Archive for May, 2008

The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide

Exactly one year ago today, on May 30, 2007, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi prisoner in Guantánamo who, like most of his companions, had been held without charge or trial for five and a half years, died, allegedly after committing suicide. A long-term hunger striker, according to imprisoned al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj, who compiled an extraordinary report about the hunger strikes, he was apparently suffering from hepatitis and stomach problems at the time of his death.

Unlike the year before, however, when three prisoners — Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani — died in what was widely reported as a suicide pact (and was, notoriously, referred to by Guantánamo’s commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, as “an act of asymmetric warfare”), there was little media interest in al-Amri’s death.

Largely unchallenged, the Pentagon responded to his death by declaring that he was “a mid-level al-Qaeda operative with direct ties to higher-level members including meeting with Osama bin Laden,” whose “associations included (bin Laden’s) bodyguards and al-Qaeda recruiters.” It was also stated that he “ran al-Qaeda safe houses.”

In response, in my very first articles on my blog following the completion of the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, I pointed out how ludicrous it was that the Pentagon’s assertions were allowed to pass unchallenged:

Quite how it was possible for al-Amri, who arrived in Afghanistan in September 2001, to become a “mid-level al-Qaeda operative” who “ran al-Qaeda safe houses” in the three months before his capture in December has not been explained, and nor is it likely that an explanation will be forthcoming. Far more probable is that these allegations were made by other prisoners – either in Guantánamo, where bribery and coercion have both been used extensively, or in the CIA’s secret prisons. In both, prisoners were regularly shown a “family album” of Guantánamo prisoners, and were encouraged – either through violence or the promise of better treatment – to come up with allegations against those shown in the photos, which, however spurious, were subsequently treated as “evidence.”

As with so many Guantánamo prisoners, the contradictory allegations against al-Amri beggar belief. By his own admission, he traveled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, having served in the Saudi army for nine years and four months. US Southern Command expanded on his activities as a Taliban recruit, claiming that, “by his own account,” he “volunteered to fight with local Taliban commander Mullah Abdul al-Hanan, and fought on the front lines north of Kabul”, and that he subsequently “fought US forces in November 2001 in the Tora Bora Mountains.” This may or may not be true, but it is at least within the realms of plausibility. Claiming that he ran al-Qaeda safe houses, on the other hand, is simply absurd, and should alert all sensible commentators to scrutinize with care the allegations made by the US authorities against the majority of those held in Guantánamo without charge or trial (I’ve studied all of them, and allegations that are either groundless or contradictory are shockingly prevalent).

I concluded my article by stating:

If we are to believe this callous attempt to blacken the name of a man who, having apparently taken his life in desperation, appears to have made the mistake of traveling to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban at the wrong time, one question in particular needs answering: when, during the three months that al-Amri stayed in a guest house in Kabul, trained at a “school for jihad” in Kandahar, fought on the front lines, retreated to Tora Bora and crossed into Pakistan, was he supposed to have located the al-Qaeda safe houses that he was accused of running?

In the year since Abdul Rahman al-Amri’s death, the silence that followed the Pentagon’s callous outburst has been broken only once, in October, when Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the senior lawyer on Guantánamo’s management team, stated in an interview that he had personally seen “all four men dead –- each one hanging –- and that the first three men had used sling-style nooses.” Speaking specifically about the death of al-Amri, he said that he had fashioned “a string type of noose” to kill himself.

On this somber anniversary, the best I can do to mark the shameful circumstances of Abdul Rahman al-Amri’s passing (without having been granted an opportunity to present his case in a court of law) is to repeat one of the few statements attributed to him during his imprisonment in Guantánamo, which demonstrates, I believe, how he never presented a threat to the United States or its interests.

Responding to an allegation that he admitted to “carrying an AK-47 while retreating” to Pakistan (which was supposed to suggest militancy against the United States), he pointed out that “Americans trained him during periods of his service” with the Saudi army, and insisted that, “had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia. His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go and fight against the Americans.”

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 the Huffington Post and CounterPunch.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009). Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).

Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown

Binyam MohamedToday’s Independent runs a front-page story, The Last Briton in Guantánamo faces death penalty, focusing on the plight of British resident Binyam Mohamed. Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, Binyam was subsequently rendered to Morocco, where proxy torturers, working on behalf of the Americans, tortured him for 18 months, in interrogation sessions that included regularly cutting his penis with a razor blade. He was then transferred to the “Dark Prison,” a secret CIA prison near Kabul, modelled on a medieval torture dungeon, but with the addition of ear-splitting music and noise, which was blasted into the cells for 24 hours a day, and finally arrived in Guantánamo in September 2004.

In November 2005, Binyam was put forward for trial by Military Commission –- a novel system of trials for “terror suspects,” invented by Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisers in November 2001 –- but in June 2006, after one farcical episode in front of a judge, which ended up with Binyam holding up a sign declaring that the “Commissions” were “Con-missions” instead, the entire system was ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Commissions were revived later that year, when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, and it is expected that Binyam will imminently face charges under this second version of the “Con-missions,” even though they have yet to demonstrate that they can actually function, and even though Binyam and his lawyers at Reprieve, the legal action charity that works on behalf of over 30 prisoners in Guantánamo, have always maintained that not a shred of evidence of Binyam’s alleged involvement in a bomb plot conceived with various senior al-Qaeda figures was produced without the use of torture.

The Independent’s article featured excerpts from a letter to Prime Minster Gordon Brown, which was dictated by Binyam to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, during a visit at Guantánamo last week. Below is the full text of the letter, which was delivered to 10 Downing Street yesterday.

Note that Binyam’s mention of the intervention of the British government refers to the government’s request for the return of five British residents –- including Binyam –- last August. Although three residents were subsequently returned (in December), he was not one of them, as the US authorities refused to release him. His mention of the Treasury Solicitors refers to a recent lawsuit filed by Reprieve and solicitors at Leigh Day demanding that the government release any information they have regarding British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition to Morocco, and any information that was provided to US intelligence.

Guantánamo Bay
Thursday, May 22nd 2008

Dear Prime Minister Brown,

I have been held without trial by the U.S. for 6 years, 1 month & 12 days. That is 2,234 days (very long days, and often longer nights). Of this, about 550 days were in a torture chamber in Morocco, and about 150 in the “Dark Prison” in Kabul. Still there is no end in sight, no prospect of a fair trial.

Because I am a Londoner, your government states publicly that you support my right to return home there as soon as possible. I am grateful for that. I always viewed Britain as the country that stood up for human rights more than any other. That was why I came to Britain as a refugee.

Before the intervention of your government to help me, I was more resigned to my fate, to be held forever without a fair trial. When your government intervened I had hope. But it has been a cruel hope. Nine months later I am still here, no closer to home, still in this terrible prison.

When I learned that my Moroccan torturers were using information supplied by British intelligence, I felt deeply betrayed. When I learned that your government’s lawyers (the Treasury Solicitors) had told my lawyers they had no duty to help prove my innocence, or even that I had been tortured, I felt betrayed again.

It is long past time to end this matter. I have been next to committing suicide this past while. That would be one way to end it, I suppose.

Binyam Mohamed
22/MAY/08

Andy 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 Indymedia.

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The betrayal of British torture victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).

Fact Sheet: The 16 Prisoners Charged in Guantánamo’s Trials

As a 16th prisoner at Guantánamo, Noor Uthman Muhammed, is put forward for trial by Military Commission (the much-criticized system of trials for “terror suspects” invented in the wake of the 9/11 attacks), Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, provides a guide to the 16 men, two of whom were juveniles at the time of their capture, and provides references to an extensive archive of articles about their cases.

1. David Hicks. An Australian, who was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, Hicks accepted a plea bargain in March 2007, admitting to providing “material support for terrorism,” and dropping well-documented claims that he was abused in US custody, in exchange for a nine-month sentence, the majority of which was served in Australia. It has been claimed, plausibly, that his plea bargain was the result of political maneuvering between US Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

2. Omar Khadr. A Canadian, who was just 15 years old when he was captured after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier, although developments over the last six months in his pre-trial hearings suggest that exculpatory evidence, indicating that he was not responsible for the murder, was withheld from his defense team. In the latest twist in Khadr’s case, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last week that Canadian agents acted illegally when they interrogated Khadr at Guantánamo in 2003 and handed the intelligence to US authorities.

Salim Hamdan3. Salim Hamdan. A Yemeni, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden and was captured while attempting to cross the Pakistani border in December 2001, Hamdan is accused of being an active member of al-Qaeda, although his defense team argues that he was just a paid employee. It was Hamdan’s case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that caused the Supreme Court to rule that the first version of the Commissions were illegal in June 2006 (although they were later revived by Congress). In April, Hamdan decided to boycott his trial proceedings, and on May 9, following a blistering attack on the legitimacy of the Commissions by their former chief prosecutor, Col. Morris Davis, the judge in Hamdan’s case, Capt. Keith Allred, took the unprecedented step of barring the Commissions’ Pentagon-appointed legal adviser, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, from playing any further part in Hamdan’s trial. The following week, Capt. Allred made headlines again by postponing the start date of Hamdan’s trial until late July, citing the importance of a pending Supreme Court decision about the prisoners’ rights.

