Ex-Afghan Prisoners Describe Guantanamo

By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghans released after nearly two years in a U.S. military jail in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday described conditions as cramped and recounted months of repeated U.S. interrogations and physical discomfort.
The men, mostly between 20 and 30 years old, all looked outwardly healthy, but some prisoners said they were beaten — an allegation the U.S. military disputed. "Physical coercion is simply not an option. We don't do it. There's no beating," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman at Guantanamo Bay. Many of the 16 returned Afghans had unkempt beards and were wearing traditional "shalwar kameez" long shirts and baggy trousers. Some still had shaved heads. They arrived Thursday but their presence in Afghanistan was not announced until Saturday. "Who says we were not punished? It's not true," said Abdul Rehman, 29, from Faryab province in northeastern Afghanistan. "They pushed us all over, treated us very badly. They put 24 of us in a small congested room. They also put us into cold rooms." Rahman said he had been "badly punished 107 times," speaking in an interview with Associated Press Television News at Kabul Central Jail shortly before he and the others were released to the international Red Cross in preparation for their return home. He alleged that during his 20 months at Guantanamo, his captors had chained his hands and feet and had beaten him with a metal rod on his legs and back, but he refused to show scars that may have resulted from any abuse. Zabet Ullah, 32, of Kandahar, told The Associated Press in a brief interview as he walked to the Red Cross bus, "There was very bad treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo. It was against the human rights of the Geneva Conventions." Nate Gul, 24, from Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, spent 18 months at Guantanamo, and said he was treated well. "They didn't beat us during the interrogation," Gul said. "They wrote down anything we said. They interrogated me about 30 to 40 times." Gul said he was held in a small room that looked like a cage, but he said he had towels, shampoo, a toothbrush, blankets, three meals a day and time for prayer. The Afghans were among 27 detainees, who were released in the past week because they were not considered a threat and had no further information to offer through interrogation. Eleven Pakistanis also returned home Thursday. Pakistan has been pressing the United States to free its nationals. It's not known how many of the detainees in Guantanamo are Pakistanis. On Friday, Washington agreed to suspend legal proceedings against Australians and British nationals being held in Guantanamo. Pakistan wants the same treatment for its nationals. "We hope that all our people who were taken to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba after their arrest in Afghanistan will also be released," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Saturday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. "We hope and expect that they will not be prosecuted," he said.
About 660 prisoners still remain at Guantanamo, Johnson said. Eight new detainees "considered a threat to the United States" arrived at Guantanamo by Friday. They had been detained in Afghanistan, he said. Police spokesman Ghulam Farooq said he was at Bagram Air Base when the men were brought from Guantanamo. "When they saw me they were very happy," he said. "One man looked at me and said 'Now I see an Afghan face and I am home. I know I will be OK.'" One man was ill and was treated in Kabul, Farooq said. Farooq said the U.S. administration had declared the men innocent. All those who returned to Afghanistan this week were ethnic Pashtuns. The Taliban militia are largely made up of Pashtuns and many of them said they had been conscripted into the Taliban. Since the Taliban were toppled from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition, ethnic Pashtuns have complained of discrimination and persecution. One refugee camp in southern Afghanistan is full of Pashtuns who fled attacks by ethnic Tajiks in the north. The Northern Alliance, which moved into Kabul after the U.S.-led coalition defeated the Taliban, is dominated by ethnic Tajiks, who have been reluctant to build a multiethnic police and army.


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