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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Terror Suspect's Odyssey Seems to Know No End

APRasul Kudayev posing with his mother on the outskirts of Nalchik in 2005.
A former champion wrestler, Rasul Kudayev was a young man when he left Kabardino-Balkaria in 2000. His plan, he says, was to travel by road to Iran to study at an Islamic university.

Instead, he was arrested by the Taliban on a road near the western Afghan city of Herat, accused of being a Russian spy. He was subsequently imprisoned by Afghanistan's anti-Taliban resistance before being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, only then to be sent home and rearrested in his native Russia.

The U.S. military has never given an accounting of former Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. But an investigation by The Associated Press has identified at least nine men who were imprisoned, beaten and tortured by the Taliban on charges that they were foes, spies or assassins, only to be accused by the United States of being enemy combatants.

But of at least nine former Taliban prisoners -- including fellow Russian citizen Airat Vakhitov -- who also ended up at Guantanamo, perhaps none can match Kudayev's odyssey of incarceration.

Following the U.S. invasion in late 2001, Kudayev fell into the hands of the American-allied Northern Alliance, who imprisoned him in the notorious Qalai Janghi fort near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. It was at this same fort that John Walker Lindh, known as the American Taliban, was arrested following a bloody prisoner uprising.

Kudayev, shot in the hip during the uprising, was turned over to the Americans and taken to Guantanamo Bay. He charges that U.S. guards tortured and humiliated him from the start. The U.S. military denies there is any torture at Guantanamo.

Kudayev says he was beaten, kicked and injected with unknown drugs. He says he witnessed the desecration of the Quran, was stripped naked and forced to go to the bathroom in front of female guards, and was touched sexually by scantily clad, female interrogators. He was interrogated by other guards at all hours of the night and asked the same questions over and over.

What connection did you have to the Sept. 11 attacks? Do you know Osama bin Laden? Where did you fight for the Taliban?

"No, no, no. I told them they were silly questions," Kudayev said.

While there is no way to verify Kudayev's account independently, it matches many of the allegations of mistreatment leveled by other Guantanamo prisoners.

In early 2004, he and several other Russian prisoners were released and sent back to Russia, where they were held for several months at the high-security Pyatigorsk prison.

Even after his release, his family says, he was harassed by Russian security forces.

In November 2005, he was arrested on suspicion of participating in a raid by Islamic militants on police and other government buildings in the North Caucasus city of Nalchik.


AP
Airat Vakhitov


His mother, Fatima Tekayeva, said her son had been subjected to electric shock treatment, had pieces of his ears cut off and had sharp objects stuck in his eye. He broke down and confessed to being a part of the plot, though he now says he was home at the time and had nothing to do with it.

Zackary Katznelson, a lawyer at Reprieve, a London-based human rights group representing about three dozen Guantanamo detainees, said Kudayev was at home and severely ill at the time of the Nalchik attack.

He said at least four Russian lawyers assigned to Kudayev have been ordered off the case by the Prosecutor General's Office.

Family members say prosecutors have also accused the former Guantanamo inmate of being a British or U.S. spy.

Tekayeva said her son wanted only to be allowed to live in peace.

"He came back from [Guantanamo] as an invalid," she said in a phone interview. "But up until today he still finds himself in hell."

Freedom from Guantanamo has not meant an end to Vakhitov's misadventures, either.

A former imam, Vakhitov said he was arrested by Russian authorities in 1999 and eventually fled to Tajikistan, where he ran into rebels of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Vakhitov says the rebels forced him to accompany them to Afghanistan. He says he was flown to Kabul, put in a dungeon, tortured and accused of being a Russian spy. He was later handed over to the Taliban, who transferred him to a prison in Kandahar. After the U.S. invasion, Vakhitov was turned over to U.S. forces and arrived at Guantanamo in June 2002.

Vakhitov, 30, was flown out of Guantanamo in February 2004 after the United States declared him no longer a threat. He returned to Tatarstan, where he says he has been repeatedly harassed, detained and intimidated by Russian security agencies.

He now works as a freelance journalist, translator and editor, writing under a pseudonym so as not to raise the ire of authorities.

Vakhitov said in a telephone interview that he counts himself lucky, since the other Russian former Guantanamo detainees have all been either jailed or forced into hiding since their release from U.S. custody.

The Russian men were the subject of a March report by Human Rights Watch, which charged that Russian authorities had tortured three of them and harassed the others. Two were sentenced to lengthy jail terms on charges of blowing up a natural gas pipeline, after having been acquitted in a previous trial.

The report criticized the United States for releasing the men back into Russian custody.

The Federal Security Service announced last week that former Guantanamo prisoner Ruslan Odizhev, a suspect in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, was killed in a shootout with security agents in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Vakhitov, who had been in hiding until recently, says he is still considering leaving Russia with his wife and daughter if the pressure from authorities gets too heavy.