Archive for August, 2007

Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain

The story of Hedi Boudhiba, a 46-year old Tunisian, who has been abandoned in Spain after being extradited from the UK and cleared of all charges against him in the Spanish National Court, calls into doubt the quality of British and pan-European intelligence about activities related to terrorism, and also raises uncomfortable questions about the apparent absence of human rights safeguards in the “fast-track” extradition agreements for terror suspects that have been negotiated between various countries in the European Union.

A refugee, who fled religious persecution in the country of his birth, where he was tortured, and where the dictatorship presided over by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has long waged a dirty campaign of intimidation, imprisonment and torture against even moderate political and religious opponents, Boudhiba was arrested at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, en route to Barcelona, on 20 August 2004. Held for 20 months in the notorious Belmarsh prison in south-east London, which gained a reputation as Britain’s own Guantánamo, because of the number of Muslim terror suspects held there without charge or trial, he suffered from psychosis and depression, and on one occasion attempted to commit suicide by slashing his throat and forearm. Speaking at the time, Boudhiba said, “Here I am tortured mentally and I suffer every day and I can’t find help from anyone. When I’m ill they don’t send me to hospital.”

Protestors at Belmarsh

Protestors at Belmarsh in October 2004.

While in Belmarsh, Boudhiba was interviewed not only by British intelligence agents, but also by representatives of the American, Portuguese and German authorities. Despite allegations that he was part of a terrorist network linked to 9/11, that he was involved in providing funding for fighters in Iraq, and that he was also involved in the now-discredited ricin plot in Britain, the British, American, Portuguese and German authorities all declined to either prosecute him or seek his extradition, but he became ensnared by the rules of the new, “fast-track” European Arrest Warrant –- which eases the extradition of suspects between EU countries –- after the Spanish authorities also turned up to interview him, and he refused to speak to them.

His lawyer, Julian Hayes, explained that, having previously spoken to representatives of the four countries mentioned above, Boudhiba said, “well, I’ve spoken to all these other authorities, you can see what I’ve said to them and I don’t frankly want to speak to you about it,” and added that, as a result, “one has to question the validity of that particular warrant.” Questioned for the BBC by Gerry Northam, who asked, “Are you saying that you suspect the Spanish are on a fishing trip and they just want to pull him in too see what he knows?” Hayes replied, “That is the suspicion,” and countered Northam’s follow-up question, “Well, why not let them fish?” by pointing out that “there’s been a free flow of information between these authorities and the Spanish can easily obtain that information.”

Despite assurances that the “fast-track” extradition programme would live up to its name, it took 20 months until Boudhiba was extradited to Spain. When he lost an appeal in the High Court in April 2006, Julian Hayes again complained, pointing out, “We have no guarantees given to us by the Spanish authorities that he would be allowed to stay in their country,” and adding that Boudhiba ran the risk of being returned to Tunisia, “where at the very least he’ll be tortured and at the very worst he’ll be killed.”

Speaking at the time, Boudhiba reinforced his lawyer’s complaints, saying, “They want to extradite me to Spain, as they could not find anything against me. The Spanish police could send me to Tunisia, and once I arrive in Tunisia, they can torture me and do to me whatever they like.” Denying the allegations against him, he added, “I swear, I have done nothing bad to anyone. I am not a terrorist. They want to accuse me no matter what, I can’t understand why. Is it because I am a Muslim or because I knew some people, and they have suspicions against these people? This isn’t justice. This is not a war against terrorists; this is a war against Muslims.”

Once in Spanish custody, where, as CBS News reported in January 2005, the Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon claimed that he had travelled from Hamburg to Istanbul a week before 9/11 with a member of the Hamburg cell run by lead hijacker Mohammed Atta, Boudhiba effectively disappeared off the radar, only to resurface a few days ago, when Marianne Kremer, a human rights activist in Luxembourg, who is in contact with him, emailed me to request assistance.

Kremer reported that, after being held for 15 months in Spain, where he was unable to contact his family and was, on one occasion, set upon by another prisoner who bit off part of his nose (after which the authorities promised him plastic surgery, but failed to do so), Boudhiba was acquitted in July of all the charges against him in the Audiencia Nacional (Spain’s National Court), but was then “simply released from prison near Madrid with no money, no place to stay, and no passport.” Kremer explained that Boudhiba’s passport is still held at the Audiencia Nacional (and that everyone there is on vacation). As a result, despite being cleared, he has been reduced to something akin to a “ghost” presence in Spain, having not yet received an “official written verdict” from the trial, and is unable even to receive donations because the court has not yet returned his passport.

While this seems to me to be a rather shocking indictment of the ways in which the European Arrest Warrant has facilitated the movement of unwanted refugees around Europe without any oversight regarding the justice of their treatment, Kremer added a more worrying postscript, noting that Boudhiba remains terrified that the Spanish authorities, with the collusion of the British government, will attempt to return him to Tunisia. She reports that, during his extradition trial in the UK, “the Spanish Prosecutor Pedro Rubira signed a document stating that the Spanish cannot deport Hedi to a third country without the consent of the UK authorities.”

Although the BBC reported in October 2005 that Home Office minister Andy Burnham, citing Boudhiba’s case, pledged that extradited suspects would “remain absolutely protected from the death penalty or torture,” and that the British government “would not permit anyone it had surrendered to another European state to be sent on to a country which violated these human rights,” recent cases make it clear that, despite these apparent assurances, the British government is at the forefront of attempts to return unwanted refugees to countries where they face the risk of torture or death, having signed worthless “memoranda of understanding” with Jordan and Libya, allegedly guaranteeing the “humane” treatment of returned suspects, and having entered a similar agreement with the Algerian government.

In April and July, attempts by the UK government to return two Libyans and three Algerians –- held without charge or trial in the UK –- were turned down by the Special Immigrations Appeal Court (SIAC) and by appeal court judges, who ruled that all five faced the risk of torture, but the United States, another partner in this concerted effort to bypass international safeguards preventing the return of inconvenient individuals to countries where they face torture, recently opened a new front in this unprincipled diplomatic game by entering into a similar agreement with Tunisia.

In June, two Tunisian detainees in Guantánamo, Abdullah bin Omar and Lofti Lagha –- cleared for release by a military review board, which had concluded that they no longer represented a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value –- were returned to the country of their birth, where they were promptly imprisoned, and where, according to human rights observers, bin Omar “has already been tortured, and has been told that if he does not confess falsely to crimes, his wife and daughters will be raped.”

As he paces the streets of Madrid, awaiting the return of his passport, Hedi Boudhiba –- finally liberated after three years of imprisonment based on “evidence” obtained through hearsay or torture that has evaporated like a mirage –- must be hoping that his persecution is now at an end, and that he, unlike Abdullah bin Omar, is not destined to become what bin Omar’s lawyer, Zachary Katznelson of the London-based legal charity Reprieve, described as “a guinea pig in a potentially deadly diplomatic experiment.”

