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In Guantanamo Bay Documents, Prisoners Plead for Release
"These are people who are committed to killing Americans and killing innocent civilians," he said. "The idea that they are claiming to be innocent shouldn't surprise anyone."
Defense officials have long maintained that detainees are treated humanely at Guantanamo Bay and that there is no abuse or torture there. Whitman said al-Qaeda operatives are taught to make up allegations of mistreatment.
Although it is nearly impossible to determine if their claims are true, several detainees alleged abuse at the hands of their U.S. captors. Some traced the abuse to jails in Afghanistan, others to sites in different countries where they had been taken before Cuba.
One detainee said the charges against him were concocted from statements he made after his arrest in Afghanistan amid allegations that he worked with the Taliban. He said he was abused by U.S. troops at Bagram air base, and that interrogation and "punishment" caused him to agree with whatever the troops said to him. He said he began to tell the truth in Cuba because he was convinced soldiers there would not hurt him.
"I didn't want to be with the Taliban, they forced me into training," he said.
Some of the detainees seemed confused by the "combatant status review tribunals," not understanding whether they are in front of a judicial court or whether they are allowed to call witnesses. If they can call witnesses, how can they get them there from Afghanistan? some ask.
A detainee from Kazakhstan said he was captured by Afghans and turned over to the United States, but did not understand why he was in custody because he just grows vegetables. The tribunal officials tried to pry information from him.
"We are trying to figure out why you are here, the U.S. wouldn't detain someone for two years for simply growing vegetables. Can you help us understand?" the tribunal official said, with no response. "Do you want to tell us why you think you are here?"
The detainee then answered: "I am here because I went to Afghanistan with my family for a better life. They captured me at that house, that is the reason why I am here," he said, before he was asked if he grew poppies in his garden. "I don't know what a poppy is," he said.
Said Amir Jan, like some others, said he ended up in Guantanamo because "somebody got paid by turning in people, those are the people who should be here, not us." Detainees said Pakistani officials were paid bounties of as much as $10,000 to turn over suspects, making a business off the war.
"When Americans came to Afghanistan, I was in prison, we were cheering and screaming. We were going to be released and the Taliban isn't in power. How could I be so bad to turn around and fight against the people who released me from prison?" Jan said, before asking for help from the tribunal. "Please, I am hoping that you guys, very beautiful lady, look at my case, study, try to find out who I am, and decide about me."
One detainee who has been ruled to be "no longer an enemy combatant" and has been freed -- Egyptian Sami al-Laithi -- told the tribunal that he thought the review process was unfair. He said the definition of the term "enemy combatant" was so broad that it could not be understood.
"The American military is my adversary, and all the laws require that the panel or the board have to be third party, that is completely neutral and has nothing to do with adversaries," al-Laithi said, before a tribunal official explained that it was an administrative proceeding, not a legal one. "If the adversary is my judge, also I should not expect any justice uphold."
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.