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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Qadar Khandan

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

KHOST, Afghanistan — Qadar Khandan said that no matter how many times the American soldiers struck him, he told them the same thing.

His story, which he stuck to for more than four years, was that he'd worked as a nurse for warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's organization during its fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s — when the U.S. supported Hekmatyar — but that he'd broken off all links afterward. He told the same tale to a McClatchy reporter.

An Afghan government official in Khandan's town of Khost, however, said that until Khandan's arrest in September 2002, he was closely aligned with Hekmatyar, who's now an anti-U.S. insurgent leader whose Hezb-e Islami group has been labeled terrorist by the U.S. government.

"He was a commander for them in this province, not the top commander, but a commander," said Ismail Khosti, who heads the local office of the Afghan commission for peace and reconciliation in Khost, which works closely with former Guantanamo detainees. "When the Taliban left Khost, there was a mujahedeen (holy warriors) council formed, and Khandan was the only representative of Hezb-e Islami on that council."

Khandan's association with Hekmatyar in a province bordering Pakistan that serves as a militant transit point and operations base appears to be what sent U.S. troops to his door.

When they took him to a nearby base and questioned him, Khandan said, he denied those ties. He said that soldiers there, special forces by his description, made him stand for two days straight with no food or water. The soldiers frequently punched him, he said, played loud music and brought dogs in to bark and snap at him.

Khandan said he wouldn't break down and confess, and it appears that he never did.

Many experts in the field of interrogation maintain that physical mistreatment sometimes pushes a detainee to hold on to his story more fervently out of fear that to come clean, to admit he was lying all along, would unleash worse punishment. Other prisoners pile one lie on top of the other, hoping to find a balance to satisfy their tormentors. In the end, however, many detainees are no closer to telling the truth than they were on their first day of captivity.

That appears to be the case with Khandan and many other former detainees, who are angrier at the United States today than they were before they were detained.

Khandan was sent from Khost to the U.S. camp at Kandahar Airfield for four days — "Kandahar at least had food and water," Khandan said — then to the detention camp at Bagram for about five months.

When he arrived at Bagram, he said, he and a group of other detainees were stripped naked and photographed.

During interrogations, he was accused of having ties to Hekmatyar. Over and over, he denied that.

"They told me to accept their charges or they would send me to isolation," Khandan said. "I told them they could send me to isolation for 10 years and those things would still not be true."

The interrogators sent him to an isolation cell, a small plywood box with metal bars over the top. Guards there hung him by his wrists from the bars, Khandan said, and left him there for 20 days, taking him down only for three 15-minute meal breaks and for the bathroom when he needed it.

"My heels weren't touching the ground, only my toes, and I had on earphones, goggles and a hood," he said. "Three or four times I became unconscious. The guards would open the gate and come in and punch me in the stomach."

Despite repeated requests by McClatchy, the Department of Defense refused to discuss McClatchy's findings. U.S. defense officials have said that detainee accounts of abuse are militant propaganda.

Khandan said he was taken back to the cell he shared with about 12 other detainees, and the interrogations resumed.

He was sent to Guantanamo in early 2003, probably February, and kept there until late 2006.

The experience with the interrogators was the same, he said, except that no one hit him at Guantanamo.

He told them, repeatedly, that he'd left Hekmatyar's fold many years before. He said he was questioned every day during his first month, but then the sessions dropped to once a month, then once every two months and, at one point, almost a year.

Khandan said he spent much of the time between interrogations in isolation cells, twice for seven-month stretches, he said. He estimates that he spent some 17 months in isolation during his approximately three years at Guantanamo.

Khandan said he never wavered.

In his Administrative Review Board hearing in December 2005, the second step of the tribunal process, he told a panel of military officers the same thing he'd told the soldiers in Khost in September 2002.

He said that he'd been only a nurse at a hospital run by Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami during the 1980s, and he claimed that he now was ardently against the organization and the Taliban.

He denied accusations that he'd run a safe house for insurgents. He described himself as a pharmacist and the chief of a local office of Afghanistan's national security directorate.

A transcript of an earlier tribunal hearing noted that the directorate, when contacted, said that Khandan had never been an officer there.

Still sticking to his cover story at the hearing, Khandan claimed that it was "a secret job."

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