4. Mohamed Jawad. An Afghan, who was just 16 or 17 years old at the time of his capture, Jawad is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in December 2002, although he has always claimed that Afghan police obtained his “confession” through torture. At his arraignment in March, he rejected the trial proceedings, and alleged that he had been tortured at the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and had been mistreated in Guantánamo. At a pre-trial hearing in May, Air Force Major David Frakt, who was assigned to represent him on April 28, told the court, “Mr. Jawad is an innocent man. He has been held for five years. He was a homeless boy wrongfully accused and beaten into confession by the Afghanistan police.”

5. Ahmed al-Darbi. A Saudi, who is accused of plotting attacks on shipping for al-Qaeda, al-Darbi was kidnapped in Azerbaijan and rendered to Guantánamo via Afghanistan in 2002. At his arraignment in April, he refused to take part in the Commissions, prompting his military-appointed lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, to comment that, in order to comply with established legal rules that prevent lawyers from representing clients who refuse their services (which are worryingly at odds with the Commissions’ own rules), his role in al-Darbi’s forthcoming trial was now equivalent to that of a “potted plant.”

6. Ibrahim al-Qosi. A Sudanese, who is accused of being a bodyguard and a driver for Osama bin Laden, and a quartermaster for al-Qaeda, al-Qosi, who was captured after crossing the Pakistani border in December 2001, was previously charged in the Commissions’ first aborted incarnation. In April, he also boycotted his pre-trial hearing, telling the judge, “I do not recognize the justice or the lawfulness of this court,” and adding, “What is happening in your courts is in fact a sham, which aims solely that the cases move at the pace of a turtle in order to gain some time to keep us in these boxes without any human or legal rights.”

7. Ali Hamza al-Bahlul. A Yemeni, who is accused of producing videos for al-Qaeda and serving as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, al-Bahlul, who was captured after crossing the Pakistani border in December 2001, was previously charged in the Commissions’ first aborted incarnation. In May, he also boycotted his pre-trial hearing, proudly proclaiming his association with Osama bin Laden, and telling the judge, “We will continue our jihad and nothing’s going to stop us. You must not oppress the people in the land. Your oppression against us and your support to the strategic ally in the region is what made me leave my house and today, I’m telling you, and you’re a man of law, if you sentence me to life … me and the others will be the reason for the continuation of the war against America.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed8. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). Reportedly the third most important figure in al-Qaeda, after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, KSM, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and the four men described below are among the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006 after being held for years in secret prisons run by the CIA. KSM confessed in his military tribunal in Guantánamo last year (convened to confirm that he was an “enemy combatant” who could be tried by Military Commission) that he was “responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z.” He is one of three “high-value detainees” whom CIA director Michael Hayden admitted had been subjected to waterboarding (a torture technique that involves controlled drowning) while held in a secret prison run by the CIA.

KSM and his co-defendants, who were charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks in February, are due to be arraigned on June 5, although his recently appointed military lawyer, Navy JAG Prescott Prince, recently told the Los Angeles Times, “I think it’s the constitutional case of our time. Because in the 221st year of America, the question is whether the Constitution applies to the government.” He added, “I have no idea whether he did even half of those things he is accused of doing. But if he did commit those offenses, there are still issues of whether this court has jurisdiction, whether he is an enemy combatant who should be tried in a tribunal of this nature.” Prince also said, “He (KSM) believes his treatment has been illegal. I believe it’s been illegal too. And I personally believe that he cannot, as a result of all these things, get a fair trial.”

9. Ramzi bin al-Shibh. A Yemeni, and reportedly a friend of the 9/11 hijackers, who helped coordinate the attacks with KSM after he was unable to enter the United States to train as a pilot for the operation, as he originally planned, bin al-Shibh was captured in Pakistan in September 2002. After being held in secret CIA custody for four years, he refused to take part in his tribunal at Guantánamo, and if he speaks at his arraignment it will be his first publicly available statement since his capture.

10. Mustafa al-Hawsawi. A Saudi, who was captured with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Hawsawi is accused of sourcing funding for the 9/11 attacks from Dubai. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he admitted providing support for jihadists, including transferring money for some of the 9/11 hijackers, although he denied that he was a member of al-Qaeda. Last week, his lawyer, Army Maj. Jon Jackson, sought fruitlessly to delay his arraignment, in particular because he has only been allowed to meet his client twice, and “has not received any potential evidence against al-Hawsawi supporting charges that ‘allege a complex conspiracy spanning several years,’” as the Associated Press put it.

11. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. Also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, he is a nephew of KSM, and was captured in Pakistan with Walid bin Attash (see below) in April 2003. In his tribunal at Guantánamo last year, he admitted transferring money on behalf of some of the 9/11 hijackers, but insisted that he was a legitimate businessman, who regularly transferred money for Arabs, without knowing what it would be used for.

12. Walid bin Attash. A Saudi, who lost a leg in Afghanistan before 9/11, bin Attash stated in his tribunal at Guantánamo that he was the link between Osama bin Laden and the Nairobi cell during al-Qaeda’s African embassy bombings in 1998, and admitted that he played a major part in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, explaining that he “put together the plan for the operation for a year and a half,” and that he bought the explosives and the boat, and recruited the bombers.

13. Mohammed al-Qahtani. A Saudi, who was reportedly recruited as the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, but was refused entry into the United States by immigration officials, al-Qahtani was tortured for several months at Guantánamo in late 2002 and early 2003. Although he was put forward for trial by Military Commission in February, with KSM and the other four men described above, the charges against him were dropped in May, when the others were formally charged, either because evidence of his torture is admissible (whereas that obtained in secret prisons by the CIA is not), or because of a pronounced deterioration in his mental health since he was first charged, which led to a number of suicide attempts. It’s possible, but unlikely that he will be charged again.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani14. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. A Tanzanian, and one of the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, Ghailani, who was captured after a gun battle in Gujrat, Pakistan in July 2004, is accused of being a coordinator of the African embassy bombings, and of running a document-forging operation for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In his tribunal, he described himself as a peripheral character in the African embassy bombings, who was duped by others around him, although he admitted forging documents for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Evidence of a revealing false allegation that he made in Guantánamo, which I discovered during research for The Guantánamo Files, was reported here.

15. Mohammed Kamin. An Afghan, who was captured in 2003, Kamin is accused of “providing material support for terrorism,” specifically by receiving training at “an al-Qaeda training camp,” conducting surveillance on US and coalition military bases and activities, planting two mines under a bridge, and launching missiles at the city of Khost while it was occupied by US and coalition forces. He is not charged with harming, let alone killing US forces, and were it not for his supposed al-Qaeda connection — he apparently stated in interrogation that he was “recruited by an al-Qaeda cell leader” — it would, I think, be impossible to make the case that he was involved in “terrorism” at all.

For his arraignment on May 21, 2008, Kamin refused to leave his cell, and was dragged to the court by guards. The judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, explained that he was handcuffed and shackled because he had “attempted to spit on and bite one of the guards” on his way to the courtroom. Refusing to be represented by a US military lawyer, Kamin called the charges “a lie and a forgery,” according to Reuters, adding that he had no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he “did not recognize the court’s legitimacy and would not attend future hearings.” In a brief statement, he said, “My judge is the god that has created the sky and the land. He will be my lawyer and represent me. I wait for his decision. That’s enough.”

16. Noor Uthman Muhammed. A Sudanese, Muhammed was captured in Pakistan in March 2002, during the raid that netted the alleged senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah (whose significance is disputed, along with his mental health). While Abu Zubaydah has not been charged before the Military Commissions, Muhammed was charged with “conspiracy” and “providing material support for terrorism” on May 23, 2008. He is accused of serving as the deputy emir and a weapons instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000, when the camp was closed. It is also alleged that he delivered a fax machine to Osama bin Laden at a training camp in 1999.

Noticeably, these charges do not relate to the 9/11 attacks, and in his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004, Muhammed insisted that Khaldan was “a place to get training” that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “People come over to that camp, train for about a month to a month and a half, then they go back to their hometown,” he said, adding that what the people did with the training they received was their own business. This may well have been an evasive explanation on Muhammed’s part, but he is not the only prisoner to state that Khaldan was not connected with al-Qaeda, and that Abu Zubaydah did not have a close relationship with the leadership of al-Qaeda. Similar claims, as I reported here, were made by Abu Zubaydah himself, and by a released Saudi prisoner called Khalid al-Hubayshi, and it will be interesting to see what Muhammed will have to say when he is arraigned — unless, of course, he follows recent trends by boycotting the proceedings completely.

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, the Huffington Post and Anti-war.com.

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 Mohamed Jawad (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), 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).

The Guantánamo Files: Additional Chapters Online – “Osama’s bodyguards”

The Guantanamo FilesI’ve just posted the third of 12 additional online chapters supplementing my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. This chapter features stories that I could not include in the book, either for reasons of space (to keep the book at a manageable length) or, in some cases, because the information was not available at the time of writing.

This additional chapter complements Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, looking at the stories of 16 prisoners not mentioned in the book, who were the first to be captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. They are referred to as “Osama’s bodyguards,” because of dubious allegations made by Mohammed al-Qahtani, an alleged “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks, during the months that he was tortured at Guantánamo in late 2002 and early 2003, but their stories also contain many other unattributed allegations made by unidentified sources and “al-Qaeda operatives” that are equally suspicious.

