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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Mohammed Gul

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

KHOST, Afghanistan — Most of the evidence that the U.S. government produced during Mohammed Gul's military tribunal at Guantanamo wasn't about him.

The tribunal board of three U.S. officers read the charges: His neighbor and fellow detainee, a man named Sarajuddin, had connections to militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and had been a recruiter for warlord Pacha Khan, who's now a member of the Afghan parliament. U.S. forces had taken fire as they moved toward Sarajuddin's house.

Haqqani, the tribunal clarified, is an insurgent who'd stayed at Sarajuddin's house, and Khan was a rebel at the time.

Beyond those facts, which had no apparent connections to Gul, the tribunal noted that Gul had an AK-47 rifle in his house — as almost family in Afghanistan does — and that he had communications equipment, which he denied.

After going through those assertions, the tribunal said that Gul was a member of the militant group Hezb-e Islami.

Sitting before the three military officers presiding over the tribunal, Gul sounded exasperated.

Told that Haqqani and Sarajuddin had connections to each other, Gul said: "First, this question isn't relevant to me. This question belongs to someone else. The second, I don't know if Haqqani came to his guesthouse," according to an unclassified transcript of the tribunal proceedings.

Of course, it was possible that Gul was in league with his neighbor Sarajuddin. But if Gul was an insurgent, he was an insignificant one.

Unlike Sarajuddin, who locals say was a Haqqani ally, Afghan officials said they'd never heard of Mohammed Gul. Even the head of the Khost office that tracks former Guantanamo detainees said that he had no idea who Gul was. The man who served as the local security commander when Gul was detained also drew a blank.

After the tribunal hearing at Guantanamo, the U.S. military found that Gul was no longer an enemy combatant, a finding that was as close to "not guilty" as the tribunal findings got.

Gul said that U.S. soldiers searched the houses surrounding Sarajuddin's on the night they raided his home in January 2002, and that when they found Gul's passport with a stamp from Saudi Arabia, they decided that he must be a militant.

Gul said that for the previous seven years he'd been a taxi driver in Saudi Arabia, where he emigrated after he fled to Pakistan when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan during the 1980s, and returned home to Khost every three years or so to visit his family.

Because U.S. officials had confiscated his passport, it wasn't possible to confirm that.

A witness who was called during his tribunal, another detainee from Khost, said that Gul had been a driver in Saudi Arabia.

After he was taken to the U.S. detention camp at Kandahar Airfield, Gul said, he was interrogated once in 15 days.

"They asked me where I was arrested, why I was arrested, and they didn't ask a lot of other questions," Gul said.

The only time he was beaten during his time in U.S. custody was at Kandahar, he said.

"When they took me off the helicopter, they put me on the ground and punched me on the face, on the nose, and they kicked me," Gul said.

But after he was taken to the tent at Kandahar where he lived with more than a dozen other prisoners, time passed uneventfully.

After he was sent to Guantanamo, where he was held for three to three and a half years, Gul said, little happened.

He said he went for months — more than six at one point — without being interrogated, and that when he was taken in for questioning, he often asked why he was being held.

"I said please let me know my crime; I am not Taliban, I am not al Qaida," Gul said. "They had no answer. They just said they were writing down what I said."

After a while, Gul said, he began to lose control of his thoughts, which were racing around the idea that he would die in his cell, on an island on the other side of the world.

"One day I beat my head against a bar in my cell until I was unconscious," he said.

Gul was transferred to a cellblock for detainees with psychiatric problems, kept there for about two months and given medicine.

Then back he went to his cell, to sit and wait for something to happen.

His neighbors helped teach him to read the Quran, and he prayed often. Gul had no trouble with the guards, he said, and the food wasn't bad.

When he was flown back to Afghanistan in the spring of 2005, the U.S. military gave him a card. It read: "This individual has been determined to pose no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests in Afghanistan."

He doesn't do much these days. He doesn't have the money to pay for another Saudi visa, and a friend there apparently stole the car he'd been using, he said.

Gul owns part of a gas station, paid for with his earnings as a driver in Saudi Arabia, but it doesn't produce enough income, even by Afghan standards.

Mostly, Gul said, he stays at home and tries to control the panic attacks that followed him home from the cellblocks.

As his interview ended, Gul asked the Westerner whether he knew any American doctors in Kabul.

His mind just keeps getting worse, Gul said, embarrassment in his voice. Nothing, he said, has made any sense to him since he was taken to Guantanamo.

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