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7 Afghans free after 5 years at Guantánamo

International Herald Tribune
by Abdul Waheed Wafa
December 17, 2006

KABUL: Seven Afghans freed after up to five years of detention at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay have arrived in Kabul, desperate to get back to their home villages.

The bearded men, mostly farmers and simple villagers, dressed in dark blue jeans and jackets, arrived Satruday at the offices of the Afghan Commission for Peace and Reconciliation here to receive an official guarantee of freedom from the Afghan government.

Most of them were from Helmand, the southern province that has become the most volatile area of Afghanistan. Government and foreign troops there have come under repeated attack from the Taliban and other insurgents.

One of the seven men, Haji Alef Muhammad, 62, from the Baghran district in Helmand, said he lost his brothers four years ago in a U.S. bombardment of his village. After that, he said, he was taken into custody during a raid, and sent to Guantanamo.

"Is this my fault that I believe in the words, 'There is no God but Allah?'" he said. "Other than that there is no witness and no evidence of my guilt."

"We had to eat, pray and go to the toilet in the same cell that was 2 meters long and 2 meters wide," he said in disgust.

Another prisoner, Abdul Rahman, 38, said he was an unwilling fighter for the Taliban. He said he was from Helmand, but was arrested in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in late 2001 by Northern Alliance soldiers led by the Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

"The Taliban sent me there by force as they made every family provide one fighter or give money instead," he said.

He said he had been taken into custody in the city of Kunduz, held in the town of Sheberghan, and then "sold" to Americans.

Another returning Afghan, Haji Baridad, who said he did not know his age, spent five years in Guantánamo. He appeared disturbed and kept complaining that an Afghan translator took his money — 3,600 Pakistani rupees, or about $62 — when he was detained.

This was the eighth round of prisoner releases from Guantánamo under a reconciliation program begun 20 months ago by the Afghan government.

Forty-seven Afghans have been released from Guantanamo in that time, and 70 remain. Others are held at the Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

The talks for handing over the Afghan inmates from U.S. prisons to Afghanistan custody have slowed in recent months. Sebaghatullah Mojadidi, the head of the peace and reconciliation commission, said they had worked for almost a year to prepare the prison.

"It is not in our hands, it is in the Americans' hands," he told the seven men during a speech. But the seven were allowed to go home.

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