In the meantime, while the unsettling questions about Hedi’s future remain unanswered, anyone who can help him out of his immediate crisis –- perhaps by providing a friendly contact in Madrid –- is encouraged to get in touch with Marianne at the following email address: marianne_kremer@hotmail.com

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on CounterPunch and Indymedia.

Note: Mr. Lagha’s first name is spelled incorrectly. It is “Lotfi” not “Lofti.”

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportation and extradition, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009).

“A lawless process”: attempts to revive Guantánamo’s reviled Military Commissions opposed by military lawyers

On Friday, in a second legal development dealing with Guantánamo (see here for the first), the administration attempted to revive its beleaguered –- and much reviled –- system of Military Commissions. Just as the tribunals at Guantánamo –- the Combatant Status Review Tribunals –- have been condemned for providing a pale and unjust imitation of habeas rights, the four-year history of the Commissions has been rocked by judicial setbacks and abortive, farcical proceedings, with a widespread belief that, like a mirror of the tribunals, the Commissions –- established to try those regarded as the most dangerous detainees in Guantánamo in a brand-new system that spurns both military law and civilian law as enacted on the mainland –- are another second-tier judicial system, as unjust and unprincipled as the CSRTs, and designed, like the tribunals, to secure a guilty verdict at all costs, and to prevent all mention of torture by US forces in a similar manner.

First condemned by the Supreme Court in June 2006, which ruled that they were illegal under US law and the Geneva Conventions, the Commissions were revived late last year when the Senate passed the criminally negligent Military Commissions Act, but they came unstuck as soon as they were reinstated, two months ago, when the government-appointed military judges in two cases –- that of child soldier Omar Khadr, and the Yemeni Salim Hamdan, who worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden –- closed down the proceedings because the MCA had authorized them to try “illegal enemy combatants,” whereas the CSRT process, which made detainees eligible for trial by Military Commission, had ruled only that they were “enemy combatants.”

Despite attempts by the government to dismiss the distinction as a mere technicality, the judges –- Army Colonel Peter Brownback (for Khadr) and Navy Captain Keith Allred (for Hamdan) –- refused to back down, and as the administration, in a fit of pique, declared that it would appeal the decisions, the stunning ineptitude of its renegade approach to the law –- a mixture of Stalinism and cowboy justice –- was highlighted as the botched DIY job that it really is when it was revealed that the appeal court in which the government would file its petulant complaints had not yet been established.

This darkly risible oversight has now been remedied. As the special appeals court convened on Friday, in what the New York Times described as “a borrowed courtroom half a block from the White House,” retired Army Colonel Francis Gilligan, one of the military prosecutors, declared, “We’re attempting to start the trials,” although he added, a little sheepishly, “We’ve sort of had a judicial stall.” This, of course, was something of an understatement, and it remains to be seen whether the newly established and grandly titled “United States Court of Military Commission Review” can overturn the objections expressed by the military judges in June.

The session, convened to deal, in the first instance, with Omar Khadr’s case, did not get off to a good start. As soon as it began, defense lawyers challenged the very legitimacy of the court, “arguing,” as the Times put it, “that it was improperly constituted because its members were appointed not by the defense secretary, as the law calls for, but by a deputy secretary.” Ignoring this inconvenient truth, Gilligan said that the court should be able to accept that Khadr’s tribunal effectively declared him an unlawful combatant, “in part because al-Qaeda does not follow the rules of war,” adding that, even if the judges rejected that argument, the prosecution “should be permitted to present proof to a trial judge that Mr. Khadr was in fact an unlawful combatant and could therefore be prosecuted before a military commission.”

The judges did not appear to be convinced. Two of the three-man panel “expressed skepticism of the prosecution’s contention that the holding of prior status reviews could be read as having declared detainees unlawful combatants” –- as Brownback and Allred had argued when they had dismissed the cases in June –- and although all three judges indicated that they were considering whether the trial judges themselves could decide whether detainees were unlawful combatants and were therefore eligible for prosecution by Military Commission, it’s uncertain that Brownback and Allred will be convinced.

The administration also faces stiff opposition from the military defense lawyers who, as in the case of Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who represented Hamdan until he was turned down for promotion and forced to leave the military last month, are prepared to sacrifice their careers to maintain opposition to what they regard as a system designed to justify torture and to break the law. Swift, it transpires, was not so easily dismissed, and will continue to lead Hamdan’s team as a civilian lawyer, from his new post at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, and his successor, Army Major Thomas Roughneen, has already expressed his opposition to the system, explaining that he is “confident” that it will “collapse under high court scrutiny,” and adding, “It’s like the Titanic. You know someday the ship is going to sink. God almighty, let’s get there already”.

One of their number, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, who recently described the Commissions as rigged, ridiculous, unjust, farcical, and a sham, and who added, “I think things have been done to people that under any definition except this administration’s very narrow one would be torture,” has already indicated that he remains implacably opposed to any attempt to revive the Commissions, telling journalists after the hearing, “This is about the credibility of the United States and the perception around the world of our commitment to the rule of law,” Like a gauntlet-hurling hero of old, he concluded, “This is a lawless process,” and I look forward to further legal fireworks as the limping administration attempts –- unsuccessfully, I hope –- to bully its way to further injustices.

For more on the Military Commissions, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

A combination of this article and “411-0: opposition to Bush’s Guantánamo policy grows” was published in the print edition of CounterPunch, Vol. 14, No. 14, August 2007.

411-0: opposition to Bush’s Guantánamo policy grows

The US Supreme CourtAs the time steadily approaches when the US Supreme Court will consider whether, after over three years of stalling and obfuscation on the part of the administration, the detainees at Guantánamo will be allowed “full access to the US court system” and the right to challenge the basis of their detention in federal courts, the Associated Press reports that 411 senior officials from the United States and Europe –- 25 retired US diplomats, two retired rear admirals, a retired Marine general, and 383 current or former members of the European and British parliaments –- made their support for the detainees’ case clear to the Supreme Court on Friday.

Their opposition to the administration’s policies stems from a profound dissatisfaction with the tribunal system –- the Combatant Review Status Tribunals –- which were hurriedly established by the administration after the Supreme Court first ruled, 38 months ago, that the detainees had the right to challenge their detention, and after they had already spent two and a half years in a hermetically sealed legal limbo.

Far from being an adequate response, the tribunals –- in which three-member military panels reviewed the detainees’ status as enemy combatants, but the detainees themselves had no right to legal counsel and were not allowed to see the classified information on which most of the verdicts were supposedly based –- had been criticized from the moment of their inception, and were recently subjected to fierce condemnation by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a member of the team responsible for compiling the “evidence” used in the tribunals, who criticized the entire process as severely flawed, often relying on “generic” evidence and designed solely to rubber-stamp the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants” (as I reported here, here and here). Abraham’s statement, filed in a case in June, is widely credited with encouraging the Supreme Court –- in a reversal that was so rare that it last occurred 60 years ago –- to agree to take the detainees’ case in June, reversing a decision made just two months earlier.

