In another resounding demonstration of the importance of legally constituted checks and balances on executive power in the United States, the Associated Press, after filing a request to the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act, has secured 58 transcripts from the latest round of annual Administrative Review Boards at Guantánamo, convened to assess whether the detainees still pose a threat to the US, or if they are still presumed to have ongoing “intelligence value.”
This is just the latest in a series of important actions undertaken by the AP with regard to Guantánamo. Previously, the agency secured the right to reproduce 60 habeas petitions, and obtained the 517 Summaries of Evidence for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals held at Guantánamo. Used to assess whether the detainees had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants,” these documents were analyzed by Mark and Joshua Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School to produce a ground-breaking report in February 2006, which demonstrated that, according to the government’s own allegations, only 8 percent of the detainees were accused of having any kind of affiliation with al-Qaeda, 55 percent were not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the US or its allies, and 86 percent were not captured by US forces, but by their Pakistani and Afghan allies, at a time when the Americans were making bounty payments, equivalent to an average worker’s lifetime salary, for the delivery of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
Subsequent revelations have done little to suggest that even these lowly figures are reliable, and the recent testimony of Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who was involved in compiling the “evidence” for the CSRTs, has been particularly damaging to the government’s case. Abraham declared that the gathering of materials for use in the tribunals was severely flawed, and frequently consisted of intelligence “of a generalized nature –- often outdated, often ‘generic,’ rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals’ status,” and concluded that the whole system was geared towards rubber-stamping the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.”
A CSRT Notice is read to a detainee at Guantánamo in July 2004.
In spring 2006, the AP secured its greatest victory, after taking the government to court over its refusal to reveal the names and nationalities of the Guantánamo detainees, as well as 8,000 pages of transcripts from their CSRTs and the first round of ARBs. A treasure trove of information (though not necessarily in the way that Donald Rumsfeld had in mind when he declared, in December 2001, that the first prisoners captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan “should be a treasure trove” of intelligence leads), these documents not only revealed –- for the first time in four years, scandalously –- who was actually held in Guantánamo, but also provided, through the transcripts, the first opportunity for the detainees to tell their stories to the world.
Although the tribunals and review boards were –- and are –- as monstrously illegal as the rest of the Guantánamo regime, with lawyers excluded from the hearings and decisions based largely on secret evidence obtained through torture, coercion and bribery, the information contained in the transcripts was so compelling that, when cross-referenced with the detainees’ names and arranged chronologically, it provided the basis for my forthcoming book, The Guantánamo Files, which unveils the story of Guantánamo and the majority of its detainees for the first time.
The latest batch of documents secured by the AP have just been released to the public by the Department of Defense, and it would, I think, be fair to say that they are the second most important set of documents relating to Guantánamo that have been released by the Pentagon (following the spring 2006 documents described above). As well as containing the 58 transcripts from the Second Round of the ARBs, the documents also include, for the first time, the ”evidence” –- in the form of the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence so heavily criticized by Stephen Abraham –- for all the CSRTs with the names of the detainees included (they were previously redacted), as well as all the Unclassified Summaries for both rounds of the ARBs. Also included are transcripts of the habeas corpus petitions of 179 detainees, and the whole set of documents is indexed so thoroughly that it appears, implausibly, to have been compiled as a testament to the importance of Freedom of Information legislation, with the aim of facilitating a greater understanding of Guantánamo and its detainees than has previously been possible.
These documents will provide lawyers, human rights activists and researchers with an invaluable base from which to gain at least a glimpse into the lives of the many dozens of detainees without legal representation, who have never taken part in any tribunals or review boards and whose stories were hitherto completely unknown. More crucially, perhaps, they will also enable critics of the regime to follow the ways in which additional allegations –- produced under dubious circumstances in countless interrogations both at Guantánamo and in secret prisons –- have mounted up against the detainees during the long years of their illegal imprisonment.
