By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
KABUL, Afghanistan — Akhtar Mohammed worked for the Afghan security forces, guarding a bridge near the city of Jalalabad. He also had a small company of his own, selling timber and, from time to time, used cars.
He and U.S. military officials seemed to agree on that much, but not on what he did in his spare time.
Mohammed said he was a father and a hard worker who loved his country and devoted his life to his family.
The American military said he was the operations subcommander for an insurgent group's rocket attack on U.S. forces.
The transcripts of his tribunal hearings at Guantanamo and an interview with Mohammed failed to resolve the matter.
Mateullah Khan, a former security commander in Mohammed's home province of Konar, said he didn't know for certain whether Mohammed had been involved with the Taliban or other militant groups.
"Akhtar Mohammed had some personal feuds in his village; I can't say if he was wrongly arrested or if he was involved with these (insurgency) things," Khan said. "I didn't have any specific reports of him being involved with anything."
Mohammed met a McClatchy reporter at a friend's house in Kabul. He was there with a group of men to meet Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. A man walked through the room with an AK-47 and a vest stacked with ammunition clips.
The reporter was welcome to ask about Guantanamo, Mohammed said, but there could be no discussion about the gathering at Zaeef's house.
The facts suggest that many of the detainees at Guantanamo had nothing to do with international terrorism or domestic insurgency but that many others were members of the Taliban who fought alongside al Qaida. In between were men such as Mohammed, who traveled in both those worlds.
Mohammed denied having anything to do with the insurgency, but he admitted that U.S. and Afghan soldiers had found eight or nine "rusty rocket/artillery shells" in his house, and offered little explanation. He just said that his brother had brought them from a government building.
Mohammed later pointed out to tribunal judges at Guantanamo, though, that "If I were a bad guy, Gul Karim" — the commander of Afghan forces in Jalalabad — "would not hire me and let me work for him."
In addition, he directed the judges' attention to the fact that the rocket attack on U.S. forces in which he was accused of participating took place in Konar province while he was working and living in Nangarhar.
That said, he acknowledged that he'd been in Konar when he was arrested. It's his home province, and he said he was home on leave at the time.
After Mohammed was arrested in February 2003, he was flown to the U.S. detainment camp at Bagram Air Base.
"They threw me off the helicopter and then dragged me to a room where they threw me on the ground. There were dogs in the room, snarling and barking at me," he said. "The interrogators shouted, 'You have links to the Taliban. You have links to al Qaida. We found missiles in your house that you were going to fire at the Americans.' They said I knew bin Laden and (insurgent leader Gulbuddin) Hekmatyar. I told them I have heard of these men, but I never met them."
During his first five days at Bagram, he said, he wasn't allowed to sleep.
Mohammed was flown to Guantanamo in the summer of 2003; he thought it was June, by connecting his memory of the number of months between Islamic holidays.
At Guantanamo, he said, the questioning was far milder. When he denied being an insurgent leader, Mohammed said, the interrogator just wrote down his response and moved along.
In the transcripts of his tribunal hearings, U.S. military officers never said explicitly whether they thought he was an insurgent who'd infiltrated Afghanistan's armed forces or a patriot who'd been falsely accused.
Mohammed was imprisoned at Guantanamo until late 2006, when he was sent home to Afghanistan.
He's never rejoined the Afghan military. Instead, he meets with former Taliban leaders at night.