Pakistan's first prisoner released from Guantanamo returns home

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

PATTAN, Pakistan -- Wrapped in a deep purple shawl, 9-year-old Salehla at first tried to hide, but then spoke shyly of hearing her mother cry for her father, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This week, 51-year-old Mohammed Sanghir returned home -- the first Pakistani released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

Family and dozens of friends by his side, Sanghir said his captors never apologized for whisking him out of Afghanistan.

"They told me I could go home. They said, 'You are innocent.' They didn't say sorry. They just said, 'You can go home,'" said Sanghir, who still wears a green plastic wristband with his picture, name, age and prison number: US9PK000143DP.

Same questions

He said his U.S. interrogators always asked the same questions: "Do you know Osama bin Laden? Do you know where he is? Have you seen him? When?"

Then they would show him pictures of bearded men. "Do you know these men? Have you seen these men?"

His answer was always the same: "No."

Sanghir espouses the same strict interpretation of Islam as the Taliban. Every year he goes off for two or three months to preach to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Usually his assignments have been in Pakistan. But last year he went to Afghanistan.

"It was just his bad luck," said Dost Mohammed, a teacher in Sanghir's home village of Pattan, a wretchedly poor place in an achingly beautiful corner of northern Pakistan. Homes, mostly made of wood and stone, cling to the mountains of the Hindu Kush range. Below, the emerald green Indus River roars past, whitecaps swirling over the rocky bottom.

Sanghir is pretty much a hero in Pattan, a deeply conservative place. The anti-American Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam Party of Islamic clerics won big in the district.

Sanghir said he was not a fighter in Afghanistan, but got caught in the northern city of Kunduz after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

When the bombing began the next month, he said he tried to flee, but his vehicle was attacked by fighters loyal to warlord Rashid Dostum.

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