17 Afghans, Turk home from Guantanamo Bay
Seventeen Afghans came home Tuesday in one of the biggest known releases from the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay, and one quickly accused the U.S. military of abusing him despite warnings from a senior Afghan official to keep quiet about any complaints.
A Turk suspected of ties to al-Qaida was also freed from Guantanamo and sent back to Turkey.
The releases lowered the number of detainees classified as "enemy combatants" at the U.S. Navy base on the tip of Cuba to about 520 from about 40 countries, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers, said.
The detainees include suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members captured during the U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban government in late 2001.
Shavers said the 17 Afghans and the Turk were cleared of suspicions of terrorist links during a tribunal review process that ended recently. Five others cleared in late March already were sent home and 15 more are awaiting transfers.
"We're always looking at opportunities to transfer additional individuals," Shavers said when asked if more releases were expected.
The Afghan men, nearly all bearded and most wearing blue-jean jackets bearing numbers on them, were handed over to Afghan authorities during a ceremony at the country's Supreme Court hours after they arrived from Cuba.
Referring to journalists gathered in the room for a news conference, Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari urged the freed men not to complain of bad treatment, warning it could jeopardize the chances for more releases.
"Don't tell these people the stories of your time in prison because the government is trying to secure the release of others, and it may harm the release of your friends," he said.
One detainee, Abdul Rahman, said he had been abused during 3 1/2 years in detention, although he would not elaborate.
"There was a lot of bad treatment against us, but this is not the time to tell you," Rahman said. "Everybody in the world knows what kind of jail it is. I can't talk about it now."
Rahman, who appeared to be in his 40s, said he is from Zabul province, a hotbed of militant activity north of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
Another former detainee, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, 42, of eastern Nangarhar province, said he worked as a journalist before he was captured.
"We spent more than 3 1/2 years there. If there is a government and a Supreme Court in Afghanistan, why did nobody ask about our situation?" Dost said. "If we were guilty we ought to have been brought to stand trial here. Why should America be allowed to ask us questions and interrogate us?"
He said that he kept a journal during his time in Guantanamo, but that American authorities refused to let him take it home.
"One day, I promise you, I will write a book about it," he said.
The men were allowed only brief comments before they were whisked away by Afghan security agents. An intelligence official said the men would be held at an undisclosed location Tuesday night, but could be sent back home as early as Wednesday.
The freed Turkish man was turned over to authorities in the southern Turkish city of Adana, the Anatolia news agency said Tuesday.
Salih Uyar, 24, was questioned for several hours by prosecutors, who did not file criminal charges, then he was handed over to military authorities, who could charge him with draft evasion. Uyar spent more than three years at Guantanamo, suspected of ties to al-Qaida.
The U.S. military has released a total of 232 detainees from Guantanamo, 65 of them on the condition they continue to be held by their home governments.
Afghanistan's chief justice said the latest release was negotiated by the Afghan and American governments and indicated more would follow.
"There are three kinds of prisoners in Guantanamo. There are those that have committed crimes and should be there, then there are people who were falsely denounced, and third there are those who are there because of the mistakes of the Americans," he said.