US military frees Afghan journalist held 11 months

Other News Materials 23 September 2008 00:52 (UTC +04:00)

An Afghan journalist detained for 11 months at the U.S. military base at Bagram alleged on Monday that his captors kicked him, forced him to stand barefoot in the snow and didn't allow him to sleep for days.

Jawed Ahmad, who worked primarily for CTV, a Canadian television network, was handed over to Afghan authorities Sunday, said Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, reported Associated Press.

The U.S. designated him an "enemy combatant" this year and had accused him of having contact with Taliban leaders, including possessing their telephone numbers and video footage of them, according to a complaint filed by Ahmad's lawyers in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

The 21-year-old Ahmad said that while in prison, U.S. interrogators accused him of being a Taliban fighter, supplying weapons to the militants and of being an intelligence agent for Pakistan.

"What they blamed me for was not true. If it was true they would not have released me," Ahmad told The Associated Press at a hotel in Kabul on Monday.

Patterson said Ahmad, who is also known as Jojo Yazemi, was released because he was no longer considered a threat.

Ahmad was detained Oct. 26, 2007, at a NATO base near the southern city of Kandahar.

Ahmad said an American military public affairs officer called him to come to the base, and he was taken into custody in the U.S. Special Forces compound.

During his Kandahar detention, Ahmad alleges he was kicked, that his head was slammed into a table and that he wasn't allowed to sleep for nine days.

U.S. officials threatened to send him to Guantanamo for years, he said. His head was shaved, he was made to wear an orange jumpsuit and flown to the main U.S. base at Bagram.

He said soldiers there forced him to stand for six hours on the snowy runway with no shoes. He said he passed out twice and was forced to stand back up.

Capt. Kaymberley Juradl, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Ahmad had access to routine medical treatment while at Bagram, met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and that Ahmad didn't make any reports to officials that he was abused.

"We take those kind of allegations seriously and our people are trained to respect everybody, and we don't abuse people like that," she said.

Ahmad said he was not abused at the Bagram detention facility, but that fellow prisoners beat him and once broke some of his ribs on the left side of this body. Ahmad said he now suffers from chronic headaches.

Ahmad estimated that he met with U.S. investigators around 100 times. They repeatedly showed him pictures of Taliban fighters and asked him if he knew them. He always said no.

Ahmad worked as a translator for U.S. Special Forces for 2 1/2 years, starting in 2002. He quit after the second time he was wounded in a Taliban attack, he said.

He says he hopes to learn why the U.S. detained him, saying the experience "destroyed" his life.

"Financially they destroyed me. My mom is in the hospital in Pakistan taking her last breath," he said.

Ahmad readily admits that he had contact with Taliban fighters.

"As a journalist you have the right to talk to any organization. You are the eyes of the world," he said. "Yes, I talked to the Taliban like any other reporter. I traveled with them. I did stories with them. They are not my uncles or brothers, they are the Taliban. I talked to them just like I talked to NATO. If you know only one party, you are useless."

Rights campaigners compared Ahmad's case to that of Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer who spent more than two years in U.S. military custody in Iraq. Hussein initially was accused of working with Iraqi insurgents but was released in April after Iraqi judges closed his case.

Ahmad said he will continue working as a journalist.

"I will most definitely be a journalist. I have more energy than before," he said.