- Arrested by U.S. forces in June 2009
- Accused of supporting the Taliban.
- Claims a neighbor falsely reported him to U.S. forces due to a land dispute.
- Imprisoned at Bagram for a year before allowed to bring relatives to testify at a hearing on his behalf and documents to confirm the land dispute.
- Released in July 2010, after his third hearing at Bagram.
“People say Americans are very clever people because now they have control of most of the world, and they can go even into space. But why they are being deceived by false intelligence or false reports of some stupid or foolish individuals?”
M.T., an engineer and teacher from Logar province, learned in June 2009 that U.S. forces had come to his home to look for him. The next day, elders from his village went to the U.S. military base to ask what the U.S. soldiers wanted. After being promised that M.T. would only be questioned but not arrested, the elders encouraged M.T. to go to the U.S. base and answer any questions the soldiers had. M.T. went to the base, accompanied by the elders. He was held and interrogated there for three days.
Accused of working with the Taliban, he was taken to the U.S.-run Bagram detention center. His family was not notified. M.T. was held there in isolation for 16 days before being transferred to a communal cell. He repeatedly told interrogators that he believed he had been wrongly accused by a man with whom he had an ongoing land dispute. He was never shown any evidence against him.
More than a year after his arrest, he was allowed to call relatives as witnesses to a hearing at the U.S. military base. The relatives brought documentation of his land dispute, and a letter guaranteeing his character and behavior signed by local Afghan officials. M.T. was released in the summer of 2010.
HRF: Can you tell us about your arrest by U.S. forces?
M.T.: It was in June 2009. I was doing education work with the government. Besides this, we had a dispute with another village over land and every day I was coming to the government offices for this problem. The other village had confiscated our land and I was the person who was advocating in the government departments to defend the right of our village for the land.
It was a day that I was not at home. The coalition forces had come to my house. I was not present at the time, so they arrested my son. He was a student in Kabul University, and was spending his holidays at home when they came and they arrested him.
HRF: Were these American forces?
M.T.: Yes. They were Americans. When I was informed I went home and one day later I saw the tribal elders, and the tribal elders went to the Americans and said we need engineer [M.T.] He is living here. He’s a man working for the government, he’s in the government’s different institutions, going and coming. If you want him, he will come and you can ask him any questions that you have. The Americans accepted and this was the condition between them.
So, the next day, after consultation with the tribal elders, with the head of the provincial council, with the provincial council members, and with the advice of the governor, I myself went voluntarily to the American base. So they did not detain me in my house. I went myself to the base, accompanied by these tribal elders and also members of the provincial council. I had all these documents related to the school work I was doing, and also to the land dispute that I had. When I went there I wanted to give some explanation to the Americans about what I’m doing, but they didn’t let me. Just they told the people that were accompanying me, “we are just going to ask him a few questions and then we will let him go with you.” I was thinking that I have not done any crime, I’m not guilty. I haven’t committed anything bad so I was not afraid. We have a saying in our language: “if you are not thief, you don’t need to be afraid even of a king”.
But people had given them wrong reports. So the Americans took me for interrogation and at the end they told me you will stay here with us for 2 or 3 days. This act made the tribal elders, the Parliamentarians, and also the members of the provincial council very upset because Americans had promised them that I would just come for a few questions and then they will let me go back with them. But they kept me.
HRF: Did they tell you why they were keeping you?
M.T.: They accused me, “you have link with the Taliban.” I laughed and I said, “You should recognize me from my job, from my profession. Taliban are the people who are destroying and I am an engineer who is actually building. I am a person that has worked for education, and the Taliban is against education in Afghanistan and they are destroying buildings. So, anyone who has given this wrong information to you, they have just given it to you for their own personal interest. Maybe some people just made a plot against me, to remove me from this case in the court, not to carry on the dispute over this land anymore. But I came voluntarily to your base to answer your questions.” I told the Americans: “you are doing a lot of expenses just to go to my house and arrest me. The easy way was you could talk to the governor or talk to the police chief of the province and say that we need this gentleman and they have my contact number and they could call me and I could come to your base as I’m coming right now. If I was not coming by telephone call from the governor or the police chief, then you could think that I have something to hide, I have some bad background that I’m not coming to answer your questions. But just you acted on a very false report by somebody who is very stupid or foolish. Anyone who has given you a report has given you wrong information.”
HRF: How were you treated in the first few days of interrogation?
M.T.: Now that time has passed, with God as witness, there was not bad treatment from the American side.
HRF: Where were you first detained?
M.T.: I spent 9 days on the base in Mosul before being taken to Bagram.
HRF: During that time were you able to communicate with anyone in your family or village?
M.T.: No, I was not able to contact my family members or the tribal elders. The tribal elders, as we call it “the white bearded”, they came like 2 days after my arrest, 3 days after my arrest, but I was not able to speak to them.
