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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Hukumran

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — Hukumran was easy to like. He leaned back on a cushion, made himself at home, winked and lit a cigarette.

He's a Kochi, a member of a nomadic tribe, with no last name. He gave the Americans a first and a last name, "Hukumran Khan," because they really seemed to want him to have both, he said, giggling.

The cap on his head, which he slid back and forth playfully while chatting, was crisscrossed with embroidery and sequins.

Other men who made the drive to a tribal affairs office in Gardez to meet with an American reporter were a little nervous that they might be seen with a foreigner, something that can mean a death sentence if Taliban commanders find out about it.

Hukumran, a cabdriver, had come over from Khost, a dangerous province with its fair share of Islamic militants, but he was relaxed as he sipped his tea and spoke in a low, polite voice. He said he had nothing to hide. He was innocent.

After holding some 572 tribunals at Guantanamo from July 2004 to July 2007, the U.S. military declared just 38 detainees to be no longer enemy combatants." Hukumran was one of them.

He said he'd been arrested in the summer of 2002 — he said it was about eight months after the Taliban regime fell, which would have been about June — when a local Afghan military commander stole his satellite phone and refused to return it without a hefty payment. Hukumran refused and demanded to speak with American Army officers, to tell them what had happened.

Soon afterward, the Afghan commander took a contingent of Afghan soldiers to raid Hukumran's village. They dragged him off not because he was a militant, Hukumran said, but because he was threatening to expose corruption.

The problem with that story, a high-ranking Afghan intelligence official said, is that Hukumran isn't what he seems. His satellite phone was confiscated, the official said, because of whom he'd been calling: men linked to the Taliban.

Those phone numbers and their significance, however, apparently never made it up the chain to interrogators at Guantanamo, said the intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't allowed to talk to reporters.

The intelligence official said that while U.S. military officials at times detained the wrong men at Guantanamo, they also sometimes let the right ones go.

The official said he'd received reports from an informant in Waziristan — a Pakistani tribal area near the Afghan border that's a Taliban and al Qaida refuge — that Hukumran had wasted little time reconnecting with hard-core Islamist groups after he was released from Guantanamo in 2005.

The official said that Hukumran "has very close ties with Sirajuddin Haqqani," a Taliban commander who operates out of Pakistan, along with his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant who's considered among the fiercest insurgent leaders in Afghanistan and who acts as a go-between for al Qaida and the Taliban.

"He (Hukumran) is not a good person; he's been involved with anti-government activities," the official said.

In his interview, Hukumran didn't mention the Haqqani family. He said only that he was a simple man who, as he told the military tribunal at Guantanamo, never had anything to do with the Taliban or al Qaida.

After he was arrested, he said, he was sent to a U.S. Army base in Gardez and then to the detention camp at Bagram Air Base.

At Bagram, he said, interrogators tried to shake him into recanting his story, into saying that his travels as a laborer to Saudi Arabia — where he said he dug water wells — the three AK-47s found near his home, the two passports he carried and the expensive satellite phone were evidence that he was more than a clueless nomad swept up in the war on terrorism.

"There were two interrogators, American men, who wanted to frighten me. They had beards. They would beat on the chairs and yell that I was lying," Hukumran said. "I told them that these things did not frighten me. I told them I was telling them the truth, and if they wanted to kill me, fine."

The Americans threatened that he'd be sent to Guantanamo, that he could spend his life in prison. Fine, Hukumran said, go ahead and do it.

He spent about a year and a half at Guantanamo.

The interrogation sessions there were far less harsh, he said. They focused more on his life than they did on al Qaida or the Taliban. How did he get to Saudi Arabia? How much was he paid for his work there? Did his employers treat him well?

"The interrogators at Guantanamo were very nice with me," he said. "They gave me cigarettes all the time and let me watch movies. . . . I was innocent; there was no proof."

He quickly learned that if he kept to himself in the cellblocks, his life would be relatively easy.

"The Arabs were always making problems. They would throw water at the soldiers; they would spit at them," Hukumran said. "When something happened that the inmates didn't like, they would begin shaking their cell walls and screaming. I never took part in this because I didn't want the guards to take me away."

So he remained quiet and waited.

When the time came for his tribunal, he told his story of standing up to the corrupt Afghan army officer.

Then he made his plea: "I'm not Taliban, and I'm not al Qaida. . . . I'm asking from you guys to be kind to me. Don't be mean to me; please release me from here."

The U.S. officers sitting on the tribunal listened to him. Hukumran got his wish, and he was sent back to Afghanistan, where he's free to travel and do business with whomever he pleases.

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