KABUL — The family of one of the youngest prisoners ever held at Guantanamo plans to sue the U.S. government to compensate him for mistreatment and an adolescence lost to nearly seven years in a cell, his lawyers said Thursday.
Mohammed Jawad returned to Afghanistan this week after a military judge ruled that he was coerced into confessing that he threw a grenade at an unmarked vehicle in the capital in 2002. The attack wounded two American soldiers and their interpreter.
Afghan police delivered Jawad into U.S. custody and about a month later he was sent to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Jawad and his family say he was 12 when he was arrested, and that he is now 19 years old. The Pentagon has said a bone scan showed he was about 17 when taken into custody. His defense lawyers decline to give an exact age for Jawad, who does not have a birth certificate, but say photos taken in Guantanamo showed that he had not gone through puberty.
"I was an innocent child when they put me in prison," Jawad told The Associated Press in an interview at the offices of an Afghan lawyer association. A round-cheeked man with a scraggly beard, Jawad spoke tentatively, glancing at his lawyer. He wore a white robe and a traditional beaded cap as he sat stiffly on an office couch.
Lawyers and family members say Jawad was submitted to various types of torture while imprisoned, including sleep deprivation and beatings.
The family plans to sue for compensation in U.S. courts, said Maj. Eric Montalvo, one of the military lawyers who was defending Jawad. Montalvo, who finishes his military service this month and has already joined a private firm, said he will aid in the process but will not necessarily file the suit.
"I will not allow him not to be assisted," Montalvo said, explaining that Jawad needs intensive psychological counseling and tutoring to make up for his lack of schooling. Jawad said he wants to become a doctor because he was impressed by the way doctors at Guantanamo helped people.
Justice Department officials have said the criminal investigation of Jawad is still open but his transfer back to Afghanistan makes prosecution unlikely. The judge who ordered him released said the government's case was an "outrage" and "full of holes."
Jawad flew Monday to the main U.S. base outside Kabul and then by helicopter to the Afghan Defense Ministry. President Hamid Karzai welcomed Jawad home in a private meeting at his palace. Jawad said Karzai expressed joy that he had been released, but that the conversation turned more sober as they talked about his mistreatment at Guantanamo.
"After I told him about the conditions, he seemed very sad," Jawad said. He said he didn't want to go into specifics about mistreatment, saying only: "Their behavior was not very good."
In a statement, the Afghan president also said he hoped that improvements to the justice system would soon mean the Afghan government can prosecute its own citizens accused of attacking U.S. forces.
"All cases of accused Afghans should be investigated by Afghans, inside the framework of Afghan rules and laws," he said.
Although the Obama administration says it's closing Guantanamo, hundreds of Afghans are still being held without charge at the U.S. military base at Bagram near the Kabul.
Relatives say they did not learn that Jawad had been arrested until nine months after he disappeared when he was sent by an uncle to fetch tea in 2002. Nine months later, the family received a letter from him through the Red Cross saying he was in Guantanamo.
Last October, a military judge at Guantanamo threw out Jawad's confession. The judge found that Jawad initially denied throwing the grenade but changed his story after Afghan authorities threatened to kill him and his family. U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle ordered him released nine months later.
On Monday night, Jawad was greeted by a crowd of family members at a friend's home in Kabul. Turbaned uncles and brothers and cousins hugged him tightly. But Jawad said when he was brought in to his mother, she didn't recognize him.
"She pulled off my cap and looked at the back of my head. There was a mark there that she recognized and then she knew it was me," Jawad said.