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7 Afghans Released from Guantánamo Say They Saw Abuse

New York Times
By Carlotta Gall
February 9, 2006

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Feb. 9 — Seven Afghans have been released from American detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and were freed in Kabul today, where they spoke to reporters, contending that they had witnessed abuse and desecration of the Koran.

The prisoners, ranging in age from about 30 to about 50, come from the southern and eastern provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Khost and Paktika. All had been detained for three years or more, following the American intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001. Dressed in white T-shirts and jeans, the prisoners looked pale but otherwise healthy.

The men said they were aware of a widespread hunger strike among prisoners but that they had not taken part. One said he had joined in a protest against desecration of the Koran by prison guards.

The chief of the Afghan government commission for reconciliation, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, greeted the prisoners and told them they were free to return to civilian life. He contended that some had committed no crime and that others who might have been guilty of wrongdoing had been detained longer than they should have been.

The former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salaam Zaeef, who was himself detained in Guantánamo for four years and released last year, also greeted the prisoners and said it should be the government's priority to secure the release of the remaining 97 Afghans in Guantánamo.

"They are mostly innocent and were not related to the Taliban and Al Qaeda," Mr. Zaeef contended. "There is no court there, no law and no charges."

Reporters were allowed to question the men. Sharbat Khan, 36, from Khost, said he had been held for three and a half years. "The behavior of the Americans was not good in the beginning," he said. "They insulted the Holy Koran and all of us prisoners started a demonstration and they used a kind of gas to make us calm down."

Another prisoner from Uruzgan province, Khudaidad, a laborer who uses only one name, said his American guards would withhold medicines at times, and would sometimes serve bad food as a form of punishment.

Khan Zaman, 45, from the eastern province of Khost, who said he spent four years and three months in custody, said he knew about the current hunger strike but had not taken part. He said that Afghan prisoners were not participating in the hunger strike.

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting for this article from Kabul, Afghanistan

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