HRF: When did you learn about the release of your son?
M.T.: When I went to the base, so 2 nights later, my son and I were both there. After 2 days and nights they released my son.
HRF: And when they interrogated you then, did you learn anything more about what the evidence against you was? Did they tell you what you were accused of, who accused you?
M.T.: There was no evidence against me. They didn’t show anything to me. Every detainee that they keep, they are suspicious of that person. There’s no evidence, there’s no proof at all against anyone, just they are suspicious of that person.
HRF: What sort of questions did they ask you?
M.T.: The question was, “do you have link with the Taliban? Are you helping the Taliban?” So just like 2 or 3 questions. These were the main questions that they were asking. But I was telling them “No, never I had any link with the Taliban.”
Also, I was telling the interrogator that you are talking in the media that we are here in Afghanistan to build Afghanistan, help education, but you are arresting a teacher and you are arresting an engineer. So, is it indeed help to Afghanistan or is actually like a damage to Afghanistan? And also, I told the interrogator that you can go and ask to the district chief of the district that I’m coming from or you can go and ask even to my village and ask about my personality and about my character that what kind of individual I am.
HRF: What were the conditions of the place you were first held in?
M.T.: It was actually like a very big place, but it was divided into small tiny rooms, which were made of wood. Probably it was like 1.5 meters long and 1.20 maybe wide. A person was able to sleep in it and sit in it so… only 1 individual was in each room. The door was locked.
HRF: Did they turn out the lights at night or were the lights on all the time?
M.T.: The light was on 24 hours.
HRF: Was there a window in the room?
M.T.: No. Just in the door there was a small, tiny, window where the soldiers would look in to see if you were there or not.
HRF: Could you tell when it was daytime and when it was nighttime?
M.T.: I could, only because the toilet was outside and the soldiers were taking me there.
HRF: Except for going to the toilet were there any other times that you were allowed outside of this cell?
HRF: So they brought the food into the cell?
M.T.: They were giving me the food, this military food in a box- what is it called?
HRF: Like a dry food?
M.T.: Yeah, like a dry food, but it was not good to my stomach because I had stomach problems. It was giving me a lot of pain actually.
HRF: So for 9 days all you had were these MREs?
HRF: Were you taken out of the room for interrogation during that time?
M.T.: Only the first day they took me from this meeting which was with tribal elders, MPs, and council members. Then the rest of the 9 days there was no interrogation at all. They knew very well that there’s nothing against me because of my going voluntarily to the base and also, you know my background. But they were looking to their intelligence reporter or maybe the person who was informing them, they were putting them in the middle and were kind of suspicious. The people we had a dispute with, people from that HRFoup had a lot of individuals within the Afghan government security institutions, working in crime and investigation, direct trade, and also intelligence. So I think those guys were telling the Americans that I am not a good person, don’t let me go.
HRF: Did you receive a medical exam and any medical treatment while you were in detention?
Detainee: In Bagram detention center in the last days when they did my medical check-up they gave me a paper. My weight had decreased to 43kg. I am better now, but at the time I was 43kg. I was telling them that you guys might have thought that I’m a very big commander with a very big body or with a very big face. Now you can look to my face and to my body and to my background. Now you should make your judgment.
I have a lot of problems, health problems. I have problem with my leg, and also with my back, with my eyes, with my stomach. When they were looking to these problems they were also confused.
HRF: In those first 9 days were you given a Quran and a prayer mat?
M.T.: There was no Quran and no prayer mat. I asked the guard what about the praying time? When I was going to the bathroom, then I was praying myself, but there was no specific praying time.
HRF: Were you able to communicate with detainees in other cells?
M.T.: No we were not allowed to talk. I knew that were some other detainees because when they passed by I could hear the sound of their feet, but there was no permission to talk.
HRF: Before they took you to Bagram did they tell you that they were taking you to Bagram?
M.T.: No they didn’t tell me. I was blindfolded and handcuffed, and also my feet were cuffed waiting while the chopper came. I imagined because I was being taken by helicopter that they were taking me to Bagram.
HRF: When you first arrived in Bagram did they tell you why they were taking you there?
M.T.: No. Actually when I got to Bagram, I became very sick because I have my stomach problem with the food that they were giving and I was vomiting. They took me 2 or 3 days later for the first interrogation.
HRF: What were the cell and the conditions like when you first arrived at BaHRFam?
M.T.: It was a big room, divided by different tiny, small cells made of wood.
HRF: Were you able to communicate there with other prisoners?
M.T.: No. I spent six nights there, then I was transferred to another tiny cell. I was there another 10 days in that. In these places there was no contact with other prisoners, and we didn’t know if it is day or if it is night. The light was on all the time.
Although it was summertime, the cells were very cold because of the air conditioning. The soldiers had uniforms and other jackets, but we had only one shirt. It was worse for me because I was sick, also.
