This is the sixth article in “Bagram Week” here at Andy Worthington (although I freely acknowedge that the original seven-day schedule has slipped), with seven articles in total exploring what is happening at the main US prison in Afghanistan through reports, analyses of review boards, and the voices of the prisoners themselves, and ongoing updates to the definitive annotated Bagram prisoner list.
This is the second of three articles telling, for the first time, stories — in the prisoners’ own words, albeit in a heavily redacted format — from the US prison at Bagram airbase (now replaced by a new building, called the Detention Facility at Parwan). The stories come from the Detainee Review Boards at Bagram, established by President Obama in 2009, and are taken from documents obtained by the ACLU through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, in which the Pentagon not only released documents providing summaries of the review boards’ conclusions (which I began analyzing here), but also released 58 documents relating to specific prisoners.
These 58 documents contain more information than the brief summaries — the Commander’s Final Decision Memo, a Memo from the DRB President to the Commander or the Deputy Commander, a DRB Report of Findings and Recommendations, and, most importantly, a Summary of the DRB Hearing, which, between redactions, usually contains some of the allegations against the prisoners, which are otherwise unknown, and some of the prisoners’ own statements and their responses to questions from the panel.
Below, following the first part of this three-part series, are 20 more stories from these documents — of prisoners recommended for release, for transfer to the Afghan authorities for prosecution, or for release under a rehabilitation program, or for continued detention at Bagram/Parwan — these various choices being a refined version of the unilateral reworking of the Geneva Conventions under President Bush that has not been adequately addressed under President Obama (see my articles The Black Hole of Bagram, What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” and What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part Two): Executive Detention, Rendition, Review Boards, Released Prisoners and Trials.
The last 20 stories will be covered in an article to follow. Individually, the stories these documents are not always revealing — although in some cases they clearly are — but cumulatively they help to provide an overview of the entire process, and, unfortunately, echo the problems with the tribunals at Guantánamo on which they were modelled.
ISN 3782: Nek Marjan
At a Detainee Review Board on June 5, 2010, it was explained that 2 out of 3 board members found that internment was necessary to mitigate the threat posed by Nek Marjan (also identified as Shah Wazir), who was assessed to be “a part of or a substantial supporter of insurgent forces opposing Coalition Forces,” even though, alarmingly, it was also noted, “Notwithstanding the majority vote, the evidence was so weak that one board member found no internment criteria.”
In a statement at his hearing, he said:
My name is Nek Marjan, son of [redacted]. I lived in Sukart. Sukart is in … Khost province. There is no Taliban in my village … I do not know any Taliban at all. I don’t know of any Taliban in my village. I have not ever done anything to help Taliban because I barely can take care of my family. I don’t have time to help the Taliban … I’ve never had anyone in my village come to my house that has attacked CF [Coalition Forces].
He also said:
I am accused of being Taliban and a Taliban commander and none of this is true. [I do] not store anything for the Taliban in my house. My house is for my wife and children only. I’m not against coalition forces or government. I’m a poor person making a living driving a cab. You can verify this by anybody in my village. Someone paid money to the police to detain me … Before I started driving taxi I had a retail shop and I was living there. You can ask anybody about me. Anything they say will be the truth about me. The US is improving our country, making roads, schools and hospitals. Why would I do anything to the US? I like the coalition forces. I have never been involved with attacks against coalition forces. There might be two reasons I’m here, if someone paid money to keep me here, or somebody has animosities toward me.
Of course I have enemies; my father was killed by our enemies. The three enemies I speak of specifically are [redacted], they are my enemies who killed my father. They killed my cousin for marrying a woman they did not approve of.
ISN 3799: Nawar Khan
At a Detainee Review Board on June 7, 2010, the board members found that Nawar Khan did not meet the criteria for internment, because there was “a lack of credible evidence” against him, and a more senior figure then ordered his release.