In their submission to the Supreme Court, the 383 European politicians –- “of divergent political views,” as the AP put it –- declared that it was “important that even when faced with the threat of international terrorism, all states, including the United States, comply with the standards set by international humanitarian law and human rights law by granting full court access,” and added, pointedly, “The treatment of petitioners currently falls short of these standards.”

For their part, the 25 retired US diplomats pointed out that lower court rulings “supporting the Bush administration’s opposition to full court access” were “seized upon by repressive governments as a license to incarcerate their own citizens and others with impunity,” but the most trenchant criticism came from Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, the senior legal adviser for the Marine Corps from 1985-88, Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy’s judge advocate general from 1997-2000, and Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy’s judge advocate general from 2000-02, who declared that the CSRTs had been “tainted by the permissible use of evidence obtained by torture,” and stated, “If the United States holds prisoners indefinitely –- potentially lifetime imprisonment –- based on sham CSRT proceedings and without providing meaningful judicial review of their imprisonment, enemies in current or future conflicts may use that as an excuse to mete out similar treatment to captured American military forces.”

The complaints of these 411 men and women are not without precedent. In the last few years, a roll-call of retired US military commanders and diplomats (many of them staunch Republicans) and European parliamentarians have joined a chorus of disapproval from the leaders of other countries, from UN representatives, from religious leaders, and from judges, lawyers and human rights activists, pointing out essentially the same things: that the system is monstrously unjust, that it blackens the good name of the United States worldwide, that it empowers dictators by example, and that it endangers the lives of US soldiers and civilians abroad. This time, however, the timing may be significant, as the administration is due to begin court filings in its own defense in just six weeks’ time.

[Note: In a Yemen Observer article that has not been picked up elsewhere, David Remes, attorney for 15 Yemeni detainees in Guantánamo, “made it clear that the Bush administration wants to close down the detention [center] before the Supreme Court listens to the lawyers’ arguments about the center’s constitutionality late this year.” Remes specifically told the Observer that he believes that “The government might even close Guantánamo before the Supreme Court hears argument from the lawyers in early December, and it will probably issue its decision between April and the end of June. That is the last thing the government wants, and I predict that the government will close the detention [center] to avoid having to do so.” Discuss. Oh, and the article’s also good on the plight of Guantánamo’s largest and often overlooked constituency, the 100 or so Yemeni detainees who are still held there].

For more on the legal challenges to Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Tear It Down: Sign Amnesty International’s petition to close Guantánamo

Amnesty International

Launched just eight days ago, and already featuring 46,000 signatures, Amnesty International’s new petition campaign to close Guantánamo, Tear It Down, is just a click away.

Flash, clever and requiring very little time to participate –- which you do by signing up and removing one pixel from a picture made up of 500,000 pixels –- this is, of course, no substitute for more in-depth involvement in tackling the criminal politicians responsible for the existence of Guantánamo and the secret prisons, but if you’re reading this here then you probably already know that.

If not, settle in, get yourself a beverage of your choice, and feel free to browse through the archive. Click here for information about my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, and click here or on the image at the top of the page for the homepage. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Good riddance, Gonzales, but don’t forget Cheney and Addington, the true architects of torture

OK, so the departing Attorney General was not as malevolent as some made out: more a willing pawn of his old friend George W. and his guiding brain, the recently departed Karl Rove, and, moreover, of the genuinely malevolent Dick Cheney, and his close associate David Addington. The notorious memorandum, in January 2002, which paved the way for torture at Guantánamo –- by dismissing the Geneva Conventions as “quaint,” and insisting that “strict limits on [the] questioning of enemy prisoners” hobbled efforts “to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists” –- was, for example, signed by Gonzales, but was actually written, as Barton Gellman and Jo Becker noted in a Washington Post series on Cheney in June, by the rather more articulate and definitely more fear-inspiring David Addington, Cheney’s chief counsel and his old buddy from the Reagan days, when the two men, revisiting the love of unfettered executive power that Cheney had first admired under Richard Nixon, bullied Congress to defend Reagan’s right to –- you guessed it –- do what he damn well pleased during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Alberto Gonzales resigns

Bye bye, Gonzo. Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP.

So, a clown and a scapegoat, then, as was indicated in April by his repetitive memory loss during the Senate hearing into last year’s politically motivated dismissal of eight federal prosecutors, when, as the Washington Post reported, he “uttered the phrase ‘I don’t recall’ and its variants (‘I have no recollection,’ ‘I have no memory’) 64 times,” and as was proved conclusively by his attempt, during a previous Senate hearing in January, to explain that, although the Constitution states that “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it” (Section 9, Clause 2), this doesn’t prove that citizens actually have habeas rights in the first place. The full exchange, between “Gonzo” and Senator Arlen Specter, is worth revisiting, perhaps as a suitable epitaph for the newly departed and unlamented Attorney General.

GONZALES: [T]here is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme –-

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by –-

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

GONZALES: Um.

In conclusion, then, there may no longer be a Fool on the Hill (or not that one, at least), but Cheney and Addington are still in place, and it was they (with Timothy Flanagan and John Yoo) who drafted not only the memo signed by Gonzales that stripped “terror detainees” of their rights under the Geneva Conventions, but who also masterminded four other crucial documents whose aim was to elevate the President to the position of Dictator and Torturer-in-Chief, and which have done so much to tarnish the reputation of the United States, both at home and abroad: the open-ended Authorization for Use of Military Force (18 September 2001), a secret memorandum authorizing the warrantless surveillance of communications to and from the United States (25 September 2001), Military Order No 1, which stripped foreign terror suspects of access to any courts, authorized their indefinite imprisonment without charge, and also authorized the creation of “Military Commissions,” before which they could be tried using secret evidence (13 November 2001), and the notorious “Torture Memo” of 1 August 2002, which sought to redefine torture as nothing less than organ failure or death.

Impeach CheneyThe call to impeach Cheney is here. The notoriously secretive Addington, meanwhile, needs vilifying as regularly and as publicly as possible. As a lengthy US News and World Report article in May 2006 explained (which highlighted Addington’s role as, amongst other things, the shepherd of Bush’s lawless “signing statements,” and a key player in the fiction that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger), he’s “the most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” Now that’s scary.

David Addington
Addington, as seen by The Heretik.

For more on the development of US torture policy, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

As published on CounterPunch.

The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase

Omar DeghayesSuch is the turnover of stories in the news that genuinely shocking claims –- such as those made by Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes in a dossier released by his family two weeks ago –- often become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper without anyone having really paid attention.

As part of an attempt to refute claims by parts of the US administration –- and in particular by Sandra Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs –- that the five British residents (including Deghayes), whose return to the UK was requested by the British government, were “still considered to be a significant threat,” Deghayes’ family was moved to issue a harrowing dossier of allegations made by Deghayes to one of his lawyers in Guantánamo.

