PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Badr Zaman Badr and his brother Abdurrahim Muslim Dost relish writing a good joke that jabs a corrupt politician or distills the sufferings of fellow Afghans. Badr admires the political satires in “The Canterbury Tales” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” and Dost wrote some wicked lampoons in the 1990s, accusing Afghan mullahs of growing rich while preaching and organizing jihad. So in 2002, when the U.S. military shackled the writers and flew them to Guantanamo among prisoners whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared “the worst of the worst” violent terrorists, the brothers found life imitating farce.
For months, grim interrogators grilled them over a satirical article Dost had written in 1998, when the Clinton administration offered a $5-million reward for Osama bin Laden. Dost responded that Afghans put up 5 million Afghanis — equivalent to $113 — for the arrest of President Bill Clinton.
“It was a lampoon … of the poor Afghan economy” under the Taliban, Badr recalled. The article carefully instructed Afghans how to identify Clinton if they stumbled upon him. “It said he was clean-shaven, had light-colored eyes and he had been seen involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky,” Badr said.
The interrogators, some flown down from Washington, didn’t get the joke, he said. “Again and again, they were asking questions about this article. We had to explain that this was a satire.” He paused. “It was really pathetic.”
It took the brothers three years to convince the Americans that they posed no threat to Clinton or the United States, and to get released — a struggle that underscores the enormous odds weighing against innocent foreign Muslims caught in America’s military prisons.
In recent months, scores of Afghans interviewed by Newsday — including a dozen former U.S. prisoners, plus human rights officials and senior Afghan security officials — said the United States is detaining enough innocent Afghans in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaida that it is seriously undermining popular support for its presence in Afghanistan.