In one of the longest appearances before tribunals evaluating 585 terror suspects, a prisoner admitted Monday that he was a Taliban bodyguard but said he did it only to feed his family.
Gesticulating with his shackled right hand to stress points, the 37-year-old Afghan pleaded for about an hour before the members of his tribunal closed the session to review classified material.
The review tribunals are meant to decide whether detainees should be released or should remain in custody as “enemy combatants,” which gives them fewer legal protections.
All the detainees at the U.S. prison camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay are accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terrorist network.
“I joined the Taliban to make a living for my family,” the slight, bearded man said in a prepared statement read by his Pashto interpreter. “I wasn’t a big leader in the Taliban.”
Dispute over man’s role
The U.S. military says the man — held at Guantanamo Bay for more than 2½ years — not only fought for the Taliban on the front lines but also served in 2000 as an acting Taliban governor in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The man testified that he mediated community disputes for about eight months when the governor was away but was not acting governor. He said he served as a bodyguard for two Taliban governors in Kabul beginning in the 1990s.
“The only thing I did is serve with the Taliban ... that was my only mistake,” the prisoner said. “I’m really a poor person. I don’t have a lot of resources. I did this to survive.”
The U.S. military alleges that the man fought on the front lines in Mazar-e-Sharif and later moved to Kunduz, where he was captured with a Taliban leader and five fighters who agreed to surrender to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.
“I assure you under oath I never thought about fighting against the United States or its allies. I’m not even thinking in the future to fight against them,” the man said.