In addition to previously reported claims –- that he was “left blinded in one eye after a soldier plunged his finger into it,” that he “had human excrement smeared on his face,” and that he was threatened with being returned to Libya, where Libyan intelligence agents (brought to Guantánamo by the CIA) told him he would be killed –- the dossier also contains previously unreported allegations, including claims that he was sexually abused –- although he added that he “can not bear to relive the details until he is released,” and explained, “It is very distressing and sad to go through and remember again” –- and allegations that he was subjected to electric shocks in Pakistani custody in Lahore, where, he said, “The more I scream they will laugh and do it again… my screams all in vain.”

After being transferred to the US-run prison at Bagram airbase, where he and others were transported “in a torture position,” Deghayes explained that he was chained in a cage with his hands stretched above his head, “causing suffocation,” that he went without food for 45 days, and that he was subjected to water torture: “They hold me naked in the night, freezing cold, and throw buckets of water and fill the bucket and throw [it] again. I shiver and shake badly and try to sit down to gain warmth. They kick and punch and say stand up until I fall to the ground in weakness.”

Following his transfer to Guantánamo, Deghayes said that he was “beaten on his first day,” relived his experiences of the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF) teams who blinded him and “repeatedly beat him up,” and explained that detainees were given “mystery injections.” He also said that an FBI interrogator –- who called himself Craig –- told him that he would face execution, and that he would not get a proper trial. “Many times,” he said, “one FBI interrogator by the name of Craig said, ‘Omar, it is nothing like the law you studied in the UK. There will never be a proper court and lawyers etc. It would be only a military tribunal to determine your future and your life. Your best choice is to cooperate with me.’”

Most shocking of all, however, are Deghayes’ claims that, in Bagram, he saw one prisoner who “was beaten until blood dripped on the cell floor and he was left ‘paralysed and mentally damaged,’” that he also “witnessed a prisoner shot dead after he had gone to the aid of an inmate who was being beaten and kicked by the guards” (“The American,” he explained, “said he tried to take the gun”), and that he was also nearby when another prisoner was beaten to death: “One by the name of Abdaulmalik, Moroccan and Italian, was beaten until I heard no sound of him after the screaming. There was afterwards panic in prison and the guards running about in fear saying to each other the Arab has died. I have not seen this young man again.”

Two murders in Bagram –- those of a man named Mullah Habibullah and a taxi driver named Dilawar –- are relatively well known and have received a respectable amount of media coverage (Dilawar’s story, for example, was the subject of a recent award-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, by Alex Gibney, whose previous film was “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”). These –- and an additional, unreported murder, mentioned by three other British detainees, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Jamal Kiyemba –- are covered in my book The Guantánamo Files, but the third murder described by Deghayes’ compatriots –- of a young Afghan who tried to escape –- do not correspond with those described by Deghayes.

Is the world, I wonder, so inured to murders in US custody in Afghanistan that two additional, and previously unreported murders –- of a prisoner who remains anonymous to this day, and of a Moroccan who was at least remembered by his first name –- are incapable of raising even a ripple of outrage?

Omar Deghayes with his father

Omar Deghayes as a child with his late father, Amer. It was the death of Amer, a prominent trade union activist killed by Colonel Gaddafi, that prompted Omar’s family to flee to Britain from Libya in the 1980s. (Photo from Cageprisoners).

For further information on Omar, visit the website of the Save Omar campaign, which has campaigned relentlessly for his release, and has made him a cause celèbre in his home town of Brighton.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on American Torture.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison, Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here) (all May 2009), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

British residents in Guantánamo: the backlash begins

Clive Stafford SmithIn the most recent of his regular monthly columns for the New Statesman, Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of Reprieve, the London-based legal charity that represents dozens of Guantánamo detainees, follows up on a disturbing trend that became apparent almost as soon as the British government requested the return of five British residents in Guantánamo two weeks ago (as I reported here): the tendency, in some parts of the US administration, to react to the request not by defending it as a laudable effort to help the US President achieve what Stafford Smith describes as his “half-hearted insistence that Guantánamo should close,” but by launching a smear campaign aimed at portraying the five men as “exceptionally dangerous terrorists.”

In his article, Stafford Smith focuses on statements made by Sandra Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, just days after the British request was announced. Despite welcoming the British offer and even asking Britain to take more prisoners off American hands, Hodgkinson warned that they were “still considered to be a significant threat,” and claimed that one of the men, Shaker Aamer, “has been involved in a lot of significant terrorist plots.” Expanding on this story, Hodgkinson alleged that Aamer shared an apartment in London in the late 1990s with Zacarias Moussaoui, one of several alleged “20th hijackers” in the 9/11 plot, met with the shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and also “trained in the use of explosives and surface-to-air missiles and lived on stipends in Afghanistan paid by [Osama] bin Laden.”

Stafford Smith was quick to deride the claims, calling them “total nonsense,” and pointing out that the US authorities “don’t like Shaker,” who stopped a hunger strike in August 2005 as part of a short-lived Prisoners’ Council, but has since been held in solitary confinement, “because they think he has got a lot of influence over the prisoners.” Released British detainee Moazzam Begg, who is a close friend of Aamer, and shared a house with him in Kabul when they were both establishing a girls’ school prior to 9/11, also stepped in to defend his friend, saying, “It’s interesting that after five and a half years those allegations are coming out at this moment.” Speaking to the Associated Press, Begg “denied that Aamer had lived with Moussaoui in London and said he does not know whether he met Reid.” He also “laughed at the allegation” that Aamer received money from bin Laden in Afghanistan, explaining, “I find that really funny because we used to live together in the same house… I know he didn’t have any stipends from anybody.”

In the New Statesman, Stafford Smith also took exception to Hodgkinson’s claims about two of the other British residents, Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, and correctly lambasted parts of the British media for uncritically reproducing her comments:

Hodgkinson said, and the media printed, that [El-Banna] had “a long-term association” with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist infamous for decapitating prisoners in Iraq, who was “behind the murder of Ken Bigley, the British engineer.” Jamil knew Zarqawi as a youth from the same area in Jordan. But his only attempt to contact him in recent decades was a letter he wrote from Guantánamo, through his lawyers, telling Zarqawi his barbaric actions were contrary to Islam, and that Bigley should be freed. Minimal investigation might also have prompted the press to point out that Jamil has been cleared by Hodgkinson’s military colleagues, who found him to be no threat to anyone.

As for Omar Deghayes, who fled Libya with his family in the 1980s after his father, a trade union activist, was killed by Colonel Gaddafi, Stafford Smith lambasted Hodgkinson for claiming that Omar was a ”jihadi veteran” of the Bosnian war, pointing out that “the US military previously claimed he was a Chechen jihadist shown on videotape brandishing an AK-47,” whereas the man on the tape “actually turned out to be Abu Walid, a Chechen rebel who died in 2004.”

