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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Syed Ajan

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — From beginning to end, Syed Ajan repeated it like a mantra: He was a district chief appointed by the Interior Ministry of the government of U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

When U.S. soldiers arrested him in May 2003 in his house in Konar province, he said that he'd been the district chief for eight months and had documents to prove it.

After the soldiers took him to their base and, he said, beat him repeatedly, Ajan told them, between gasps and heaves, of his title.

In countless interrogations during his approximately seven months at the prison camp at Bagram Air Base, he answered many questions with phrases like, "I am a member of Karzai's government, which apparently is a crime."

At Guantanamo, he told anyone who'd listen that he, Syed Ajan, worked for Karzai, America's man in Afghanistan.

Ajan is one of several former members of Karzai's government, a key U.S. ally in the battle against al Qaida and the Taliban, whom American forces arrested and shipped to Guantanamo. All of those interviewed claim that tribal or political rivals set them up, a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan, where feuds simmer for centuries.

Mohammed Roze, who heads the local branch of Afghanistan's national peace and reconciliation office in Ajan's home province of Konar, an organization that vets Guantanamo returnees, said he'd looked into the details of the case and come to a conclusion: Ajan was framed by rivals in a nearby village.

Roze said that the two men who passed false allegations about Ajan to the Americans were militants opposed to Karzai's government.

"Syed Ajan was not involved with any anti-government activities," Roze said. "The Americans arrested him mistakenly."

At his military tribunal hearing at Guantanamo and a subsequent appearance in front of a review board, Ajan faced a long list of allegations: He fired rockets at U.S. forces, provided weapons to the Taliban, was a former local Taliban official, helped transport missiles and was caught with items used to make bombs.

He denied the charges at every turn, saying that the Americans were presenting a mishmash of bad information from jailhouse snitches trying to earn favor at Guantanamo, informants in Afghanistan who wanted to settle political scores, bad translations during his interrogation sessions and misunderstandings.

"I don't have any documentation or proof or any evidence," Ajan told the military officers who presided over his tribunal. "I'm innocent and not guilty. I was one of the people working for the Karzai government."

Like many detainees, Ajan didn't have a lawyer or access to any of the evidence against him.

He asked for testimony from two other Guantanamo prisoners. Both said he had no ties to the Taliban.

One of the witnesses said that he, too, worked for the government — for the Defense Ministry, as opposed to the Interior Ministry, where Ajan worked — and had heard about him at local council meetings in Konar.

It was to no avail. By the time he was released, Ajan had spent more than three and a half years in U.S. custody.

At his tribunal, he told a panel of American military officers that after U.S. troops detained him, "They took me away for two days and beat me up badly. I'm still sick since that time. . . . I can't control my urination, and sometimes I put toilet paper down there so I won't wet my pants."

Ajan told a reporter that he sustained the injuries at a U.S. base in Konar in the spring of 2003.

"When they took me inside the base, they began hitting and kicking me," he said. "I lost consciousness. When I came to, I couldn't stand up; I had a very hard time breathing.

"For a month, I had very sharp pains in my side." Then, he said, "The soldiers came back to my cell. There were six of them. They said, 'Stand up,' and then they began kicking me like a football. They threw me back and forth and beat me against the wall. They put the muzzle of a rifle against my head. It just clicked; they'd taken the bullets out."

He said that he wasn't mistreated to that extent after he was transferred to the prison camp at Bagram Air Base and then to Guantanamo.

However, he said that at Bagram, the guards often kept him from sleeping at night, knocking on the door at odd hours and shouting for him to stand up; he was pushed around during cell searches; and the guards liked to slam him into the walls on the way to interrogations. But he said the pain that lingered in his ribs from the beatings in Konar reminded him that things could be a lot worse.

At Guantanamo, where he was imprisoned for about three years, the interrogations were long, he said, and he was made to sit in a chair for hours before and after the questioning, sometimes with the heat turned up, sometimes with the air conditioning blasting. The soldiers let him alone when he was in his cell, though, he said.

He told the interrogators that he'd been a district security chief in Konar. No one cared.

His last year and a half was spent in Camp Four, an area for well-behaved detainees, often those who posed little risk and had little information about the Taliban or al Qaida.

Just before he was released in late 2006, Ajan said, an interrogator told him that American soldiers in Konar had stopped working with the people who'd informed on him.

When he talked to a reporter later in Jalalabad, surrounded by a group of men who'd come with him from Konar, Ajan said that he hadn't found much work since he'd returned. His wife and his oldest son had died in his absence. The Afghan government, he said, owes him several months' back pay.

Sitting in a small hotel room where the water-cooled fan kept stopping and the summer heat baked the walls, Ajan groaned.

"I would like," he said, "to start my life again."

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