Guantanamo prisoner detained as teen meets with Karzai

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 24, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Afghan whose six-year detention at Guantanamo came to symbolize many of the problems of the Bush administration's war on terror detention policies arrived in his home country today, less than a month after a federal judge in Washington ordered his release.

Mohammed Jawad, whose confession to throwing a hand grenade that wounded two U.S. soldiers in 2002 was rejected as coerced by torture, was helicoptered into Kabul from Bagram Air Base and taken to the office of the Afghan attorney general.

One of his defense attorneys, Marine Major Eric Montalvo, said Jawad then met with President Hamid Karzai and afterwwards was released to an uncle.

"It's still not over until he can walk free, but he is almost there," said Montalvo, who flew as a private citizen to Afghanistan after the Pentagon refused him permission to witness his client's release. "I don't trust anything until I see him in his house with his family."

Another of Jawad's defense attorneys, Air Force Reserve Maj. David Frakt, credited Montalvo's decision to travel to Afghanistan with ensuring that Jawad was freed and not imprisoned again.

"When Major Montalvo arrived this morning, he went straight to the Attorney General’s Office and learned that Jawad was being transported to an Afghan prison. Major Montalvo intervened and persuaded the AG to divert Jawad directly to the AG's office," Frakt said in a statement. "Jawad had a happy reunion with Eric, then Jawad's family was summoned and they all convened in the AG's office for a tearful and joyous reunion.

"Were it not for the presence of a member of the Jawad defense team, things might have gone very differently," Frakt said.

Jawad's journey home began last October, when a U.S. military judge in Guantanamo ruled that Afghan police had threatened to kill both Jawad and his family during his interrogation. Those threats constituted torture, Army Col. Stephen Henley said, and the confession was not admissible as evidence.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ordered Jawad's release on July 30, saying that without the confession, there was no evidence to link Jawad to the grenade attack.

Justice Department lawyers said they would seek new evidence against him, but in the end, no additional charges were filed, the military withdrew its charges, and Jawad arrived in Afghanistan hours before the Justice Department was due to report back to Huvelle on his status.

Jawad's uncle, Haji Gul Naik, told McClatchy that his family wasn't angry "at the Americans" for Jawad's detention.

"We blamed those who turned him over to the Americans," he said. "We are thankful that the Americans are now returning him to us."

Naik said that Jawad was working with him drilling a water well at the time of the attack for which he was arrested.

"The allegations are 100 percent wrong," Naik said. "It is clear that the Americans believe that is true."

Naik said he had spoken twice to Jawad since his detention via phone calls arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross. "He sounded very sad because he was very young when he was detained," Naik said.

How old Jawad was when he was arrested is still uncertain. The Pentagon asserted that medical tests showed he was 17 years old, but his Marine defense attorney said research in Afghanistan indicated he was 14. Afghan officials have said he may have been as young as 12.

Jawad's six-and-a-half-year stay at the remote base in Cuba came to illustrate many of the missteps of the Bush administration's prison camp program.

Jawad's uncle said no U.S. prosecutor or investigator ever came to question him about his nephew, "His defense lawyer came twice," he said. Eventually, even the Army prosecutor who had charged him came to doubt the case. The prosecutor was relieved of duty.

Jawad was subjected to a once-secret military campaign of sleep deprivation, the so-called Frequent Flier Program, that had guards move detainees from cell to cell night and day,sometimes to soften them up for interrogation.

He was held as an adult in a series of steel and cement prisons that segregated supposedly hard-core al Qaeda ideologues and foot soldiers, even after his Marine lawyer said an investigation in Afghanistan found he was captured at age 14.

Jawad arrived at Guantanamo in early February 2003, 10 weeks after his capture as a run-of-the-mill alleged foot soldier.

His case gained prominence when the Pentagon's legal adviser for military commissions, Air Force Brig. General Thomas Hartmann, found his file among those being considered for war crimes prosecution and propelled it to the top of the pile, in part because there were victims who could testify — former, wounded reserve soldiers back in California.

That got him, for the first time, a military lawyer, who also worked with civilian attorneys to activate a habeas corpus petition at the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., which ultimately became the mechanism for his release from Guantanamo.

Prior to his release Jawad was transferred to a more liberal prison site at Guantanamo, Camp Iguana, where he was held with a dozen Uighur-speaking captives awaiting their freedom and learned to play The Wii.

On Monday, Montalvo, whose ticket to Afghanistan was paid for by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, expressed outrage that the Defense Department refused to tell him when Jawad would be released, when he would arrive in Afghanistan or arrange for any sort of rehabilitation. Jawad, he said, arrived in Afghanistan with only the clothes he was wearing.

"If the United States is concerned about his welfare and the recidivism issue, don't you want to take care that he is treated with love and cared for and rehabilitated," Montalvo said.

"Every day you spend in prison is like seven years of your life," Montalvo said. "He's been tortured. He was taken as a child, He's been deprived of every normal social interaction he should have."

(Landay reported from Kabul, Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, from Washington.)

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