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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Amir Jan Ghorzang

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — The U.S. military acknowledged that Amir Jan Ghorzang was a "freedom fighter," an anti-Taliban fighter whom the regime captured near Jalalabad in 1996 and transferred to a Kandahar prison, according to an unclassified copy of the official summary of evidence against him at Guantanamo.

While he was in the Taliban prison, Ghorzang was "beaten and tortured by the Taliban, resulting in the loss of his two front teeth," the summary of evidence said.

Ghorzang was freed after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

"I was happy when the Americans freed me," Ghorzang said in an interview with McClatchy.

"We did not accept oppression and (to) be imprisoned through their system. I wanted to be a free man," Ghorzang told the panel of U.S. military officers at his Guantanamo tribunal. "So I decided to fight them. I ended up in prison for five years."

Ghorzang later joined the Afghan military, the cornerstone of the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, and worked his way up to sergeant.

In late 2002, however, U.S. troops detained him at an Afghan military post and took him to a local American base for a few days, transferred him to the detention center at Bagram Air Base, then sent him to Guantanamo.

Ghorzang was accused of planning to plant bombs on bicycles and motorcycles to attack U.S. military and United Nations personnel in Jalalabad. The U.S. military said he was a member of a cell of militants who were suspected of receiving training at an al Qaida facility in Pakistan before returning to Afghanistan to report to a Taliban commander. Unclassified transcripts of his tribunal and subsequent military review board at Guantanamo said he'd confessed to taking part in the plot.

At his military review board at Guantanamo, Ghorzang denied making a confession and asked the panel to reconsider his case: "I fought the Taliban, and they captured me and put me in jail. How could I be with them and work for them?"

He said that a former commander in his army unit had written him a letter at Guantanamo and included his cell phone number. One of the U.S. officers presiding over the board asked Ghorzang why the general hadn't made clear in the note that he thought Ghorzang was innocent. Ghorzang suggested that the general probably thought it wouldn't make a difference.

There's no record in Ghorzang's tribunal records that anyone at Guantanamo contacted the general, Agha Saqib, who commanded Ghorzang's brigade and is now the police chief of Kandahar.

It took McClatchy less than a day to get Saqib on the phone in Afghanistan. He confirmed that Ghorzang had spent about five years in a Taliban jail. He also said the Americans had detained the wrong guy. "I don't know of any evidence or proof against Ghorzang," Saqib said.

The man they were looking for, Saqib said, was Qari Naqib, a soldier in his unit in 2002 who'd gone bad. The Americans identified Naqib during Ghorzang's tribunal as the leader of the insurgent cell that Ghorzang allegedly had joined. Naqib had escaped before the Americans arrived at his compound, where they found his bombs and rounded up a group of soldiers, including Ghorzang, Saqib said.

"As far as I know, and given the information I have about Ghorzang, he was not involved," Saqib said.

The problem, the former army commander said, is that U.S. forces never asked him for any information and didn't coordinate their raid with the Afghan army. Saqib said the American soldiers relied on bad information from informants who didn't know what they were talking about.

"Things are very complicated in Afghanistan. The forces who are operating here should be very careful and precise," Saqib said. "Everyone who is sent to Guantanamo is not a criminal; there are innocent people, like Ghorzang."

There are signs of confusion in Ghorzang's tribunal and review board. A statement of evidence in his case, a sort of charge sheet, said that the bombs found at the military compound were hidden in a bathroom near Naqib's bedroom, and also that they were in Ghorzang's possession.

The U.S. military's translator seemed unable to do his job. At one point the translator said, "He (Ghorzang) is using a lot of expressions that aren't known by anybody." At another he said, "This is hard to translate, his date, how old he was."

During the tribunal — the transcript was undated, but it probably was in the summer or fall of 2004 — Ghorzang was accused of being "possibly associated" with Osama bin Laden-related terrorist activities. That allegation was dropped by the time he had his review board in September 2005.

In an interview later in Jalalabad, Ghorzang didn't say whether he'd confessed to U.S. forces. For most of his time at Guantanamo, he said, he was interrogated only once a month, once every two months and at one point, once a year.

"They asked me over and over what I would do when I went back to Afghanistan," Ghorzang said. "I think they were worried because I was an innocent man when they arrested me, and they were worried that I might make problems once I was released."

Ghorzang was released from Guantanamo last year and transferred to a maximum-security wing at the Afghan prison Pul-i-Charki for about four and a half months.

Saqib told McClatchy that Naqib, the man he said was the real terrorist, had called him a few times. Naqib, he said, is living outside Jalalabad and sounds fine.

Ghorzang doesn't have a job. Sitting in a Jalalabad hotel, he said he was broke and angry.

"I feel like my life is finished," Ghorzang said. "Before, I had a job with the government. I had a small shop. I had a car. And now, I have nothing."

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