In the analysis of the supposed reasons for his detention, it was stated, “The following items were found in the detainee’s compound: laptop computer, bolt-action rifle, seven rounds of ammunition, SIM card. The following items were found at the place of capture: ID card, cell phone, calling cards, bold-action rifle, small pocket litter.”
Clearly, however, this had nothing to do with Nawar Khan, as he explained:
I am a poor person. All the stuff you accuse me of I wasn’t involved … I don’t know anything about anything that was found. I am a farmer … I don’t know whose items that were captured belong to. I am tired of the dispute. I’m just a farmer and land is an important thing for me. It’s up to the board for your decision to make.
He also said:
I have had a brother killed by Coalition Forces. There was fighting going on between two tribes because they were arguing about who owned the mountain. They had people bring them drinking water up to the mountains because they were fighting with each other. My brother went by himself to provide water for a nomad tribe because they paid [him] money. When [he] was coming back, the Coalition Forces shot him. I don’t know if he ran from them or somebody told something against him, but they shot him. My brother went to the fight without saying anything to our parents. He did something wrong and God punished him for that. I don’t blame anybody, and I don’t have any bad feelings towards anyone. My brother died maybe two or three years before my capture.
And, perhaps demonstrating how difficult his life was in general, he also said, “Since I have been here, I have been treated very good. I am happy. I learned some Pashtu training. I am in farming class too.”
ISN 3820: Bismullah
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. The exact circumstances of his capture were not spelled out, but it was clear that he was seized in connection with explosives held in a compound, as, in response to questions that were not included in the transcript, he said:
In a statement, he also said:
Four people were detained when I was captured with my family. I am innocent. I am a farmer. We have no hostility. We are a peaceful people. I have no one to support my family. We have not done anything violent. My father was there but they released him because he was not able to walk. We would live in the city away from violence but we do not have the money. We need your help … I am innocent. Detain and arrest people only involved in violent acts.
ISN 3822: Abdul Janan
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. According to the US authorities, “He supports the Taliban and associated forces” and “was observed fleeing from an IED factory with eight other individuals,” but in a statement, Abdul Janan said, “I teach children and I am innocent.” He added, “My name is ‘Janan’, ‘Mullah Janan.'”
In response to specific questions about the circumstances of his capture, which were not included in the transcript, he said:
In a final statement to the board, he said, “I have nothing else to say other than I am worried about my family.”
ISN 3823: Sadullah
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution, although it was unclear why, as all the allegations were redacted, and all that remained were his assertions that he was seized at his home, and that US forces found nothing incriminating:
In a final statement, he said, “I am an innocent man. You found nothing at my house when it was searched. [Showing feet to members] I have calluses on my feet from farming. I am from a big village.”
ISN 3824: Idris
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. In hand-written notes on a rare “Unclassified Summary” included with the documentation, it was claimed that he “AttenDeD [sic] a jihad tRaNiNg [sic] camp,” filmed an attack on a vehicle, and participated in an attack.
In his defense, he made the following statement, which, I must admit, I cannot entirely understand:
All of my friends received a job and I was left in my village without one. The Taliban told me I was smart and gave me money to fight. When I was captured, I wasn’t beaten or mistreated so I knew that the Taliban deceived me. I never fought or trained with the Taliban.
He also said:
ISN 3825: Khalilullah
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board concluded that he did “not meet the criteria for internment,” and a senior officer approved his release without conditions. The basis of his capture was not officially explained, but in a statement Khalilullah was able to explain, “I am innocent. I have not done anything. I am only a teacher. I have no connections to those groups whatsoever.”
He also said:
ISN 3829: Bakhtyar
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. Although the allegations against him were not spelled out, it was clear that they involved claims that he was involved in some sort of insurgent movement because he had transported weapons, as the following passage shows:
Those weapons in the photo are not mine. I just transported the weapons from the village to the mosque. I hand carried the weapons. I transported them for money but I did not get paid. If I get released, I will be a farmer on my father’s land and raise my brothers. I will not carry weapons for them again nor walk with them.