Nearly six and a half years since Guantánamo opened, it is to America’s shame that this is the first time that many of these men’s stories have been revealed, especially as none of them appear to have had anything whatsoever to do with the inner workings of al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, which is the purported reason for their long incarceration without charge or trial.

It is, I believe, equally shameful that the majority of them –- who are from the Yemen –- remain in Guantánamo, with no sign of when, if ever, they will be released, because of the inability of the US and Yemeni governments to come to some sort of agreement about the conditions of their repatriation. The fact that the majority of the Saudis –- whose stories are remarkably similar –- were repatriated in 2006 and 2007 only adds to the realization that Guantánamo –- touted as a prison holding “the worst of the worst” –- is actually a failed experiment in torture and interrogation, and that politics, rather then justice, determines who gets to leave, and when.

Note: The first two additional chapters are available here and here, and see the column on the left for the other nine.

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.

Guantánamo trial delayed: judge invokes pending Supreme Court decision

The Guantanamo FilesAs a recent decision by a military judge makes clear, the wheels of justice revolve in slow motion at Guantánamo, as those responsible for the exercise of political and judicial processes — the executive, Congress and the Supreme Court — engage in prolonged tussles that last for years. Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, reports.

For most of 2008, the media’s interest in Guantánamo has focused not on the majority of the 273 prisoners who are still held there without charge or trial and largely unknown to the outside world, but on the 13 who have been plucked from the grinding obscurity of indefinite detention to face trial by Military Commission, an innovation unrelated to either the US courts or the US military’s own judicial processes that was conceived in November 2001 by Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisers.

I have written at length about the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions, most recently here, where I ran through the problems that have beset the proposed trials in the last month alone. These include boycotts by the prisoners themselves, and the sudden and unexplained decision to drop charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of six prisoners initially charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks. This was almost certainly because he, unlike the others, was tortured not in a secret prison run by the CIA (who cannot be compelled to provide evidence to the Commissions), but in Guantánamo itself, where no such exclusions apply.

Col. Morris DavisThe setbacks in the last month also include a blistering attack on the system by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the Commissions, who accused his superiors of pressing ahead with politically motivated trials and of seeking to allow evidence obtained through torture, which, he pointed out, were destroying the trials’ credibility. So persuasive was Col. Davis’ testimony (in the case of Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who was once one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers), that on May 9, the judge in Hamdan’s case, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, prohibited Col. Davis’ former boss, Brig. Gen. Thom Hartmann, from playing any further part in Hamdan’s forthcoming trial.

All these setbacks reflect badly on the integrity of the Commissions, of course, but until last Friday, discussions about the role of the Supreme Court in determining the prisoners’ status had been overlooked. This was understandable in one way, as it is now nearly eleven months since the Supreme Court decided to look once more at the prisoners’ rights (along the way reversing itself for the first time in 60 years), but was completely incomprehensible in another, as the Supreme Court’s pending decision has been the elephant in the room since last December, when former Solicitor General Seth Waxman (for the prisoners) and the soon-to-retire current Solicitor General Paul Clement (for the government) presented their cases in what was rightly billed at the time as “the most important habeas corpus case in modern history.”

Throughout this year, therefore, those who have been following developments at Guantánamo have been aware that a crucial decision has to be made before the Supreme Court’s current session ends in the summer. However, it was not until Capt. Allred spoke up on Friday, following on from his recently established notoriety with regard to Brig. Gen. Hartmann, that the justices were once more pushed back to center stage.

Postponing the start date for Salim Hamdan’s trial from June 2 to July 21, Capt. Allred stated that this will give the prosecutors and defense “the benefit of a decision that may well change the tenor or conduct of the trial,” as the Associated Press reported. He added that a delay will avoid the “potential embarrassment, waste of resources and prejudice to the accused,” if, as the AP put it, “the Supreme Court ruling forces a halt to the proceedings mid-trial.”

While Andrea Prasow, one of Hamdan’s lawyers, said that the defense team was “very pleased that the judge agrees that all parties will benefit from the Supreme Court’s guidance regarding the applicability of the Constitution to detainees held at Guantánamo,” it was more noticeable that Capt. Allred had, for the second time in a week, humiliated the government simply by taking his job seriously. It appears, moreover, that he has been studying his calendar closely, as he is more aware of the cycles of Supreme Court decisions than many reporters.

Although subsequently rebuffed by the executive and Congress, the Supreme Court has twice delivered rulings that have dealt severe blows to the administration’s credibility at the end of June.

The US Supreme CourtOn June 26, 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the first challenge to Guantánamo that made it to the Supreme Court, the justices ruled 6-3 that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights — in other words, the right to challenge the legal limbo in which they were held — and demolished along the way the executive’s long-cherished belief that Guantánamo did not count as US territory, and was therefore beyond the reach of the US courts.

In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens emphasized the importance of habeas corpus, citing a 1945 case in which it was described as “a writ antecedent to statute … throwing its roots deep into the genius of our common law,” and a 1953 case dealing specifically with the detention of non-citizens in US custody: “Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.”

The second Supreme Court decision, on June 29, 2006, was just as significant, and the identity of its plaintiff was certainly not lost on Capt. Allred. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the justices ruled 5-3 that the Military Commissions were illegal under US law and the Geneva Conventions. Concluding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions — which forbids “cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” — was “applicable” to Hamdan and others facing Military Commissions, Justice Stevens stated that it was Hamdan’s right to be tried by a “regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

On both occasions, the executive managed, one way or another, either to neutralize or otherwise dilute the Supreme Court’s decision, confirming that the nation’s leaders — and Dick Cheney in particular — believed that the executive branch of government was beyond the law — or, at least, had the right to redefine the law without necessarily being answerable to either Congress or the judiciary. Although lawyers were finally allowed access to the prisoners, and were enabled to begin filing habeas petitions, the executive behaved as though these were minor irritants rather than fundamental reforms of the existing system.

Within a month of the decision in Rasul v. Bush, military reviews — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals — were introduced to justify the prisoners’ continued detention without charge or trial. Empowered to rely upon secret evidence — including hearsay, and information obtained through torture, coercion and bribery — the tribunals, which also prevented the prisoners from being represented by lawyers, were, as former insider Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham explained last year, manifestly unjust, consisting of information that was, for the most part, generalized, generic and badly-researched, and was, moreover, primarily designed to rubber-stamp the administration’s prior designation of the prisoners as “enemy combatants” without rights.

While the tribunals — and their equally unjust successors, the annual Administrative Review Boards — were busy behaving in a parallel world to that conceived by the Supreme Court, the executive then turned to Congress in an attempt to nullify the justices’ ruling in Rasul, hijacking the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) of 2005, an anti-torture bill proposed by Senator John McCain, by not only excluding the CIA from legislation designed to prevent the use of torture by US forces, but also, through a peculiarly aberrant amendment to the bill, managing to strip the Guantánamo prisoners of their right to file habeas corpus claims.

The executive’s response to the ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was even swifter. Perhaps perturbed that Justice Anthony Kennedy had warned that “violations of Common Article 3 are considered ‘war crimes,’ punishable as federal offences, when committed by or against United States nationals and military personnel,” the executive responded to the implications of the justices’ ruling by removing 14 “high-value detainees” from the CIA’s secret prisons and transporting them to Guantánamo in September 2006, and then pressed Congress to revive the Commissions in the Military Commissions Act, which, for good measure, contained provisions designed to prevent the executive — or any of its agents — from ever being prosecuted for war crimes, and also reinforced the habeas-stripping terms of the DTA.

It remains to be seen what the Supreme Court will decide in its third ruling on Guantánamo, which, unlike Rasul and Hamdan, appears to be too close to call. The hope of all those who are shocked by the seemingly unending legal limbo in which the majority of the Guantánamo prisoners are held is that the Supreme Court will tackle both the excesses of the executive and the shortcomings of Congress by ruling that the prisoners have Constitutional habeas corpus rights.

Whatever the eventual outcome, however, Capt. Allred is to be commended for not only reminding the world that a Supreme Court decision is expected imminently, but also for reflecting on its importance, and applying it, correctly, to halt the rush to justice — or rush to injustice — that typifies those driving the Military Commissions towards hoped-for conclusions.

I doubt that he’s a popular figure in either the White House or the Pentagon at present, not just for postponing Salim Hamdan’s trial, but also because, in response to his ruling against Brig. Gen. Hartmann, lawyers for the five “high-value detainees” in the planned 9/11 trial have taken his lead to complain that the date set for their clients’ arraignment — June 5 — is unduly premature.

Mustafa al-HawsawiOn Monday, Army Maj. Jon Jackson, the lawyer for Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who is accused of helping to finance the 9/11 attacks, sought to delay al-Hawsawi’s arraignment, arguing, as the Associated Press described it, that he has only met his client twice, that he “has been barred from discussing those meetings with his assistant defense counsel, Navy Lt. Gretchen Sosbee, because the military has not yet given her security clearance,” that he “has not received any potential evidence against al-Hawsawi supporting charges that ‘allege a complex conspiracy spanning several years,’” and that he and the other defense lawyers “have no place to store work product, discuss classified material or prepare for their case while in Cuba,” because, as the AP put it, “construction of a secure facility in Washington — which was to have been completed by the end of 2007 — has not even begun.”

