The Afghan teenager put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo

17.10.07

Alone in the civilized world (and, it should be noted, in most other countries regarded as barbaric dictatorships), the US administration has a penchant for ignoring international laws regarding the legal distinctions between adults and children, subjecting teenagers, in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, to brutal detention without charge or trial, and, in the case of Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time of his capture, also hauling him up before a lawless show trial by Military Commission, designed to prevent all mention of torture by US forces, and to secure a pre-ordained verdict of guilt. Dozens of teenagers –- some as young as 12 or 13 –- have been held in Guantánamo over the years, but until now Khadr was the only one to face a trial.

Asadullah Rahman

Asadullah Rahman, an Afghan detainee (released in January 2004), who was just 12 years old when he was captured and sent to Guantánamo.

Last week, however, in what was supposed to be a demonstration of the efficacy and justice of the Military Commissions, the Pentagon announced that an Afghan named Mohamed Jawad would be joining Khadr, Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who was one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers, and David Hicks, who was returned to Australia in May after a plea bargain, as the fourth “terror suspect” to face the Commissions since their revival in March this year, after four years of wrangling and humiliation for the government.

A minimum of research reveals that, according to the Pentagon’s own records, Jawad was born to Afghan parents in Pakistan in 1985, and was therefore only 17 when he was captured. This means nothing to the administration, of course. At a press conference in April 2003, when the “child prisoners” story first broke, Donald Rumsfeld pointedly described the juvenile detainees as “not children,” and General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they “may be juveniles, but they’re not on the Little League team anywhere. They’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team, and they’re in Guantánamo for a very good reason –- for our safety, for your safety.”

Last year, in response to press reports criticizing the number of juveniles held at Guantánamo, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon also weighed in, insisting, in defiance of reason, “There is no international standard concerning the age of individuals who engage in combat operations,” and adding, “Age is not a determining factor in the detention [of those] engaged in armed conflict against our forces or in support to those fighting against us.”

Naqibullah

Naqibullah, an Afghan detainee (released in January 2004), who was just 13 years old when he was captured and sent to Guantánamo.

What is just as astonishing about Jawad’s case, however, is that it was chosen at all. According to the AFP, he is to be charged with “attempted murder in violation of the laws of war,” and “intentionally causing injury for allegedly throwing a grenade at a US military vehicle, wounding two US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter,” but there are doubts over whether he actually threw the grenade, and, in any case, after nearly six years of chest-thumping claims that Guantánamo houses “the worst of the worst,” the decision to prosecute a teenager, who had no connection whatsoever with al-Qaeda, and who, at best, was a minor Afghan insurgent, is both desperate and risible.

For his part, Jawad has long denied that he actually threw the grenade. In his administrative review in December 2005, he denied an allegation that an individual approached him at his shop in Khost in October 2002, offering him an opportunity to make money by killing Americans, saying, “I don’t have a shop in Khost. I don’t know anyone to give me money.” He accepted that, in December 2002, at a mosque in Miran Shah, Pakistan, he met four people who offered him a job clearing mines in Afghanistan, but denied other allegations that he received training “to use AK-47s, rocket launchers, machine guns and hand grenades,” that he trained with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (the anti-American militia headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a US favorite during the war against the Soviet Union), and that he “was identified as being at [a] jihadi madrassa before the Americans came to Afghanistan,” where he learned how to throw grenades and was “seen with a fake plastic grenade in his hand.” “This statement is not true,” he said. “It is a lie. I never went to a religious school. I have not heard of those names before. I only went to school in Pakistan.”

The specific reason for Jawad’s detention in Guantánamo involves a grenade attack on US forces on December 17, 2002. According to the allegations, two people ordered him and a second person “to position themselves near the mosque and to wait for an American target to pass. As an American vehicle passed, the second individual ordered the detainee to throw a grenade into the vehicle.” Jawad responded, “Nobody asked me to throw a grenade. I have never thrown a grenade. I don’t understand how to throw it.” He then became agitated after it was alleged that he had “stated originally he was not the person who was supposed to throw the grenade, but that the grenades were passed to him at the last minute … The other individuals told the detainee to throw the grenade, so he did.” He insisted, “That is not true. I told them [the interrogators] in my statement that I was the person who did not throw the grenade.”

