KABUL, Afghanistan – Three Afghans released after months of captivity at a U.S. military base in Cuba said Tuesday they were chained up during frequent interrogations but were treated well overall by their American captors.
The two elderly men — who appeared to be in their 70s — and a younger man are the first former detainees to speak about their arrest and detainment at Guantanamo Bay. They spoke to The Associated Press at a military hospital in Kabul where they are convalescing, under the watch of Afghan security guards.
The three were flown from Guantanamo to Afghanistan on Sunday and were handed over to Interior Ministry officials later Tuesday. It was not clear when they would be allowed to return home.
A Pakistani, 60-year-old Mohammed Saghir, was also released from Guantanamo and returned to Pakistan, where he was being questioned by Pakistani authorities.
They were the first prisoners released by the Americans, who determined that they no longer posed a threat.
The Afghan prisoners, looking frail and tired but in good spirits, said they had not been allowed to contact their families after they were captured by the Americans in Afghanistan. They said they were chained up during frequent interrogations, but that they were not mistreated and were allowed to practice their religion while at the camp.
"They interrogated us for hours at a time. They wanted to know, 'Where are you from? Are you a member of the Taliban? Did you support the Taliban? Were your relatives Taliban? Did the Taliban give you weapons?"' said Mohammed Hagi Fiz, an elderly man with a white beard.
Human rights groups have criticized the United States for its treatment of the prisoners, saying they were initially kept in outdoor cages and held indefinitely without access to lawyers.
Fiz said he was arrested by American forces eight months ago while he was in a clinic in the central province of Uruzgan. A frail older man, he said he was tied up and blindfolded, then flown by helicopter to Kandahar and later by plane to Guantanamo.
"I don't know why the Americans arrested me. I told them I was innocent. I'm just an old man," he said.
A plastic wristband indicated the year of Fiz's birth was 1931, but he claimed to be 105. Another prisoner, Mohammed Sadiq, claimed to be 90 and said he was arrested in the eastern province of Paktia. Many Afghans are not aware of their exact ages, and birth certificates usually don't exist, but both men appeared to be in their 70s.
Mohammed said the American guards were respectful to him.
"They treated us well. We had enough food to eat. We could pray and wash with water five times a day. We had the Quran and read it all the time," he said.
All three said they were interrogated about a dozen times each for one to several hours at a time.
The third former prisoner, 35-year-old Jan Mohammed, said he was forced to fight alongside the Taliban and was captured in the northern city of Kunduz last year by Afghan forces and handed over to the Americans. As he spoke, Afghan soldiers stood guard inside a small room at the hospital.
"I wasn't Taliban, but the Taliban made me fight with them," Jan Mohammed said. "I'm innocent. I'm a farmer."
The Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo consisted of low-level Taliban fighters and mullahs, or religious leaders, Fiz said. He said they were kept in small cells that housed a dozen prisoners each.
Upon their release from Guantanamo, each of the four was given a blue bag, a jacket and a pair of long-underwear, they said.
The United States is holding 625 men from at least 42 countries who it says are enemy combatants in the war against terror and thus can be held until the end of hostilities.