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Haunting Past Casts Pall On Future

Abdukarim Ergashev: "Before my release, they told me I would get free housing and financial aid upon my return to Dushanbe, but all I got was some $100 and a pair of shoes."
Abdukarim Ergashev says it was a twist of fate that led him to Guantanamo in the first place, and seven years after his return to Tajikistan he finds that time has not healed all wounds.

At 47, he struggles to pick up the pieces of his former life. Chronic liver disease has left him unable to work, so he does what he can to help his wife sell goods at a Dushanbe market. He remains haunted by the humiliation he endured during his 2 1/2 years at the infamous U.S. detention facility.

"I would scream, swear, and bang on the door. And the guards put me inside a refrigerator, accusing me of spitting on the guards and pouring water on them," Ergashev says. "I spent three days inside the refrigerator wearing my underpants only, and sleeping on a bare iron bed."

It all started with a trip to see his brother, who lived in Tajikistan's restive Rasht Valley. The brother was supposed to be serving in the military, but as Ergashev was to find out, he had joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Nevertheless, Ergashev decided to stay, and when IMU fighters moved to northern Afghanistan he went along.

"I would make up to $300 a month and I was happy that I could save some money and return to Dushanbe," Ergashev says of his work transporting food and medicine for the militants.

U.S.-led coalition forces saw his role differently when they captured him in Mazar-e Sharif in 2002 and transferred him to Guantanamo as a terrorist suspect.

Ergashev refers to his captors simply as the "Americans," and says he never received promised compensation that could have helped him resettle in Tajikistan.

"Before my release, they told me I would get free housing and financial aid upon my return to Dushanbe, but all I got was some $100 and a pair of shoes from Tajik authorities," Erghashev says. "I didn't hear anything from the Americans ever again."

Ergashev says he has come to terms with what happened to him and doesn't want to dwell on the past. But at the same time, he fears what the future holds for his family of four.

Most of household income, he says, goes toward food and medicine, and his health and reputation as a former Guantanamo inmate weigh down his prospects for an easier existence.

One legacy of his former life remains -- his dream of someday buying a home. But that now looks to be beyond reach -- a victim of his lost years.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondents Mirzonabi Kholiqzod and Barot Yusufi in Dushanbe
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