The only disappointment is that the documents relating to the decisions made by the review boards about whether to release detainees, or to continue to hold them, are so heavily redacted as to be all but useless, but even on this point other documents –- the “Indexes to Transfer and Release Decisions” –- provide invaluable, and previously concealed information about who has been released, and, more crucially, about the many dozens of detainees –- at least 70, according to my first analysis –- who have been cleared for release through the ARBs but are still held at Guantánamo because the US government cannot reach a satisfactory agreement with their home governments (as in the cases of the Yemenis), or is unwilling to return them to regimes where, ironically, after years of lawless and brutal detention in US custody, they face the prospect of torture or other ill-treatment. While information about who has been cleared is made available to individual detainees’ lawyers, the value of these documents is that they enable this information to be extended to those particularly vulnerable individuals without legal representation.
Of particular interest, for now, are the transcripts of the ARBs, especially as the AP trailed the release of the documents with a series of press releases over the weekend, picking out a few stories that contain important information. Chief amongst these is the transcript of the review board hearing of Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of several men presumed to be the intended “20th hijacker” on 9/11. Al-Qahtani’s story has been widely reported, particularly in 2005 when Time obtained a day-to-day transcript of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” to which he was subjected over a 50-day period from November 2002 to January 2003, when he was, amongst other things, interrogated and kept awake for 20 hours a day on most days, stripped naked, sexually humiliated, and forced to bark like a dog.
Although al-Qahtani’s lawyer reported in March 2006 that he had recanted his confession, the transcript of his ARB hearing is the first time that he has denied the 9/11 allegations in person, telling his review board, “this is the first statement I am making of my own free will and without coercion or under the threat of torture,” and stating, “I am a businessman, a peaceful man. I have no connection to terrorism, violence or fighters.” Refuting allegations that he admitted traveling to Afghanistan in 2001, that he attended a training camp, and that met Osama bin Laden and agreed to participate in a “martyr mission” for al-Qaeda, al-Qahtani said that the statements were not true and that he had only admitted to them while he was being “tortured” at Guantánamo, and included his allegations of torture in a statement that was read out to the board.
In other press releases over the weekend, Andrew O. Selsky and Ben Fox of the AP focused on the story of Ayman Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor caught up in the failed Tora Bora campaign, in November and December 2001, when the US military allowed Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and numerous other senior figures in al-Qaeda and the Taliban to escape across the unguarded Pakistani border.
An Afghan soldier sits in the entrance of one of the Tora Bora caves in December 2001.
Explaining that he was not a terrorist but had been caught up with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains in November 2001, Batarfi said that he met Osama bin Laden in the mountains, to explain to him that the defense of Tora Bora was a lost cause, because “Most of all the total guns in the Tora Bora area was 16 Kalashnikovs and there are 200 people.” He noted, however, that bin Laden “did not prepare himself for Tora Bora and to be frank he didn’t care about anyone but himself. He came for a day to visit the area and we talked to him and we wanted to leave this area. He said he didn’t know where to go himself and the second day he escaped and was gone.” Abandoned in the mountains, Batarfi said that he struggled to tend to the wounded and dying, who were overwhelmed by American air power. “I was out of medicine and I had a lot of casualties,” he explained. “I did a hand amputation by a knife and I did a finger amputation with scissors, and if someone was injured badly I was just operating on the table.”
The bombing of Tora Bora, as photographed by a member of the US Special Forces team, led by Gary Berntsen.
Batarfi’s story is not widely known, although I was able to cover it in depth in my book because he has taken part in previous tribunals and review boards. As a result, I was more interested in uncovering the stories of other detainees whose voices had, until these documents were released, not been heard at all despite having spent over five and half years in US custody. Although these men are not strictly “ghost” prisoners –- because their names and nationalities were released under duress last year, as opposed to the thousands of unknown, unrepresented and unreported prisoners held in Afghanistan, Iraq and other undisclosed locations –- there is still something deeply disturbing about the fact that, after all this time, in which they have been held without charge or trial, in conditions of almost total isolation that would be difficult for even the most hardened of convicted criminals on the US mainland to endure, the voices of these men are being heard for the first time.
