Abdul Majid Mahmoud
â€¨By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
KARACHI, Pakistan — Abdul Majid Mahmoud said he learned that although interrogators pressured detainees every day to talk about their ties to al Qaida or the Taliban, there was no incentive to do so.
Detainees who told everything faced the same treatment as those who refused to say anything.
After two days of beatings by Afghan fighters in December 2001, Mahmoud said, he was still sticking to his alibi: He was in Afghanistan to attend a friend's wedding when he was caught in the fighting between U.S.-backed northern alliance forces and the Taliban.
He said that a group of northern alliance troops had him tied up in a kitchen at their checkpoint outside the central Afghan city of Bamian. Mahmoud was a Pakistani man in the middle of a battle zone where many Pakistanis were fighting alongside the Taliban and al Qaida, and he had shrapnel wounds to his knees, shoulders and head. No one was buying his tale of being an unlucky wedding guest.
"Sometimes they hit me. Sometimes they kicked me. Sometimes they hit me with sticks," said Mahmoud, who was 22 at the time, with a long black beard and skin darkened by his work in the sun, delivering packages around Karachi.
After about four days, Mahmoud said, he was taken to a house that the northern alliance was using as a jail, where he was trussed up with a rope and thrown into a storage room.
"They beat me with belts, with the butts of their guns and a few times with sticks," Mahmoud said. "When they beat me up they would cuss at me. They would say that I was there to kill them, that I was there to fight them. I said, 'No, I came here for a friend's wedding. I'm a tailor.' "
American soldiers appeared some four months later and, Mahmoud said, spent a day chatting with northern alliance commanders at the house. That night, he said, the man who brought his dinner said the Americans had agreed to pay a $5,000 bounty for Mahmoud, a common practice in the months after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Mahmoud said he was handed over the next day, his wrists tied by plastic cuffs and a hood over his head. He was flown to the U.S. detention camp at Bagram Air Base.
Instead of sticking to his story about the wedding, Mahmoud said, he confessed: He'd come to Afghanistan to fight.
Maybe it was because of his painful shrapnel wounds, the beatings by the northern alliance or his fear that the Pakistani government would tell the Americans why he'd left home. Whatever the reason, Mahmoud took a different turn from many who were on their way to Guantanamo, who stuck to often improbable narratives, thinking that sooner or later they'd probably be released anyway.
"I was with the Taliban. . . . There was a Taliban recruitment center in Karachi at the time," Mahmoud said in an interview last July at a Karachi coffeehouse. "I went there and they sent me over to fight."
Coming clean didn't really matter, however, he said.
Mahmoud said that he was shipped to the detention camp at Kandahar, just like the detainees who were lying through their teeth about why they'd gone to Afghanistan, and held there for four to five months.
Despite requests by McClatchy to discuss the findings of its report on U.S. detention practices, the Department of Defense declined to comment.
Then came the long flight to Guantanamo. Mahmoud, who appears to have told the Americans who he really was — a low-level fighter sympathetic to the Taliban — became another face in the angry crowd at Guantanamo.
Guards and inmates there exchanged insults on a regular basis, Mahmoud said.
"We would all get up, wanting to retaliate. We would bang the metal frames of our cots. We would throw our blankets and make noise," he said. "The riot guards would come in, five to seven of them, and try to pin me down. In that struggle I would punch whatever I could . . . this used to happen all the time."
About a year after he arrived in Guantanamo, he joined a hunger strike, which started, he claimed, when a guard knocked a Quran on the floor and left it there. Along with dozens of other men, he was taken to the camp hospital, where medics forced his mouth open with a metal clamp and poured in liquid meals, he said.
After about 20 months had passed, filled with fights with guards and shouting matches during interrogations, Mahmoud was sent home.
The Pakistanis imprisoned him for a year, as they did many other former Guantanamo detainees.
He now works as a delivery truck driver and has to report to the police station once a week to describe his recent activities. An intelligence officer comes to the stand where he parks his truck almost daily to be sure that he hasn't left Karachi.
"Religious people say that I will have a reward from God" for going to fight jihad in Afghanistan, he said.
If he had to do it over again — and if the Americans detained him — he'd probably keep the truth to himself, he said.