Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Holiday In Afghanistan

The NY Times provides a forum for a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay on its op-ed page.
In the early summer of 2001, when I was 19, I made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to Afghanistan on what I thought was a dream vacation. His friends, he said, were going to look after me. They did — channeling me to what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp. For two months, I was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.
The writer, Mourad Benchellali, is from France. Who needs Paris, when you can go on a "dream vacation" in Afghanistan.
I was seized by the Pakistani Army while having tea at a mosque shortly after I managed to cross the border. A few days later I was delivered to the United States Army: although I didn't know it at the time, I was now labeled an "enemy combatant." It did not matter that I was no one's enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone.
Two months at a terrorist training camp, and suddenly everyone thinks you're a terrorist. How unfair.

Mr. Benchellali, who describes himself as a "quiet Muslim", faces charges in France for the time that he spent in the al-Qaeda camp. Do you wonder what this misunderstood man's family thinks about his travails? Well, they have problems of their own:
A court on Wednesday convicted 25 people for their roles in preparing an attack in France in support of Islamic fighters in Chechnya.
In handing down sentences, the court followed the prosecutor's office by giving the maximum 10-year term to the group's alleged chemicals expert, Menad Benchellali. However, Menad's father, Chellali Benchellali, an imam, or prayer leader, in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux, received only an 18-month suspended prison term -- far lower than the prosecution's demand for six years behind bars.

The court convicted 24 defendants of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise, a broad charge used by France to sweep wide in bringing terror suspects to justice. One other was convicted of using false papers.

The Benchellali family was at the center of the case, with Menad's mother, Hafsa, and brother, Hafed, also on trial for roles in the plot to carry out an attack in France.
Is Mourad Benchellali the innocent man that he claims to be, or is he just a participant in the family business?

(Via Roger L. Simon).