In sympathy for
Javed Yazamy, news reporter, abducted for 11 months and tortured
in late October 2007
arrested and abducted at the gates of Kandahar Air Field base by U.S. Special Forces and held in a legal black hole for almost a year. We know about this case because of the independent reporting of Graeme Smith for the Canadian Globe & Mail. This documents what happens when innocent Afghans are arrested and abducted to a fate unknown by U.S forces. Mr. Graeme wrote,
KABUL — In the U.S. military cells where he saw daylight only once a week, where he says they broke his ribs with beatings, his captors gave him a nickname: "the Canadian reporter."
His formal designation was a detainee number: 3370. Last night, after almost a year in custody, the 22-year-old settled into a king-sized bed at the best hotel in Kabul with a big smile and started to regain his true names: Javed Yazamy, the name on his business card, or Jawed Ahmad, as he's known to friends. Most importantly, he wants to rebuild his career and the working name that made him famous among Canadian journalists: Jojo, a name synonymous with some of the best coverage of breaking stories during his time as cameraman for CTV News in Kandahar. It's not clear why U.S. authorities let Mr. Ahmad walk free yesterday. No explanations are usually given to detainees who are released. Mr. Ahmad was publicly named an "enemy combatant" by the U.S. military in February, but unlike most such prisoners, his case was watched closely by lawyers, journalists and diplomats. The campaign for his release started almost immediately after U.S. forces took him into custody in late October of last year, and his fate had recently been publicized by human-rights lawyers using the example of his detention to challenge what they called a "legal black hole" at the sprawling U.S. prison in Bagram.Mr. Ahmad says his U.S. guards told him many people were lobbying on his behalf, and he credits the pressure with finally winning his freedom. But he still seemed bewildered by his sudden good fortune as he plunged a fork into a moist chunk of chocolate cake and reflected on his recent hardships. "I came from hell," he said. "Now I'm back." Mr. Ahmad's bright career as a journalist, and his terrible fall into the darkest part of the foreign military system in Afghanistan, started with a humble beginning. He took a job as a tailor at the age of 12, earning about 75 cents a day to cover the costs of his schooling. He also became captain of a soccer team, and his excellent language skills and physical fitness made him an ideal candidate when the U.S. Special Forces arrived in southern Afghanistan looking for translators. Mr. Ahmad spent the years after 2001 roaming the country with elite troops, who gave him the nickname Jojo and a rich network of connections in the new regime. He eventually left the military for better pay as a freelance security consultant, and started working full-time as a media translator in 2006, mostly for CTV. He became known for his dogged reporting, once suffering broken bones in a vehicle accident but returning to work the next day to record footage of a bombing scene in Kandahar city. But his journalistic endeavours may have contributed to his eventual imprisonment, Mr. Ahmad said, because much later his U.S. interrogators seemed interested in his forays into Taliban territory. "Those people were not my friends," he said, referring to the insurgents. "But they knew I was a good, honest reporter, and every media outlet was starving for Taliban video." About halfway through 2007, he started having problems getting through the gate at Kandahar Air Field, the main military base in the province. He was once briefly detained and given a warning to stay away. He avoided the military base for a while, but returned Oct. 2, 2007, to help a 12-year-old boy shot by Canadian troops. After leaving the base hospital, a U.S. Special Forces soldier put a gun to his head and threatened him, telling him to stay away from the military base. He again obeyed the warning, he says, until late October when he says he received a phone call from a male caller who described himself as a U.S. public-affairs officer who wanted to conduct an opinion survey of Afghan journalists. Mr. Ahmad agreed to meet the officer at KAF's main gate. A red pickup truck arrived, he said, and the driver asked him to climb inside. They drove into the U.S. Special Forces compound at KAF, he said, and soon events started unfolding like a movie. His story from this point becomes impossible to verify. "I had seen that film, Road to Guantanamo, and the same things were happening to me," he said. His hands were bound with plastic ties, and he was hooded with a heavy bag. In the following days, he says, he was questioned, taunted, screamed at, beaten with chairs and slammed into walls. "I was crying," he said. "They were laughing, saying 'You're a spy,' " His captors accused him of spying for Iran, Pakistan or the Taliban. They said he sold a sniper rifle to the insurgents. Interrogators falsely told him his family had been arrested and confessed. They even concocted wild stories about his Canadian employers, telling him that CTV had arranged for his detention - or, on another occasion, that a CTV reporter was a foreign intelligence agent. "I knew these were lies," Mr. Ahmad said.The worst treatment he received at KAF was sleep deprivation, he said. Placed in a small metal cage, and monitored by soldiers on a boardwalk overhead, he said they refused to let him sleep for nine days, frequently shouting abuse at him during the ordeal. After the initial questioning he was flown to Bagram airbase north of Kabul, he said. Still badly sleep-deprived, he was unloaded at the U.S. base and forced to stand for six hours in the snow wearing only a thin jumpsuit - no shoes, no hat - and he fell unconscious twice. Each time the guards forced him to stand up again. "It felt like I had no skin left on my feet," he said. He tried to endear himself to his guards, who were amused to find a prisoner who enjoyed reading Shakespeare. But his situation got abruptly worse in early 2008, he says, when the stories began appearing in the media about his situation. Soon afterward, he was formally declared an enemy combatant. He was placed in a room he describes as the "death cell." Telling the story, his eyes brim with tears when he thinks about his treatment there, and says he doesn't want to discuss all of it now. He was deprived of sunlight, he said. "It was like a grave." The interrogations continued at Bagram, he said, and no less violently than in Kandahar. "They broke two of my ribs during the beatings. Four days I couldn't eat because of this," he said. He received hints on Friday that he would be released, and yesterday he was abruptly transferred to local Afghan authorities and then onward to the Red Cross. "It's a wonderful victory for freedom of speech," said Barbara J. Olshansky, a prominent U.S. human-rights lawyer who recently visited Afghanistan to investigate Mr. Ahmad's case. "Jojo's colleagues ... worked really hard to get him out, and it was only their pressure that made it harder for the U.S. to keep him than let him go." But the fight for detainees' rights at Bagram will continue, she added. Her non-profit organization, the International Justice Network, has its next scheduled court date in Washington on Dec. 18. For his part, Mr. Ahmad says he has emerged from the ordeal with a new sense of personal strength. "I suffered, but I learned one thing," he said. "Jojo is not made of wood that burns easily."
Abducted, abused and tortured by U.S. Special Forces based in Kandahar city, then transferred to the Bagram gulag