005 reviewed the findings of their investigation of 35 former Guantanamo detainees, including Khan, whom the American military had handed over.

"It became apparent during the interrogation that (the) majority of them had been subjected to severe mental and physical torture," the report concludes. "Also, during their confinement they saw the most dreadful types of torture being perpetrated against their fellow detainees. All of this has left terrible scars on their minds."

The U.S. military has alleged that the al Qaida and Taliban leadership coached their captives on what to say, to allege mistreatment at every turn.

Khan said that on the way to and from interrogations, walking in shackles with hoods on, "the guards would slam us against the walls, punch us on the stomach."

His stay at Kandahar, where he and about 30 other men slept in a large tent surrounded by concertina wire, lasted less than three weeks, he said.

He said he then was shipped to Guantanamo. On the plane, he said, anytime that someone moved, a guard punched him. When they were put on a bus after landing, the detainees were punched and kicked, Khan said. When the bus stopped, he said, the detainees, whose hands and feet were shackled, were tossed onto the ground, then kicked some more.

Khan said he got the message. During his approximately two years and eight months at Guantanamo, he said, he was a model prisoner. He didn't participate in hunger strikes. He didn't argue with guards. He remained quiet, kept to himself and looked at the ground when soldiers walked by his cell.

As a result, Khan said, he was never hit or kicked in his cell.

But, he said, he saw it happen to other detainees all the time.

"It was usually because a guard cursed at an inmate and the inmate cursed back and then threw water, so the guards beat him," Khan said.

During interrogations, he tried not to lose his patience over being asked the same questions repeatedly. He said that he answered them politely:

Where is he from? The Pakistani city of Hyderabad.

Did he know Osama bin Laden? No.

Was he a member of al Qaida? No.

What he was doing in Afghanistan when U.S.-backed northern alliance troops arrested him? He's a pharmaceutical sales representative, he said, and he was trying to set up a business.

Because Khan didn't appear in front of a tribunal at Guantanamo, there's no transcript that lays out the military's case against him or any indication of what American interrogators thought about the credibility of his claim that he decided to take a business trip to Afghanistan in November 2001, when battles raged between Taliban and al Qaida fighters on one side and American troops and their Afghan allies on the other.

Khan said the interrogators told him that he was lying, but they didn't seem too upset as they asked the same questions and he gave the same answers in one session after the next.

During his last year at Guantanamo, Khan said, he was moved to Camp Four, an area reserved for lower-risk detainees.

"They said that my behavior was good, that I was not a danger to them," Khan said, noting that the Americans were particularly pleased with detainees who refrained from the hunger strikes at the camp, which received worldwide media attention. "I never participated in the hunger strikes. There was no use . . . the hunger strikes would not free us, so why go on a hunger strike?"

Khan said he spent most of his time at Camp Four the same way he had in his previous cellblocks: memorizing the Quran and praying.

He'd seen what happened when men stepped out of line, he said. The psychological effects of repeated trips to isolation cells and regular beatings, he said, drove some detainees out of their minds.

For instance, Khan said, there was an Arab who was always arguing with the guards, demanding that they treat the Quran well — detainees frequently complained that soldiers were searching, throwing and dropping the Quran — or that he get more time out of his cell. For a while, he said, the Arab, whom he knew as Juma'a, was a firebrand who was famous for his willingness to brawl with several guards at one time.

"He would provoke the soldiers when they passed by. He would make comments and they would come in and beat him up," Khan said.

But as the months passed, Khan said, Juma'a began to look more haggard each time he returned from solitary confinement.

"Eventually he was totally mad," Khan said.

Khan was released from Guantanamo in September of 2004, he said, then transferred to a series of Pakistani prisons and jails for nine and a half months.

He now teaches at a madrassa, an Islamic seminary. He didn't say what he teaches his students or whether he's told them about his views of the United States after he was held in its detention camps.

Khan left it at this: "There is still one big question that remains in my mind. Why was I there? I keep wondering about that."

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