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In the world of Kafka - The Afghan experience in Guantanamo

In an interview with DW, Afghanistan expert Kate Clark sheds light on the condition of eight Guantanamo inmates from Afghanistan. She said that reading through the files of these prisoners was a "Kafkaesque" experience.

Kate Clark, a senior researcher at Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN), has documented the experience of eight Afghan inmates in the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison. Five of them are still in the US' Cuban facility, whereas three were transferred to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August where they are still in detention.

According to Clark's 68-page study entitled "Kafka in Cuba: The Afghan experience in Guantanamo," many Afghan inmates in Guantanamo were detained without real evidence.

In an interview with DW, Clark talks about her findings and the ordeal of some inmates, who she believes were incarcerated illegally.

DW: What does your study say about the condition of Afghan inmates in Guantanamo in particular and the United State's intelligence and justice system in general?

Kate Clark: The US military has not made a coherent case against any of the eight inmates. None were detained on the battlefield – six were handed over by Pakistan or by Afghan forces, and two were detained after tip-offs from unknown sources – so intelligence forms the basis of the cases against them.

Reading through their files is to enter a bizarre world where no real evidence, or indeed knowledge about Afghanistan, is required to detain someone. Instead, we find hearsay and double hearsay (X said Y said Z was a terrorist), the use of testimony obtained under torture, unverified intelligence reports and strange, associational notions of guilt (X knew Y who knew Z who knew Osama bin Laden).

The links can be quite fantastical. The US military said, for example, that Bostan Karim, who sold plastic flowers in Khost, had "admitted" to meeting Jalaluddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network, and (bizarrely) that Haqqani was in an al Qaeda-supported alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Karim's meeting had actually been an obligatory meeting of all the shopkeepers in Khost during the Taliban era when Haqqani was the pre-eminent commander there. By this sort of reasoning, I could be in Guantanamo: I know people who knew Mullah Omar and bin Laden - and George Bush for that matter.

The Bush administration and other supporters of the Guantanamo facility repeatedly dubbed the detainees there the "worst criminals." Do the current and former Afghan inmates of the facility fit this description?

The Taliban held in Guantanamo were a mixed bag. There were some commanders, including two war criminals, Mullah Shahzad (who carried out the massacre of civilians in Yakowlang in early 2001) and Mullah Fazl (who carried out the burning of the Shomali in 1999), but the US was not interested in putting such men on trial. There were also civilians like the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, and Taliban who had been trying to surrender to the new government, like Khairullah Khairkhwa (governor of Herat). However, the vast majority of Afghans taken to Guantanamo were ordinary people. Among them were taxi drivers, farmers and shopkeepers, men who had opposed the Taliban or had been elected by their communities as representatives at the Emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002, old men with dementia and physical ailments, and minors.

Kuba US-Gefängnis Guantanamo Camp X-Ray (Getty Images/J. Raedle)

'The US military has not made a coherent case against any of the eight inmates'

As to the eight Afghans now in Guantanamo or the UAE, one pointer to their status is that the Taliban did not try to get them out as part of the exchange of Taliban detainees for the US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, in 2014.

Why is the US justice system taking such a long time to release those who were falsely charged?

The Bush administration decided that it was facing a uniquely dangerous enemy and the "old rules" could not apply. It decided not to apply the Geneva Convention or US criminal law. It decided also to use torture in interrogations and to keep everything at Guantanamo secret. The US military, tasked with carrying out the detentions, was horrified at this throwing away of the rule book. It meant there was no real screening of the detainees and no mechanisms to ensure non-combatants were released or had a proper chance to plead their innocence. The lack of transparency also meant men could linger in limbo at Guantanamo for years.

Has the existence of Afghan inmates in Guantanamo had a negative impact on how US troops are perceived in Afghanistan?

The mass arbitrary detentions of the early years of the US intervention was a powerful factor driving some Afghans towards insurgency. The 220 people who ended up in Guantanamo were a fraction of the thousands of Afghans detained during this time. It was not just about the detentions, it was how they were carried out - disturbing women in purdah (veil), using search dogs in houses, stripping detainees and forcibly shaving their beards and using torture. Afghan allies of US forces also extorted money and took away detainees' possessions. In many places, those allies used US forces to target their personal enemies - on a factional or tribal basis - or to make money (the US paid for intelligence). In 2001, the Taliban had been finished, but it was behavior like this that drove some Afghans to believe the post-2001, US-supported government was implacably against them.

USA Ehemaliger Präsident George W. Bush (picture alliance/dpa/R. Sachs)

Kare Clark: 'The Bush administration decided that it was facing a uniquely dangerous enemy and the "old rules" could not apply'

Tell us about the situation of the detainees in the UAE?

There is very little information about them. They are in what is called a "de-radicalization" facility. Afghan and US officials told Afghan Analyst Network that it was not clear how long that would last or if the Afghans would eventually be allowed to return home. The Wall Street Journal, which spoke to American officials off the record, said the men would be held in a rehabilitation facility "indefinitely until authorities decide they can be released at a minimum of risk."

Kate Clark is a senior analyst for the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), an independent research organization.

The interview was conducted by Masood Saifullah.