On April 20, unnoticed by any media outlet whatsoever, a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (also identified as Omar Abu Bakr) lost his habeas corpus petition.
I learned about the ruling through a “Guantánamo Habeas Scorecard” maintained by the Center for Constitutional Rights, but although Judge James Robertson’s unclassified opinion is not yet available, to ascertain why he decided that the government had met its burden of proof in establishing that Khalifh was part of, or supported al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban, at least part of his story — and of the government’s allegations — can be found through publicly available documents, and through representations made on his behalf by his lawyer, Edmund Burke. Other information has been provided to me by the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, who is aware of how Khalifh has been treated at Guantánamo over the last eight years.
As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, drawing on the publicly available information, Khalifh (or Abu Bakr) was seized during a series of house raids in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, which led to the capture of Abdu Ali Sharqawi, a Yemeni also identified as Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, and more commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator, and at least 15 other men. Sharqawi was subsequently rendered to Jordan, where he was tortured on behalf of the CIA, and the fruits of this torture were recently excluded as evidence in the habeas petition of another Guantánamo prisoner, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, as I explained in a recent article. Without access to the unclassified opinion, I have no idea whether the government alleged that Khalifh was seized with Sharqawi, although it is noticeable that Burke claimed that he was not, and it is also worth noting that the majority of the other men seized at this time have been released from Guantánamo.
In The Guantánamo Files, my analysis of Khalifh’s story was as follows:
It was claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan in 1998, that he was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who was “known to assist Osama bin Laden in purchasing weapons,” that he was a military trainer for the LIFG, that he established a training camp in summer 2001, that he “was a military leader of Arabs,” who fought against the Northern Alliance near Taloqan, that he “met with Taliban leaders to plan military operations,” and that he and his group were directed to Tora Bora [where a showdown took place between al-Qaeda and the US in November and December 2001] by Osama bin Laden.
One of his lawyers, Edmund Burke, refuted all the allegations, however. He acknowledged that his client had been a member of the LIFG, and had worked for the Taliban as a mine cleaner until 1998, when his right leg was severely damaged by a land mine, but said that he spent the ensuing years moving from hospital to hospital in Afghanistan to receive treatment for his leg, which was eventually amputated. He added that he moved to Pakistan in 2001, and was living in a school for boys when it was raided by Pakistani police. Pointing out that his client “can’t bear his weight on his good leg and only hobbles about with the help of a walker or crutches,” he explained, “It’s very hard to imagine him as a combatant of any kind.”
In the government’s most recent allegations, it was noted that Khalifh had “worked overseeing Sudanese drivers for one of Osama bin Laden’s construction companies in Sudan,” had been “identified” as a trainer and the leader of a Libyan training camp near Kabul, visited by bin Laden, where he was “identified as someone whom others would approach to receive explosives training if they wanted to commit a terrorist attack,” had allegedly attended two other training camps in 1996-97, and had also been “identified” as “a military leader in charge of many Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Gulf States while on the front line” in 2001, who, as alleged before, “would meet with other Taliban leaders to plan military operations.”
These sound like typically overblown assertions, based on dubious evidence produced by Khalifh’s fellow prisoners under duress, or as a result of bribery, or as a result of false confessions made by Khalifh himself, given that the other narrative identified by Burke — that he worked as a mine cleaner for the Taliban until he lost his leg — is also included, and suggests a much more humble role than the leadership role ascribed to him by the government’s unidentified witnesses.
Moreover, this conclusion is one endorsed by Omar Deghayes, who explained to me that Khalifh’s status has been exaggerated by the authorities in Guantánamo. “They call him ‘The General,’” Deghayes told me, “not because of anything he has done, but because he decided that life would be easier for him in Guantánamo if he said yes to every allegation laid against him.” Even so, as Deghayes also explained, this cooperation has been futile, as Khalifh has been subjected to appalling ill-treatment, held in a notorious psychiatric block where the use of torture was routine, and denied access to adequate medical attention for the many problems that afflict him, beyond the loss of his leg. As Deghayes described it, “He has lost his sight in one eye, has heart problems and high blood pressure, and his remaining leg is mostly made of metal, from an old accident in Libya a long time ago when a wall fell on him. He describes himself as being nothing more than ‘the spare parts of a car.’”
Given that this information is unlikely to have been included in the documents compiled by the government for its response to Khalifh’s habeas corpus petition, it’s possible that Judge Robertson’s unclassified opinion will reveal only that Khalifh lost his habeas petition based solely on his work as a mine cleaner for the Taliban, which, under the detention standards decided by the courts, would be sufficient to justify his ongoing detention. If so, he will be yet another insignificant player in Afghanistan’s inter-Muslim civil war, which predated the 9/11 attacks, and had nothing to do with international terrorism, who is consigned to oblivion in Guantánamo on an apparently legal basis, even though there is no logical justification for equating the Taliban’s military activities (whether before or after the 9/11 attacks) with acts of international terrorism committed by al-Qaeda. In addition, he will also be another victim of Guantánamo, whose hidden story of abuse and exploitation never even surfaces publicly to reveal darker truths about how the prison has operated.
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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
For an overview of all the habeas rulings, including links to all my articles, and to the judges’ unclassified opinions, see: Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List. For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December 2009), Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights (January 2010), Fear and Paranoia as Guantánamo Marks its Eighth Anniversary (January 2010), Rubbing Salt in Guantánamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detention (January 2010), The Black Hole of Guantánamo (March 2010), Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo (March 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit (April 2010), An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition (April 2010), With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo (April 2010), How Binyam Mohamed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Consigning Soldiers to Oblivion (May 2010).
[…] Omar Deghayes told me about Khalifh when we were travelling around the UK showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, in which Omar features prominently, to student audiences, and I included his analysis in an article that same year after Khalifh, unfortunately, had his habeas corpus petition turned down. […]
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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