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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Asadullah Jan

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — Asadullah Jan was nervous. He'd asked an American journalist to stay in the car when they met in the center of Abbottabad, a mountain town on the edge of Pakistan's rough-and-tumble North West Frontier Province.

The interview took place in a house at the end of several narrow alleys, on the side of a hill, which Jan had agreed would be a safe place to sit and talk for a few hours. Every time there was a noise in the street or a knock next door, however, Jan tensed up and shut his eyes, waiting for a door to be kicked off its hinges or a pistol to be fired.

Pakistani security officials had told Jan to keep his mouth shut. Like many former Guantanamo detainees living in Pakistan, he has to check in regularly with police, and they watch his movements closely.

"The intelligence people bring me in often to ask who I've been talking to," said Jan, 22, who does construction work in the earthquake-hit town of Muzaffarabad.

Jan said that when he met last year with representatives of a Western aid group — they wanted to know about his experiences in Guantanamo and his treatment in Pakistan after he was released — Pakistan's military intelligence service hauled him in for four days of interrogations and threats.

Several other former detainees whom McClatchy interviewed in Pakistan, Jordan and Russia said that they'd been subjected to regular interrogations, beatings and surveillance since they were released from Guantanamo.

Still, Jan said, it was better than a dusty prison camp in Afghanistan or the hot summer days sitting in a cell at Guantanamo.

Jan said he was 16 when Pakistani police arrested him in November or December 2001 — he recalls that it was during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, but not the exact date — at a checkpoint in Kohat, Pakistan, where he was on his way back from the Afghan province of Zormat.

Jan claimed that he was in Zormat, a hotbed of Taliban fighters, to visit his extended family. There are no public transcripts from the U.S. military that record the charge against him because he was released before tribunals began at Guantanamo.

His route out of Afghanistan, however, was a popular one among the Islamic militants who at the time were pouring into and out of the country to fight U.S. forces and their Afghan allies after 9-11.

Jan's father, who was reached at his home by a Pakistani translator working for McClatchy and who asked that his name not be used out of concern for his safety, refused to talk about why his son had gone to Afghanistan after the United States invaded the country. He said only that Jan had been convinced to go by some friends and that, "I don't want any more trouble."

After his arrest, Jan said, he was taken to the jail in Peshawar. He'd been there for about a month, he said, when guards dragged him to an interrogation room.

He said that three Americans, a woman and two men in civilian clothes, were sitting at a table. The three didn't introduce themselves, but their interpreter said they were with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The Americans had surprising questions, Jan said.

"One of them asked if I was the son of Osama bin Laden," he said, shaking his head. "The Pakistani intelligence had told them this."

Jan tried to convince them otherwise, saying he was born to a family of Afghan refugees in Pakistan who originally were from Zormat and that he made regular trips back to his ancestral home.

The woman and two men listened to Jan's story. A few days later, in early 2002, he was flown to the U.S. prison camp at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

The welcome, Jan claimed, was unpleasant.

"They took us to a tent, and stripped off all my clothes and took pictures of me naked, wearing shackles . . . the soldiers were laughing at me," he said. "Then four of the soldiers came around me and began kicking and punching me. I fell down and tried to stand up but they kept hitting me. I could hear them laughing."

Dozens of other former detainees who were held at Kandahar and its sister camp at Bagram Air Base described similar treatment. Replacing the clothes of incoming detainees was standard procedure for hygienic reasons, according to accounts by soldiers who served at the installations.

At first, Jan said, he and 15 other men slept on the dirt, surrounded by a perimeter of concertina wire.

"We were sitting on the ground, in winter, with no blanket," Jan said. "I had bruises on my body from the beating; my bones hurt."

About two weeks later, a tent was made. The detainees were given Qurans. Some days were quiet, Jan said, while others were brutal. The abuse, he said, never came during interrogations, but during the countless hours spent in the tent, where the U.S. soldiers guarding them had absolute power.

"Some of the soldiers were good. Some of the soldiers were no good; they were crazy," Jan said.

Jan said he was a witness in early 2002 when a guard dropped a copy of the Quran into a bucket that detainees used for a toilet. Several other former detainees who were at Kandahar at the same time described similar incidents.

The U.S. military has denied that Quran abuse took place at Guantanamo, but hasn't released any investigation of claims at Kandahar. American defense officials have said that most stories of detainee abuse and Quran mistreatment are lies.

One day, Jan said, the guards walked into the tents and grabbed men, one by one, to blindfold and shackle them and then take them outside the concertina wire, shoving and pushing them into a line.

"They shaved our heads and our face: our beards, our eyebrows, everything," Jan said. "They took our clothes off; I tried to cover myself with my hands and they laughed at me."

Eventually, he said, "they gave me the orange clothes."

The men were being sent to Guantanamo.

Detainees were routinely shaved and given new clothes before their flight to Guantanamo, but it wasn't possible to confirm whether that procedure led to harassment by guards. Many former detainees said that it did.

Jan said he weighed about 132 pounds when he was arrested. When he was weighed at the intake clinic at Guantanamo, he was about 100 pounds, he said.

He said he was interrogated more than 100 times: What is your name? Where are you from? Why were you in Afghanistan? Are you a member of the Taliban? Are you a member of al Qaida?

The same questions, the same answers, day after day.

Jan was released after about two years.

"Whenever I come across something related to the Americans, to war, in a newspaper or on TV, my mind goes back to that place," he said, shifting uneasily on a sofa in the home of a man he didn't know, hoping that he wouldn't be arrested for meeting with a reporter. "I never feel relaxed. There's always something bothering me, there's always something pressing down on my mind."

His eyes were worried. There had been about three hours of talking, and wondering about noises in the street.

"I used to be very healthy and good-looking," Jan said, pointing to his receding hairline and haggard face. "But look at me now. You would never guess that I'm 22."

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