They include Hani al-Khalif, a former Saudi soldier, who served with US soldiers during the first Gulf War, who maintained that he had traveled to Afghanistan in the winter of 2000 to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, and explained, “The Taliban government is the right side to belong to because the other side has come out of the Taliban which is wrong,” and another Saudi –- who didn’t wish to be identified –- who said that he “wanted to participate in jihad for religious purposes to help people in need of food distribution,” because this would “strengthen his relationship with God,” and described how he had made the decision “because of emotion, because I saw a picture of a little baby that had dirty clothes and her hair was not combed or cut.” He insisted that “his goal was to help for two months and then return home,” but said that on arrival in Afghanistan he was tricked into attending the al-Farouq camp (a camp for Arab recruits that was affiliated with al-Qaeda), where he was dismayed to discover that it was “a terrorist training camp with political motivations, not religious goals.”
Also included is the testimony of Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian client of the London-based legal charity Reprieve, which represents dozens of Guantánamo detainees. Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director, reported Sliti’s story in his book Bad Men: Guantánamo and the Secret Prisons, in which he portrayed an affable former drug addict, imprisoned for many years in prisons in Italy and Belgium, who reminisced at length about the quality of the European prisons compared to Guantánamo. “In Italy the prison was wide open for six hours a day,” he explained. “You could have anything in your room –- I had a little fornello, a gas cooker. Can you imagine the Americans allowing that? Here, we call a plastic spoon a ‘Camp Delta Kalashnikov,’ as the soldiers think we’re going to attack them with it.”
In the first hearing that Sliti deigned to attend, he lived up to Stafford Smith’s character sketch, explaining at length his various exploits in Europe, and telling the board that he only ended up in Afghanistan because he had begun attending mosques in Belgium, where the country had been portrayed as “a clean, uncorrupted country where he could study Sharia and further his religious education,” but that what he found instead was that “I didn’t care for the country. It was very hot, dusty and [the] women were ugly. The atmosphere and environment didn’t agree with me.”
Another first-time testimony is that of Ravil Mingazov, the last of eight Russians in Guantánamo, who, it turns out, was actually born in Tajikistan. A former soldier in the Russian army, Mingazov explained that, although he had been honored for excellent service early in his career, he subsequently converted to Islam and fell out of favor with the KGB to such an extent that he deserted the army, left his wife and family, and fled to Afghanistan with the help of members of the Taliban-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Refuting allegations that he trained at al-Farouq, he said that he had made up these stories while imprisoned at the US airbase in Bagram, and added that he had in fact fled from the IMU, traveling to Pakistan, where he stayed at a center run by the missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi in Lahore. He explained that he was captured, with 16 other Guantánamo detainees, after moving to a guest house used by university students in Faisalabad, which was, unfortunately, owned –- or otherwise connected to –- the “high-value” al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah.
Abdul Rahman al-Zahri
Sadly –- given its undiluted focus on anti-American militancy –- the only other first-time story, that of the Saudi Abdul Rahman al-Zahri, was the only one of the previously unheard voices picked up by the Associated Press, which reported that he “proudly proclaimed himself a holy warrior and ‘an enemy of the United States.’” As the AP described it, al-Zahri “praised the Sept. 11 attacks and other terrorist strikes and said they were retaliation ‘for your criminal acts and your military invasion [of] the Islamic countries.’” While this was a fair précis of his story –- although it did not mention that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, stating instead that he would have been “honored” to have been chosen as a member –- it was, as I have indicated above, unrepresentative of the majority of the stories reported in the transcripts.
On the sixth anniversary of 9/11, al-Zahri’s “confession” will no doubt assure some Americans that the Bush administration’s unprecedentedly lawless and brutal conduct over the last six years is justified, but I believe that what the majority of the documents reveal –- both through some of the examples cited above, and through the many stories of wronged men betrayed by rivals or through false intelligence that are scattered throughout the transcripts –- is exactly the opposite. From my particular perspective, as someone who has studied the stories of the detainees in depth for the last 18 months, the most heart-rending aspect of the transcripts is the confusion and despair shown by detainees who, year after year in their review boards, and often more frequently in their interrogations, have painstakingly repeated their stories ad nauseam, refuting wild and unsubstantiated allegations, and at a loss to understand why they, in particular, have been singled out for inclusion in a never-ending cycle of total isolation and evidence-free crimes.
