From the website Ferghana.ru comes news of a former Guantánamo detainee, Abdul-Karim Ergashev, who was sold to gullible US forces by an unscrupulous Afghan official, and who “intends to slap US President George W Bush and the Pentagon with an injury claim.” 42-year old Ergashev (also known as Abdulrahmon Rajabov) travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 to search for his brother, and, at the time of his capture, was staying with Uzbek refugees, who had fled their homeland to escape the brutal regime of President Islam Karimov, often taking their entire families with them.
Abdul-Karim Ergashev at his home in January 2005.
“I was a driver in their camp,” Ergashev explained. “Everyone scattered when the Americans invaded Afghanistan and bombardments began. I wanted to go home too but couldn’t because I did not have any papers or even money. Closer to the end of winter , I drifted to the town of Tahor and the rais or chairman of a nearby village offered me a job. He said I would become his personal driver. I said “Why not?” It was a chance to earn my fare back. The man said the auto was waiting in one of the kishlaks (settlements) in Mazar-e-Sharif and we went there to collect it. The man brought me to some household and asked me to wait while he went and fetched the keys. The Afghani police broke into the building as soon as he left. They had me handcuffed and blindfolded in no time at all and turned me over to the waiting Americans. The Americans had been waiting nearby, you know. They ordered me to don a special blue coverall marking me as a POW. It occurred to me then that they had deliberately left me in the house in order to sell me to the Americans as a terrorist or Talib … I was taken to the city of Bagram where I was imprisoned with very many others for March-May 2002. It was Kandahar after that and finally Guantánamo, in September that year.”
Describing the situation in Afghanistan at the time of Ergashev’s arrest, in the months following the US-led invasion in October 2001, the reporter for Ferghana declared, “The Americans paid $5,000 for a Talib soldier and twice that for [an] officer. The Afghani police found it quite to their liking. When they discovered that there was nobody else to be sold to the US Army, they turned on pedestrians. As a matter of fact, some men the Americans ended up with were mental cases.”
This is not the first time that Ergashev has been in the news. In January 2005, he spoke to Radio Free Europe, describing, in detail, what had happened to him during the two and a half years that he had spent in US custody, until his release from Guantánamo in April 2004. He explained that US military interrogators had used psychological pressure to force him to falsely confess to fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan: “They told me you have ties to the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I said I don’t know al-Qaeda; the Taliban I know were in control of most of Afghanistan. I didn’t think the Afghans would hand me over to the Americans and that the Americans would take me to Guantánamo. I [still] don’t know why. I didn’t understand what the Americans wanted from me.”
Describing what happened to him during his time in Guantánamo, Ergashev said that he was often kept in solitary confinement, and added that whenever a detainee clashed with the authorities the other prisoners would be punished for it. He also claimed that he suffered from a liver ailment during his detention, but was denied “consistent medical care,” and said that after his release he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C. “I was sick and I asked to see a doctor,” he explained. “The soldier told me tomorrow. The next day I told another soldier that I’m feeling worse. He also said, ‘tomorrow.’ After three days I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I told the soldier, ‘three days has passed, why are you lying to me?’ but he told me, ‘no more talk.’ So I threw some water on his face. After that, several persons came, chained and stripped me but they didn’t beat me. They left me only in my underwear in a [cold] cell with iron walls.”
Although Radio Free Europe stated that Ergashev was “receiving medical care” in Tajikistan in January 2005, Ferghana’s reporter described him as still suffering from “grave health problems,” and determined to sue President Bush because the US authorities had shown themselves to be “absolutely indifferent” to his plight and “disinclined to offer him any recompense or aid.”
Despite Ergashev’s suffering, we at least know that he is still alive. In the case of three other Tajik ex-prisoners –- one released in August 2005, and two of the three men released in February 2007 –- we don’t even know their identities. The US authorities never reveal the names of the prisoners they release, and no news reports have surfaced to indicate who they are, or how they are being treated in Tajikistan. Stripped of their identities from the moment they were first taken into US custody, it is as though they have ceased to exist.
For more on the Tajik detainees in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
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Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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