In the days to come, details of other lawyers’ challenges will no doubt be made public, but for now it’s worth noting that Capt. Allred’s interventions are a shining example of one component in the system of checks and balances that is supposed to ensure justice in US society — the judiciary, albeit in an unlikely venue — acting as a necessary restraint on both Congress and the executive.

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, the Huffington Post and Antiwar.com.

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 Mohamed Jawad (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), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009).

Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts: the continuing collapse of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

Anyone who has kept half an eye on the proceedings at the Military Commissions in Guantánamo — the unique system of trials for “terror suspects” that was conceived in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisers — will be aware that their progress has been faltering at best. After six and a half years, in which they have been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, derailed by their own military judges, relentlessly savaged by their own military defense lawyers, and condemned as politically motivated and a rubberstamp for torture by their own former chief prosecutor, they have only secured one contentious result: a plea bargain negotiated by the Australian David Hicks, who admitted to providing “material support for terrorism,” and dropped his well-chronicled claims of torture and abuse by US forces, in order to secure his return to Australia to serve out the remainder of a meager nine-month sentence last March.

In the last few weeks, however, Cheney’s dream has been souring at an even more alarming rate than usual. Following boycotts of pre-trial hearings in March and April by three prisoners — Mohamed Jawad, Ahmed al-Darbi and Ibrahim al-Qosi — the latest appearance by Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden, spread the words “boycott” and “Guantánamo” around the world.

Salim Hamdan’s boycott

Salim HamdanHamdan is no ordinary Guantánamo prisoner. It was his case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that shut down the Military Commissions’ first incarnation in June 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, a decision that forced the administration to press new legislation — the Military Commissions Act — through a sleeping Congress later that year.

But Hamdan’s fame meant little to him on April 29, when he too decided to boycott his trial, telling Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the judge in his last pre-trial hearing before his trial is scheduled to begin, “The law is clear. The Constitution is clear. International law is clear. Why don’t we follow the law? Where is the justice?”

For his part, Capt. Allred did not give up without attempting to persuade Hamdan that he should believe in the legal process before which he found himself. “You should have great faith in the law,” he said. “You won. Your name is all over the law books.” This was true, but it was little consolation for Hamdan, who was charged again as soon as the Commissions were revived in Congress. Nor could Capt. Allred’s addendum — “You even won the very first time you came before me” — sway him, even though that too was true.

Last June, when Hamdan appeared before Capt. Allred for the first time, in the first pre-trial hearing for his new Military Commission, Allred dismissed the case, pointing out that the Military Commissions Act, which had revived the Commissions, applied only to “unlawful enemy combatants,” whereas Hamdan, and every other prisoner in Guantánamo for that matter, had only been determined to be “enemy combatants” in the tribunals — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals — that had made them eligible for trial by Military Commission.

It was small wonder that Hamdan was despondent, however. Two months later, an appeals court reversed Allred’s decision, and Hamdan — twice a victor — was charged once more, and removed from a privileged position in Guantánamo’s Camp IV — reserved for a few dozen compliant prisoners who live communally — to Camp VI, where, like the majority of the prisoners, he has spent most of his time in conditions that amount to solitary confinement, and where, as his lawyers pointed out in February, his mental health has deteriorated significantly.

As he prepared to boycott proceedings, Hamdan had a few last questions for Capt. Allred. He asked the judge why the government had changed the law — “Is it just for my case?” — and responded to Allred’s insistence that he would do everything he could to give him a fair trial by asking, “By what law will you try me?” When Allred replied that he would be tried under the terms of the Military Commissions Act, Hamdan gave up. “But the government changed the law to its advantage,” he said. “I am not being tried by the American law.”

Col. Morris Davis condemns the Commissions (again)

Col. Moris DavisHamdan’s eloquent and restrained explanation for his boycott was the most poignant event in his hearing, but it was not the most explosive. That accolade was reserved for Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Commissions, who resigned noisily last October, citing political interference in the process. Once the Commissions’ stoutest supporter — in 2006 he told reporters, “Remember if you dragged Dracula out into the sunlight he melted? Well, that’s kind of the way it is trying to drag a detainee into the courtroom” — Col. Davis explained his Damascene conversion in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in December.

Laying into his chain of command, Col. Davis lambasted his immediate boss, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, who had recently been appointed as the legal adviser to the Commissions’ “convening authority” Susan Crawford, for politicizing the process, attempting to hold higher profile trials behind closed doors (whereas Davis insisted that transparency was “critical”). He also criticized Crawford, a retired judge, who had served as Army counsel and defense department inspector under Dick Cheney in the first Bush administration in the 1980s, for overstepping her administrative role by “intermingling convening authority and prosecutor roles” and “perpetuat[ing] the perception of a rigged process stacked against the accused.”

William J. Haynes IICol. Davis also delivered a particularly stern rebuke to Crawford’s overall boss, the Department of Defense’s chief counsel William J. Haynes II, pointing out Haynes’ role in “authorizing the use of the aggressive interrogation techniques some call torture,” declaring, “I had instructed the prosecutors in September 2005 that we would not offer any evidence derived by waterboarding, one of the aggressive interrogation techniques the administration has sanctioned,” and declaring, unambiguously, that he resigned “a few hours after” being informed that he had been placed in a chain of command under Haynes.

On April 28, Col. Davis testified for Hamdan and reprised his complaints, telling Capt. Allred, as the Washington Post described it, that senior Pentagon officials, including deputy defense secretary Gordon England, had “made it clear to him that charging some of the highest-profile detainees before elections this year could have ‘strategic political value.’” After pointing out that he had wanted to wait until both the cases and the entire Military Commissions system had “a more solid legal footing,” he reiterated his complaints against Haynes, telling Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Hamdan’s military defense lawyer, what he had told the Nation in February: that, during a discussion of the Nuremberg Trials, in which Davis had noted that there had been some acquittals, which had “lent great credibility to the proceedings,” Haynes had told him, “We can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.”

Brig. Gen. Thoams HartmannCol. Davis also defended his uncompromising opposition to the use of evidence obtained through torture, once more directing particular criticism at Brig. Gen. Hartmann. “To allow or direct a prosecutor to come into the courtroom and offer evidence they felt was torture, it puts a prosecutor in an ethical bind,” he said, adding that, in response to his complaints, Hartmann had replied that “everything was fair game — let the judge sort it out.” He added that Hartmann “took ‘micromanagement’ of the prosecution effort to a new level and treated prosecutors with ‘cruelty and maltreatment,’” and explained that he “was trying to take over the prosecutor’s role, compromising the independence of the Office of Military Commissions, which decides which cases to bring and what evidence to use.”

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Omar Khadr

A week later, on May 7, the boycott bandwagon rolled on when Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, another Yemeni, also refused to cooperate. Sitting alone in Camp Justice, Guantánamo’s new courtroom, having spurned the assistance of his government-appointed attorney, al-Bahlul, who is accused of producing videos for al-Qaeda, and who famously boycotted his pre-Hamdan Commission hearings in 2006, essentially picked up where he left off over two years ago, proudly proclaiming his association with Osama bin Laden, and telling his judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, “We will continue our jihad and nothing’s going to stop us. You must not oppress the people in the land. Your oppression against us and your support to the strategic ally in the region is what made me leave my house and today, I’m telling you, and you’re a man of law, if you sentence me to life … me and the others will be the reason for the continuation of the war against America.” He added that he did not intend to dispute any of the prosecution’s allegations. “I am responsible for my own actions in this world and the afterworld,” he said. “I don’t consider it to be a crime.”

While al-Bahlul’s words — delivered to full advantage from his sudden perch in the media spotlight — served only to underline, incongruously, the utter silence in which around 200 other Guantánamo prisoners are held (those considered less dangerous, or not dangerous at all, whom the administration has no intention of ever prosecuting), his words were almost immediately overshadowed when, the day after, Col. Brownback, who was on the verge of securing a dubious place in the history books by ruling that the trial of Omar Khadr — the only prisoner to date who has not boycotted his hearings — would go ahead in June, threatened his own boycott.

Furious that, despite repeated requests, the prosecution (led by Maj. Jeffrey Groharing) had failed to provide Khadr’s lawyers with their client’s Detainee Information Management System records, to analyze his treatment in an attempt to uncover reasons why incriminating statements — possibly obtained through torture — should be suppressed, Col. Brownback declared, “I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date. To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done.” He then ordered the government to provide the records by May 22, or, he said, he would suspend the proceedings entirely.

While Khadr’s lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, expressed skepticism about Col. Brownback’s exclamation, telling reporters, “What we’ve seen in this process is that military judges will give the defense pyrrhic victories when it doesn’t threaten the foundations of the system,” Brownback’s intervention at the very least delayed confirmation of his own notoriety. If he decides, after May 22, to proceed with the trial of Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was captured after a gun battle in Afghanistan that left one US soldier dead, he will be the first judge since the Second World War to proceed with a war crimes trial against a prisoner who was just a child when he was captured.

Omar Khadr, May 2008

A courtroom sketch of Omar Khadr, now 21 years old, during his most recent pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo on May 8, 2008.