In response to Hodgkinson’s outrageous claims –- and their parroting in parts of the British press –- Stafford Smith reached the following chastening conclusion:

Not satisfied with convicting the prisoners in absentia, the media chastised the British government for the U-turn in its policy towards the UK residents. Yet surely someone who is driving in the wrong direction would do well to turn around. The media, on the other hand, made a U-turn away from fairness. If there are allegations against them, the Guantánamo prisoners will be glad to answer them in a proper court. Trial by media is little better, really, than the tribunals that have received such justified criticism.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Tajiks released from Guantánamo sentenced to 17 years in prison

From Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, comes news that two of the three Tajik detainees released from Guantánamo in March –- Muqit Vohidov and Rukniddin Sharopov –- have received jail sentences of 17 years in “high-security penal colonies” (aka labour camps) for “serving as mercenaries in Afghanistan” –- where they were accused of aiding the Taliban by fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) –- and for taking part in “illegal border crossing.” After passing sentence, the Supreme Court judge, Musammir Uroqov, said that both men had maintained their innocence, and added, “In their last words, they said they didn’t expect such consequences for acts they committed.”

After five years and four months in US custody –- first in Afghanistan, and then in Guantánamo –- this was probably something of an understatement. In Guantánamo, both men had admitted in their tribunals that they had been involved with the IMU, but claimed that they had been tricked into doing so.

Former Guantánamo inmates Muqit Vohidov and Rukniddin Sharopov

Former Guantánamo inmates Muqit Vohidov and Rukniddin Sharopov in a Dushanbe court during their trial (RFE/RL).

Sharopov, born in 1981 (although the US authorities stated that he was born in 1973), claimed that, because he wanted to earn some money, he agreed to “serve for the army of Tajikistan’s government.” He said that he believed that he would be serving in Lajerg in Tajikistan, but was “tricked” into fighting with the IMU and serving in Afghanistan instead. He explained that, in Lajerg, he found himself in a camp run by the IMU, where his passport was taken away from him, and one of the organization’s leaders, a man called Rostum, “told him it was better if he went into the military.” As a result, he said, he was sent to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against General Dostum’s Uzbek faction of the Northern Alliance.

He then explained that he was a passenger on a truck containing Uzbek soldiers –- not Taliban, as alleged by the US authorities –- who surrendered to Dostum’s forces in a compound in Khawaja Ghar, near the border with Tajikistan, and added that, although he had no criminal record in Tajikistan, he believed that this might cause a problem for him in his home country. “This is one thing the interrogators told me,” he said. “The interrogator told me it would be a problem for me if I went back to Tajikistan because I was with the Uzbek community.” He denied receiving training at Lajerg, as he had received some mandatory training in Tajikistan, and added that he didn’t like to shoot guns and that at the camp he collected wood for the fire: “I never fought before and I am not going to fight after this. I have never fought in my life.”

After his capture, he was taken to the Qala-i-Janghi prison in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and was one of only 86 men –- out of a total of around 450 foreign fighters –- who survived a notorious massacre in the fort that followed an uprising by a number of the prisoners. He said that he did not take part in the uprising, but was in the basement when it was flooded by the Northern Alliance and the US Special Forces, and that some soldiers untied his hands and “put something around my injury.”

Vohidov, born in 1969, also said that he had been tricked into joining the IMU. In his tribunal in Guantánamo, he explained that he was unaware that he was being recruited to join the IMU, and thought that he was going to be joining the Tajik army instead. He added that the man who lied to him about it –- and to three others in his group –- was a man called Rostum, presumably the same man identified by Sharopov as a regional leader of the IMU. He also said that he was not previously aware that there were any Uzbeks in Tajikistan, and added that his passport was taken away by a man called Zakir, who was surrounded by armed men who made it clear that they would shoot him if he asked too many questions, and was then flown by helicopter to Afghanistan in January 2001.

He said that he then spent time at three IMU offices in Afghanistan –- including offices in Kunduz and Kabul –- and wanted to escape but couldn’t, and added that he eventually found a teacher at a madrassa who told him that he would be able to escape from Mazar-e-Sharif, so he went there, spent three months trying to escape, and was then captured by General Dostum’s forces in November 2001. He admitted carrying a Kalashnikov when he was a guard at the madrassa, but denied an allegation that he fought against US forces. When asked how he was arrested, he said that he was in a room with three other people –- two he did not know and one doctor –- when “Somebody knocked on the door, I opened it and this person came and said, ‘Who are you?’ I told him I was a Tajik, and then he arrested me.” He also called Sharopov as a witness, who confirmed his story about their recruitment, but was unable to verify what had happened to him after he had left the IMU. Sharopov added that, after surviving the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, both he and Vohidov were held in a prison in Sheberghan that was run by General Dostum, until they were transferred to US custody.

Whilst it’s impossible to know if there is any truth in these stories, it’s noticeable that Sharopov and Vohidov were not the only detainees from countries to the north of Afghanistan to claim that they had been tricked or coerced into serving with the IMU or its affiliates. Ilkham Batayev, a Kazakh released in December 2006 (who was identified by the US authorities as an Uzbek), explained that he was the owner of a small trading business, and that he was kidnapped by thugs, who were probably members of the IMU, after he travelled to Tajikistan to sell apples, and was then taken to Afghanistan, where he was forced to work for the Taliban as a cook’s helper. Like Sharopov, he too ended up in Qala-i-Janghi, where he survived against the odds in the basement of the fort.

In addition, four “Russian” Muslims who were also held in Qala-i-Janghi –- two Balkars from Kabardino-Balkaria, north of Georgia, and two Tatars from Bashkortostan, north of Kazakhstan –- were also caught up in a dubious recruitment process. According to Igor Tkachyov, the head of a team of Russian investigators who visited them in Guantánamo, they had travelled via Tajikistan, where members of the Islamic opposition to President Emomali Rahmonov helped them get to Afghanistan. Tkachyov added that once they were there they “found themselves in a kind of totalitarian sect commanded by the Taliban … They were not allowed to be alone and had to do everything together, obeying strict regulations that left no time for anything but prayers.”

Whether anything more of the Tajiks’ stories will come to light is also impossible to know. According to RFE/RL, the judge in their case was satisfied that “investigations carried out in Vohidov and Sharopov’s native Isfara region proved that both men [had] been involved with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” and it’s unlikely that any further information will be forthcoming from the US authorities. Such is the secrecy surrounding the release of detainees from Guantánamo –- the Department of Defense publicly releases information about their nationalities, but not their names –- that it was not known until the trial began that Sharopov had even been released from Guantánamo, and the identity of the third Tajik released in March is still unknown.