To give just one example, the Afghan Mohammed Zahir, a 54-year old teacher who had fled to Iran during the time of the Taliban, has been telling his captors, since he was seized in 2003, that he had returned to Afghanistan to serve the new government of Hamid Karzai by teaching in a secular school, but received threatening night letters from the Taliban, who betrayed him to the Americans. “You captured me because I am an Afghan or a Muslim,” he told his review board, “but I haven’t done anything. I was teaching the children under the tree.”
In conclusion, then, the release of these documents –- which was perhaps contrived by the Pentagon to coincide with 9/11, in the hope that they would be conveniently brushed under the carpet –- does not vindicate the government’s post-9/11 policy, when, as CIA director Cofer Black so memorably described it, “the gloves came off,” but hints rather at the true legacy of 9/11: torture, “disappearances” and a regime of secret prisons that should be anathema to those living in a country –- the United States –- that was founded on the rule of law, and that should only be able to regard itself unflinchingly as a beacon of civilized values if it returns to these foundations, insisting that those in charge of the country return to the rule of law that they have flouted so outrageously, with such damaging consequences for America’s reputation abroad, and a concomitant disregard for the rights of Americans themselves (as the hidden history of torture in the case of Jose Padilla recently showed).
In the reflected world in which America admires itself, the prisoners revealed in these transcripts should be charged with crimes and prosecuted in a recognized court of law, rather than being consigned to an extra-legal black hole, where men’s futures are dealt with in a paranoid and gullible atmosphere in which allegations obtained through torture, coercion or bribery are regarded as the truth, abuse is rife, and the presumption of innocence has been done away with completely. 9/11 was a crime –- a monstrous crime –- but it should not have provided an opportunity for the nation’s supposed defenders to embark on a counter-campaign that has ended up mocking the very values that it purported to defend.
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.
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: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 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.
After this article was published on Counterpunch, I received the following comments.
My regular correspondent Dr. P. Wilkinson wrote:
“When I was about nine or ten I started reading The Gulag Archipelago… I was reminded of what Solzhenitzsyn said he tried to do with his book – namely, give voice and testimony to so many who could never have spoken. Whatever one may think of this classic Russian reactionary – and certainly in many ways overrated just because of his anti-communism – he presented an interesting technique of telling history.
While reading today’s piece in CP I could not help but think of this early reading of The Gulag. I wonder if anyone could or would be able to write a book about the American Gulag: spanning from solitary confinement at Sing Sing, Attica, Alcatraz or the new supermax prisons, the “tiger cages” of Vietnam, the barracks spanning from Guatemala to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, the undocumented places in the East and those in Indonesia, Philippines or wherever people have disappeared in the interest of US security?
Antoon De Baets and his network of concerned historians report regularly in what danger the archeologists are who have been trying to trace and identify the remains in mass graves in Guatemala. People trying to find out where those who disappeared under Franco [are buried] meet with those who are still terrified to say what they might know.
The work you are doing is an important part of disclosing whatever there is which might help those in the First Circle to draw others from the jaws of hell.”
Others took the approach that Guantánamo is actually a distraction. This is a point of view that has something to recommend it, but that, I think, fails to take into account how the US administration’s “War on Terror” policy works – or fails to work – on many levels simultaneously, some of which are in direct conflict.
Gary Novak, first: “Understanding the purpose of Gitmo allows one to align expectations more realistically and perhaps interpret the results. There is a procedure described in military training manuals which explains it; and it is based upon the anti philosophy of intimidation. I encountered it thusly: When I was in college during the 60s, there was some rioting in the streets after a football game, and some store windows were broken. Later, when a crowd formed, passers-by on the other side of the street were arrested. One of the officers explained that control is most effective when arresting the most innocent persons. Gitmo has the purpose of victimizing the most innocent persons possible and creating a public display as a method of intimidating potential enemies. It is standard operating procedure. Intimidation is the purpose, not social justice.”