HRF: When did you first learn that you would be able to present evidence about your situation?
M.T.: When I was taken to the second location, I was called for interrogation for the second time. The interrogator told me that if I have relatives I can tell them to make a guarantee letter by the villagers for me. I replied that I haven’t been able to see any relatives or villagers. I told him, you can do this for me. Go to my village. Go to my district. Ask from the district chief, ask from the villagers. And also you can see the land that we have a dispute on it and ask the villagers to make a guarantee letter for you.
HRF: What happened after the first 16 days?
M.T.: After the 10 days from this second place, I was taken to this big room where I was living with 20 individuals. And after 3 days I was brought back to the second place where I spent 10 days. And I was kept there for one more month.
HRF: During this time were you interrogated again?
M.T.: Yes, two or three times. There was no new question actually. Because there was nothing new in my case.
After another month I was taken to this big room again, like a waiting room, and spent about 20 days there. After there I was taken to the main cells. I spent the rest of my time there.
HRF: Did you at some point have assigned to you someone that was called a personal representative to help you with your case?
M.T.: At first I didn’t have anyone personal representative. Six months after I came there they started this process. But they were hiring not any Afghan representative. They were just hiring their own American representative.
HRF: Did you actually meet this person and talk to him?
M.T.: Yes, because they were calling us into a specific location and then they were saying, ‘he’s your personal representative’ and telling me his name and asking if I agee or not that he represent me. I said I accept that he should be my representative and it is good if he is willing to help me.
HRF: Did he help you?
M.T.: I didn’t know how much help he was giving me. There was a sort of council meeting which was happening every 6 months and they were calling the detainee. So 5 or 10 days before this meeting this representative was coming to me and telling me that there was going to be this meeting and this is the accusation or this is the charge against you so you should defend against this crime. So that was what he was saying. Apart from that I don’t know how much help he was giving me.
HRF: Now my understanding is that until you met your personal representative the only thing you knew about your accusation is that they said that you had something to do with the Taliban. Is that true that that’s all they told you and did you learn anything more about the evidence after meeting your personal representative?
M.T.: Yes this was only one charge, this one accusation that you have link with Taliban, that you have helped the Taliban, or that you have met the Taliban.
HRF: Nothing more specific?
M.T.: There was nothing else. They didn’t have other thing against me so maybe the person who was giving report about me was telling them that he is meeting with the Taliban or he has link with the Taliban or he is helping the Taliban. Apart from this, there was nothing.
HRF: Did you ask who gave the reports against you and did they answer?
M.T.: I asked, but they were not disclosing who gave them the report. I told to the Americans that I wish you could bring that person face to face to me who is giving you information about me. The one thing the Americans were telling me is that the person who has given us the report is not from the group that you have a dispute with. But this group has people in the different government and security institutions.
In the end it was clear to the Americans – after they got these 31 piece of documents relating to the dispute — that was proof for them that, yes, this is all about a personal feud or personal hostility.
HRF: When did they get those documents, and how?
M.T.: They got the documents about 10 months later. They were sent by one of my brother’s nephews. This was after my family members were allowed to come to meet me face to face. And then I told them in the meeting that the interrogator has asked me to make a guarantee letter from the villagers and also if there are any other documents. Also, the Americans gave an email address to my relatives and also their contact number so that’s why they sent the documents to them.
HRF: Can you tell us more about the visit from your family?
M.T.: I met my family like 6 months after I was arrested, for the first time. I had become very weak, and I had a long beard. When I saw my son and also my brother’s son, my wife, and other very young kids I was trying not to cry, but they were all crying. They were telling me, “we didn’t know where you were, we didn’t know the location that where you were being kept.” The family had gone to the ICRC and gave my name and details to the ICRC and the ICRC said, we’re going to look if this person is in Bagram and they found me. The reason that my meeting with the family was delayed was because for 4 months there was a kind of demonstration in Bagram by the detainees because they were asking to meet the families and also that their cases should be followed up more quickly. That’s why the Americans stopped meetings with the families, and also meeting and contacting other people.
HRF: When did you first meet with the ICRC?
M.T.: Five months after my arrest was first time I met with ICRC. And then it took like one month until they found my family and I give them the contact and they found the family.
HRF: I want to go back to the personal representative. From the time that you met the personal representative until you came before the board, how did the personal representative help you?
M.T.: The personal representative was telling me, “this is the charge against you and you have to find the way to defend yourself. I’m also going to help you because I have studied your case and I know that you are an engineer and that you are a teacher.” That was all he said.
HRF: What happened at the hearing?
In the first hearing, I had no personal representative, and the time for the detainee was very limited, 3 or 5 minutes. The charge that they put was again that I had links with the Taliban. So in the 3 to 5 minutes only I could just say no, I did not have links. In the two other hearings there was more time for the detainee to defend.