He also denied subsequent allegations that, while he was throwing the grenade, the second individual “fled the scene,” that he was “caught by a local police officer at the site of the explosion,” and that he “made a written confession to this attack, signed it, and marked it with his fingerprint.” Crucially, he said that the local police took him to jail and “they tortured me. They beat me. They beat me a lot. One person told me, ‘If you don’t confess, they are going to kill you’. So, I told them anything they wanted to hear.”

Having not heard this story before, the Presiding Officer, in a stunning display of the tortuous bureaucracy overlaying the Guantánamo regime, declared that Jawad’s allegation of torture and abuse “triggers the mandatory reporting aspect of the Office of Administrative Review for the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC) Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) [with regards to reporting allegations of abuse and torture].” This was dropped, however, when Jawad then confirmed to the Board that the abusive treatment had taken place in Kabul, at the hands of Afghan soldiers, and added, “I have never seen or endured any torture in Bagram or here in Cuba by the Americans.”

Returning to the subject of the grenade attack, Jawad denied an allegation that he “told a senior Afghani police officer that he was proud of what he had done, and if he were let go he would do it again,” and responded to an allegation that “A senior Afghani official stated he heard the detainee admit to throwing the grenade at the two United States soldiers,” by saying that he was probably overheard when he made his false confession. He again insisted that “someone else threw the grenade,” and explained that the person who had invited him to come to Afghanistan to clear mines had given him a grenade to put in his pocket (although he did not know what it was) and had then left him unattended for a while in the market. He said that, while shopping for raisins, he took the grenade out of his pocket and put it on the sack of raisins, but that when the shopkeeper saw it he “told me it was a bomb and that I should go and throw it in the river. I put the thing back in my pocket and I was running and shouting to stay away, it’s a bomb! When I got close to the river, people [the police] caught me.”

Mohamed Jawad may well be guilty of the grenade attack, but it is doubtful that the truth will be aired adequately in a Military Commission. It is, for example, beyond the bounds of belief that the Afghan soldiers who allegedly tortured him will be sought and found in Afghanistan and brought to Guantánamo to testify. Above all, however, the whole sad story, whether true or not, is nothing like the kind of major prosecution of a senior al-Qaeda operative that the American public might be expecting after six years, the spending of untold billions of dollars, and the demolition of the rule of law.

For more on the stories of juveniles detained in 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.

As published on CounterPunch (as “The Case of Mohamed Jawad”). An edited version also appeared on the Huffington Post.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

22 Responses

  1. Mohamed Jawad | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] from Andy Worthington : According to the Pentagon’s own records, Jawad was born to Afghan parents in Pakistan in 1985, [...]

  2. Gitmo Remainders: The ‘Worst of the Worst’? | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] him off to Guantánamo, along with other, more well-known juveniles – including Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad, who are both facing a trial by military commission, and Mohammed El-Gharani, a Saudi resident and [...]

  3. exotraxx division says...

    [...] government-appointed judges from two other cases — those of Salim Hamdan and the Afghan teenager Mohamed Jawad — but although Col. Parrish refused to exclude him from Omar’s trial (and refused to allow [...]

  4. qwstnevrythg.com » Shake-Up at Gitmo: A Prosecutor Resigns, Citing ‘Ethical Qualms’ Over Suppressed Evidence says...

    [...] Commission trial system, announced that Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the prosecutor in the case of Mohamed Jawad (an Afghan — and a teenager at the time of his capture — who is accused of throwing a [...]

