Saturday, September 23, 2006

All flesh is grass

This is who Congress wants to keep out of our court system:

And this is why:

It's hard to picture Haji Nasrat Khan as an international terrorist. For a start, the grey-bearded Afghan can barely walk, shuffling along on a three-wheeled walking frame. His sight is terrible - he squints through milky eyes that sometimes roll towards the heavens - while his helpers have to shout to make themselves heard. And as for his age - nobody knows for sure, not even Nasrat himself. "I think I am 78, or maybe 79," he ventures uncertainly, pausing over a cup of green tea.

Yet for three and a half years the US government deemed this elderly, infirm man an "enemy combatant", so dangerous to America's security that he was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

Arrested in early 2003, Nasrat - or "detainee 1009" as he was officially known - always insisted he was innocent. But recently his hopes started to slide and he feared dying far from his home in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Then late last month, without warning, the US military let him go. Nasrat was flown to Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, the same way he had left: blindfolded, handcuffed and with his swollen half-paralysed legs chained to the floor. His lawyer was informed of the release, by email, after Nasrat had left Guantánamo Bay.

After he was handed over to Afghan officials his first act of freedom was practical and symbolic. He clambered out of his white jumpsuit and slipped into a shalwar kameez, the baggy pants and long shirts worn by most Afghans.

"I felt like I was born again," he recalled with a faint smile.
The irony of that last statement should not be lost on anyone.

As billmon notes (hat tip to Grandmere Mimi for the link), George Bush assured the country that those in Guantanamo, deserved to be in Guantanamo. But no one can say why, and no one ever told Nasrat Khan's lawyer:

Khan was not charged with a crime and Ryan said the government never said why he was detained.

"We couldn't figure out why he was there," Ryan said. "He could barely walk and he could barely hear."
And this is the cry the US is going to hear for generations: the cry for justice.

Some foreign visitors came too, including US officers from the base in nearby Sarobi. Nasrat welcomed them as warmly as everyone else. "They said they were sorry," he said afterwards. "I told them I have forgiven you for what you have done." But days later he fell sick with fever, and his reconciliatory spirit wore thin. He wanted compensation, he said, but more importantly he sought justice. "They told me one year ago I was innocent. So why did they only release me now?" he asked.
There are still 445 people in Gitmo, not counting the transfers Bush announced recently. 115 have been deemed eligible for release.

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