Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Releases raise questions over Camp X-ray purpose

FEARS Ten inmates of the Guantanamo Bay prison were handed over to Afghan authorities, but human-rights groups are still worried about those left behind in Cuba

AP , KABUL

A group of Afghan nationals released from the Guantanamo Bay jail chat with newsmen in a prison in Kabul yesterday. The US handed over 10 Afghans who were captured in Afghanistan during the US-led war last year. After screening and investigation, the group is expected to be set free by Afghan authorities.

PHOTO: REUTERS

They weren't senior Taliban or al-Qaeda members, but the US military deemed them important enough to be transferred from Afghanistan to an ultrahigh-security prison on the other side of the earth.

Then, after nearly a year of interrogations at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they were set free without compensation or even an apology.

"I'm just angry that the Americans waited until we were in Guantanamo to interrogate us. Had they questioned us here in Afghanistan, it would have saved us a lot of trouble," said 28-year-old Mohammad Tahir, who says the Taliban forced him to fight in central Bamiyan province in late 2001.

"They could have realized a lot sooner that I was innocent," he said.

The latest batch of Afghan detainees returned home from Guantanamo raise fresh questions about who is being held at the prison and why.

Human-rights advocates have criticized US President George W. Bush's administration for holding prisoners at the naval base indefinitely and without charging them with any crime, putting them on trial or giving them access to lawyers.

In April, human-rights groups called for the US to release teenagers from the prison after it was revealed that several boys between ages 13 and 16 were being held there.

Since the prison was set up in January last year, only a couple of dozen inmates are known to have been released.

The first three Afghans were released from the island prison in October. Another 18 were released in March because they were no longer considered a terrorist threat.

On Thursday, Deputy Interior Minister Hilal Uddin said that 11 more prisoners had arrived Thursday at Bagram Air Base, the US military headquarters in Afghanistan.

The detainees said they were transferred to a police station in Kabul, where 10 were being held on Friday. It was unclear if there was an 11th, or if Uddin was misinformed.

A prisoner dressed in a dark blue traditional Afghan pantaloon suit said his American interrogators removed him from his cell two or three times a week, bound his feet and hands in chains, and repeatedly asked the same questions.

"All the time they asked us, `Where are you from? Are you Taliban? Were you in Pakistan? Why were you captured with the Taliban?"' said 22-year-old Rostum Shah. "They said: `If you're innocent, then why did you go to fight against your own people?"'

Shah's answer, like Tahir's, was simple.

"The Taliban forced us to fight. They took us away from our houses and told us it was our responsibility to fight," he said.

Remarkably, few expressed any anger about being held for so long and finally released with no compensation.

"We didn't get much. They didn't give us any money," Tahir said. "We got this bag and what's in it."

Inside Tahir's blue sports bag were a new pair of pants and tennis shoes, a jacket, underwear and a bottle of shampoo.

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