Hafiz Liaqat Manzoor
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hafiz Liaqat Manzoor looked like any other law student at his university in Islamabad. Sitting in a borrowed office, at a desk stacked with papers, he cradled a teacup and talked about his third-year exams and having to juggle work, school and family.
The 30-year-old Manzoor mentioned a recent battle between government troops and militants at a mosque in the Pakistani capital, grinned, asked a visiting American what he thought of Pakistan and offered a plate of crackers.
As he chatted, he waved his hands to make a point. Much of his left index finger was missing.
Manzoor's face grew more serious when he was asked about the stump. It's a souvenir, he said, of his time as a jihadi fighter and, more importantly, it's also a reminder of why he decided to become a lawyer.
Shrapnel blew off his finger during the war in Afghanistan in late 2001, when Manzoor was in Kunduz, fighting the Americans and their Afghan allies. Like most other Pakistanis whom McClatchy interviewed, Manzoor wouldn't say how he was recruited to fight in Afghanistan, a hot-button topic in Pakistan, whose government security services played a major role in building up the Taliban.
What happened after he lost part of his finger, Manzoor said, has carried him through almost three years of legal studies.
After troops loyal to U.S.-backed warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum arrested Manzoor, he said, he was sent to Sherberghan jail for a little less than three weeks, then to the American detention camp at Kandahar Airfield.
On the plane to Kandahar, he said, U.S. soldiers struck him with their guns every time he moved his head. After he landed, a soldier shaved off his beard. Manzoor spent his first night there naked and shackled, sleeping on the floor of an airport hangar with about 10 other men, surrounded by concertina wire. The next day, he said, guards gave him clothes and a number, 18, and told him that was his new name.
During his days at Kandahar, Manzoor said, he was interrogated only once — he was asked basic questions such as his name and place of birth — then was left sitting in a tent outside for the rest of the time.
When other men were taken to interrogation, he said, they often came back bleeding.
One day during a search of the tent next to his, a guard threw a Quran into a bucket that detainees used as a toilet, he said. Manzoor said he was one of the detainees who saw what happened.
Department of Defense officials refused to comment on this or other allegations of Quran abuse at Kandahar. A military investigation of Quran mistreatment at Guantanamo documented nine incidents of alleged mishandling, five of which were confirmed. The investigation didn't include detention camps in Afghanistan.
When about 17 days had passed, he said, he was flown to Guantanamo.
"They caged us there, in cages similar to what we use for poultry," he said.
In his first interrogation, about 20 days after he'd arrived, Manzoor said, he was plain about why he was in Afghanistan when Dostum's men captured him.
"I told them I went to Afghanistan for the fight. . . . They said, 'You have been fighting against us. Do you know that?' " Manzoor said. "I said, 'Yes, I know that; I accept that.' "
He said he wasn't interrogated again for about six months, when he was called in to repeat his previous remarks.
"I said that I will only tell the truth: I was there fighting you," he said.
Several more months passed without another interrogation, then a new detainee moved into the cell next to him.
Within a few weeks, Manzoor was taken back to interrogation and informed that his neighbor was telling interrogators that Manzoor was a top Taliban commander.
Manzoor denied it, asking why he'd acknowledge being a jihadi fighter in his first questioning only to lie later.
In November 2003 — he said it was 2004, but local news reports confirmed that it was 2003 — he was sent back to Pakistan, where he spent about a year in jail.
The only lesson he learned, he said, was the importance of the law; it was something that occurred to him during his days of sitting in a cell at Guantanamo without a lawyer or a trial.
"Whatever I have been through so far in my life suggests that law is the only field" for working toward justice, Manzoor said.