By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Ijaz Khan said "America," his voice rose nearly to a yell.
He said that America's Afghan allies, troops loyal to warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, had crammed him into a shipping container with 200 other men, many of whom had died. He said they'd whipped him across the back with sticks at Sherberghan jail.
Khan said that he'd gone to Afghanistan to fight American forces, but his comments in an interview with McClatchy suggest that some two years in detention only elevated his rage before U.S. officials sent him back to his native Pakistan.
After the U.S. freed him, Pakistani officials jailed him for about 10 months before they let him return to the town of Mardan in the restless North West Frontier Province, a refuge for the Taliban and al Qaida and wellspring of jihadist fighters. He said he told anyone who'd listen that America was more evil than he'd first imagined.
Khan didn't appear before a tribunal at Guantanamo, so there's no public record of the U.S. military's charges against him, and Pakistan's Interior Ministry didn't respond to requests for comment, so there was no way to confirm his claims. Parts of his story, however, parallel other detainees' accounts of their captivity.
Khan wouldn't discuss how he arrived at the front lines of the battle between the Taliban and its allies and U.S.-backed warlords in Afghanistan in late 2001. He wouldn't say whether Pakistani intelligence agencies, which have long-standing ties to radical mujahedeen groups, helped him get to Afghanistan.
"I don't want to speak about the details, but I went there as a fighter," he said.
Khan was among thousands of foreign volunteers fighting with the Taliban who surrendered to Dostum in November 2001 outside the town of Kunduz. Most of the top Taliban officials in the area already had fled, according to senior Afghan officials, leaving a ragtag mass of ground troops such as Khan.
Khan said the prisoners were driven to Mazar-e-Sharif in early November on the backs of old Russian flatbed trucks, then pushed into metal containers.
"They threatened to kill us; they pointed their guns like they were going to shoot us, then they made us get in the containers," he said. "When I woke in the morning, there were piles of bodies lying around me; I don't know if they were dead or alive."
When the doors of the metal box were opened, Khan said, he stumbled over the mounds of bodies and out into the daylight.
Dostum's men were outside, and they herded the prisoners through the gates of Sherberghan jail by hitting them with sticks and iron rods, Khan said.
He said he spent about a month there.
"The commanders were treated differently than the common Taliban. They were taken away for three days, and when they came back they were unable to lie down, they were urinating on themselves . . . they had injuries all over them, they had bruises on every part of their skin," Khan said. "The normal fighters like me were hit with sticks and punched and kicked. They would take me out of the cell to beat me; it was too crowded to do it in the cell. They beat me unconscious many times."
He said he was handed over to a group of American soldiers who cuffed his hands and feet and threw him on a helicopter to Kandahar Airfield.
There, he was taken to a tent where soldiers stripped him naked and threw him to the ground, where gravel tore into his skin, he said, before they searched his anus for contraband.
"Luckily I have not lost my mental balance, because it was nothing short of madness," he said.
The Department of Defense refused to comment on a McClatchy investigation, which included interviews with dozens of former detainees who said they were beaten while in U.S. custody. Officials there said that such allegations were lies concocted by militants.
Khan said he was given clothes and taken to his sleeping quarters with three other men: a space on the floor of an airport hangar, surrounded by bales of concertina wire.
"When they came to search our area, they kicked us with their boots and punched us," he said. "Some of them hit us with the butts of their guns. This happened two or three times a week."
After two or three weeks, Khan said, he was moved to a tent outside.
With more than a dozen detainees in each tent, the guards began to assert themselves more to keep order by pushing detainees around, Khan said.
"We protested; we made a lot of noise. We were shaking the fence walls of our cells. It gave us some kind of release," Khan said. "I'm not a human? Why did they keep me in this cage? I'm not an animal. I don't keep my pets in a cage in my house. But the Americans caged us."
Asked about his life since he was released, Khan said he frequently lost his temper and that he was very angry about how the Americans had treated him.
To drive the point home, Khan said that he once saw a guard at Kandahar toss a Quran into a bucket that detainees used as a toilet. The Quran, he said, is at the very center of his life; it is the reason he lives.
"You can imagine," he said, "what I felt when I saw this."