  5. The Guantánamo Files: 9/11 Interview, Aafia Siddiqui Protest and Other Events | Dr Aafia - The Prisoner 650 says...

    [...] for trial by Military Commission, with a particular focus, at Linda’s request, on Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad, the two prisoners, of the 24 charged to date, who were juveniles when they were [...]

  6. The right to a fair trial in Guantanamo « The Lift - Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism says...

    [...] come on top of the resignation of Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the prosecutor in the case of Mohamed Jawad, who resigned after expressing his frustration and disappointment that “potentially exculpatory [...]

  7. Justice Dept. Drops ‘Dirty Bomb Plot’ Allegation Against Binyam Mohamed | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] Col. Vandeveld was referring to the Afghan prisoner Mohamed Jawad, but he could just as well have been referring to Binyam Mohamed, and I can only hope that his [...]

  8. Omar Khadr: The Guantánamo Files | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] as two of the former juveniles — Omar Khadr and the Afghan Mohamed Jawad — face trials by Military Commission, the administration’s disregard for the Geneva Conventions [...]

  9. Psyche, Science, and Society » The ever rising number of child soldiers at Guantanamo says...

    [...] prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their capture: the Canadian Omar Khadr and the Afghan Mohamed Jawad, who are both facing a trial by Military Commission. The much-criticized Commission was created by [...]

  10. Number of juveniles held at Guantanamo almost twice official Pentagon figure « Big Bear Observation Post says...

    [...] prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their capture: the Canadian Omar Khadr and the Afghan Mohamed Jawad, who are both facing a trial by Military Commission. The much-criticized Commission was created by [...]

  11. The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials says...

    [...] for its deliberate suppression of evidence vital to the defense in the case of the Afghan prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Although Jawad was accused of a grenade attack on a jeep containing US soldiers, it transpired [...]

  12. Habeas after Boumediene and torture at Bagram « The Lift - Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism says...

    [...] in a declaration submitted to a Washington D.C. District Court in the case of Guantánamo prisoner Mohamed Jawad, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former prosecutor in the Military Commission trial system, stated he [...]

  13. Laurel says...

    This “teenager” threw a grenade that injured 2 American soldiers as well as a translator. i don’t give a shit if he sits in prison for the next 4 lifetimes. Lets focus on the real issue here people.

  14. Former Insider Shatters Credibility of Military Commissions by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] was the incompetence and obstruction he encountered as he tried to build a case against Mohamed Jawad, an Afghan prisoner accused of throwing a grenade that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan [...]

  15. Guantánamo And The Courts Part One: Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] he ended up in US custody — and almost certainly about to face another humiliation in the case of Mohamed Jawad, an Afghan whose story I have been reporting since October 2007 (see here, here, here and here), I [...]

  16. As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] the government, it is important to understand that the case against Jawad was always tenuous, as I reported in October 2007, when he was first put forward for a trial by Military Commission (the “terror trials” [...]

  17. How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Concede Defeat,” District Court Judge Ellen Segan Huvelle granted the habeas corpus petition of Mohamed Jawad, one of Guantánamo’s youngest prisoners, seized when he was just a teenager. That article [...]

  18. Reflections On Mohamed Jawad’s Release From Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] on August 24, for nearly two years, from the moment that he was, ludicrously, put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan translator in [...]

  19. Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo And Bagram On Antiwar Radio « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] to a House Committee in July by Maj. David Frakt, the former military defense attorney for Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan prisoner released in August after a judge granted his habeas corpus petition and [...]

  20. Lawyer Blasts “Congressional Depravity” On Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] on the experience of Mohammed Jawad — just one of the 30 prisoners (out of 38 in total) whose release has been ordered by a judge [...]

  21. WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] family said he was 12 at the time of his detention), released August 2009. Put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007, for allegedly throwing a grenade at US forces in a Kabul marketplace, his [...]

  22. WikiLeaks And The 22 Children Of Guantanamo says...

    [...] family said he was 12 at the time of his detention), released August 2009. Put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007, for allegedly throwing a grenade at US forces in a Kabul marketplace, his [...]

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