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Pakistani says life in ruins after Guantanamo jail

Written by: Staff

PATTAN, Pakistan, Sep 11 (Reuters) Mohammad Sagheer says the year he spent in prison in Guantanamo Bay has ruined his life.

He has lost his saw-mill business, his family has sunk into debt and his children have had to quit school.

Sagheer, 54, said he was with a Muslim missionary group, preaching in northern Afghanistan, when the Taliban were ousted weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Picked up by troops of an Afghan warlord allied with the United States, Sagheer soon found himself in US custody in Cuba. His family had no idea where he was.

A year later he was home but things have never been the same, said Sagheer in an interview in his mountain village in Pakistan's rugged North West Frontier Province.

''In the first two or three months after my release, I was unaware of anything but later I realised my sons had borrowed a lot of money to track me down,'' said Sagheer, sitting on the floor of a small hut with his sons and other male relatives.

Sagheer's family borrowed more than 1,500,000 rupees (25,000 dollars) to pay people to search for him in Afghanistan.

Struggling to pay back the debt, Sagheer was forced to sell a small piece of land and a house to cover some of it. But the people he owes money want the rest.

''The situation is worse because the lenders are demanding their money. I have nothing left except this house. If I sell it I'll have no shelter,'' said the black-beared man, sitting with his 7-year-old mentally retarded son, Shamsul Haq, on his lap.

''THE TALIBAN ARE GOOD'' If things weren't bad enough, a huge earthquake struck parts of northern Pakistan last October, including Sagheer's village.

His main four-room concrete house was destroyed as well as a workshop where he kept a large mechanical saw with that he used to cut wood, his sole source of income.

''Now I'm doing nothing. I'm jobless.'' Sagheer said he might have to join the ranks of the landless, hunting for work in the cities.

''If I can't find a way out, I'll sell my house, repay my debts and move to a city to find work. It will be very hard for my children. They're so depressed but I have no option.'' Thousands of Pakistanis from Sagheer's home district of Kohistan and other parts of North West Frontier Province rallied to calls from clerics and went to help the Taliban fight US-led forces after the September 11 attacks.

Sagheer was the first Pakistani detainee to be released from the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2002.

He said had had nothing to do with al Qaeda but he supported the Taliban.

''They are good because they fight for religion,'' he said.

''But I can't say anything about Osama bin Laden ... he's an Arab. What can I say?'' He said he was beaten and tortured during detention in both Afghan and US centres.

''When I returned my health was good but now it has weakened because of all the tension. What happens to me next only Allah knows.'' He's hoping he can win some compensation and has filed a 10.4 million dollar suit in a Pakistani court against the US and Pakistani governments for unlawful detention.

Reuters DKB VP1335

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