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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Mohammed Nassim

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Who is Mohammed Nassim?

Sitting on a sofa last June in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, Nassim said he was a brick maker and a day laborer. He said he was a simple man who was framed by men in his village in southwest Nangarhar province because of a feud that began when he joined a local police force.

In front of a military tribunal at Guantanamo, however, the U.S. government described a different Mohammed Nassim. The government said Nassim was a Taliban member trained in machine guns and missiles who was part of a special 40-man unit, and that he was found with rockets buried in his garden and a Russian artillery officer's compass, which could be used to site the rockets.

The U.S. military further alleged that Nassim had helped fire rockets at the Jalalabad airport and at the home of an Afghan police official.

Nassim told the officers at his tribunal that all their charges were false. "If I lied, I will excuse you even if you kill me," he said at the time. "I can't say more than that."

The transcripts from Nassim's tribunal hearing and a later review board and a lengthy interview with him did not make clear which story was true.

American officials at Guantanamo, however, never called the Afghan government's security commander for the area where Nassim was arrested. If they had, Gul Jan might have told them what he told a McClatchy reporter: "I was suspicious when they found those rockets in front of his house. . . . I don't think he had any connections with anti-government groups."

"The Americans had just come to Afghanistan," Jan continued, "and everything depended on the agents they were working with. If their agent gave a report that was correct, then they arrested the right man. If the report was not correct, they arrested the wrong man."

Had the officials at Guantanamo called Nassim's malik — his tribal leader — Mateullah might have told them what he told a McClatchy reporter: While there certainly were insurgents in the area, Nassim wasn't one of them.

"When someone in our village is involved with this sort of thing, we make an announcement in the mosque that if his activities bring a reaction from the government and the village is harmed, he is responsible and we will kill him," said Mateullah, who like many Afghans has one name.

No such message was ever necessary for Nassim, he said.

At Nassim's final review-board hearing at Guantanamo, the U.S. officers read the previous charges — he was a Taliban member, he'd joined in rocket attacks — and added several more.

Among other things, they said he'd been the governor of Zabul province under the Taliban, although he'd been in his early 20s at the time. One officer added that Nassim had assaulted guards and participated in riots during his time at Guantanamo.

There was also an allegation that he'd been "witnessed by Guantanamo Bay MPs practicing his martial arts."

Finally, an officer said that while Nassim was at Guantanamo, he'd confided that his "rockets (in Afghanistan) were not powerful enough to kill a chicken."

According to the transcript of the hearing, Nassim laughed at most of the new charges.

After one outburst, interrupting an officer who was talking about missiles and chickens, Nassim asked the panel, "Why are you talking to me like this?"

Why didn't the judges just tell him the truth, he asked: "Just tell me: 'I'm not going to let you go.' "

Nassim said in an interview that after joining the police, he was visited by several Afghans who said they worked for a man who was the tribal rival of Nassim's police commander. If Nassim continued to work for the officer in charge of his unit, the men warned, he'd be punished.

A few days later, in mid-2002, Afghan soldiers — acting on a tip that Nassim was a Taliban fighter — stormed his house and found a pile of rockets buried outside.

Nassim claimed that they were put there to frame him.

After a week in Afghan custody — which he said included having his toenails pulled out — Nassim was sent to Bagram Air Base.

He said his four months at Bagram were hard.

"When they wanted to punish me in the cell, they would put a cloth sack on my head, and then two soldiers would lift me in the air and put my wrists in handcuffs hanging from the ceiling," he said. "Only the tips of my toes touched the ground. They left me like this many times."

Every time interrogators pressed him to tell the truth about his affiliation with the Taliban, Nassim begged them to send someone to his village to gather information about him.

At Guantanamo, hunger strikes came and went, as did scuffles with guards, and more than a thousand days passed. Nassim clung to his story that someone put the missiles into his garden to frame him.

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