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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Noor Habib

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — It's hard to know what to think about Noor Habib.

He was sent home from Guantanamo before the military tribunals there began, so there's no transcript. Habib was detained far from home as the Taliban regime was crumbling and war was sweeping Afghanistan, so local authorities don't know anything about his arrest. He was about 21 at the time, and not well-known to officials or tribal leaders.

Habib might have been a Taliban foot soldier or he might have been what he said he was, a truck driver who was picked up by U.S.-backed northern alliance troops who were shooting or arresting anyone who appeared to be an Islamic militant.

Afghan officials familiar with Habib's home village and the militant networks there said they had no idea who he was. They guessed that he was either a Taliban grunt who'd have had no information to offer American interrogators or just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All that's certain is that he ended up at Guantanamo. That doesn't prove anything, either, because the inmates there have ranged from hard-core fighters to local criminals to innocents who were framed by tribal rivals.

Habib was held at Guantanamo only for about a year, though, which would seem to indicate that his jailers concluded that if he were associated with the Taliban, it was at such a low level that he was neither a threat nor a source of useful intelligence.

Speaking in a soft voice and often answering questions with a slight nod or shrug — "I learned not to say much during interrogations," he said — Habib said that he was arrested in the city of Bamian in November 2001.

At the time, Taliban fighters were streaming out of the area, trying to make it back to southern or eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. troops and their northern alliance allies still hadn't routed the Islamist regime.

The story that Habib told a McClatchy reporter is inconsistent. He first said that he was selling cars, then he said he was working with a truck driver, cleaning and maintaining the vehicle.

He was helping to transport a load of goats to Kabul, he said, when he came to a checkpoint manned by northern alliance soldiers, who opened fire at the truck.

"They thought we were Taliban," he said. "I jumped out of the truck and ran as fast as I could, but they caught me."

Habib said he was thrown into an old Russian transport truck and beaten with rifle butts the whole way back to the city. It was a long ride, he said, as the northern alliance troops stopped every few minutes to haul in another suspected batch of Taliban.

He said he was kept at a jail in Bamian for four months.

"They said I had connections with the Taliban. At the time, I had a long beard," he said. "They began beating me — kicking and punching me — saying that I had to confess."

Next came some three months at the U.S. detention camp at Kandahar Airfield, where guards often abused Habib and the men around him, he said. Dozens of other former detainees had similar accounts.

"When the guards took me to interrogation they pushed me to the ground and jumped on my back," he said. "One time they did this, a rock got stuck in my chest. It stayed there, and sank in lower and lower into my flesh, and the skin around it got swollen, with pus coming out" for several weeks.

A doctor at Guantanamo later removed the pebble from Habib's chest, he said, and he spent a year in Cuba, rarely being interrogated and not doing much of anything other than praying and wondering why he was there.

"They took me to interrogation (at Guantanamo) and asked me the Taliban questions," he said. "They wanted to know about the top guys from al Qaida; they wanted to know if they lived in Jalalabad. I told them that I am just a laborer, that I had no idea. I asked them, 'Why do you keep asking me the same questions?' They did not answer."

In his 12th month there, in the summer of 2003, Habib said, two American interrogators, a man and a woman, sat down with him in an interrogation room and told him that he'd been sent to Guantanamo because he was suspected of being a senior Taliban commander.

Five days later, he was released.

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