KABUL, Afghanistan – Haji Shahzada never leaves home without a neatly folded scrap of paper that is the closest thing to an apology the United States offered after keeping him locked up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than two years.
This individual has been determined to pose no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests in Afghanistan, states the April 2005 release document, which includes a squiggle of a signature and the initials of a sergeant first class. This certificate has no bearing on any future misconduct.
The words are of little consolation to Shahzada as he struggles to rebuild a life he says is in ruins, in a nation he views as worse off than a decade ago when U.S. troops swooped in, promising to rebuild, secure and transform Afghanistan.
Like several other Guantanamo detainees interviewed, Shahzada said he has come to see the toll that the U.S. invasion took on his country as a bigger curse than the years he spent locked up in the seaside prison for suspected terrorists.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, the United States has held more than 200 Afghans in Guantanamo Bay. All but 20 have been released. Now back in their war-torn homeland, the men serve as legacies of what is arguably the most notorious institution of the U.S. war against terrorism.
Their different paths reflect some of the unintended consequences of the way the United States has waged this battle.
Some have again taken up arms against the Americans and their allies.
Others have stayed out of the battle but consider their status as a former Guantanamo detainee a badge of honor and express support for the Taliban.
There are those who opted to let bygones be bygones, even going as far as keeping an open line of dialogue with Western officials in Afghanistan.
Shahzada said he remains too angry to forgive, yet he is too scared to fight.
I am worried for my life, Shahzada, who is about 50, said while sitting on the floor of a spartan living room in Kabul. They destroyed my life, and they made me dishonorable.
A couple of years after his return, Taliban members sought to recruit Shahzada as they consolidated their dominion of Kandahar city and its surroundings.
Since I had been in Guantanamo, they told me I should stand alongside them and do harm to the Americans, he recalled. When I told them I was not ready to join them, they branded me an infidel.
Many returning Guantanamo detainees have been forced to leave their hometowns as fighting has spread across the country in recent years, said Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil, a former Guantanamo detainee who formed a support group. Once a tribal leader in eastern Kunar province, Rohullah is a refugee in Kabul.
Rohullah, 49, said many former Guantanamo detainees have become pariahs, both in the eyes of the U.S.-led NATO coalition and Afghanistans intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.
There are ones who are bothered a lot by foreign forces and by the NDS, who have had to go back to the insurgency, Rohullah added.
Rohullah said he harbors no ill will toward the Americans who detained him for more than five years. But he said their war strategy over the years has done far more damage than good.
The existence of the foreign troops is an excuse for the Taliban to fight, he said. Once the foreign troops leave, the people will stand against them and defend their districts and provinces.