And Gui Rochat: “Guantánamo is and has been a propaganda tool (much like a Potemkin village) to delude the public that there are many dangerous individuals floating around. Purchasing the inmates with dollar power is typical of US foreign policy.”
And finally, Eric Petersen kept it short and sweet: “Great article – look forward to your book.”
86 percent were not captured by US forces, but by their Pakistani and Afghan allies, at a time when the Americans were making bounty payments, equivalent to an average worker’s lifetime salary, for the delivery of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
Greetings Mr. Worthington, 10/25/2007 – 4:11 AM
You know Sir, I take great exception towards some of the information that you have been told -vs- THE ACTUAL TRUTH…
Case in point is A.K.G. – this hi-level detainee WAS NOT CAPTURED by Pakistan on 7/25/2004 – he was nabbed in America & flown to Pakistan – for Pakistan to say that they caught him for a couple of reasons:
1 – So that America did not have to pay his reward = $ 25 million
2- So that the INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY did not have to explain themselves to Congress/The American people on how a MOST WANTED TERRORIST was able to get into America with a supposed Global Arrest Warrant for his capture…
On 5/26/2004 – U.S.A.G. John Ashcroft & F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller held a Press Conference – link provided below:
As you can see 3 of these people are in black & white & 4 are in color – I received this print-out on 12/4/2004…
As I was staring at this fresh evidence that I had just received it hit me — the color photos meant they’re still active / they’re still on the loose / a fugitive…
The Black & White photos meant that these people were either CAPTURED OR KILLED…
Now the reason why I say this – is because out of the 7 people who photos appear here above in the F.B.I. link – 6 of them
were spotted by me in like a 12 day time span…
Two were captured on 5/29/2004 at 6 PM from my 911 call…
Top middle = Aafia Siddiqui
Bottom left = Fazul Abdullah Mohammed = $ 25 million…
Immediately, I learned from my friend in the United States Coast
Guard – that Federal officials were going to cover it up so as not
to pay the reward on F.A.M. — Needless to say since these matters were SILENCED & SUPPRESSED & MY ACTIONS WERE DISAVOWED AS EVER HAPPENING + THE FACT THAT CONGRESS NEVER THOROUGHLY INVESTIGATED MY CLAIMS = F.A.M. was eventually released 1/2007 by being dumped in Somalia & he was
targeted with death twice by airstrikes from warships in 1/2007 & 6/2007 — missing him both times…
The story on A.K.G. is somewhat longer & is explained entirely in
numerous letters / communications to various Govt. officials that
can be read here:
You know Sir, there is a slew of information about A.K.G. that I have not & can not divulge = that’s my ace in the hole & vital so
that I do not put all my eggs in one basket — keeping something
up my sleeve — THAT ONLY I & THE ARRESTING AUTHORITIES
KNOW OF & ABOUT…
I am still trying to find contact information on Lt. Col. Stephen
Abraham as I indicated to you in my recent communication…I
find it hard to believe that America is so HELLBENT towards the global war on terror — why they would stoop so low to do what they did to me — when all I did was fulfill what was asked of all Americans pursuant to the press conference…
Knowing what I know now – at times I really truly wonder if they
really wanted this cell captured or not – was the press conf. all
a charade to look politically correct – were they placed here for
a deliberate mission or helped in anyway by Govt. officials…
Then I read this chilling diabolical story:
This story only SOLIDIFIES my beliefs that I have been telling members of Congress & many others for years now…
Well I imagine that the MILITARY COMMISSIONS’ ACT was really
devised from not allowing these – “INDICTED TERRORISTS” from having their day in a – FEDERAL COURT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC so
that whatever it is that some of them may know about any possible Govt. involvement from where ever will never see the light of day — with the “MCA” — being ultra super-secret…
[…] 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 hijack… (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), […]
[…] 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 hijack… (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), […]
Andy, Ravel Mingazov is in the news again, and as I was thinking about him I revisited the online pages where you wrote about him.
The cases of these 16 men captured at the Faisalabad university residence are among the saddest stories — and the most interesting.
I spent some time looking into this University — Salafi University. I think it more closely resembles some institutions one finds in the USA than to a real college or university.