Judge bars Commissions’ legal adviser

The day after Col. Brownback’s shake-up of the prosecutors in Omar Khadr’s case, Capt. Allred, having mulled over Morris Davis’ complaints against Brig. Gen. Hartmann, surprised everyone, and threatened the Commissions’ teetering legitimacy once more, by disqualifying Hartmann from playing any role in Salim Hamdan’s trial. Clearly swayed by Davis’ testimony, Capt. Allred ruled on May 9 that he was “too closely allied with the prosecution,” as the New York Times described it. “National attention focused on this dispute has seriously called into question the legal adviser’s ability to continue to perform his duties in a neutral and objective manner,” Allred wrote, explaining that public concern about the fairness of the cases was “deeply disturbing,” and that he did not find that Hartmann “retains the required independence from the prosecution.”

The Times followed up with more excerpts from Capt. Allred’s decision, which confirmed his support for Morris Davis’ views. “Telling the chief prosecutor (and other prosecutors),” he wrote, “that certain types of cases would be tried and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused, suggests that factors other than those pertaining to the merits of the case were at play.”

Capt. Allred also referred explicitly to Morris Davis’ statement that Brig. Gen. Hartmann had put pressure on him to use evidence obtained through torture. Noting, as the Times put it, that “prosecutors have an ethical obligation to present only evidence they consider reliable,” Capt. Allred wrote that directing the use of “evidence that the chief prosecutor considered tainted and unreliable, or perhaps obtained as a result of torture or coercion, was clearly an effort to influence the professional judgment of the chief prosecutor.”

9/11 charges confirmed, but Mohammed al-Qahtani dropped

While the administration tried to make light of Capt. Allred’s ruling, arguing that it applied only to Hamdan’s case, and that Brig. Gen. Hartmann’s position was secure, it was difficult not to whiff a stench of desperation in the Pentagon’s announcement, just three days later, that a date had been set for the first pre-trial hearing of another group of prisoners — the alleged 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed in his tribunal last year that he was “responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z” — against whom charges had been announced in February.

Although it’s almost certain that this decision — though perhaps rushed forward — had already been making its tortuous way through the necessary bureaucratic processes, its propaganda value was immediately undermined when it became apparent that, of the six men initially charged, one — Mohammed al-Qahtani — was missing from the final charge sheet.

As Time explained, the charges against al-Qahtani were dropped by Susan Crawford “without formal explanation,” and Brig. Gen. Hartmann’s offering — that the dismissal provided evidence of the “strength of the system and the careful, deliberative and fair legal process in place at Guantánamo” — was hardly sufficient to paper over the cracks. Although the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning that they could be reinstated in the future, nobody expects that this will happen.

The problem, as immediately became apparent, is that al-Qahtani, unlike the other five men, who were held for many years in secret prisons run by the CIA, was subjected to torture in Guantánamo, under a program devised specifically for him and approved by Donald Rumsfeld in late 2002. The details of his ordeal are well known, as Time published his leaked interrogation log in 2006, and even a military investigation in 2005, which stopped short of describing his treatment as torture, concluded that he had been subjected to abuse.

In the world of the Military Commissions, al-Qahtani’s case was damaging for two specific reasons: firstly, because, although the other five men were tortured in CIA custody — and the CIA has publicly acknowledged that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to the torture technique known as waterboarding (a horrendous form of controlled drowning) — he and the others have been reinterrogated by “clean teams” of FBI agents, who have solicited confessions without resorting to torture, whereas al-Qahtani, according to his lawyers, has not.

Leaving aside for a moment the implausibility of somehow “purifying” confessions obtained through torture by using “clean teams” — and what it reveals, unintentionally, about the “dirty teams” whose activities are purportedly being airbrushed from history — the second reason for dropping charges against al-Qahtani only reinforces the legal netherworld in which the Commissions operate. According to their rules, the records of al-Qahtani’s interrogations, which took place in Guantánamo, could be produced as evidence of torture, whereas those of the “high-value detainees,” interrogated by CIA teams in secret overseas prisons, can be overlooked, because, as Time put it, “Military courts overseeing Guantánamo have indicated they cannot compel evidence from US intelligence agencies.”

In reality, of course, it’s inconceivable that the trials of tortured prisoners — even those who apparently masterminded the 9/11 attacks — can actually proceed without torture being mentioned, but for now, at least, the administration is clinging to its “clean team” alibi, and hoping to minimize the fallout from Capt. Allred’s latest ruling.

As for al-Qahtani, described by his lawyer, Gita Gutierrez, as a “broken man, broken by torture,” his only way out now is for the Saudi government to negotiate his repatriation. Gutierrez told Time that she was “extremely concerned about his ability to survive mentally and physically for much longer in Guantánamo,” and stated, unequivocally, that the dismissal of charges “clearly indicates the government’s awareness that any and all statements obtained from Mohammed [al-]Qahtani were extracted by torture or the threat of torture.” Replace his name with that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of the other four men charged — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Walid bin Attash — and you see the problem that faces the administration as it prepares for the United States’ most significant trial since 9/11.

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, the Huffington Post, Anti-war.com and AlterNet.

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 Mohamed Jawad (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), 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).

The Guantánamo Files: CounterSpin interviews Andy Worthington

The Guantanamo FilesOn Thursday May 15, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Rendall for CounterSpin, the radio show produced by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Picking up on the story of the release of al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj from Guantánamo, which, as FAIR noted, “merited just a 72 word squib in the Washington Post, and a short report on page 14 of the New York Times,” Steve and the FAIR team had read my report about the prisoners released with Sami al-Haj (on CounterPunch), and wondered why their stories were not mentioned in the US press at all.

In the course of our conversation, I had the opportunity to explain something about the stories of these other men — held, like Sami, for five or six years without charge or trial — and also to explain how the research that I undertook for my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison was essential to puncture the general media silence surrounding the majority of the prisoners’ stories. Though understandable in some ways, because of the difficulties in analyzing the available documents relating to the prisoners, I pointed out that this reluctance to look in detail at their accounts only plays into the hands of the administration, which is getting away with holding men without charge or trial precisely because it has disposed of the usual methods whereby the stories of alleged wrongdoers are reported: through criminal charges, prosecution and defense counsel, a judge and a jury.

The show is available here (or here as an MP3), and my interview takes up the last ten minutes or so of the 30-minute show, after FAIR’s analysis of the week’s news, and an interview with commentator Bill Fletcher on the controversy over Barack Obama and his association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

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.

Identification of ex-Guantánamo suicide bomber unleashes Pentagon propaganda

Abdullah al-AjmiRather horribly, it seems, a former Guantánamo prisoner, Abdullah al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was repatriated in November 2005 and who later married and had a child, blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq, last month. According to the US military, al-Ajmi was one of three suicide bombers responsible for killing seven members of the Iraqi security forces on April 26.

An article in the Washington Post explained how al-Ajmi had recorded a martyrdom tape before his mission, which was translated by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites. On the audiotape, al-Ajmi apparently condemned conditions at Guantánamo as “deplorable,” and stated, “Whoever can join them and execute a suicide operation, let him do so. By God, it will be a mortal blow. The Americans complain much about it. By God, in Guantánamo, all their talk was about explosives and whether you make explosives. It is as if explosives were hell to them.”

This is disturbing news, of course, although it does not follow that al-Ajmi’s release, and his subsequent actions, demonstrate that the administration’s post-9/11 anti-terror policies — abrogating from the Geneva Conventions and holding men without charge or trial in an offshore prison and interrogation center — are justified.

If al-Ajmi was a threat to the United States, he should either have been held as a Prisoner of War, protected by the Geneva Conventions, or prosecuted in a recognized court of law as a criminal. Instead, his imprisonment at Guantánamo involved “evidence” compiled by unnamed interrogators and other military personnel that was so far from the standards demanded by any acceptable judicial process that, on his return to Kuwait, he was acquitted of the charges against him — primarily, that he fought with the Taliban against US forces in Afghanistan — and set free.

At his trial, his lawyer, Ayedh al-Azemi, told the court that transcripts of interrogations conducted in Guantánamo by US officers should not be admissible as evidence, because they “do not bear signatures of the US officers nor the defendants and thus should not be admissible as legal evidence by the court.” He added that the transcripts were “not a proper investigation” but “simple reports that included neither questions nor answers.”

In Guantánamo, al-Ajmi, a lance corporal in the Kuwaiti army, had specifically denied fighting with the Taliban, saying that he had taken a leave of absence from the army in order to study in Pakistan with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, a conservative but apolitical proselytizing organization that has millions of members worldwide. He insisted that he had only confessed to fighting with the Taliban because of the circumstances in which he was held and interrogated.

“These statements were all said under pressure and threats,” he said. “I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t bear the threats and the suffering so I started saying things. When every detainee is captured they tell him that he is either Taliban or al-Qaeda and that is it. I couldn’t bear the suffering and the threatening and the pressure so I had to say I was from [the] Taliban.”

