Guantanamo Detainee Back Home In Afghanistan
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
One of Guantanamo's youngest detainees is free, after more than six-and-a-half years at the prison. Mohammed Jawad returned to Afghanistan on Monday to a tearful reunion with his mother. She hadn't seen him since he was arrested there in late 2002 and accused of wounding a couple of Special Forces members and their interpreter in a grenade attack. Jawad tells NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul that even though he feels robbed of his youth, he refuses to dwell on his ordeal.
Mr. MOHAMMED JAWAD: (Foreign language spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Sitting cross-legged in a fly-infested home in western Kabul, Mohammed Jawad says that he can't find the words to say how happy he is to be back in Afghanistan. He is a member of the country's nomadic Kuchi tribe and sports a long, black beard, making him look older than his 20 or so years.
Concerns about Jawad's age is one of the reasons an American judge ordered him released last month. His family says he was at most 14 when he was arrested in Kabul in 2002. But his age was impossible to verify because no birth certificates are issued here.
Months later, the U.S. government conducted a bone scan it claimed showed Jawad was more like 17. Whatever his real age, Jawad will likely be the oldest student in the sixth grade, which he hopes to start in the coming weeks.
Mr. JAWAD: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: He wants to become a doctor. It's an idea that came to him when he and other detainees fell ill at the Guantanamo prison. Jawad says he wants to help heal people, even though he says he was harmed. It's an ambitious goal, given he can barely read and write.
Mr. JAWAD: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Jawad says he's angry with the people who imprisoned him, and that he suffered cruel treatment at Guantanamo. But he refuses to say what happened to him in custody. His lawyer is a U.S. Marine named Eric Montalvo, who sits protectively at his client's side. He plans to be here for a while to help Jawad readjust to life here.
Montalvo says it's not prudent to talk about the abuse. He doesn't want to give the U.S. government any leverage to re-incarcerate Jawad. Montalvo says that's what the Americans first tried to do when Jawad returned to Afghanistan. He claims they wanted to send him to the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison in eastern Kabul. Montalvo fought the move, saying that a federal judge had dismissed the case against Jawad for lack of any credible evidence. He fears another incarceration would break Jawad.
Mr. ERIC MONTALVO (Attorney, U.S. Marines): This alleged confession that they said they've had all these years ends up being a blank piece of paper with his thumbprint on it, okay. And then there's this other document that was written up by a police officer that has 99 percent inaccurate information. And, you know, then the abuse that he suffered while in detention, etc. - you know, it's just remarkable that the U.S. government had allowed this to go on.
NELSON: A Justice Department press release from earlier this week says the government is no longer treating Jawad as detainable. But a U.S. embassy spokeswoman had no immediate comment about whether authorities tried to send him to Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Jawad was handed over to the Afghan government Monday afternoon. He has met a number of Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. GUL NEK: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Jawad's uncle Gul Nek says the family is grateful to have him home. He vows to keep a close eye on his nephew to make sure he never disappears again.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
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