Vohidov’s release, on the other hand, was reported at the time, because he was represented by a US lawyer, Michigan University Law School Professor Bridget McCormack –- and because lawyers are informed about plans to release their clients –- but McCormack was unable to provide any further information. Although she had represented Vohitov since 2005, when she was assigned his case after he had contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights, “asking for representation” and “saying that he didn’t know why he had been detained,” she admitted that she was unable to speak about the details of why he was suddenly released “because they are classified.” In a further admission that only reinforces the profound difficulties faced by Guantánamo detainees when they seek outside help, McCormack also explained that she was not allowed to meet with Vohitov “until she had acquired a special security clearance.” She added that this process “took almost a year,” and that Vohitov was released without ever having met her.

As Vohitov and Sharopov begin their long sentences in a Tajik prison, it seems hard to believe that they have received anything approaching justice, either during their 64 months in US custody, or in the court rooms of their homeland, and they join many others whose lives have been permanently blighted by the taint of Guantánamo, where the presumption of guilt –- untouched by due process –- contaminates all who have ended up in the Bush administration’s most visible gulag.

Note: The US authorities referred to Sharopov as Sharipov, and Vohitov was known, rather confusingly, as Sobit (Abdumukit) Valikhonovich (Vakhidov), and was later identified by his US lawyer as Wahldof Abdul Mokit.

For more on Guantánamo detainees from Tajikistan and other countries to the north of Afghanistan, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

The story of Abdullah Mujahid, an Afghan police chief betrayed by the US administration and wrongly sent to Guantánamo

In an excellent article for the Boston Globe, Farah Stockman –- who visited the restive Afghan city of Gardez earlier this year –- reports on the unsettling case of Abdullah Mujahid, the city’s former police chief, who is currently languishing in a cell in Guantánamo, having been sent there in July 2003.

A member of the city’s ethnic Tajik minority, Mujahid –- with the support of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, and the new government of President Hamid Karzai –- had stepped into the void left by the defeated Taliban in Gardez in 2002, and had assumed control of the city’s security. In the early days, without any funding whatsoever from the central government, Mujahid, and his childhood friend Ziauddin, who took charge of the army, cobbled together a security force, using “untrained volunteers to patrol with their personal weapons.” Although there were complaints –- Stockman reports that “Citizens in Gardez accused them of letting their fighters rob drivers at checkpoints, according to interviews with UN, US, and Afghan officials and a Human Rights Watch report” –- many in the city were happy with the new arrangements. As Stockman describes it, many of the inhabitants “backed the two men, who were embroiled in a tribal war against Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord in the south,” and explains that, throughout 2002, “the US military described Mujahid and Ziauddin’s forces as pro-government in media reports, and called Zadran a renegade.”

Haji Muhammad Hasan, Abdullah Mujahid’s father

Haji Muhammad Hasan, Abdullah Mujahid’s father, holds up a photo of his son. Photo by Declan Walsh to accompany an article he wrote for the Guardian in June 2006, in which he tracked down witnesses that the Americans said they were unable to contact, who backed up Mujahid’s story that he should not have been seized and sent to Guantánamo.

Such was the support for Mujahid and Ziauddin from the small group of US Special Forces responsible for overseeing security in the province that in spring 2002, when the Americans were engaged in “Operation Anaconda,” a mission to oust remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the nearby Shah-i-Kot mountains, Mujahid and Ziauddin were recruited to help. In an interview with Stockman, Ziauddin explained that the Special Forces commander (a man named Mike) gave him “money and a satellite telephone,” as well as “shoes, uniforms, and camping gear for about 320 fighters,” and that later, when Mujahid’s father returned from a religious visit to Saudi Arabia, the commander “brought chocolates to the family home and was given perfume in return.”

By 2003, however, Stockman reports that Mujahid’s star was waning, and that “the US military was trying to replace troublesome strongmen with educated, modern leaders.” She also reports that the US government was “trying to set up the first ‘Provincial Reconstruction Team’ in Gardez to work with the Afghan government, hoping to win the confidence of citizens by kicking out corrupt leaders and turning Gardez into a model of good government, according to interviews with US officials who worked in Gardez.”

Under these new arrangements, men like Abdullah Mujahid became disposable. Stockman reports that the new Special Forces commander (another man named Mike) worked with him for a while, and that one other Guantánamo detainee, Dr. Hafizullah Shabat Khail, who was reportedly a personal enemy of Mujahid’s, was captured by Mujahid at this time and handed over to the Special Forces operatives, who sent him to Guantánamo. Behind the scenes, however, Stockman reports that commander Mike was “quietly working to banish Mujahid and Ziauddin from Gardez, according to former and current Afghan and UN officials who met with him frequently in security coordination meetings.”

As Stockman describes it, a key turning point in Mujahid’s fortunes occurred early in 2003, when he and Ziauddin clashed with General Dan K. McNeill –- now the head of NATO in Afghanistan –- who had traveled to Gardez “to ask them to remove their fighters from two strategic hilltops that overlooked the town,” with the Afghans arguing, no doubt with some justification, that this would enable their enemies –- specifically Pacha Khan Zadran and al-Qaeda –- to “come in over the hills.” Stockman reports that “US forces eventually bombed Ziauddin’s arms caches on the hills, but did not arrest him until many months later” –- sending him to Bagram for a year, but then releasing him without charge –- and adds, “Over time, US forces came to suspect Ziauddin and Mujahid of launching rockets at the new US Provincial Reconstruction Team base, according to interviews with US soldiers and Afghan officials who served in Gardez at the time” –- although there is no evidence that there was ever any justification for these suspicions.

Relations deteriorated further in March, after US Special Forces killed Jamil Nasser, an Afghan prisoner in their custody (and a member of the new Afghan army) and insisted on transferring his seven surviving colleagues, who had all been tortured and beaten horrendously, to Mujahid’s custody. According to the Crimes of War Project, a Washington human rights group that investigated the abuse, the US Special Forces commander “threatened to kill Mujahid if he released the prisoners,” and it may have been Mujahid’s subsequent actions that convinced the Americans not only to remove him from office, but also to do it by sending him to Guantánamo. Stockman reports that Mujahid “ordered that they [the injured men] be given medical treatment and mattresses,” and then “described the prisoners’ injuries to Afghan military prosecutors, who later wrote a report recommending that the American soldiers be punished.”

According to Stockman, it was shortly after this incident that the Afghan government decided to remove Mujahid from his post. Raz Mohammad Dalili, the governor at the time, explained in a recent interview that the Special Forces commander “helped persuade him –- and Afghanistan’s central government –- to replace Mujahid with a professionally trained police chief.” Stockman reports that Mujahid initially “refused to allow the new chief into the town,’ but that he agreed to step down after being offered a job as a “highway commander” in Kabul. During this period, according to his former driver, a man named Ahmad, the Special Forces commander “called Mujahid to his office and advised him to leave Gardez, warning that he was at risk of being sent to Guantánamo Bay if he remained,” and when he returned to attend a wedding in July he was duly arrested –- and sent to Guantánamo as promised.