The question remains, therefore, whether al-Ajmi was lying in Guantánamo — which is, of course, a possibility — or whether the abuse he suffered for four years in US custody radicalized him and led to his final manifestation as a suicide bomber. The clues provide mixed messages. In Guantánamo, the authorities certainly regarded him as a threat, noting that his behavior had been so “aggressive and non-compliant” that he had “resided in the disciplinary blocks throughout his detention,” but there appears to be no way of knowing if he was “aggressive and non-compliant” because he was a sworn militant or because he was profoundly angered by his experiences in US custody.

Speaking to the Washington Post, US lawyer Thomas Wilner, who represented al-Ajmi and several other former Kuwaiti prisoners, recalled al-Ajmi’s anger and despair. He explained that his client was ”young and not well educated, and that he appeared deeply affected by his incarceration” at Guantánamo. He said that during five meetings in 2005 al-Ajmi had told him that he had been “badly abused after his capture in Afghanistan and later at Guantánamo, at one point coming to a meeting with a broken arm [he] said he sustained in a scuffle with guards.” Wilner added that over the course of his visits, al-Ajmi became “more and more distraught … about the way he was treated and the fact that he couldn’t do anything about it.”

While he too was unable to know for certain what had provoked al-Ajmi to become a suicide bomber, he maintained that this “horrible tragedy” could have been avoided if the administration had not turned its back on the due process of the law. “All we sought for him was a fair hearing, a process, and he was released by the US government without that process,” he said, adding pertinently, “The lack of a process leads to problems. It leads to innocent people being held unfairly and not-so-innocent people going home without any hearing.”

Disturbingly, the news of al-Ajmi’s homicidal suicide has prompted Robert Gates, the US defense secretary, to wheel out some long-discredited statistics relating to the number of prisoners released from Guantánamo who have allegedly “returned to the battlefield.” As reported by mebeliReuters, Gates declared, “I was told today that the recidivism rate … those who return to the battlefield, is probably somewhere between 5 and 10 percent — maybe 6, 7 percent, something like that,” adding, “We don’t have a lot of specific cases. We’re talking about one, two, three dozen that we have data on.”

The Washington Post, however, hinted at quite how vague this analysis was by describing how the Defense Intelligence Agency has “estimated that as many as three dozen former Guantánamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorist activities” (emphasis added). The Post also took note of legitimate concerns by international human rights groups and lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners, who have “disputed that estimate, saying only a handful of former detainees have left US custody and gone on to fight US forces.”

As I have explained before, and will, no doubt, continue to do so until I’m blue in the face, those who have studied the stories in any detail (myself included) not only dispute the Pentagon’s figures, but also, crucially, point out that the US administration has refused to acknowledge the shocking truth about its own responsibility for releasing the half-dozen men whom all parties agree were released by mistake.

Abdullah MehsudWhen Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander released from Guantánamo in March 2004, killed himself with a hand grenade after being cornered by security forces in Pakistan last July, I pointed out that, had the US administration not behaved with arrogant unilateralism, neither Mehsud nor the handful of other released Afghan and Pakistani prisoners who returned to the battlefield would have been freed from Guantánamo in the first place.

Mehsud came to prominence in October 2004, after two Chinese engineers working on a dam project in Waziristan were kidnapped, when he spoke to reporters on a satellite phone and said that his followers were responsible for the abductions. He went on to explain that he had spent two years in Guantánamo after being captured in Kunduz in November 2001 while fighting with the Taliban. At the time of his capture he was carrying a false Afghan ID card, and throughout his detention he maintained that he was an innocent Afghan tribesman. He added that US officials never realized that he was a Pakistani with deep ties to militants in both countries, and also told Gulf News, “I managed to keep my Pakistani identity hidden all these years.”

Another Taliban commander, Mullah Shahzada, who was released from Guantánamo in May 2003, gave the Americans a false name and claimed that he was an innocent rug merchant. “He stuck to his story and was fairly calm about the whole thing,” a military intelligence official told the New York Times. “He maintained over a period time that he was nothing but an innocent rug merchant who just got snatched up.” After his release, Shahzada seized control of Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan, recruiting fighters by “telling harrowing tales of his supposed ill-treatment in the cages of Guantánamo,” and masterminded a jailbreak in Kandahar in October 2003, in which he bribed the guards to allow 41 Taliban fighters to escape through a tunnel. His post-Guantánamo notoriety came to an end in May 2004, when he was killed in an ambush by US Special Forces.

Another Afghan Taliban commander, Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, who was released in March 2004, was killed six months later in Uruzgan by Afghan soldiers, who believed that he was leading the Taliban forces in the province.

However, while right-wing commentators seized on the release of Mehsud, Shahzada and Ghaffar as evidence that no one should ever be released from Guantánamo, a rather different interpretation was offered by Gul Agha Sherzai, the post-Taliban governor of Kandahar, who pointed out that Shahzada would never have been freed if Afghan officials had been allowed to vet the Afghans in Guantánamo. “We know all these Taliban faces,” he said, adding that repeated requests for access to the Afghan prisoners had been turned down. Sherzai’s opinion was reinforced by security officials in Hamid Karzai’s government, who blamed the US for the return of Taliban commanders to the battlefield, explaining that “neither the American military officials, nor the Kabul police, who briefly process the detainees when they are sent home, consult them about the detainees they free.”

So there you have it. Abdullah Mehsud, Mullah Shahzada, Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar and at least three other Taliban commanders — Mullah Shakur, and two men known only as Sabitullah and Rahmatullah — were released, and returned to the battlefield, because the US authorities refused to allow their allies in Afghanistan to have any involvement in screening the prisoners to ascertain who was actually dangerous.

In conclusion, then, while the story of Abdullah al-Ajmi’s post-Guantánamo militancy is horrific in and of itself, it should not give the Pentagon free rein to indulge in dubious propaganda that whitewashes its own culpability for the release of Taliban fighters from Guantánamo, and nor should it deflect from the failures of the Guantánamo regime to provide an adequate method of screening, assessing and prosecuting those who are a genuine threat to the United States. The rules laid down by the Geneva Conventions — and the US courts — remain fit for purpose.

The alternative, as the right-wing bloggers are currently explaining, is to continue to allow the President to capture anyone he regards as a terrorist anywhere in the world and hold them forever without charge or trial. By this rationale, none of the 501 prisoners released from Guantánamo would ever have been released, not even the 92 or 93 percent of them –- that’s around 460 men –- who, according to the Pentagon’s own estimates, are not alleged to have returned to the battlefield.

Andy 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 the Huffington Post, Antiwar.com and CounterPunch.

Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence

Binyam MohamedOn Tuesday, Binyam Mohamed, a 29-year old British resident in Guantánamo, sued the British government for refusing to produce evidence which, his lawyers contend, would demonstrate that he was tortured for 27 months by or on behalf of US forces in Morocco and Afghanistan, that any “evidence” against him was only obtained through torture, and that the British government and intelligence services knew about his torture and provided personal information about him — unrelated to terrorism — that was used by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco.

They insist, moreover, that his case is an urgent priority, because he is about to be charged before a Military Commission in Guantánamo — the much-criticized system of trials for “terror suspects” that was conceived by the US administration in November 2001 — and they desperately need the exculpatory evidence in the possession of the British government to assist in his defence, and to prove his innocence.

Binyam’s torture

A refugee from Ethiopia, who arrived in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, Binyam Mohamed was working as a cleaner in an Islamic Centre in west London in 2001, and attempting to recover from a drug problem, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan to see what the Taliban regime was like, and, he hoped, to steer clear of drugs because of the Taliban’s reputation as fierce opponents of drug use.

He came to the attention of both the American and British intelligence services in April 2002, when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities as he tried to board a flight to London. Although he had a valid airline ticket, his passport had been stolen, and, rather foolishly, he had borrowed a British friend’s passport instead.

In the heightened tension in Pakistan at the time — just days after Abu Zubaydah, an alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, was captured in Faisalabad — Binyam was immediately regarded with enormous suspicion by the American agents who visited him in the Pakistani prison in which he was held.

Although he later reported to his lawyer — Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents 35 prisoners in Guantánamo — that the British checked out his story, and confirmed that he was a “nobody,” the Americans were not convinced, and decided to send him to Morocco, where he could be interrogated by professional torturers who were not bothered about international treaties preventing the use of torture, and who were equally unconcerned about whether evidence of their activities would ever surface.

Speaking of his time in Morocco, where he was held for 18 months, Binyam told Stafford Smith that he was subjected to horrendous torture, which, included, but was not limited to having his penis cut with a razor on a regular basis. In spite of this, the regular beatings and other torture that he did not even want to talk about, Binyam said that his lowest moment of all came when his torturers produced evidence of his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been abandoned and betrayed by his adopted homeland.

After Morocco, Binyam was transferred to Afghanistan, where he endured further torture in the “Dark Prison,” a secret “black site” near Kabul, run by the CIA, which was a grim recreation of a medieval dungeon, but with the addition of non-stop music and noise, blasted into the pitch-dark cells at an ear-piercing volume.

Moved from here to the main US prison at Bagram airbase, where at least two prisoners were murdered by US forces, Binyam was finally put on a plane to Guantánamo in September 2004, two and a half years after his ordeal began.

