Released Afghan journalist recounts ordeal at Bagram air base--Jawad Ahmad claims he was tricked to come to a US military base from where he was dispatched to Bagram. At Bagram he was subjected to sleep and food deprivation...
Article By Philippe Khan
"They destroyed me financially, mentally and physically… But most importantly, my mother is taking her last breath in hospital just because of the Americans,” said Jawed Ahmad following his release from the U.S. military base at Bagram air base near the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the U.S. detains suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
Ahmad was a well-known journalist in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar working for CTV, a Canadian television network, and on occasions the BBC. He had also spent about two and a half years as a translator for the U.S. special forces.
The 21-year-old says that the last 11 months in which he was detained by the U.S. were the worst of his life. Ahmad accuses his captors of kicking him, forcing him to stand barefoot in the snow and depriving him of sleep for days. He also says that prison guards mishandled the holy Qur'an.
Ahmad was detained Oct. 26, 2007, at a NATO base near Kandahar. He said an American military public affairs officer called him to come to the base, and he was taken into custody in the U.S. Special Forces compound.
In an interview with the BBC, Ahmad said that the prison guards - he assumes they were American – kicked him, threw him against truck containers and slammed his head into a table, adding that the abuse didn’t end there.
"For nine days they didn't allow me sleep. I didn't eat anything - it was a very tough time for me," he says. "Finally, they told me you're going to Guantanamo Bay."
The U.S. designated Ahmad an "enemy combatant" and accused him of having contact with Taliban leaders, including possessing their telephone numbers and video footage of them, according to a complaint filed by Ahmad's lawyers in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
While in prison, Ahmad was also accused of being a Taliban fighter, supplying weapons to the movement and of being an intelligence agent for Pakistan.
"What they blamed me for was not true. If it was true they would not have released me," Ahmad says.
* “No right of journalists”
U.S. officials had threatened to send Ahmad to Guantanamo for years, he said. His head was shaved, he was made to wear an orange jumpsuit and flown to the main U.S. base at Bagram.
Before leaving Kandahar to the Bagram base, Ahmad says his guards had one final message. "I will never forget it… They said 'you know what?', and I said 'what' and they said there is no right of journalists in this war."
"When I landed first of all they stood me in snow for six hours," he says. "It was too cold - I had no socks, no shoes, nothing. I became unconscious two times."
"They learned one word in Pashto 'jigshaw, jigshaw' - it means 'stand up'. And when I became unconscious they were saying 'jigshaw',” he added.
During his 11 months’ detention, Ahmed was not aware why he was imprisoned, and when, if ever, he would be freed. He says he and the rest of the inmates at Bagram were taunted continuously by the guards.
"I thought they were animals," he says. "When they cursed me, I cursed them twice. I challenged them."
He was even sent into solitary confinement after the guards were irritated by an article about his detention in the New York Times.
He says he was chained in the cell in stress positions making it almost impossible to sleep.
But the thing that provoked Ahmad most was that other detainees told him that prison guards mishandled the holy Qur’an.
"They didn't do it only one time, not two times, they did it more than 100 times. They have thrown it, they have torn it, they have kicked it."
* "I will fight to my last breath”
The day Ahmad knew he would be released was an emotional moment. "Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cried, sometimes I prayed," he says. " Finally, the next morning they just released me."
Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told the Associated Press that Ahmad was released because he was no longer considered a threat and that he had been turned over to the Afghan government as part of a reconciliation programme.
The Bagram air base has a controversial past - two Afghans were beaten to death by their American guards in 2002. But the American military at the detention facility claims that there is no evidence to substantiate Ahmad’s accusations of mistreatment.
But Mr Ahmad says that he will seek justice for what has happened to him.
"I will fight to my last breath to get my rights," he says. "I will knock on the door of Congress, I will ask Obama, I will ask Hilary Clinton, even Bush - I will not leave any person."