Stockman spoke to Mujahid’s former deputy, Fazel Ahmad Wasiq, who nowadays “runs the US-assisted police training center in Gardez.” Waziq said that it was “a good thing for the town to get a new police chief,” but insisted that Mujahid “did not deserve to be sent to Guantánamo Bay.” He explained that, after his arrest, he visited the Special Forces commander to ask for an explanation, but was told, “We were ordered to do it by higher-ups.”

Gardez

Caption from the Boston Globe: Gardez, the provincial capital that was home to Abdullah Mujahid, has grown since his departure. Shoppers at a market bustled about recently but residents say the insurgency rages in the background. (Photo by Jean Chung).

Mujahid was not the only US ally seized at this time on the basis of false intelligence. I relate the stories of several more men in The Guantánamo Files, but am grateful to Farah Stockman for also highlighting what happened to Mujahid’s driver, Ahmad, who said that the Americans “stripped him naked and at one point held him upside down for more than 10 hours during questioning.” Ahmad also reported that they asked him whether Mujahid had “secretly hoarded weapons while he was police chief,” and added, “I replied that he has handed over all the weapons and kept not even a bullet.” Also seized was Syed Nabi Siddiqui, a police colonel who “had served under Mujahid and had stayed on to work with the new chief.” Siddiqui said that US soldiers “beat him, photographed him naked, and kept him in a cage while they questioned him,” and added, “The American forces asked, ‘Who is Mujahid? Is he a criminal? Did he kill somebody?’ I replied that Mujahid is preventing the thieves from coming in the town.”

Both Ahmad and Siddiqui were soon “released from US custody with a slip of paper that said they had been determined not to be a threat,” but it was a different matter for Mujahid, who has faced a series of groundless allegations in the four years since his capture. One of the first –- that he had been a member of Harakat-e-Mulavi, an Afghan group that fought the Russian invasion in the 1980s [and] that is now believed to have ties to extremists” –- came from Siddiqui, who told it –- as a piece of ancient history –- to the Americans who had captured him. When this allegation crumbled the US administration decided that he was a senior leader of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistani militant group that operates primarily in Kashmir. “It seems you have confused me for someone else,” Mujahid said during his annual Administrative Review Board in Guantánamo in 2005. His lawyers duly investigated the allegation, googling their client’s name and discovering that a man named Abdullah Mujahid had indeed been a senior leader of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, but had been killed in November 2006.

Before they could object, his lawyers were told that Mujahid had been cleared for release from Guantánamo, but he has not yet been freed. Those who know of his story –- even those who did not like him –- remain shocked by the fact that he was sent to Guantánamo at all. Thomas Ruttig, the former head of the UN office in Gardez, said that he had “urged the Afghan government to remove Mujahid from his post because he was seen as an uneducated, disruptive, and corrupt figure,” but added that he expected him “to be fired or tried for corruption in Afghanistan, not held indefinitely in Cuba without a trial.” “I never dreamed he would be sent to Guantánamo,” Ruttig said in a recent interview in Kabul. John Sifton, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, who helped write a report in 2003 that “accused Mujahid and his inner circle of allowing their fighters to set up illegal checkpoints to take money from truck drivers,” also said that Mujahid should not have been sent to Guantánamo. “Guantánamo is not even vaguely the appropriate place for him,” he said, adding, as Stockman put it, that “the administration shouldn’t use its power to hold accused terrorists at Guantánamo to solve political or criminal problems in Afghanistan.”

It’s a valid, and disturbing point. As Stockman notes, “The fall of Mujahid … reveals the extent to which the military is using the Guantánamo Bay detention center for a starkly different purpose than the one outlined by President Bush: to keep the worst terrorism suspects behind bars.” She adds that the use of Guantánamo to imprison “uncooperative or unruly tribal chieftains, many of whom had been key supporters of the US-led invasion … could have legal significance, because Bush has tried to justify creating a place where detainees can be held without normal legal protections on the grounds that the prisoners are enemy combatants who might launch a terrorist attack if they are released.”

She also notes that Mujahid is only one of at least a dozen Guantánamo detainees, who were officials in the post-Taliban government, and who were “arrested in their homes or offices during a broader US campaign to rein in warlords.” I actually spoke with Farah Stockman before this article came out, discussing my investigations into former government officials who ended up in Guantánamo, which are discussed in detail in The Guantánamo Files, and can confirm that “at least a dozen” is probably an understatement, and that the numbers probably run to as many as two dozen. And while Stockman is undoubtedly correct to focus on the shocking disposability of these men, as the US administration sought to reconfigure Afghan politics –- and is also correct to lambast the administration for misusing Guantánamo as a prison for tribal chieftains rather than terrorists –- it remains apparent to me that many of the wrongly imprisoned Afghans –- not just the government workers, but the majority of the Afghans held in Guantánamo — were sent there not because of any grand agenda, but simply because the administration was unable to identify who was an enemy and who was a friend, and frequently resorted to seeking advice from dubious allies, with their own long-standing enmities, who told lies about their rivals with impunity, secure in the knowledge that the Americans would fail to investigate any of their allegations.

This really is a fine article, but it only begins to scratch the surface of the criminally negligent approach to “intelligence” that resulted in 218 Afghan detainees being sent to Guantánamo, 61 of whom –- including Abdullah Mujahid and Dr. Haifizullah Shabaz Khail –- still remain there, without charge or trial, after more than four years.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi

In Jane Mayer’s recent investigation of the CIA’s “black sites” for the New Yorker (reviewed here), she presented a previously unreported story (interspersed with others that I cover in The Guantánamo Files) of the time that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spent in the CIA’s secret prisons in Afghanistan, which included two notorious facilities near Kabul: the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit.” She also gave a detailed account, based on comments made by his lawyer, of the experiences of Sanad al-Kazimi, a 37-year old Yemeni, who was held in the Afghan prisons from January 2003 to September 2004, when he was transported to Guantánamo.

Al-Kazimi’s story has been outlined once before, by the British human rights group Cageprisoners, which reported that he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in January 2003, and was then “illegally rendered into the custody of the United States,” instead of being transferred to the custody of his home government. Tortured for eight months, he was then transferred to the “Dark Prison,” where he “endured further significant and continuous torture and interrogations for a period of nine months,” and then spent four months in Bagram before his transfer to Guantánamo. Cageprisoners reported that, during his detention in Afghanistan, he “endured horrific physical abuse”; specifically, that he was “subjected to sensory deprivation techniques, causing extreme disorientation and psychological stress, physical and sexual assault, threat of rape, and repeated plunging into pools of cold water while suspended in the air by a mechanical lift.”