In Guantánamo, he was put forward for a Military Commission in November 2005, and made one memorable appearance before the military court, when he held up a hand-written placard declaring that the Commissions were in fact “Con-Missions,” but in June 2006 the judge in his case was spared further embarrassment when the entire system was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Revived later that year by a barely sentient Congress, the trials have since struggled to establish their legitimacy, and have yet to proceed beyond arraignment and pre-trial proceedings, with the exception of the case of the Australian David Hicks, who accepted a plea bargain last March in order to return home to serve a desultory nine-month sentence.

In recent months, however, the administration, which boldly states that it intends to try between 60 and 80 of the remaining 273 prisoners, has stepped up the rate at which new prisoners are being charged. In an attempt to save Binyam from a second dose of the Commissions, his lawyers at Reprieve, together with solicitors from Leigh Day & Co., decided that the most constructive and innovative way to secure Binyam’s release was to put pressure on the British government.

The letter to the UK government

Armed with evidence from flight logs, which confirmed that CIA planes had flown from Pakistan to Morocco in July 2002, and from Morocco to Afghanistan in January 2004, as Binyam said they had, and with numerous accounts of British complicity in his interrogations, and knowledge of his rendition to torture, the lawyers submitted a list of requests to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, at the end of March.

The extensive list of items requested included any evidence relating to UK knowledge of Binyam’s forthcoming rendition while he was held in Pakistan from April to July 2002, including “the identity of the US agents involved, so that they can be traced and interviewed or subpoenaed,” and any evidence relating to Binyam’s claim that representatives of the British intelligence services told him in Pakistan that they knew that he was a “nobody,” which, the lawyers stated, led them to “assume that the UK intelligence services and police have carried out investigations in to Mr. Mohamed’s activities whilst in the UK.” “We believe,” they added, “that such evidence will show that he does not represent a terrorist threat,” and that as such “it forms a necessary part of his defence.”

The lawyers also asked “to interview and take statements from the UK agents who (it is conceded) spoke to Mr. Mohamed whilst he was detained in Pakistan,” and who, Binyam stated, “informed him that he was going to be rendered to an Arab country for torture.” In December 2005, Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time, did indeed admit, in testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, that UK Security Service officers visited Binyam while he was in Pakistani custody, and Binyam’s recollections of that encounter were noted by Clive Stafford Smith during a meeting at Guantánamo:

“They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar.’ I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.”

As Binyam’s lawyers pointed out, “Such evidence will be central to the defence of Mr. Mohamed because any evidence obtained as a result of torture is inadmissible.”

The lawyers also requested “information about Mr. Mohamed’s life in the United Kingdom that could only have come from UK intelligence agencies or other government sources,” which, as Binyam pointed out, caused him particular distress in Morocco, when it was used by his torturers. According to Stafford Smith, this information included “personal details about his life in the UK, such as details of his education, the name of his kick-boxing trainer and his friendships in London, which he had never mentioned during interrogations, and that could only have originated from collusion in the process by the UK security or secret intelligence services.”

The US military base on Diego GarciaIn addition, the lawyers requested any evidence about rendition flights that stopped on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (which is leased to the United States). After five years of denials, the British government finally admitted in February that two flights had indeed stopped at Diego Garcia, and Binyam’s lawyers requested information about these flights, pointing out that one of the flights had “subsequently stopped in Morocco at the time that Mr. Mohamed was there,” and that it was, therefore, “almost certainly (a) taking another prisoner to Morocco for torture; or (b) taking US personnel there who were involved in Mr. Mohamed’s interrogation process.”

The lawyers also requested any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in the “Dark Prison” in Kabul, where, they noted, “it seems highly probable that the UK government has details of the conditions that prevailed there,” because various British residents — including Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who returned to the UK from Guantánamo last year — were also held there, and any evidence relating to Binyam’s time in Bagram, where other British prisoners were also held.

The lawyers’ final request was for access to Binyam’s medical records from Guantánamo. They noted that these were “relevant to the question of torture, and Mr. Mohamed’s current physical and mental condition,” and added that, although the Guantánamo authorities have given the UK government access to Binyam’s records, they have refused to provide them to Stafford Smith. “The UK should provide a copy now,” they wrote, “or provide whatever information or documents they have recording the contents of the medical records.”

The lawsuit

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday by Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. was triggered when lawyers for the government responded to the letter described above by refusing to hand over any of the evidence requested by Binyam’s lawyers, claiming that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted,” and adding, “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by Binyam’s lawyers.

The government lawyers proceeded to claim that Binyam’s lawyers did not “provide any evidence” to support their assertion that “such alleged information or assistance ‘was subsequently used in the torture of [Mr. Mohamed],’” to which Reprieve and Leigh Day responded by pointing out that Binyam’s allegation that UK sources provided information to his torturers in Morocco was “found credible” by the Intelligence and Security Committee (IRC), a committee established in the UK Intelligence Services Act 1994, and empowered to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Binyam’s lawyers pointed out that the government had ignored the conclusion of the IRC’s Rendition Report in 2007, when the committee had explicitly stated, “There is a reasonable probability that intelligence passed to the Americans was used in [Binyam Mohamed]’s subsequent [Moroccan] interrogation.”

They also cited the particular passage from Binyam’s statement to Clive Stafford Smith, in which he spoke about the interrogation in Morocco that contained information that could only have come from the British intelligence services:

“Today I was questioned about my links with Britain. The interrogator told me, ‘We have been working with the British, and we have photos of people given to us by MI5. Do you know these?’ I realized that the British were sending questions to the Moroccans. I was at first surprised that the Brits were siding with the Americans. I sought asylum in Britain rather than America because it’s known as the one country that has laws that it follows. To say that I was disappointed at this moment would be an understatement.”

It remains to be seen, of course, if this novel approach taken by Binyam’s lawyers will bear fruit, but it seems plausible, as it is hardly in the interests of the British government to run the risk of further embarrassing disclosures. The lawsuit may, therefore, put pressure on the politicians to step up their efforts to secure Binyam’s return to Britain — to face charges in the UK, if any can be found that will stick to the “nobody” from west London — rather than to allow him to be tried in a much-criticized system in Guantánamo that threatens to embarrass both the British and the American governments.

Andy 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 Indymedia, ZNet, ukwatch.net and American Torture.

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The betrayal of British torture victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).

Who are the Afghans just released from Guantánamo?

For the five Afghans who returned home on the same flight as al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj and the other three prisoners described in my previous article, the future is disturbingly uncertain. As I reported last December, when 13 of their compatriots were released from Guantánamo, they, like the other 19 Afghans released in August, September and November, were not freed outright, as was the case with the 152 other Afghans previously released, but were instead transferred to Block D, a wing of Pol-i-Charki, Kabul’s main prison, which was recently refurbished by the US authorities.

Pol-i-Charki prison, Kabul

An Afghan soldier stands guard outside Kabul’s Pol-i-Charki prison. Photo by Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press.

While some of these 32 men have subsequently been released from Pol-i-Charki, the whole story of US involvement in the prison is deeply disturbing, as are reports that the “trials” of the men returned from Guantánamo are “closed-door” affairs, in which, as the Washington Post explained last month, “they are often denied access to defense attorneys,” and are, essentially, tried on the basis of “evidence” provided by the United States, which they are not allowed to see; in other words, exactly the same situation that they faced in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo (the military reviews convened to assess the prisoners’ status as “enemy combatants,” in which military officers took the place of lawyers, and secret evidence was withheld from the prisoners).

As Mohammed Afzal Mullahkeil, a lawyer for the returned Afghan prisoners explained, “When they were sent from Guantánamo, they were told, ‘You are innocent and you will be free once you’re in your country.’ When they got to Bagram, they just brought them to Block D and said they should have a second trial.”

In common with previous Afghan releases, the identities of the five men have been difficult to establish. The Pentagon never discloses the names of those it frees, and although lawyers representing the prisoners are informed of their clients’ departure, the identities of those who did not have legal representation — either because they refused to do so, or had not found any way of establishing contact with the legal community — remain unknown unless the media are present on their arrival (which has not happened in Afghanistan for many years), or until further investigation by lawyers or journalists turn up details of their identities.

Shortly after the men were released, the identities of only two of the five Afghans had been established, but over the weekend Sami al-Haj gave the names of the other three men, all of whom have now been positively identified. As with those described above, their stories reveal, yet again, the wholesale mockery of justice that defines the regime at Guantánamo: outright failures of intelligence, the presumption of guilt, the refusal to seek out witnesses to back up the prisoners’ stories, and a willingness to accept confessions from other prisoners as the truth, regardless of how it was obtained, and with no attempt made to investigate the veracity of the claims.

Haji Rohullah Wakil, a celebrated anti-Taliban commander

Of the two Afghans identified, by far the most significant is 46-year old Haji Rohullah Wakil (also identified as Haji Roohullah), a tribal leader in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, whose opposition to the Taliban was such that he fired the first salvo against the Taliban in Kunar after the US-led invasion in October 2001. As a result of his anti-Taliban credentials and his support for Hamid Karzai, Wakil was rewarded with an important position in the province’s post-Taliban administration, and was also made a member of the Loya Jirga, the prestigious gathering of tribal leaders that elected Karzai as President in June 2002. His influence was such that Ghulam Ullah, the head of education in Kunar, described him as “a national religious leader.”

