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EDITIONS
Newsnight Friday, 6 June, 2003, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Return from Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay
The Afghan government fears that Afghanistan is seen by the West as last year's war - and that after Iraq, the caravan has moved on.

But the best part of seven hundred people - one-time residents of Afghanistan - are moving precisely nowhere. They were captured in the war or afterwards, and are still held, without trial, by the United States in the camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Or almost all of them are. Kylie Morris, in Kabul, had this extraordinary tale.


KYLIE MORRIS:
Guantanamo's prisoner 671 is back at the wheel of his taxi. Abassin Sayed is again playing the Hindi music he loves, and driving the roads he knows so well.

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

I had heard the name of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba but I didn't know anything about it until I got there. I arrived tied and gagged. It was the act of an animal to treat a human being like that. It was the worst day of my life.

KYLIE MORRIS:
An innocent man. The story of his 13 month imprisonment sheds light on a controversial new style of American justice.

UNNAMED AMERICAN:
We are into new ground here, and although I can't map out to you specific internationally sanctioned steps and procedures, we treat all of our personnel, who are taken into our custody, humanely, with dignity. We provide medical care.

KYLIE MORRIS (TO ABASSIN SAYED)
I'm well. Come and show me this place. Show me what happened here. (VOICE OVER) His story starts in Gardez. (TO A.S.) This was the checkpoint? OK. So you were driving along here, and the police stopped you?

ABASSIN SAYED:
Yes, they stopped me.

KYLIE MORRIS:
What did they say to you?

ABASSIN SAYED:
To check my car. I said, "Check, no problem". No Al-Qaeda or Taliban problem.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Abassin explains that one of the passengers in his car was someone the gang who ran the checkpoint wanted to capture. In April last year, Gardez was a combat zone. Americans were being ambushed by the Taliban, and they wanted results. Local Afghans were only too happy to oblige by handing over people to them. By having the wrong passenger in his car, Abassin became one of their catch. (TO A.S.) So you told them you were nothing but a taxi driver, an ordinary taxi driver?

ABASSIN SAYED:
Only taxi driver, only taxi driver.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Not Taliban?

ABASSIN SAYED:
Not Taliban.

KYLIE MORRIS:
You don't work with Al-Qaeda. But this is the place where everything changed. This is the place.

ABASSIN SAYED:
Yeah.

KYLIE MORRIS:
As we spoke, American helicopters were still patrolling the area around the town. Abassin never had a chance to prove his innocence. In fact, he had no recourse to any kind of legal process. From here, he was taking to Bagram Airbase, close to Kabul, then he was to spend another month inside a jail in Afghanistan, before, finally, he was loaded on to a plane and flown to Guantanamo Bay, a place he had barely heard of. Abassin still has his Guantanamo ID, it's a memento of the 13 months he spent there.

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

When we reached Guantanamo, as you can see, they made us wear a mask and these yellow glasses, red overalls and a cap. Two soldiers took me to get this photograph done. My hands and feet were bound.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Can you remember how you felt, what you were thinking when this photo was taken?

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

I thought it was a brutal thing, the act of an animal to tie you up like that. I was afraid that they would take this picture and kill me, but then my mind would tell me, "No, they are not going to kill you".

KYLIE MORRIS:
We spent days with Abassin in Kabul, hearing his story. In a quiet moment in the room he shares with his father, he speaks for the first time in detail about his life in a 2x2 metre cell.

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

The lights were so strong, you couldn't differentiate between day and light. If you tried to cover your face to sleep the soldiers came in and told you not to do that.

KYLIE MORRIS:
These days he is having problems with his eyesight. His health, generally, is poor.

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

They sent me to a solitary confinement for exercising in my cell. They took me to a container for five days. Inside there was nothing. No blankets, nothing. It was the kind of punishment they give you if they ask you questions you didn't know the answer to. I was interrogated for 11 times, for six and seven hours at a time.

KYLIE MORRIS:
At the taxi rank where he used to work, Abassin comes back to life. There's a sense of celebration that he's back, but also concerns that he's changed.

UNNAMED AGFHAN:
(TRANSLATION)

The Americans were misguided by those who said he was Taliban or Al-Qaeda. He's just a simple taxi driver at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

UNNAMED AGFHAN 2:
(TRANSLATION)

Taxi drivers shouldn't be taken to Guantanamo Bay. They can be questioned here or through the Afghan Government. You don't take him prisoner and take him away for I year. He couldn't support his family. Now he needs money. The Americans should compensate him for everything he lost. We don't want the Taliban either.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Kabul changed while Abassin was in Guantanamo. These days, it's a bustling city of three million, with people able to enjoy again the things the Taliban banned, like cinema. (TO A.S. AND FRIEND) It seems to me your favourite things are music and movies, the two things that the Taliban didn't like.

UNNAMED AFGHAN 3:
They banned those things, but I had a television. I had a VCR, and was smuggling film in my engine of the car.

KYLIE MORRIS:
In the time that Abassin was away, his cousin, Wali, was building up an import business. He's overjoyed to have Abassin back, but is worried about his state of mind.

WALI UR RAHMAN:
(Abassin's Cousin)
(TRANSLATION)

I joke with him that he's lost his mind these days. He's very serious. When we have an argument, he insists and insists, and won't stop until you agree with him. And he has physical problems, with his eyesight, his skin, and his knees.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Abassin's father ran a spirited campaign to publicise his son's innocence. We broadcast a story last October about Abassin. In it, his father said there had been no serious investigation of his son's case. We asked the Americans what they're doing to ensure innocent people aren't sent to Guantanamo Bay. They said they're doing their best to make sure it doesn't happen.

COLONEL RODNEY DAVIS:
(Coalition Taskforce, Afghanistan)

We're improving our processes and procedures. We work very hard, always, doing the very best we can, in taking into custody those individuals we think have what we're after. That's actionable intelligence. We're not perfect. It's not a perfect world. This is a war. But given all the things we've been involved in, I think we're doing quite well.

KYLIE MORRIS:
Among Abassin's documents, there's none to declare him innocent, but there's an agreement he signed with the Americans never to engage with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, and not do anything that might do harm tothe United States. (TO A.S.) Are you worried, then, that by talking to us you're potentially breaking this rule?

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

No, I don't need to be. I'd never say anything that wasn't true. I'm not against the Americans. I bear no hostility towards them.

KYLIE MORRIS:
It's extraordinary that Abassin has been through such an ordeal, yet remains so magnanimous. He's not turned into some American-hating fundamentalist, but his life has been shattered. His family is talking about leaving Afghanistan in order to give him a new start. But for Abassin, the worst part in all of this is the story of his best friend. While Abassin is now free, his best friend, Wasir Mohamed, is still in Guantanamo Bay. Wasir was also a taxi driver, who, in the days after Abassin's detention, made an inquiry about what had happened to his friend. He, too, was handed over to the Americans. Abassin can hardly live with himself.

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

The only thing I can hope for is that he's released soon. It's the greatest tragedy of my life. I can't tolerate him being there one more day.

KYLIE MORRIS:
So, Abassin, what's your impression now of justice, particularly American justice?

ABASSIN SAYED:
(TRANSLATION)

What kind of justice is that? To keep a young, innocent person for 13 months, to pick someone up off the street, and jail him without proof, without a proper investigation. Is that law they have?

KYLIE MORRIS:
The last thing Abassin told Wasir in Guantanamo was, "Don't worry, you'll be released, because you're innocent." Now, all he can do is wait for that to come true.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Newsnight's Kylie Morris
reported on the Kabul taxi driver who was arrested after the US invasion of Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

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