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Archive for Thursday, October 31, 2002

Karzai surprised by age of former U.S. detainees

October 31, 2002

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— Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Wednesday with two white-bearded men, one leaning on a cane, and was surprised at how old they are, considering that they were just released after months of captivity from a U.S. detention facility for Taliban and al-Qaida suspects.

The two elderly Afghans, a younger compatriot and a Pakistani man were the first detainees freed from the compound in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Karzai said he would send a delegation to the prison to check on the other Afghan prisoners there, presidential spokesman Sayed Fazel Akbar said. He did not say when.

One of the men, Mohammed Hagi Fiz, says he is 105 years old; the other, Mohammed Sadiq, claims to be 90. Grasping a thick, white cane, Sadiq was escorted along with Fiz into the brief meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace.

Both men appeared to be at least in their late 70s.

"Everybody was surprised. I think there was some mistake," Akbar said after the meeting. "These old guys are not able to take weapons against anybody." Both men said they had no links to the Taliban or al-Qaida.

Also present was Jon Mohammed, who smiled broadly as he carried a sack with his belongings on his way to meeting the president. Mohammed, 35, said he had been forced to fight alongside the Taliban.

The three returned Sunday from the high-security island prison after U.S. officials said that they no longer were considered a threat.

Transfers of prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo began in January.

Akbar said the meeting with Karzai was brief, and the president asked them about their time at Guantanamo.

"They said the situation was okay, but there are a lot of other Afghans there," Akbar said.

Interior Minister Taj Mohammed Wardak said Tuesday he did not know how many Afghans were being held at Guantanamo.

It was unclear when the men would be sent to their home provinces trips that will take days each because of the poor condition of Afghan roads.

Wardak had announced earlier that the men would be given compensation his spokesman said $500 to divide among themselves, and the government would help them get home.

Wardak said that the Kabul government was not angry at the United States for holding the men, saying it had perhaps been "a misunderstanding."

During an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, the men recounted how they had been confined in open-air cages and interrogated for hours at a time. They were not allowed contact with their families.

However, the men said they were not otherwise mistreated by their American guards and were allowed to practice their religion freely.

Besides the three Afghans, Mohammed Saghir, a 60-year-old Pakistani, returned Sunday to Islamabad, where he was being questioned by Pakistani authorities.

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