The most famous institution that calls itself a University, in the USA, that is not a real University, is Bob Jones University, which has a history of ””playing political hard-ball”” to push a right wing agenda. Bob Jones University was a deeply conservative evangelical instititution, as reflected in its ban on inter-racial dating imposed on students and faculty. It raised comment when Presidential candidates Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush gave speeches there.
At that time it had no legitimate academic claims. Its degrees were not recognized as real degrees. It had very conservative policies, like faculty couldn’t acknowledge the Theory of Evolution, and students were forbidden to date individuals who weren’t of their “race”.
BJU was merely the crown jewel among dozens or hundreds of similar, but less well-funded and even less well-known evangelical affiliated institutions that called themselves Universities — or colleges — that weren’t real Universities.
Why would a student choose to attend an institution that called itself a University, that didn’t grant a recognized degree? I think some students choose to attend due to simple piety. They intend to be missionairies, and they see a liberal arts education where they study a broad range of courses, or learn a real profession, as a waste of time. There may be other students, who attend a non-University because they get a scholarship, and they can’t afford to pay for a real education.
Well, I think that Salafi University was a muslim equivalent to one of the poorer American evangelical Bible Universities.
In their Combatant Status Review Tribunal testimony I thought several of the captives who were students at Salafi University made comments that suggested they lacked any real academic preparation for University, but that they had been allowed to attend due to their piety. I thought a couple of them indicated they were barely literate. I got the impression that none of them were paying any tuition.
I got the impression that, not only was the day to day running of the University sponsored by pious individuals, with funds, who thought it was worthwhile to enable really pious individuals to study Islam for free, that the same rich donors also sponsored the houses the students used as their residences.
If this interpretation is true, then the house was never a guest-house run by al Qaeda, or run by Abu Zubaydah. Rather, I saw Abu Zubaydah as acting like a combination College Registrar and Placement Officer, if one were to compare the Khaldan training camp to a College. He decided who was admitted — like a College Registrar. And, when they graduated, those who wanted to go on and use their training to fight beside muslims under attack by non-muslims got his help with introductions, and making the tricky travel arrangements.
Given how the generosity of Salafi University’s donors allowed it to be run I don’t think Abu Zubaydah would have had to have any real role in the running of that house. He may merely have known that pious men, who said they were thinking of studying Islam more closely, were allowed to stay there for a while with, literally, “no questions asked”.
Who sponsored the Khaldan Camp? Who sponsored al Qaeda? I have long thought the US intelligence establishment had deeply misread the information available to them about al Qaeda, and organizations they thought were allied to it. When we first heard about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, coverage of him implied that, as the scion of a fabulously weathly man he was able to bankroll al Qaeda entirely from his own pocket. We now know he used to go, hat in hand, to pious oil-rich donors.
I believe officials in the US intelligence establishment who specialize in tracing funds traced that the same pious oil-rich donors who gave to al Qaeda also sponsored the Khaldan Camp, sponsored Al Wafa, the charity that all the individuals who worked for it claimed was simply a humanitarian charity, and those same donors may have been Salafi University’s donors.
I believe officials in the US intelligence establishment who specialize in tracing funds drew the erroneous conclusion that any organization that was the beneficiary of a donor who donated to al Qaeda must be an ally of al Qaeda, where a proper reading of the record would confirm that bin Laden was jealous of those other organizations, and wanted his donors to loyally only support al Qaeda. It must have been frustrating for him to approach potential donors for funds who he regarded as less pious than he was, who disloyally also funded orphanages, schools, wells, etc.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for your insightful comments. It sounds plausible to me that your interpretation is correct about Salafi University and its function as somewhere for pious young students to pursue their religious studies rather than as what we understand, academically, as a university. It seems fairly clear from the record that the guesthouse was also somewhere that people who were visiting or had visited training camps in Afghanistan could be housed alongside the students, but it should also be noted that there is no reason to think that any of these people were significant in any way. It seems very closely related to what I see as Zubaydah’s function after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan – to help men, women and children get out of Afghanistan and to return home via Pakistan, which was a process that generally involved civilians and insignificant foot soldiers.
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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