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Guantanamo veteran in hiding from police

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2008-05-11 Latest update 2009-04-16 12:25 TU

A detainee is walked by two US Army military policemen at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002. (Photo: AFP)

A detainee is walked by two US Army military policemen at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002.
(Photo: AFP)

The Afghan conflict radically changed Pakistan. Millions of Afghan refugees have been living in the country for years while the secret services and the US trained anti-Soviet fighters, many of whom later became their sworn enemies. The war to end Islamist violence has been a dirty one, with questionable results. Among its victims have been innocent civilians taken to the US's detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and others who have vanished into Pakistani jails. Badr Dost and his brother Muslim were interned in Guantanamo and then pursued by the Pakistani police on their return.

You can only meet Badr Dost by appointment, since he is trying to avoid the attention Pakistani police. On a sweltering day in September 2007, we knock on the door of the family home which is behind a small mosque.

After a while it is opened by one of his nephews who ushers us into a book-lined room where we wait while he checks that we haven’t brought unwanted company. Then he summons his uncle from his hiding place.

Badr has been taking these sorts of precautions since his brother, Muslim, was arrested a year ago. He believes that the police would have taken him, too, if his nephews hadn’t told him of  Muslim’s arrest.

The family heard nothing from or about Muslim for eight months; the authorities denied that they were holding him. An appeal to a Peshawar court finally forced police to admit that he was in jail in a tribal agency, and they brought him to Peshawar’s main prison.

Police say the brothers, Afghans who have lived in Pakistan for 30 years, have broken an obscure law about residency in the country.

Muslim Dost had been arrested before.

After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the brothers, who don’t hide their Islamist sympathies, published articles criticising the US intervention. Pakistani security forces picked them up and handed them over to Americans, who held them in Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan before flying them to the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Badr Dost is calm as he recounts his experiences. He even laughs at the absurdity of some of what has happened to him. But his account of his detention confirms the widespread reports of abuse and torture there. 

"They were kicking us with their soldiers' boots and hitting us with their fists," he says. "We were beaten and we were kept up awake for a long time. They were not allowing us to sleep and we were kept in isolation."

Inmates were held in extreme temperatures, he claims, and pornography was stuck on the walls of some religious prisoners' cells as a form of "mental torture". Dost believes that the guards went out of their way to offend the prisoners' religious feelings.

"The American soldiers, the MPs, they were searching us every day," he says. "They were searching the holy book as if we are hiding something inside, but that was not true because they have searched many, many times. They were desecrating the holy book. They were touching it, they were throwing it on the ground, they were stepping on it, they were tearing it to pieces and putting it in drums of shit in front of us."

He says that the abuse of the Koran only ended after the inmates staged a hunger strike. 

After a year, Dost and his brother were told that the Americans had no case against them. But along with other inmates in the same situation, they were kept for another year-and-a-half before being sent home. He doesn't know why it took so long.

"That's a question for me as well, why?," he asks. "And why there were innocent people? I have seen farmers, taxi-drivers and many common people who were arrested in Pakistan and were sold to Americans just to fill [the Pakistani police's] pockets."

The Americans' offers of cash for detainees turned this branch of law-enforcement into a business, Dost claims.

"They have announced if the local authorities arresting any terrorist so they will be rewarded00a common man 5,000 [rupees] or a wanted man maybe millions," he says. "Even the Americans were telling us that they have paid a lot to Pakistani authorities for arresting us."

On their return, the brothers published a book about their detention, The Broken Shackles of Guantanamo.

The book appeared on 3 September 2007. Muslim was arrested--again--on 20 September. Badr says that he still fears that his brother may be killed.