In reviving al-Kazimi’s story –- and adding new details that have not been reported before –- Jane Mayer spoke to his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem of Yale Law School, who told her that his client had explained to him that, in common with others who experienced the living hell of these prisons, he was “suspended by his arms for long periods, causing his legs to swell painfully … It’s so traumatic, he can barely speak of it. He breaks down in tears.” He also said that al-Kazimi “claimed that, while hanging, he was beaten with electric cables,” and explained that he also told him that, while in the “Dark Prison,” he “attempted suicide three times, by ramming his head into the walls”: “He did it until he lost consciousness. Then they stitched him back up. So he did it again. The next time he woke up, he was chained, and they’d given him tranquillizers. He asked to go to the bathroom, and then he did it again.” On this last occasion, Kassem added, he “was given more tranquillizers, and chained in a more confining manner.”

After hearing of this treatment, one can only wonder how much truth there is in the copious allegations made against al-Kazimi in his tribunal in Guantánamo, in which it was alleged that he arrived in Afghanistan on 18 May 2000, “via the Karachi – Quetta – Kandahar route, using a passport obtained from an al-Qaeda facilitator, for whom he served as a driver,” that he “completed a 45-day military basic training course at a terrorist training camp,” that he swore bayat [a pledge of loyalty] to Osama bin Laden, that he served as a bodyguard for bin Laden from August 2000 to February 2001, and that he “stated that he was honored to be a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.” It was also alleged, in relation to accusations that he “participated in military operations against the United States and its coalition partners,” that he “left Kandahar, and after a 30-minute drive returned to Kandahar to rejoin the fight,” and that, “during their egress from Afghanistan to Pakistan,” he and his family stayed at an al-Qaeda safe house.

Further allegations dealt with his purported activities in the Gulf, after his escape from Pakistan. It was alleged that he was “a participant in several operational meetings with a senior al-Qaeda official in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during March 2002,” that he “received money to purchase a truck in order to transport explosives from Yemen to Saudi Arabia in the middle of July 2002,” that he received 100,000 Saudi Riyals (about $27,000) to cover the expenses for a forthcoming plot aimed at Dubai’s Port Rashid, that he accompanied an al-Qaeda operative to a flying club in Dubai, and that, while flying with an al-Qaeda operative, he took photos of an airport.

Although al-Kazimi did not take part in his tribunal (having initially agreed to take part), his Personal Representative related his responses to the various allegations in his Unclassified Summary of Evidence. He admitted traveling to Afghanistan, attending a training camp for 45 days, and swearing bayat to Osama bin Laden; crucially, however, he insisted that he “later swore against him, and was wondering why that second sworn statement was not put into this evidence.” He also “admit[ted] nothing” about an allegation that he was one of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and denied a number of other allegations that were not explained in the transcript. When it came to allegations that involved him travelling to Kandahar and staying in a safe house, “He stated that he wasn’t going to Kandahar; he was escaping and that he wasn’t at a safe house. He actually went to a house with his wife and broke down a door. He said he was running away from bin Laden.” In response to an allegation about “rejoining the fight,” he asked, “what fight?” and, as his Personal Representative explained it, said, “There were bombs hitting the house, his wife was injured; he was worried about their safety; it was not a safe house.” He added that he left the house in Kandahar about 6 December 2001, and hid under a bridge for the night, and said that he was trying to get back to Yemen.

According to his Personal Representative, he also said, “the Bush doctrine is fascist, but the truth is very important, which was why he wanted to go to the Tribunal,” and stated that, “when he gets out, he wants to stay in Cuba, and doesn’t want to go back to Yemen. He wants to raise chickens, but the way the government is, he stated he’s fearful the chickens would be considered enemy combatants as well.” His representative added, “He told me he had always told the same consistent story, and that the evidence generated was not logical,” and he also wanted the tribunal to know that “Osama bin Laden told him to go to Yemen to join with … a terrorist organization known for attacking Western buildings and bases, etc. He stated that he received a letter to join, but he refused to join … This is why, he stated, he swore against Osama bin Laden, and all these allegations are not true.”

Whilst it’s clear from al-Kazimi’s story that he is regarded as a “high-value” detainee, who is intended to face one of the 80 or so Military Commissions that the US administration still hopes to convene to try those whom it regards as the most dangerous detainees in Guantánamo, al-Kazimi’s account does nothing to suggest –- as with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed –- that torture produced reliable “intelligence,” and nor is it apparent that, having been subjected to such brutal treatment, his prosecutors will be able to press a case against him without the circumstances of his “confessions” being raised. Generally overlooked in the focus on the “big names” in Guantánamo –- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh –- his case seems to be one of many in which the opinion of Dan Coleman, a veteran FBI agent interviewed by Jane Mayer for a previous article, Outsourcing Torture, is particularly apposite. These are the key passages:

For ten years, Coleman worked closely with the CIA on counter-terrorism cases, including the Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. His methodical style of detective work, in which interrogations were aimed at forging relationships with detainees, became unfashionable after September 11th, in part because the government was intent on extracting information as quickly as possible, in order to prevent future attacks. Yet the more patient approach used by Coleman and other agents had yielded major successes. In the Embassy bombings case, they helped convict four al-Qaeda operatives on three hundred and two criminal counts; all four men pleaded guilty to serious terrorism charges. The confessions the FBI agents elicited, and the trial itself, which ended in May 2001, created an invaluable public record about al-Qaeda, including details about its funding mechanisms, its internal structure, and its intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction. [ … ]

Coleman is a political nonpartisan with a law-and-order mentality. His eldest son is a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan. Yet Coleman was troubled by the Bush Administration’s New Paradigm [a reference to the notorious “Torture Memo” of August 2002, which redefined torture as anything less than serious organ failure or death]. Torture, he said, “has become bureaucratized.” Bad as the policy of rendition was before September 11th, Coleman said, “afterward, it really went out of control.” He explained, “Now, instead of just sending people to third countries, we’re holding them ourselves. We’re taking people, and keeping them in our own custody in third countries. That’s an enormous problem.” Egypt, he pointed out, at least had an established legal system, however harsh. “There was a process there,” Coleman said. “But what’s our process? We have no method over there other than our laws – and we’ve decided to ignore them. What are we now, the Huns? If you don’t talk to us, we’ll kill you?” [ … ]

Coleman was angry that lawyers in Washington were redefining the parameters of counter-terrorism interrogations. “Have any of these guys ever tried to talk to someone who’s been deprived of his clothes?” he asked. “He’s going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There’s no value in it.” Coleman said that he had learned to treat even the most despicable suspects as if there were “a personal relationship, even if you can’t stand them.” He said that many of the suspects he had interrogated expected to be tortured, and were stunned to learn that they had rights under the American system. Due process made detainees more compliant, not less, Coleman said. He had also found that a defendant’s right to legal counsel was beneficial not only to suspects but also to law-enforcement officers. Defense lawyers frequently persuaded detainees to cooperate with prosecutors, in exchange for plea agreements. “The lawyers show these guys there’s a way out,” Coleman said. “It’s human nature. People don’t cooperate with you unless they have some reason to.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison, Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here) (all May 2009), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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