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Former Guantanamo prisoner is wrongly arrested again, family says

Attiqullah, 10, son of Hafizullah Shahbaz Khiel, showed documents proclaiming Hafizullah's innocence at his uncle's house on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, in January. Attiqullah, 10, son of Hafizullah Shahbaz Khiel, showed documents proclaiming Hafizullah's innocence at his uncle's house on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, in January. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)
By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press / February 8, 2009
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KABUL, Afghanistan - It was 2 a.m. when a rocket launcher sent a grenade slamming into the front gate of Hafizullah Shahbaz Khiel's walled compound. Screeching children and women ran into a small underground room. American and Afghan soldiers shouted: "Get over here, get over here. On the floor, heads down."

Hafizullah, a former Guantanamo prisoner, knew not to resist. And so, his family says, he was wrongly taken into custody by the United States - for the second time.

Hafizullah's story shows just how difficult it is for the United States to determine who is guilty and who is not in Afghanistan, where corruption rules and grudges are held for years, if not decades. It is a conundrum that the United States faces as it prepares to close Guantanamo and empty it of the 245 prisoners still there.

The first time Hafizullah was seized, in 2002, he spent five years at Guantanamo. In legal documents, US officials cite a source saying he helped Al Qaeda and planned to kill a government official. But Hafizullah says he was turned in by a corrupt police chief as revenge, and the Afghan government cleared him of all charges in December 2007.

Less than a year later, in September, the United States raided his home. This time he was accused of treating sick Taliban as a pharmacist. Afghan officials have signed documents attesting to his innocence, but he is still in custody at Bagram Air Base, along with about 600 other prisoners.

Some Afghans claim the United States is far too quick to arrest people without understanding the complexities of the culture.

"We are fed up," said Ishaq Gailani, a member of President Hamid Karzai's government. "Bagram is full of these people who are wrongly accused. They arrest everyone - a 15-year-old boy and a 61-year-old man. They arrest them because they run away from their helicopters. . . . I would run away, too, if I saw them. They don't know who is the terrorist and who is not."

Hafizullah was a village elder and a father of seven, from a family that goes back to generals and brigadiers in the army of Afghanistan's King Amanullah Khan at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1998 he languished in a Taliban jail for several months, beaten and accused of opposing the Taliban. Fearful of the religious militia, he relocated his pharmacy to his home. People in his rural district of Zormat called him doctor and went to him for treatment.

In the heady days that followed the Taliban's collapse in December 2001, Hafizullah was appointed a subgovernor. He was named to a provincewide shura, or council, designed to unite government supporters and neutralize the Taliban and hostile warlords.

The council decided that anyone found opposing the government would have their homes burned down and would be fined about $50,000. It also invited those who had been with the Taliban to come to the government or pay a fine of about $20,000.

Hafizullah was tasked with keeping law and order in Zormat. That's where he ran afoul of Police Chief Abdullah Mujahed.

Dilili, the governor, describes Abdullah as a scoundrel who would have his men fire rockets at US forces, then blame his enemies and turn them over to the Americans. Abdullah and Hafizullah already had a history of enmity after serving in different mujahedeen or warrior groups in the 1980s.

In 2002, Hafizullah traced a robbery of nearly $3,000 to the police chief, Abdullah, and his men, according to Dilili as well as family members. He confronted Abdullah, and the next day, US forces picked him up as a suspected Taliban.

Legal documents from the Department of Defense cite several accusations against Hafizullah from an unnamed source - among others, that he led 12 Taliban and Al Qaeda men and planned to attack the Afghan government, and that he doubled the salary of anyone who killed an American.

However, the same documents note that Hafizullah said he was a victim of revenge and did not know why he had been arrested. Hafizullah also said he was not an Al Qaeda member and had helped the Americans in the past by giving them information about Al Qaeda.

"He never said anything bad about Karzai's government, but he was disappointed in them that they had supported corrupt people," said Hajji Ghalib, who shared a cell with Hafizullah in Guantanamo and is now living in Pakistan.

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