By Matthew Schofield | McClatchy Newspapers
TIRANA, Albania — Hiding in a cave in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains, Ahmed Adil figured that he'd seen the worst life had to offer.
American bombs had flattened the village where he'd been staying, and bombs were still falling in the area. Snow was piling up around him, the wind was cutting through his winter wrappings and monkeys were throwing rocks at him from the ledge above
A Muslim clothing merchant, Adil had fled the Sinkiang region of northern China in 2000, hoping to find a new home where he'd be able to do business free of government harassment.
His plan had been to put together a nest egg of $10,000, enough to get his family — wife, son, daughter and mother — to Europe, but instead he ended up broke in Afghanistan.
He said that friends in Pakistan had recommended in August 2001 that he travel to a small village where he'd find other Uighurs from his region. Two months later, U.S. officials designated the village in the Tora Bora mountains a terrorist training camp, according to a transcript from Adil's tribunal at Guantanamo.
Adil, however, said that it was simply food and shelter, and barely that.
"It was a simple life, but there was food and shelter, and company," he said. "I'd only been there 45 days when the bombing started. At first I wasn't worried, because it had nothing to do with me. But then it did. The bombs got close."
Pakistani forces later arrested 18 Uighurs from his camp after they fled into the mountains to hide.
For a month, Adil said, they lived in caves, or crevices, scars in the rock face that offered shelter from the wind but little else. And they weren't the only occupants: They'd displaced the monkeys who'd been living in the caves.
After a month, the Uighurs realized that the bombing wasn't going to stop anytime soon, so they moved on, hiking through deep snow at night to hide from the bombs, moving south to Pakistan and safety.
"We came down from this hike into a Pakistani village," he said. "They welcomed us to their feast."
The next day, the villagers warned the Uighurs that Pakistani soldiers were coming and would arrest them if they stayed. The villagers led them to a mosque in another village nearby, where they said it would be safe to hide.
"Of course, we did not know they would collect a reward for turning people in," Adil said. "There were many people at the mosque, and the soldiers arrested us all."
Almost six months in prison at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, and four more years in Guantanamo followed. Adil said he was chained to the floor during interrogations, locked alone for days, weeks, in a cage 6 feet deep and 3 feet wide.
In a combat status review by U.S. military officials, the officials accused him of nothing more than learning to use and break down an AK-47 rifle, which he denies. He said the officials also accused the Uighurs of supporting al Qaida, but the accusations weren't made in public documents.
Looking back, Adil can't help but wonder whether the monkeys — chattering, throwing rocks, trying to scare them back down to their village — had known that the path ahead was very difficult.
"Life is funny that way. When troubles come, you think things cannot get worse," he said. "Then you learn they can."