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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Ehsanullah

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

KHOST, Afghanistan — Ehsanullah apologized for not being able to meet to talk in person.

He lives in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban militants would kill him if he met with a Westerner, so he preferred to speak by phone through a translator.

The Taliban, he said, have made a lot of trouble for him during his life.

Under their government, he said, he and many other farmers in the south were conscripted and ordered north toward the front lines against U.S.-allied Afghan forces.

"There was no training. They said, 'This is the trigger; pull it,' " said Ehsanullah, who like many Afghans has only one name.

Ehsanullah was released from Guantanamo before military tribunals began, so there's no transcript describing the charges he faced. He was set free in less than a year, however, which suggests that American military officials didn't consider him either a terrorist threat or a valuable intelligence source.

None of the Afghan security or political officials whom McClatchy interviewed knew anything about him, which suggests that he was, at most, a Taliban foot soldier whom U.S. and Afghan forces swept up and sent to Guantanamo.

As soon as he got word in late 2001 that the Taliban government in Kabul had fallen, Ehsanullah said, he headed toward home. Afghan troops from the U.S-backed northern alliance stopped him in the capital and arrested him with a group of other fighters, some of them Pakistani militants who were trying to flee the country.

He said the Afghan troops put their captives in a small room in a mud house for about three months, then sold them for a bounty to U.S. troops.

"The commander told the Americans that he had arrested high-ranking Taliban and got $5,000 for each of us," Ehsanullah said.

They were flown to Bagram Air Base from Kabul and held there for a week, then transferred to the detention camp at Kandahar Airfield.

Things there were rough, Ehsanullah said.

"When the guards took me to interrogation they hit or kicked me," he said. "And when they searched our tent, they punched us."

At Kandahar, he claimed, he saw a soldier throw a Quran into a bucket that detainees used as a toilet, a charge made by many former detainees at the U.S. prisons on Afghanistan and Guantanamo but never independently corroborated.

He said it made him want to kill the American soldiers around him.

"I was thinking that if I could arrest one of these soldiers I would cut a gram of flesh off his body every day," he said.

After five or six months, he said, U.S. troops loaded him on a plane and flew him to Guantanamo.

Life there, he said, was much easier. None of the guards struck him, and he didn't see any of them abuse the Quran. He was interrogated infrequently, and the men who questioned him seemed uninterested, he said.

"They kept asking me why I was arrested," he said. "They told me that the (northern alliance) commander had sold me to them, and they were trying to figure out what the truth was."

When he was sent home, the Red Cross in Kabul gave him about $12 worth of Afghan currency, which got him to Kandahar but not all the way to his house in Helmand province. Some strangers at a bus stop gave him enough for the rest of the trip.

He's home now, growing wheat and opium poppies. Life, he said, is the same as it was before the war. "My only concern," he said, "is how to feed my family."

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