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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Mohammed Aman

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — It was close to midnight on a late spring evening in 2003, and Mohammed Aman's doorbell was ringing. Who, he wondered, would be rude enough to bother him at this hour?

He opened the door; it was the Americans, with Afghan soldiers in tow.

"I asked a soldier what was wrong," said Aman, who was about 46 at the time. "He said they were searching the house; I thought they were searching the whole village and it was just my turn."

Aman had nothing to worry about. He was a colonel in the Afghan Defense Ministry, the deputy officer for personnel in Gardez. He was a bureaucrat, and he'd been one for years.

"They told me to open the rooms. I went from door to door and opened the locks," Aman said.

Then everything turned bad.

"They pointed their guns at my head and said, 'Put your hands behind your back.' Then they tied my hands. They did the same to my father, who was 83, and my son, who was 15," said Aman.

"One of the Afghan soldiers said, 'Do you know where they're taking you?' I said I didn't. He said, 'Guantanamo. Do you know what this place is?' I said I had heard about it, and asked what it was for. He said that it was for enemies of the government, for enemies of humanity. I thought he was making a joke."

The Americans arrested Aman — who's a Tajik, an ethnic minority in the Gardez area — on charges fabricated by men who worked with him in the Defense Ministry department of personnel in Gardez, said a senior Afghan intelligence officer with detailed knowledge of the case. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Aman's only crime, the intelligence officer said, was being obnoxious and insulting toward co-workers. During discussions about the Afghan government with the same co-workers, he also made the mistake of saying that he didn't like President Hamid Karzai.

"This is why he was wrongly arrested," the intelligence officer said, shaking his head and adding that when Aman came to his office, he criticized the way his sofas were arranged. "This is the way he is."

Aman recently applied for a job with Afghan security forces, and the intelligence officer said that when he was asked to do a background check, his report concluded that Aman was trustworthy but perhaps not too bright.

"He said the enemies of the government were planning to kill him, so he would prefer to have a job with the government," said the intelligence officer, who added that Aman has been working as an anti-Taliban informant for his bureau.

U.S. military officers said Aman had been detained because he worked for the Taliban.

Aman acknowledged working under the Taliban regime, but said it was only as a local bureaucrat, as was the case during communist rule.

Aman also was detained because he had an expired card from Hezb-e Islami, an insurgent group. He explained that the United States supported Hezb-e Islami during the 1980s, when it was fighting the Soviet occupation, and said he'd gotten the card — as had many other Afghans with no connections to the group — only because it made border crossings to Pakistan easier.

Aman was taken, along with his son and father, to a U.S. Army base outside Gardez. The three were handcuffed to the wire frame of sand barriers that lined the perimeter of the base. He stayed there for five or six days, Aman said, and was fed once during that time.

"I had on a hood, so I couldn't see if it was American or Afghan soldiers doing it, but when I was outside, people kicked me in the back all the time," he said.

He was taken inside for interrogations frequently.

"One day they made me sit on my knees from night to daybreak, with a stick under my knee. There was a soldier on each side of me, screaming. There were dogs tied to the wall, and the dogs were barking and snapping their jaws. Another soldier was behind me; he yelled now and then. And in front of me, an interrogator yelled questions out at me," Aman said.

"I don't remember all the questions; he was asking me if I knew a man named Asadullah. I asked him, who do you mean? Asad is a very common name here. There is a shopkeeper with this name; there is a farmer with this name. I knew one Asad in my village who is the head of a tribe. He said no, we are asking about Asadullah in Zormat district. I said yes, I know him; I met him in Gardez before the arrival of the Taliban."

The interrogator said that Asadullah was an insurgent commander. He also said that Aman had been accused of working with Asadullah and the Taliban to organize attacks on U.S. and Afghan patrols.

Aman said he had no idea whether the man named Asadullah whom he'd met more than a decade before was involved with the insurgency. (After Aman was released, he discovered that the Asadullah he'd met was, in fact, a schoolteacher.)

Listen to me, Aman pleaded, I work with the Afghan army.

The Americans flew his two family members and him to Kabul, then to the prison camp at Bagram Air Base.

After a month and a half there, Aman's father and son were released. Aman asked whether he'd follow them home. Soon, his interrogator told him, but he needed to answer a few more questions.

Aman's interrogator at Bagram — an American woman in plainclothes, pretty, with long black hair, he remembered — at first questioned him about his alleged connections to the Taliban. But soon she began asking more about security in Gardez and the loyalties of a long list of Afghan Defense Ministry officers, Aman said.

When four months of near-daily interrogations had passed, he was sent to solitary confinement for his last two months in Bagram.

His health was beginning to worsen. He had hemorrhoids that were bleeding badly, and he ate infrequently in an attempt to avoid painful bowel movements. A medic at Bagram gave him hemorrhoid cream, but it did little good, he said.

"I was losing a lot of weight, and my hemorrhoids were terrible; blood was coming out of my rectum constantly," Aman said. "I knew I was innocent; I had waited for peace to come to my country. And then I was hunted down by false reports by my enemies. And there I was, in isolation, trying not to eat because I did not want to go to the bathroom."

Aman continued: "I was so disappointed. I thought I would get a reward from my government, I thought I would get a higher rank. Instead, I was facing this terrible punishment; it was hard."

He was taken to Guantanamo in late 2003. He was admitted to the hospital there quickly; after six months of bleeding and losing weight at Bagram, he could barely stand.

From the hospital, he was moved around different cellblocks for about half a year, then placed at Camp Four, an area reserved for low-risk detainees.

Aman said he almost never was interrogated at Guantanamo. He was, though, in and out of medical care for most of his time there: a skin rash, loss of sensation in his feet, vitamin deficiencies and toothaches.

"During my entire time at Guantanamo I was interrogated maybe 10 times. But I went to the hospital at least 100 times," he said. "I went so many times that the other detainees laughed at me and said, 'They have brought you here for medical treatment.' "

Aman was left without much to do to pass the time between medical visits for the almost three years he spent at Guantanamo.

He bore the brunt of the disapproval of other prisoners — Taliban and al Qaida — but they never beat him.

"The Taliban told the Arabs we had worked with Karzai's government, and it made a lot of problems for us," Aman said. "The Arabs were fundamentalists; they told us not to talk with the soldiers. They thought I was too liberal because I played chess with some of my friends . . . they said it was haram," sinful and forbidden.

During a tribunal hearing in which he praised Karzai and the American military, Aman said that three days earlier he'd been in the hospital when an Arab detainee called him "devil." "They did that just because I worked for the government of Afghanistan," he said.

When he talked about riots that shut down most of Camp Four briefly in 2006 — which started, he said, when hard-line Arabs and Afghans refused to let guards search their cells — he shrugged. The violence bothered him, he said, because in the aftermath the guards took away the special socks and tennis shoes that the doctors had given him for his foot problems.

In late 2006, Aman said, he met with two interrogators.

"They told me, 'You have been brought here with false information; you were sold to us. We are trying to be much more careful now,' " Aman said.

About a month and a half later, he was released.

Asked what he thought about the experience, Aman shrugged.

"It was all lies," he said. "It was just a sham."

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