U.S. military releases Afghan journalist who worked for CTV
After being held for nearly a year in a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, an Afghan journalist who worked mostly for Canadian television has been released.
"I was just waiting for this day," he told CBC News as he returned to his family in Kandahar City on Wednesday.
Ahmad, who had worked as a journalist and cameraman for CTV, was taken into custody at the Kandahar Airfield by an American he claims was posing as a public affairs officer for the military.
He was accused of supplying weapons to the Taliban and having connections to insurgents.
Ahmad was handed over to Afghan authorities on Sunday, according to the U.S.-led coalition. Coalition officials said he was released because he was no longer considered a threat.
Allegations 'not true'
"What they blamed me for was not true. If it was true they would not have released me," Ahmad told the Associated Press at a hotel in Kabul on Monday.
Ahmad said he was initially held at a U.S. military facility in Kandahar for nine days.
During that time he wasn't allowed to eat or sleep, he said.
Ahmad alleges that when he was first taken into custody he was asked if he had allergies and when he said he was allergic to cigarettes, interrogators blew smoke in his face.
While he was kept in Kandahar, Ahmad alleges he was also kicked, punched and cursed at.
He said he was given orange coveralls to wear and had his hair and beard shaved off and was told he was being sent to the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay where he would never see his family again.
"I thought 'Jojo, your life is ended and you're finished with this life,'" he said.
Beaten, ribs broken
When he was transferred to Bagram he was placed in a cell with high-risk detainees, he said.
Ahmad said he told guards he was afraid of his cellmates, who, he alleges, beat him so badly that his ribs were broken.
Ahmad estimated that he met with U.S. investigators about 100 times while he was in custody. He said he was shown pictures of Taliban fighters and was asked if he knew them. He always said no.
Ahmad worked as a translator for U.S. Special Forces for two and a half years, starting in 2002. He quit after the second time he was wounded in a Taliban attack, he said.
A spokesman for the NATO coalition said officials are looking into allegations he was falsely arrested and abused while in custody.
Ahmad said the Bagram guards told him they were sorry before he was released but he still doesn't understand why he was taken into custody.
He said he hopes to learn why the U.S. detained him because the experience "destroyed" his life and finances.
Canadians may have been involved in arrest: Ahmad
"There are more than 700 detainees right now in Bagram. I believe that more than 50 per cent are innocent," he said.
Ahmad said he believes Canadian intelligence officials may have been partly responsible for his arrest and for him being declared a security threat.
He said at one point during his detention he was told by his interrogators that CTV had reported him as a security threat.
"Those who interrogated me were American officers, I am sure, and perhaps some Canadians. The Canadian military is 50 per cent responsible for my arrest," Ahmad is quoted as saying in a press release issued by Reporters Without Borders.
The press freedom organization was one of many that urged Ahmad's release during the time he was detained.
In the press release issued on Wednesday, the organization said the U.S. government should investigate Ahmad's detention and look at compensating him.
"Despite having no evidence, the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq arrests and mistreats locals employed by the international media whose only crime is to work in war zones," stated the release.
Talked to Taliban as a journalist
Ahmad believes he may have been declared a security threat because of his journalistic contacts with the Taliban. Ahmad was accused of having telephone numbers and video footage of Taliban leaders when he was arrested.
"As a journalist you have the right to talk to any organization. You are the eyes of the world," he said. "Yes, I talked to the Taliban like any other reporter. I travelled with them. I did stories with them. They are not my uncles or brothers, they are the Taliban. I talked to them just like I talked to NATO. If you know only one party, you are useless."
After the experience, Ahmad said feels he will be a better journalist than before and intends to return to his profession.
With files from the Associated Press