KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Afghan held for six years at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rejoined his family in southern Kabul late Monday, ending an odyssey that came to symbolize many of the problems of the Bush administration's war on terror detention policies.
Mohammed Jawad, who may have been as young as 12 when he was arrested in 2002 for allegedly throwing a grenade that wounded two American soldiers, pronounced himself "very happy" but tired after a day in which he arrived in Afghanistan on a U.S. military flight — in shackles and blindfolded, according to his lawyer.
He then met with both the country's attorney general and President Hamid Karzai before he was driven to his family's rented brick home in a modest Kabul neighborhood by the Afghan attorney general himself.
"I am very happy that I am back home with my family," Jawad said, before he begged off answering questions, saying he had a headache.
Jawad's journey home began in 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 if he didn't confess to throwing a grenade that injured two reservists from California and their Afghan interpreter. Those threats constituted torture, Army Col. Stephen Henley said, ruling that the confession therefore wasn't admissible as evidence.
On July 30, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington cited that ruling in ordering Jawad's release, saying that without the confession, there was no evidence to link Jawad to the grenade attack.
Justice Department lawyers said they'd seek new evidence against him, but in the end, no civilian 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.
Marine Maj. Eric Montalvo, one of Jawad's military lawyers who flew to Afghanistan to witness Jawad's release, said he'd remained uncertain that Jawad would go free until he saw him actually rejoin his family.
"I don't trust anything until I see him in his house with his family," said Montalvo, who flew to Afghanistan as a private citizen after the Pentagon denied him permission to do so in his official capacity.
Another of Jawad's defense attorneys, Air Force Reserve Maj. David Frakt, credited Montalvo's presence with ensuring that Jawad went free and wasn't 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.
Montalvo, whose trip to Afghanistan was paid for by the American Civil Liberties Union, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch and an unidentified donor from North Carolina, remained incensed Monday at the way the U.S. government had treated Jawad.
He said Jawad arrived in Afghanistan with only the clothes he was wearing and that the Pentagon had rejected any rehabilitation program for the young man.
"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."
Jawad's uncle, Haji Gul Naik, told McClatchy that Jawad's 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 during his Guantanamo 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 detention 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 concrete prisons that segregated supposedly hard-core al Qaida 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 — the wounded former 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, which ultimately became the mechanism for his release from Guantanamo.
Prior to his release, Jawad was transferred to Guantanamo's Camp Iguana, a lower-security site at where he was held with a dozen Uighur-speaking captives awaiting their freedom and learned to play The Wii.
(Landay and Shukoor, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Kabul. Rosenberg, of The Miami Herald, reported from Washington.)
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