Israr ul Haq
â€¨By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At first, Israr ul Haq's narrative doesn't make much sense.
He said that he went to Afghanistan in August of 2001 because he was having breathing problems, and a doctor suggested that he visit religious shrines to seek a cure.
Such pilgrimages to Afghanistan aren't unheard-of, but they were rare at the time, and the notion that a pilgrim would have stayed after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan that fall strains credulity.
Haq said that he was arrested by U.S.-backed northern alliance soldiers near Kabul — rounded up because he was Pakistani — then held with more than a dozen other men in a small room in a mud house for about three months.
It sounds implausible — a man in his early 20s from Pakistan's hotbed North West Frontier Province was accidentally arrested in Kabul as the Taliban fled to the south and U.S.-backed forces marched into the capital — but stranger things have happened in the lawless corners of Afghanistan.
An interview with another former Guantanamo detainee might provide a clue, however.
Ehsanullah, a Taliban conscript from Afghanistan, said that he was on his way home from the front lines to the southern province of Helmand when he met up with a group of fighters just north of Kabul, including several Pakistanis carrying guns.
He and those men, about 13 in all, he said, were captured by northern alliance troops and put in a small room in a mud house in Kabul for about three months.
Although Ehsanullah said he didn't remember the Pakistanis' names, his identification number, 523, and Haq's, 515, suggest that they may have been detained at around the same time. Both men's stories have similar details and timelines: in the mud house from November 2001 to about January 2002, then kept at Bagram Air Base for about a week, and then transferred to Kandahar Airfield.
After he sat down for an interview in Islamabad last August, Haq couldn't be reached again for comment about Ehsanullah's story.
Because Haq didn't appear before a tribunal at Guantanamo, there's no transcript of what the U.S. military thought he was up to in Afghanistan. Pakistani Interior Ministry officials didn't respond to requests for information.
Haq's tale of looking for spiritual solutions to his medical ailment in Afghanistan as war raged, however, seems questionable. It seems more likely that he was with the Pakistanis with AK-47 rifles over their shoulders who were arrested with Ehsanullah.
Why, then, should anyone believe any of his claims of abuse at Bagram, Kandahar and Guantanamo, when he may have fabricated his story about why he was in Afghanistan?
When Haq claims that guards at Bagram hit and kicked him, and picked him up several times and body-slammed him to the ground, is he lying?
Was he also making things up when he said that guards at Kandahar often kicked the Quran across the floor of his tent, and at other times pressed their knees into his back as they pummeled him with their fists?
Was Haq telling the truth when he said that when he refused to let guards into his cell at Guantanamo to protest what he claimed was their mistreatment of the Quran, they sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, dragged him out, slapped and kicked him, then tied him to a chair and shaved his beard to humiliate him?
Ehsanullah's story both helps and hurts. On one hand, it raises serious questions about Haq's honesty, but on the other it appears to confirm much of what Haq said about his time in U.S. detention camps.
Dozens of former detainees have reported that sort of abuse, and some of it has been confirmed in part by reports or testimony from U.S. soldiers and human rights groups. Of course, many of the detainees may have managed to get fabricated stories of abuse straight before they talked to human rights workers and journalists.
Ironically, Haq's chief complaint about his interrogators at Guantanamo is that they were dishonest. The interrogators, Haq said, often told detainees that the men in the cells next to them had become informers, that they'd given up detailed information about the militant activities of other prisoners.
"They said the person in the cage next to me said he saw me with al Qaida or Taliban leaders. But the interrogators were lying; no one had told them that," Haq said. "They lied to everybody. They told the men next to me that I had said they were in this battle or that one; but we talked with each other in our cages and realized they were making all of this up."
The interrogators may not have been the only ones.