Who “they” were was not explained, although elsewhere he said, perhaps confusingly, “There is no Taliban or jihad movement in my area.” It was perhaps more significant when he said, “I do not know who is supporting the Taliban in my area.” What was also clear, however, as Bakhtyar himself pointed out, is that he was a poor, uneducated man who needed money:
ISN 3839: Mohammad Azim
At a Detainee Review Board on October 1, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. In an “Unclassified Summary,” it was stated that he “was in possession of approximately 2050 voter cards, with his fingerprints on 442 of them,” although another charge was redacted.
In a statement, and in response to questions, Azim said:
In a final statement, he said, “I am innocent. You can ask the mayor of our district or the school about me.”
ISN 3845: Sher Agha (Dil Awar)
At a Detainee Review Board on June 5, 2010, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for participation in a reconciliation or reintegration program, but a more senior figure then ordered his release instead.
The allegations against him were that “he was found with an SD card, which contained propaganda videos and images,” and also that a computer was found at the compound where he was captured, However, in response he not only said that his name was “Dil Awar,” and not Sher Agha, but also explained that he had worked at a motorcycle dealership for 19 years before he was detained, that he had been invited to the compound where he was captured, and that the computer was not his. He also stated:
I got the SD card/memory chip from a bizarre [sic]. I put these pictures on the SD card. I don’t know where the propaganda videos of exploding coalition forces vehicles on my SD card came from. I bought the memory card used and didn’t know what was on the card before when I bought it.
In the detailed account of his review board hearing, he also said:
He also provided the explanation of why he had a photo of himself with a weapon:
I took the pictures because I wanted a picture of me with the weapon. People take pictures with lots of different things, so what is so wrong with me taking a picture with a weapon?
He also said, “I am happy with coalition forces; they are all right. The Taliban are not so good. I don’t know if there are Taliban in the area I’m from.”
In his review board hearing, an Afghan civilian witness was also called, who corroborated his account, stating the following:
Dil Awar’s father also made a statement:
[He] has been here for about 19 montns. I am very old, and I sold my property because I wasn’t able to keep it up. Now I don’t have any money and I am really old and will probably be dying soon. Please release my son because I want to be buried with his hands. My son’s kids were crying for their father before I came here and want their father back. The Mullah here came here because he’s going to vouch for Dil Awar. I’m not saying you guys are guilty for holding him here. I know someone must have said something about him and that’s why he’s being detained here. Please let me stay in place of my son here so he can go back and take care of his family. I can’t support his family because I am poor and have no money. Thank you for letting me make a statement.
ISN 3877: Shamsuddin Ul-Rahman
At a Detainee Review Board on September 24, 2009, the board recommended that Ul-Rahman, a lumber driver, should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. What he was alleged to have done was not made clear, although it seemed to involve a claim that he was involved in distributing threatening “night letters” from the Taliban to people in his village, and also that his name was mentioned on a Taliban radio transmission.
As he said:
I have not seen “night letters” in all of my life. Everyone in my village hates the Taliban. Every Taliban is my enemy because they killed my uncle. I do not know why my name was mentioned on a Taliban radio when I was captured. If I was released, I would bring my whole family to Kabul so that I can work and they can go to good schools.
He also said:
I am a poor man and my children have no one to take care of them. I am not Taliban and these are wrong accusations against me. I just want to go and take care of my kids. I am glad that America is here in Afghanistan because the overall pay has gone up. When I was captured, they searched my home and nothing was found. I will always prefer to have my family over Taliban. My uncle was with the government and, when the Taliban found out, they killed him. I hate the Taliban because of this. I.am happy with the Americans and I just want to be with my family.
