By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Bashir Ahmad said he couldn't take it anymore: the beatings, the fear, the loneliness, the hunger strikes, the anger.
So at some point during his 16 or so months at Guantanamo — all the months blurred together, he said, and he couldn't remember whether it was in the middle or toward the end — Ahmad grabbed his sheet and hung it from the ceiling of his cell.
He tied a knot on one end and a noose on the other. He closed his eyes and slipped the sheet around his slender neck. He opened his eyes to see the world again.
His body began to sag, and the light grew dim. His vision began to fail, then the world went dark.
A guard pulled Ahmad down and took him to the hospital.
When he regained consciousness, Ahmad said, a psychologist asked him why he'd tried to kill himself.
"I had lost all hope in life," he said last August. "I decided to die instead of living in that hell."
That hell, Ahmad said, was nearly three years of living in cells cramped with dozens of men, small pens hemmed in by concertina wire and mesh cages, all the while trying to avoid a punch in the face or a kick in the back.
"What can I say about my mental health? My friends say I am half-mad," Ahmad said during an interview with McClatchy.
He minced no words when he was asked what he was doing in Afghanistan during September 2001.
"I was fighting for the Taliban," he said.
He also didn't hesitate when he was asked about the treatment that he and others had received in the custody of U.S. allies, then at American detention camps.
Ahmad's account, which mirrors those of dozens of other former detainees, is a patchwork tale of beatings and threats that he said began not far from Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan and continued when he was shipped to Cuba.
There's nothing to indicate that Ahmad was anything other than what he said he was — a then-23-year-old Pakistani who went to Afghanistan to fight American troops with little training and no concept of the structure or detail of al Qaida or the Taliban. In other words, he seems to have known nothing of much value to U.S. interrogators.
Still, he was transferred from one jail to the next. His story and many others suggest that American military officials had a hard time distinguishing between foot soldiers and jihadist leaders.
Ahmad said that U.S.-backed Afghan warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's men shoved him and some 300 other men into a metal shipping container after capturing them outside Kunduz in November 2001. Ten or 15 of them survived, Ahmad said. Many other detainees whom Dostum's forces captured told similar stories.
"There was a mini-revolt in the container, which caused Dostum's men to fire. Many died of bullet wounds; many suffocated," he said. "When the door opened, suddenly there was light. All the bodies fell out. They sprinkled water on the bodies and felt their pulse to see if they were alive."
Ahmad said that Dostum's men, part of the U.S.-supported coalition against the Taliban, held him for 16 to 17 months at the jail in Sherberghan.
"The northern alliance soldiers were very cruel. They asked a Taliban commander to shave his beard. He refused," Ahmad said. "They took him off and chopped off one arm, and then another, and then they killed him."
Dostum's men, he said, handed him over to American soldiers, who he said took him to Bagram Air Base, where he stayed for about 40 days.
"When I was taken to interrogation and then taken back to our area, they (guards) would kick me and slap me," he said. "Sometimes three guards would come take me to a separate room and tie my hands to a chain that was hanging from the ceiling. They would pull the chain tightly so that I rose up in the air. Sometimes they did it the other way, pulling me up by my feet. And then they would punch me or hit me with a wood rod they used to carry."
From Bagram, he went to Guantanamo.
"Five soldiers would come with bulletproof jackets and weapons to my cell, to my cage. One of them would spray me in the face. My eyes would burn and water," Ahmad said. "They would come in and punch and kick me until they were satisfied."
Other former Guantanamo detainees, however, said that abuse was far less common at Guantanamo than it was at prisons in Afghanistan, and that often it was only unruly prisoners who were manhandled there.
Ahmad said the soldiers then would take him outside his cage and beat him some more.
How, Ahmad asked, could he not have wanted to kill himself?