Exclusive: Former Gitmo Detainee Now Working for U.S.

After four years in Gitmo prison, Taj Mohammed helping U.S. in Afghanistan.

February 22, 2010, 9:42 AM

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2010— -- "That man over there, he speaks Spanish," said a soldier, pointing to a nearby Afghan.

That man, Taj Mohammed, wore a traditional thick, dark beard, but he also wore a fairly hip pair of dark sunglasses and smiled broadly while speaking a mix of English and Spanish.

"Guess where he learned to speak it?" the soldier asked, not waiting for an answer. "Guantanamo."

For Americans haunted by reports of Gitmo detainees being released only to resume their terror tactics, Mohammed offers the rare opposite of a one-time detainee who instead of hiding from the Americans or openly despising them, now works for them.

Mohammed, a sheep herder from Kunar Province, was imprisoned for nearly four years at Gitmo. He said he doesn't harbor hard feelings about his four years of captivity, suggesting it was his destiny. He used the time praying and learning about the Koran. He also worked on his English and learned Spanish, he says, from members of the Puerto Rican National Guard assigned to Gitmo.

He now speaks English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. He also has a great appreciation for pizza, brought to him by his legal team along with vegetarian subs, ice cream and nuts to make their meetings feel "less like a prison environment," according to his court-appointed lawyer Paul Rashkind.

Mohammed, who estimates his age in the early 30s, insists he was an innocent who was set up as a Taliban by an angry relative. Shortly after Sept. 11, Mohammed and his cousin argued. As punishment for Mohammad's beating his cousin with a piece of wood, Mohammed claims the cousin told American soldiers that Mohammed was Taliban. Mohammed was soon on his way to Guantanamo.

"He never did anything to deserve the detention to which he was subjected," his lawyer Rashkind to ABC News in an email. "When I was appointed to represent him, after years of his detention, we demonstrated to the government that he was simply a goat herder. Shortly after, he was released without explanation."

Mohammed was flown to Bagram Air Field in 2006 from where he took a taxi to his family's home near the Pakistan border.

Former Gitmo Detainee Calls Taliban "Stupid"

Since Guantanamo, he has returned to his life as a farmer and calls himself a "business agent," buying and selling cows and sheep for villagers. His village of 30 people is not far from an American base, so he attended a veterinarian clinic held by Agribusiness Development Team from California National Guard 40th ID.

"He came up and talked to me in perfect English and I didn't recognize him as a translator," said Lt. Col. Max Velte. Then Mohammed explained how he knew English.

"I, of course, didn't believe him," Velte said.

Velte is the mission commander for the ADT. After researching Mohammed's story, Velte determined that Mohammed was a former detainee: Internment Serial Number: 902.

He knew that Mohammed's live stock skills were essential for the work his Agribusiness Development Team, which is helping to improve the local economy by providing agricultural support, including free veterinarian clinics which offer vaccinations and medicine for farm animals.

The team hired him to work at their clinics and he was allowed on the American base to meet with U.S. officials, but after two weeks he was refused clearance. Now, he works at U.S.-run clinics off the base several times a month.

Mohammed works as a translator when needed, and he is prized for his good humor, animal skills and understanding of American culture. He can be bluntly impatient, however. When asked the age of his cow by a reporter, he quickly said the question was "stupid." He later apologized.

Not everyone is a fan of Mohammed and there is some distrust among those who know his background.

"Who speaks seven languages and is a farmer?" asked one U.S. soldier.

Mohammed, however, professes to have little sympathy for the Taliban.

When asked recently if he supported the Taliban, the former detainee smirked and used the word "stupid" again, though it was directed elsewhere.

"The PRT guy [American Provincial Reconstruction Team] makes the building, the school, everything," said Mohammed. "The Taliban doesn't make anything for us. Stupid guy, the Taliban."