HRF: When was the second hearing?
M.T.: Six months later was the second hearing. In the second hearing I had a personal representative. After the second hearing the personal representative told me that I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that I couldn’t help you very much in this second hearing, but the good news is that in 20 days there will be another hearing about you. So, 20 days later when there was the third hearing I had a new personal representative. They appointed a new one.
In this new hearing, again, I was told the charges were that I was helping the Taliban, that I have links with them. And I said, “no, I am not doing this. My job is clear. I am a teacher, I’m an engineer. I’m working for the welfare of this country.”
But there was one difference in this hearing. The people, my relatives who came as witnesses. Among them were three current parliamentarians, and also there was my uncle, my brother, and also a representative from my village. Eight people came as witnesses at this hearing.
The Americans asked my family the same questions that they asked me. What I am doing, what is my background, what I will do in the future if I am released, and my family were telling the Americans exactly what I was telling them. Also the documents relating to the land disputes reached them, and when they studied this they realized that I am innocent and this was only a false accusation against me. Also, the guarantee letter which was coming from the district chief, from the governor, from the parliament, from the lower house from the senate, and also from the relevant police station. They all had stamped that we know him, that he’s a good person.
One month after this hearing I was called to a specific location and my personal representative, with an interpreter, told me that I am innocent and I will be released and will go home. This was really a very good memory in my life.
I asked him, “give me the documents, give me the proof.” I did not believe him. And he took out this piece of letter which said, you are not a detainee anymore. He said “we are sorry, we apologize that we kept you so long here.” I replied, “is it possible to compensate this 13 months, or more than one year that I spent here without any reason, because of a misunderstanding, just with wrong and false information? You didn’t think who’s going to take care of my family. My two sons were, one was in the faculty, and one was studying another technical school. You didn’t think who would take care of my family. Is it possible to compensate all this duration with just one word, “sorry”? And I said, “what you are going to do to compensate?” Can you help me financially? And he said, “no, we cannot.” And I said, “okay, if you cannot do this then just for the future to better your work and also for Afghanistan you should revise and change your current policy. Those people that give you report, intelligence, try to hire such individuals who are really honest to you and who are really loyal to you to give you such information really about people who are criminal, or people who are involved in something bad to arrest them.”
HRF: Did anyone in the U.S. government or military ever say that there’s a possibility of getting compensation? Do you have any reason to believe that they might compensate you?
HRF: Do you know of anybody else that was detained and got compensation?
M.T.: No, nobody has received compensation.
HRF: How soon after they told you that you were innocent were you released?
M.T.: One month later.
HRF: After this experience how do you feel about the American government and about the U.S. military forces?
M.T.: I don’t have actually bad opinion about Americans. I don’t say this to make you guys happy. I know that Americans have come from long distance for Afghanistan to put an end to the fighting and to build Afghanistan. I am also one person who is trying to build Afghanistan and the purpose which Americans have come here, it’s a good goal, there’s a good purpose.
The problem is not the fault of the Americans, but of those individuals who are working with Americans. You should hire very honest people and loyal people because if you have bad people right now who are giving you wrong information, indeed those are actually enemies to the Americans. They just want to defeat their personal enemy with giving wrong information to the coalition forces. And that’s why it makes people angry against the coalition forces. For example, my family was looking for me for one year, they were searching for me for a year. No one was there to take care of my family so they were very disappointed.
People say Americans are very clever people because now they have control of most of the world, and they can go even into space. But why they are being deceived by false intelligence or false reports of some stupid or foolish individuals? American soldiers will not go to one’s house unless there is a report or intelligence. If they do the process quickly in Bagram detention center, and finish the case of the detainees quickly in order to give time to those innocent people in Bagram, so thar they will be released soon, that is good. And also, if they want to detain any person, first they should inform the Afghan government, the governor of the province, the district chief, and the police chief. If the person does not come for questions, then both the government and the coalition forces can say he is a criminal that he’s not coming for the questions and interrogation.
But a person like me who is going to the American base voluntarily and then they detain him, in our culture it is very shameful. If someone comes to your house and you detain him there, it is a very shameful act. I was telling the Americans that this is not a friendly act. If they released me after the questioning that would make a lot of people happier. Also, when a detainee is proved innocent, then the time he has spent in detention, like 1 year or 3 years in detention, they should give him some compensation for the time that he has spent in the jail.
I am a teacher and I have about 4000 Afghani which is something like 85 or 90 U.S. dollars. How should I support my family? I have two sons who are at the University and they also have expenses and I have other children. When I was gone, I knew that God was feeding my children, but at least there should be someone to take care of them. When I was released, my friends, my relatives, and my other villagers, bought me new shoes because I have spent such a long time in jail. It is necessary for the Americans, besides apologizing, they could give us some financial support.