By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
KARACHI, Pakistan — Munir Naseer walked into a Dunkin Donuts shop, his Adidas ball cap on backward, said, "What's up?" and sat down.
The 27-year-old Naseer speaks English with an accent that suggests Latino street toughs in Chicago, the product of his work at a Karachi call center, where he handles calls for a mortgage broker that targets working-class neighborhoods in suburban Chicago.
"They think we're (aggravating) because we call all the time. But I have to make my money, you know," Naseer said with swagger. "There are too many freaking mortgages in your country, but you gotta do what you gotta do."
With his slang, baggy cargo pants, long beard and black plastic glasses, Naseer would fit in perfectly at slacker poetry readings in New York or a skateboarders convention in Miami.
That impression, though, broke down the minute he began to talk about his past.
The reason he went to Afghanistan in late 2001 is simple, he said: "I went for jihad."
There's little to indicate that Naseer was anything other than what he appears to be: a guy who got swept up in radical Islam in his early 20s and went to fight in Afghanistan as much out of a sense of adventure as anything else.
"I said let's do it, and I went off," Naseer said, with a laugh. "Everybody was astonished."
He ended up in a surreal series of prisons where some men died and others lost their minds.
In November 2001, he said, he and a group of men — "mostly Taliban" — were on the outskirts of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Lost, they went to a farm to ask for help, he said. They met a group of men who said they supported the Taliban, and they invited Naseer and the others to come to their house and eat dinner.
It was a trap, Naseer said. The next day, he said, the men handed over Naseer and his companions to a local northern alliance commander, who shipped them to the jail at Sherberghan.
Naseer said he spent about two and a half months in the jail, sick with diarrhea and fever. He spent most of his time in his cell — 6 by 10 feet, with 35 other men in it — and the guards let him alone. Others, he said, weren't so lucky.
"The northern alliance guys used to take people outside and beat them with iron rods, half-naked in the snow . . . when a person didn't stand up after the beating, it meant that he was dead. They would pick him up and throw him in a ditch," Naseer said. "Guys would go out and not come back."
Several other former detainees who were at Sherberghan described similar beatings and men disappearing from cells.
It was, Naseer said, "kind of hellish."
One day, he said, the guards came and said there was an American journalist outside who wanted to speak with prisoners who knew English. Naseer volunteered. He walked into a courtyard and heard men come up behind him. He claimed that a sack was thrown over his head and his hands were tied. Other former detainees who were held at Sherberghan said that guards there used ruses to get them to come out of their cells peacefully.
The American soldiers, he said, put him on a truck and drove him to the airport.
He said he spent about a month at the U.S. prison camp at Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"I was beaten a lot at Bagram. I spoke English. I would say, 'Why are you acting so tough? You didn't catch us, you bought us,' " Naseer said, shrugging. "They (guards) would say, 'Shut the fuck up, you're al Qaida."
Naseer said that almost all the men he knew there had been handed over by Pakistani troops who'd caught them crossing over from Afghanistan and collected bounties for them, or, like himself, were picked up by Afghan northern alliance fighters who also collected bounties, then handed them over to U.S. troops, Naseer said.
The fact that they were turned over for bounties isn't proof that men such as Naseer were innocent, of course.
Interrogations were done with detainees sitting on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs, Naseer said.
"When the interrogator was unhappy with you, he would say, 'Go ahead, make him comfortable,' " Naseer claimed. "One of the guards would step on my legs, and the other would beat me."
The interviews, he thought, lacked imagination: the same questions every three days or so. Who are you? Where are you from? Have you seen Osama bin Laden?
Naseer said the interrogators seemed stupid, and he often told them so.
His next stop was Guantanamo.
Before they put him on the plane, Naseer said, U.S. soldiers put goggles and earphones on him, then put a hood on over that.
"It was totally strange," he said.
He said he was interrogated on his first night in Cuba, after he was designated detainee number 85.
"They didn't ask me much," Naseer said. "They said welcome to Guantanamo Bay. You are going to stay here forever."
After that, he said, he was interrogated every two or three days the first year. The next year, he said, it was every month or every two months.
"It was the same thing," Naseer said. "Name? Address? Why did you come to Afghanistan? Where did you get your training? Have you seen Osama bin Laden?"
He was never hit during interrogations at Guantanamo, he said, and eventually he got bolder during the sessions.
"After a year and a half I stopped talking with them. I said you have been asking me these same questions this whole time," Naseer said with a wide smile. "They said you won't go home if you don't talk. I said OK, and didn't answer their questions. So they sent me to isolation for three or four days."
The problems, Naseer said, were in the cellblocks, where he not infrequently got into profanity-laden arguments with guards.
"They would say all Muslims are terrorists. I would say, 'Shut up,' which they hated. They said, 'You are telling us to shut up?' I would say, 'Yes, shut the fuck up,' " Naseer said.
"I would get into an argument with them; they would send the men in black . . . they would tell you to kneel down. If you didn't kneel down, they would spray you with pepper spray and then they would do the helicopter — they would tie your arms and legs together and pick you up in the air, like a helicopter, you know? And then they took you to isolation."
"Sometimes we would go to isolation just for fun because there was air conditioning there," Naseer said. "So a guy would ask for soap. The guard would say no, and the detainee would spit at him and say fuck you."
There were dark times, of course, Naseer said, when he thought he was never going to see home again, when he thought he'd die in Cuba.
The desperation and boredom often led to violence, he said, just for a break in the suffocating monotony of the day.
It was important, he said, to keep one's mind occupied.
"I saw a lot of people go mad," Naseer said, the grin sliding off his face.
After some two years and eight months, Naseer was shipped back to Pakistan, where he was held in prison for almost a year.
Since he was allowed to return to his family in Karachi in December 2004, he's been fired from three jobs after his bosses found out he'd been in Guantanamo. Call centers aren't big on former jihadi fighters, he said.
Before he went to Afghanistan, looking for war, he'd been a university student, working toward a business degree. He doesn't have the time or money for that now.
He has a wife and a 4-month-old child. He works five days a week, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., trying to convince housewives in working-class neighborhoods to schedule appointments with mortgage brokers.
Sounding again like an American slacker, Naseer said, "Before, I wanted to do computers. Now I'm kind of lost."