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Ex-Afghan prisoner claims Bagram abuse

By Anna Coren, CNN
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
  • Nasim says he was a farmer when police arrested him in 2002 and took him to Bagram prison
  • He says he is innocent; U.S. records say he was in possession of rocket motors
  • He claims he was tortured at the prison: "I was hung from the ceiling for seven days"
  • Nasim says the Americans and international forces need to get out of Afghanistan

Kabul (CNN) -- On a hill overlooking the dusty, sprawling city of Kabul is a park where kids fly their kites. A dirty, beaten up Toyota sedan arrives, and Mohammad Nasim steps out wearing traditional Afghan garb -- a perahan tunban (tunic and pants) and a lungee (a headdress).

He's traveled more than 300 kilometers (185 miles) from his home in Nangarhar province near the Pakistani border, a drive that has taken him at least five hours because the roads are so bad. He wants to tell his story after learning of the decision to transfer Bagram prison from U.S. to Afghan control.

It's a story that began almost a decade ago, a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States by al Qaeda terrorists then based in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, radical islamic fundamentalists dislodged from power by the U.S.-led war against terror that followed.

"At the beginning of the Karzai government we were at home, living our normal life," he said. "I was a farmer supporting my wife and kids. The police surrounded our house in October 2002 and said 'you're involved with the Taliban,' and they arrested me and took me to Bagram prison."

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Nasim says many men in his town were rounded up that day. "They accused me of being involved with the Taliban and attacking Jalalabad airport about 40 kilometers from my home, but I asked them, 'How was I involved in an attack on the airport when you arrest me in my house, with my family?'"

Despite Nasim's claim of innocence, U.S. records reveal he was in possession of rocket motors and other equipment when he was taken into custody -- an allegation he strongly denies. He was taken to Bagram Prison, which was at the time was run by the U.S. Defense Department, and claims he was tortured there.

"Yes, yes, I was tortured," he said. "They gave me electric shots on my wrists. I was hung from the ceiling for seven days. Our faces were masked, and we were handcuffed, hanging from the ceiling. Our legs were chained as well.""

As he explains his story he plays out the torture scenes, raising his arms into the air.

"A guard would keep shaking the chain so we couldn't sleep for seven days," he said. "I completely lost my mind. I was hanging from the ceiling; my body was aching. They would hit our heads into the wall."

Asked about Nasim's allegations of torture at Bagram, a spokesman for the Department of Defense in Washington released a statement that did not specifically reference his claims, but said in part:

"DoD does not tolerate the abuse of detainees. All credible allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated, and appropriate disciplinary action is taken when those allegations are substantiated. We take such matters very seriously.

"Although there have been substantiated cases of abuse in the past, for which U.S. service members have been held accountable, our enemies also have employed a deliberate campaign of exaggerations and fabrications. The suggestion that DoD personnel, the overwhelming majority of whom serve honorably, are or ever were engaged in systematic mistreatment of detainees is false and does not withstand scrutiny."

As we sat cross-legged in the dirt in the park, Nasim took in the panoramic view of Kabul, a city surrounded by rugged mountains amid a landscape so arid and dry -- and yet so beautiful. As he gazed out, almost lost in thought, I asked him if he thought he would survive his time in Bagram. He said, "I felt completely hopeless. Some people inside killed themselves. I too had lost all hope. I thought I was going to die in there."

A guard would keep shaking the chain so we couldn't sleep for seven days. Our faces were masked, and we were handcuffed, hanging from the ceiling.
Mohammad Nasim, former Afghan prisoner

It was during this period that two Afghan prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar who were also hung by their wrists, were beaten to death by U.S. soldiers in Bagram Prison in December 2002. A U.S. military investigation later found that abuse had been widespread that year and the following.

After five months in Bagram, Nasim was transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba as a "medium-risk" prisoner. Guantanamo was not like Bagram, he said. "Every prisoner had their own small room. We spent three months separately in confinement. After three months they took us up to camp 5. It was difficult to cope but not as bad as Bagram."

After four and a half years in Guantanamo Bay, Nasim was finally released. "An American woman said, 'we're sorry,'" he said. "But what to do with their sorry? I spent five years of my life there. I was innocent. You take me away from my family, my children. Who supported them while I was locked up? I lost five years of my life.""

Nasim, who's now 36 but looks at least a decade older, is still very upset about what hey says happened to him. He says he's received no compensation and no formal apology. The father of five said, "It made me feel like I wanted to go out and kill all of them. If somebody takes you to the prison for five years, how would you feel? I was very angry. My hurt was blasting."

His level of anger has subsided over the years, but he believes the Americans and international forces need to get out of Afghanistan.

"This will be a better place once they've all gone. We don't need them. Afghans can run their own country," he said.

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