By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
KARACHI, Pakistan — When Abdul Haleem wanted to find his brother in Afghanistan in September 2001, he knew where to go first. He visited the local chapter of Jaish-e Mohammed in his Pakistani town of Sadiqabad.
The men of Jaish-e Mohammed — a terrorist group linked to a long list of suicide bombings and kidnappings — gave Haleem a pass of sorts to travel to Afghanistan and meet with Jaish-e Mohammed officials there.
Haleem said that he'd wanted to bring his brother home from Afghanistan, where he was preparing to fight the Americans and their allies after running away from his madrassa, an Islamic religious school.
Haleem said that he'd found his brother, Abdullah, close to the Tajikistan border. When they tried to head back through the city of Kunduz, he said, they were trapped in the fighting between Taliban and U.S.-backed forces and captured.
The American military had a different take on what Haleem was doing: He'd assembled some 2,000 Pakistani and Arab fighters to fight the United States and its allies at Kunduz. Haleem, according to the tribunal and review board transcripts, drew many of those fighters from a network of 10 madrassas that he oversaw in Pakistan. He allegedly did so after he met with an al Qaida logistics officer at the wedding of one of Osama bin Laden's children in Kandahar in 2001.
Haleem denied those charges, saying that he was an innocent shopkeeper sent by his family to retrieve an errant brother. He said the charges were the result of bad information that Afghan troops had passed along. He also pointed out that he went though the trouble of getting a visa at the Afghan embassy and entering the country at a legal checkpoint, hardly the course of action of a militant commander, he said.
As with many other men who were taken to Guantanamo, where he was held for more than three years, the facts of Haleem's story are obscured in large part by the process that took him there.
Pakistani officials refused to comment about Haleem or any other former Guantanamo detainees who're now living in Pakistan.
A Pakistani man with whom Haleem was arrested, Bashir Ahmad, said that he'd gone to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Although Ahmad wouldn't say what Haleem was doing at the time, the fact that the two were arrested together suggests that Haleem may have traveled to Afghanistan with permission from Jaish-e Mohammed not to find his brother but to join him in fighting U.S. troops.
Like most other former detainees interviewed, Haleem wasn't captured by U.S. soldiers. He was rounded up by Afghan troops loyal to warlords who made a small fortune selling their prisoners to the American military. The higher the profile of the prisoner, the more money the warlords could demand. An al Qaida-affiliated commander, for instance, fetched a much higher price than an ordinary foot soldier.
After they were handed over to American soldiers, men such as Haleem were taken either to Bagram or to Kandahar air base. For Haleem, it was Bagram.
Interrogators there, however, didn't have access to witnesses who could describe what was happening when the detainee was arrested. In Haleem's case, more than a year had elapsed since he'd been captured, and he'd been held for some 16 to 17 months by Afghan troops at Sherberghan jail, by his account.
Interrogators at Bagram also weren't in touch with local leaders from places such as Sadiqabad, Pakistan, who could have shed light on whether Haleem was a local jihadist leader or a grocer.
What was left was, in large part, questionable information passed on by warlords, testimony gathered in often-hostile interrogation sessions and information supplied by other detainees who wanted to curry favor with their captors.
A member of the military review board that heard Haleem's case at Guantanamo seemed to question whether the charges against him were correct.
"I don't believe that you were a mastermind or a great general or this person who could command 2,000 recruits to come with you on a moment's notice," the board member said, according to a transcript. "I believe you."
Haleem was released from Guantanamo in October 2006, after almost five years in Afghan and American detention.
During an interview in Karachi the following June, he said he'd been roughed up many times. He was moved to Sherberghan jail in a metal shipping container with about 200 other men, many of whom died from suffocation or bullets that Afghan troops fired through the side of the box, he said.
"When they opened the door we were in the middle of Sherberghan jail," he said. "We were all sitting on the dead bodies which were lying on the floor; they were lifeless. An arm was sticking up in the air here, a leg was sticking up in the air there."
The Afghan guards at Sherberghan occasionally came into his cell to punch him in the back of the head and kick him in the chest, Haleem said.
At Bagram, American soldiers once threw him to the ground and kicked him in the head "like they were playing soccer," he said.
Haleem said that he was never hit at Guantanamo. The abuse there, he said, was worse than a guard's boot.
Interrogators sent him repeatedly to isolation cells, he said, because they thought he was lying to them. Guards stripped him naked and tossed him into the small rooms for a week, two weeks or, once, 25 days, and he came out filled with confusion and rage.
He said he thought often about his brother, Abdullah. He'd died in the container that took them to Sherberghan, just another one of the bodies on the floor.
Haleem said he began to have trouble sleeping and would go for weeks on end without sleeping through the night. He often became violent, and many times got into fights with other detainees, he said.
During his review board hearing, one of the military officers asked him: "If I decide that you should be released, does that justice, in your mind, offset the hardship of you being detained all this time?"
Haleem said that he didn't understand the question.
The officer rephrased: If the administrative review board believed his story and decided to release him, "What does that do to your opinion of how you think about Americans, in light of your having been jailed by Americans all this time?"
Haleem replied that releasing him would constitute justice, and that he would reconsider what he thought of Americans.
Talking with a reporter later in Karachi, though, Haleem said that he woke up angry on most days, and that he hadn't forgiven the Americans.