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Page last updated at 10:27 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 11:27 UK

'How Bagram destroyed me'

Jawed Ahmad has just been released from US military detention at Bagram air base near the Afghan capital, Kabul. In a rare insider's account of the base, he alleges abuse and, most controversially, that prison guards mishandled the Koran. He spoke to the BBC's Martin Patience.


For Jawed Ahmad the last 11 months have been the worst of his life.

Jawed Ahmad
Jawed Ahmad says he will fight to his 'last breath' for justice

"They destroyed me financially, mentally and physically," says Mr Ahmad, 21, wearing a traditional shalwar kameez and sporting a thin, wispy beard.

"But most importantly, my mother is taking her last breath in hospital just because of the Americans."

Mr Ahmad was detained for almost a year in the Bagram air base where US forces imprison suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters. He was freed last Saturday.

The facility has a controversial past - two Afghans were beaten to death by their American guards in 2002.

'Don't move'

Jawed Ahmad was a well-known journalist in Kandahar working for Canadian TV and on occasions the BBC. Previously, he had spent two and half years as a translator for American special forces.

For nine days they didn't allow me sleep - I didn't eat anything
Jawed Ahmad

So, when a press officer from an American military base asked him to come for a chat, he thought nothing of it - these people were supposed to be his friends after all.

"At once around 15 people surrounded me and dropped me to the floor," says Mr Ahmad, becoming increasingly animated as he spoke.

"They shouted at me saying 'don't move' and then they take me to the prison."

Mr Ahmad says that the prison guards - he assumes they were American - then hit him and threw him against truck containers.

But he says that the abuse did not end there.

"For nine days they didn't allow me sleep. I didn't eat anything - it was a very tough time for me," he says. "Finally, they told me you're going to Guantanamo Bay."

He was accused of supplying weapons to the Taleban and having contacts with the movement.

Mr Ahmad protested, saying that as a journalist it was his job. They then, he says, shaved his head and put him in an orange jump suit.

But before leaving Kandahar - his guards had one final message.

"I will never forget it," he says. "They said 'you know what?', and I said 'what' and they said there is no right of journalists in this war."

'Unconscious'

Despite the threat of being sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Mr Ahmad was flown to Bagram air base about 70km (40 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

Bagram air base
Bagram serves as a military base, airfield and detention centre

It's where the US military detains about 600 prisoners whom they define as unlawful combatants.

"When I landed first of all they stood me in snow for six hours," he says. "It was too cold - I had no socks, no shoes, nothing. I became unconscious two times."

He continued: "They learned one word in Pashto 'jigshaw, jigshaw' - it means 'stand up'. And when I became unconscious they were saying 'jigshaw'."

For the next 11 months Mr Ahmad was held at the facility - he says that he was unsure why he was there, and when, if ever, he would be released.

He says he and his fellow prisoners were taunted continuously by the guards.

"I thought they were animals," he says. "When they cursed me, I cursed them twice. I challenged them."

Mr Ahmad says he was sent into solitary confinement after an article appeared in the New York Times about his incarceration, which apparently irritated the guards.

He says he was chained in the cell in stress positions making it almost impossible to sleep.

But most inflammatory of all, Mr Ahmad says that other prisoners told him that the guards mishandled the Koran.

"They didn't do it only one time, not two times, they did it more than 100 times. They have thrown it, they have torn it, they have kicked it."

The day Mr Ahmad learned he was being set free was an emotional moment.

"Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cried, sometimes I prayed," he says. " Finally, the next morning they just released me."

Denial

In a statement, the US military at Bagram air base said that there was no evidence to substantiate any claims of mistreatment.

They added that Mr Ahmad had been turned over to the Afghan government as part of a reconciliation programme.

But Mr Ahmad says that he will pursue justice for what has happened to him.

"I will fight to my last breath to get my rights," he says. " I will knock on the door of Congress, I will ask Obama, I will ask Hilary Clinton, even Bush - I will not leave any person."


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