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.
3. 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.”
8. 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.
14. 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.
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).
Well done, Andy; this is about as comprehensive a treatment as I have seen of this matter of “the new and improved” commissions.
A big question — and at least 4, maybe even 5 Supreme Court Justices get it after their Hamdan decision– is whether, regardless of the 2006 MCA Congressional rubber stamp, “military commissions” even can try persons for matters such as “conspiracy” or “providing material support to terrorists” which are not, and have never been recognized as, violations of the laws of war. Military judges seem to wonder about that too (recall last year’s flap finding no such thing as “enemy combatants” and no determination of “unlawful enemy combatants”, only to be overruled by an improvised appeals panel.)
And of course, the new premise still seems to be that in conflicts against the United States, even after the USA attacks and invades another country, it cannot merely hold combatants against it as combatants, but insists that traditional resistance and combat tactics (throwing grenades at uniformed troops, for example) are now “war crimes”.
We won’t even talk about the child soldier issue, or the question of why trying someone as allegedly important as KSM must be done in the jury-rigged (as it were!) military commissions, rather than in the transparent federal courts of the United States, which have certainly had no problem convicting terrorism suspects in the past, and even occasionally imposing death sentences.
But somebody is going to talk about this; quite probably the Supreme Court in Boumediene, to hazard one guess…
[…] shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June […]
[…] last man to be put forward to face a trial by Military Commission is Noor Uthman Muhammed, also from Sudan. On May 23, 2008, Muhammed was charged with conspiracy and providing material […]
[…] President Bush — Omar Khadr, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ibrahim al-Qosi, Ahmed al-Darbi and Noor Uthman Muhammed — would face what was the United States’ second or third attempt to secure convictions […]
[…] by military commission in June this year, accused of various plots involving explosives, and, in Muhammed’s case, of being the deputy emir of the Khaldan training […]
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