More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials

21.11.08

According to the latest reports, Barack Obama is already discussing how to close Guantánamo, but in the run-up to the Presidential elections, the Bush administration demonstrated its unwillingness to acknowledge a bitter reality — that its system of trials for “terror suspects” are a failed and thoroughly discredited project — by filing charges against two more prisoners.

Faiz al-Kandari and Fouad al-Rabia are the first two Kuwaitis to be put forward for trial by Military Commission, and are both accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, but their cases do nothing to suggest that the administration has correctly identified them as terrorists worthy of war crimes trials.

Faiz al-KandariFaiz al-Kandari was seized during the Tora Bora campaign in December 2001, when members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were holed up in the Afghan mountains near Pakistan, and numerous other civilians were attempting to flee the chaos of war. The Pentagon has alleged that, between August and December 2001, he visited the al-Farouq training camp (the main training camp for Arabs in the years before 9/11) and “provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees,” that he “served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden,” and that he “produced recruitment audio and video tapes which encouraged membership in al-Qaeda and participation in jihad.”

Throughout his imprisonment, al-Kandari has claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid and was involved in well-digging projects, and has explained that he was in the Tora Bora mountains as part of a general exodus of foreigners. He has maintained his story, even though, over the years, he has faced an even lengthier list of allegations, including claims that he attended two training camps, fought on the Taliban front lines against the Northern Alliance, was with Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, was a religious leader for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and was associated with al-Wafa, a Saudi charity that the US authorities regarded as being associated with terrorism.

To this can now be added the allegation that he was involved in producing promotional material for al-Qaeda, but this only adds to the difficulty of reconciling the allegations with the small amount of time that al-Kandari spent in Afghanistan. As he stated during a military review in 2005, “At the end of this exciting story and after all these various accusations, when I spent most of my time alongside bin Laden as his advisor and his religious leader … All this happened in a period of three months, which is the period of time I stayed in Afghanistan? I ask, are these accusations against Faiz or against Superman?”

Fouad al-RabiaIf the charges against Faiz al-Kandari are rather disconcerting, those against Fouad al-Rabia are positively surreal. The businessman and father of four is accused of fundraising for Osama bin Laden in Kuwait and traveling to Afghanistan on several occasions between June and December 2001 “for the purpose of meeting with bin Laden,” and being “in charge of an al-Qaeda supply depot at Tora Bora,” where he “distributed supplies to al-Qaeda fighters.”

The problem with this story is that al-Rabia has not denied meeting bin Laden or being present at Tora Bora, but has, over the years, provided detailed explanations of how both events were entirely innocent. As a good Muslim, he took time out every year to visit those less fortunate than himself and provide humanitarian aid. In 2001, his attention was drawn to Afghanistan, and when he visited in June he met various Taliban officials and was also introduced to Osama bin Laden, who, he said, explained that his mission was to force US troops to leave the Arabian peninsula. He said that he was shocked that, when he pointed out that this might allow Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait again, “Bin Laden said no problem. Let Saddam come in and then something would happen and control would come back.”

Al-Rabia said that he then returned to Kuwait and gained approval for a humanitarian mission from the Kuwaiti Joint Relief Council, but explained that his return to Afghanistan coincided with the start of the US-led invasion in October 2001. Trapped, like many others, he traveled from city to city in search of an escape route, and eventually, like Faiz al-Kandari, ended up in Jalalabad and joined the exodus into the mountains. Because of his age and experience, he said he was compelled by a senior figure in al-Qaeda to look after the “issue counter,” where supplies — food and blankets, rather than weapons — were being handed out.

Overweight and suffering from a variety of ailments, al-Rabia said that he was finally allowed to leave the mountains, traveling with a Palestinian, Mahrar al-Quwari, who is also held at Guantánamo but has been approved to leave. He added, however, that, after staying with an Afghan family for a week, they were betrayed to the Northern Alliance. The US allies then sold them to other Afghans, who imprisoned them in Kabul before turning them over to US forces.

The betrayal of Fouad al-Rabia at the end of his story strikes me as something that would never have happened had he really been associated with al-Qaeda, and, in conjunction with the charges against Faiz al-Kandari, does nothing to vindicate the much criticized system of trials by Military Commission. As Barack Obama reviews his options, he should honor his pledge to repeal the legislation that established the Commissions. Those prisoners regarded as truly dangerous should be put forward for trials on the US mainland, and the rest should be freed.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published exclusively in the Daily Star, Lebanon (as “More Funny Business at Guantánamo”).

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), 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).

5 Responses

  1. A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] this game that was not only grim and cynical, but also potentially deadly (because, as a prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission, it was always possible that the government would have pressed for the death sentence had al-Rabiah [...]

  2. Judge Confirms That an Innocent Man Was Tortured to Make False Confessions | themcglynn.com/theliberal.net says...

    [...] this game that was not only grim and cynical, but also potentially deadly (because, as a prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission, it was always possible that the government would have pressed for the death sentence had al-Rabiah [...]

  3. A Truly Shocking Gitmo Story « Patrick J. Buchanan says...

    [...] this game that was not only grim and cynical, but also potentially deadly (because, as a prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission, it was always possible that the government would have pressed for the death sentence had al-Rabiah [...]

  4. Military Commissions Revived: Don’t Do It, Mr. President! « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] 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), [...]

  5. Andy Worthington: Judge Orders Release From Guantanamo of Kuwaiti Who Met Bin Laden | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] November 2008, al-Rabia was put forward for a trial by Military Commission (the “terror trials” introduced by Dick Cheney in November 2001, and revived by [...]

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