Seized by US forces in August 2002, with his military commander Sabar Lal and eleven others, Wakil was taken to the US prison in Bagram airbase for questioning. Although the others were subsequently released, the Americans decided that both Wakil and Lal had sufficient intelligence value to be transferred to Guantánamo in August 2003. According to an Associated Press report, they believed that Wakil “had strong links with Middle Eastern fighters in Afghanistan, particularly Saudi Arabians like Osama bin Laden,” and thought it significant that he was a follower of the Wahhabi sect of Islam, even though both Wakil and Lal had had numerous meetings with senior American officials and had offered support for the campaign to oust al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the Tora Bora mountains in November and December 2001.

The outline of Wakil’s story has been reported before –- both in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, and in an article I wrote last October, when his military commander, Sabar Lal, was released from Guantánamo –- but it still appears to be a disturbing example of the incompetence of American military intelligence in Afghanistan, as the primary charge against Wakil — that he provided sanctuary to a number of significant al-Qaeda operatives who had fled from the city of Jalalabad after it fell to the Northern Alliance on November 12, 2001 — was so utterly at odds with his proven track record as an anti-Taliban tribal leader who was part of the Northern Alliance and supported Hamid Karzai.

While the full story of Haji Rohullah Wakil deserves more in-depth treatment than I can supply at present, there appear to be only two possible explanations for his capture: either that he did in fact aid the al-Qaeda members because he was working as a double agent, or that he was betrayed by a rival. Personally, I find the second explanation rather less far-fetched, particularly as so many other Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo — at least two dozen, including Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, who died in Guantánamo in December without being given the opportunity to clear his name — were actively opposed to the Taliban, but were betrayed by rivals who had gained the trust of the Americans.

According to this second version of events, Wakil was probably betrayed by Malik Zarin, the head of the rival Mushwani tribe, who had ingratiated himself with the Americans and was using them for his own ends. Although Wakil himself did not name names in Guantánamo, Sabar Lal, who was finally freed from Pol-i-Charki in February, to return to his wife and five children, had no doubt that he had been betrayed. Speaking to the Washington Post last month, he made it clear that he “was turned over to US forces by Afghans seeking revenge for his arrest of Taliban fighters near the Pakistani border.”

At Guantánamo, Lal had been even more forthright, explaining to his tribunal the injustice of imprisoning him with members of the Taliban: “The only thing I want to tell you that is so ironic here is that I see a Talib and then I see myself here too, I am in the same spot as a Talib. I see those people on an everyday basis, they are cursing at me … They say, ‘See, you got what you deserved, you are here, too.’”

Abdullah Mohammed Khan and his dubious friendship

The story of the second Afghan, Abdullah Mohammed Khan, a 36-year old ethnic Uzbek, shifts the focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and appears to be another example of dubious intelligence on the part of the Pakistani and American authorities. A former mujahid against the Russians, Khan, mentioned briefly in my book, but otherwise unknown, was arrested in Peshawar, in 2001, at the house of a Syrian acquaintance called Musa, who, according to the US authorities, was an al-Qaeda suspect identified as Abd al-Hamid al-Suri.

Khan denied knowing anything about any connection that Musa might have had with al-Qaeda, saying that all he knew was that he came to Pakistan from Turkey with his family for medical treatment on his feet, which were “in very bad condition.” He also denied knowing anything about a CD containing explosives-making manuals that was apparently discovered in Musa’s house. Released after being questioned by a Pakistani and an American, he was arrested a second time in January 2002, when traces of explosives were allegedly found on his fingers. Again, he denied the allegation, saying, “I never touched any kind of explosives after the Russians [left],” but this time he was seized and sent to Guantánamo, on what, it appears, was little more than a whim.

At his Administrative Review Board in Guantánamo (the successors to the tribunals, convened to assess whether the prisoners were still a threat to the US, or had ongoing intelligence value), Khan ran up against a litany of allegations made by other prisoners, which are shockingly prevalent in the transcripts of the hearings, even though there is no indication of the circumstances under which the “confessions” were elicited, and, moreover, no attempt was made to verify whether or not they were true.

When faced with these allegations, Khan duly denied a claim that “an al-Qaeda detainee” had identified him in a photo as Abdul Latif al-Turki, explaining that this was the name of the person who had provided him with a false Turkish passport to enter Pakistan, and adding that he was always known by his real name, and that “if you really showed somebody my picture and they told you my name is Abdul … he was lying.” He also denied a similar allegation from “A Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member,” who identified him as “al-Turki” and said that he saw him several times at the al-Ansar guest house in Pakistan, and an allegation from an Iraqi detainee who had apparently identified him in a photo and said that he had seen him at a guest house on the Taliban front lines in Kabul in 1999 or 2000.

On this point, his response was particularly revealing, as any detailed research into Guantánamo reveals that several prisoners — an Iraqi and a Yemeni are regularly cited — have spread false allegations against other prisoners. Most startlingly, this came to light in 2006, when, in an article for the National Journal, Corine Hegland told the story of an unnamed but principled Personal Representative for a young Yemeni prisoner, Farouq Saif (known to the Pentagon as Farouq Ali Ahmed), at his tribunal. This officer — assigned to Saif in place of a lawyer, and under no obligation to make a stand on his behalf — was so shocked at the vehemence with which Saif denied an allegation that he had been seen at Osama bin Laden’s personal airport that he went back to his file and discovered that the allegation had been made by another prisoner, who had been specifically identified by the FBI as a liar.

In another case reported by Hegland, another Personal Representative — or perhaps the same man; the details are unclear — followed a trail established in the case of a young Syrian, Mohammed al-Tumani, who denied even being in Afghanistan when he was alleged to have been at a training camp. On investigating the file of the prisoner who made the allegation, the officer discovered that he had actually made groundless accusations against 60 prisoners in total. Despite this, both Farouq Saif and Mohammed al-Tumani remain in Guantánamo, and no one has ever established the identities of the other 58 or 59 men who were falsely accused.

Khan’s version was as follows. “About two years ago,” he said, “I was prepared to be released from here. At that point I lived with some Iraqi people and because they disliked me they were lying, they were throwing some allegations on me and that’s why my process has stopped and that’s why I have not been released.”

Shorn of these additional allegations, the case against Khan was summarized by his Designated Military Officer (the officer assigned to the prisoners instead of a lawyer in the ARBs), who stated, “Detainee argues that he is innocent of all the charges brought before him other than that he was associated with Musa,” to which Khan added, “That’s correct. Again, I had some association with Musa and also I had a bad passport, that’s the only things that occurred.”

Tricked by the Taliban

The other three Afghans — identified by Sami al-Haj — were captured in what appears to have been a sly act of revenge by a member of the Taliban against one of his former colleagues who had turned against the regime. The story began when soldiers working for Jan Mohammed, the governor of Uruzgan province, north of Kandahar, stopped a car containing two men, Ismatullah, a 25-year old embroiderer, and Nasrullah, his 23-year old cousin, identified by Sami as Nasrullah al-Rosgani (from Uruzgan), and Esmatullah, his cousin. Ismatullah apparently admitted that he had just delivered a letter to a third man, Mohammed Sangaryar, which was from Abdul Razaq, the former Taliban Minister of Commerce. Sami identified the third man as Mohalim al-Rosgani, which was initially rather confusing, but on Tuesday his lawyer confirmed that Mohalim al-Rosgani was indeed Sangaryar, and that he too had been released.

Ismatullah explained that he had been going to Uruzgan to sell his car, and added that Razaq had said that he would pay his petrol if he delivered the letter. Unable to read, he said that he asked his 23-year old cousin, Nasrullah, to read it, to check that there “wasn’t any danger in it.” Nasrullah said that the letter asked Sangaryar to go to Quetta, but did not mention fighting, even though the US authorities alleged that Razaq had asked Sangaryar to report to Quetta “to fight and avoid capture by the Americans.”

According to Sangaryar, the letter was actually a trap, designed to punish him for turning his back on the Taliban and to discredit him by making it appear that he was still involved with them. He explained that he was a former deputy commander of the Taliban, who had fought with them for many years in an attempt to bring peace to his country. He added, however, that he and his tribe had turned against the Taliban before the US-led invasion, because they had become too enamored of fighting for its own sake, and, specifically, because they had dug up the corpse of Asmat Khan, a prominent tribal leader, and had deposited it in the street as an affront to his tribe. When the American-backed warlord Gul Agha Sherzai took over Kandahar, Sangaryar said that he and his men handed in all their weapons, and he then returned to his village to refurbish his home.

What’s particularly bizarre about this story is the fact that Abdul Razaq (aka Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed), the former Taliban Minister of Commerce, was himself seized and sent to Guantánamo, but was transferred to Pol-i-Charki last August, and fairly swiftly released. Throughout these men’s imprisonment, there was no indication that any effort was made to cross-reference their stories, and this is, I believe, an appropriate note on which to end these two surveys of the latest prisoners released from Guantánamo, in which you’ll have no doubt observed that not a single one of these prisoners was actually accused of raising arms against US forces, let alone of having any involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

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 Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, the Huffington Post and AlterNet.

Note:

The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:

ISN 798: Haji Rohullah Wakil (Haji Roohullah)
ISN 556: Abdullah Mohammed Khan
ISN 888: Ismatullah
ISN 886: Nasrullah
ISN 890: Mohammed Sangaryar

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

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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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