ISN 3932: Bahram Jan
At a Detainee Review Board on October 1, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. Although the allegations against him were not made clear, it was apparent that they involved a claim that he was involved in handling materials to be used in an IED attack, although he refuted the claim:
I have a mental problem and I forget things. The IED materials are not mine. The explosive materials were given to me to take care of. The explosives were in a box and I did not know what was inside the box. The reporting on me was false.
He also said:
ISN 3938: Abdullah
At a Detainee Review Board on October 1, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. The allegations against him were not spelled out, but involved a claim that he had been involved with explosives, although he denied it:
I am a mullah of two families. The book was an address book to family members. I have never touched explosives and I am a poor person. [Redacted] is a mullah.
He also said:
ISN 3939: Noor Alam
At a Detainee Review Board on October 1, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. As usual, the allegations were not spelled out, although a heavily redacted “Unclassified Summary” included the words, “cell member.” In his defense, he stated:
I am a land owner and a carpenter. I know nothing of politics. I was caught by Taliban and they said that the infidels were coming and then they left me in the car and I was caught by US forces.
He also said, “[Redacted], a Taliban member, is my sister-in-law’s son. [Redacted] is my brother-in-law. [Redacted] was kicked out of the village by the elders.” He added, “I did not provide water for Taliban forces.”
ISN 3952: Jai Gul
At a Detainee Review Board on October 15, 2009, the board concluded that he did “not meet the criteria for internment,” and a senior officer approved his release without conditions. Unfortunately, the redactions in the document mean that there is no clue as to what he was alleged to have done, just the following statements by Gul himself:
In the saddest passage, he spoke about how well he had been treated, which, I think, showed up the desperation of his life before imprisonment:
Everything is good here but the detainees. The food, guards, and everything is good but the detainees are loud and bang on the cages because some of them are on strike. I get treated better here than I ever did at home. I have never received good treatment like this in my whole life. I try to be nice.
He also spoke about the abuse he received on capture, saying, “When I was detained, the American Army hit me,” which prompted a US Captain, perhaps acting as his representative, to ask “that the board inquire deeper into the abuse of the detainee at the time of capture,” and Jai Gul made the following statements to questions that were then asked:
At the end of the hearing, he said, “Please help me because there is no one to feed my family and they have no source of income.”
ISN 3990: Abdul Samad
At a Detainee Review Board on June 9, 2010, the board concluded that he should continue to be held at Parwan. From the information presented, it was obvious that he was seized in a compound in which there was a large amount of material that US forces thought significant, including “spools or copper wiring, car batteries and battery chargers, remote controls, electrical tape and clips with trip wires, ammunition, two frag-grenades, and multiple blasting caps with some caps found in the Detainee’s pocket, three cell phones-one cell phone found [redacted], three walkie-talkies, 14 SIM cards, inventories of nefarious materials, ledgers, and Jihad poetry.” Also found were an “RPK machine gun, with used ammunition,” plus “part of ‘Stars and Stripes’ newspaper, a DVD, and a used bandolier.”
However, Abdul Samad claimed that he had no knowledge of any of it, except his school books. “There were four of us detained, my two uncles and one cousin,” he said, adding, “I am an honest person. These things that you have read to me I do not have. The only things that are mine are my store [school?] books. I am a student and I am not involved with IEDs at all. I do not have anything else to say, feel free to ask me questions.”
ISN 3995: Hajji Agha Jan
At a Detainee Review Board on June 7, 2010, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for participation in a reconciliation or reintegration program. In the documentation, it was stated that on capture, the following items were seized: “six hard drives, one laptop computer, nine SIM cards, loose papers, business cards, telephone directories, 1630 Afghani, 1690 Pakistani Rupees, 20 US dollars, camcorder with tape, still camera and case, Polaroid camera with scope, four ID books, five ID cards, three Afghanistan passports indicating numerous trips to Pakistan, airline ticket. receipt book, photo album, phone book, and audio cassette.” It was also noted, “Detainee’s computer and hard drives contained anti-coalition propaganda. Detainee claimed in his last Detainee Review Board hearing that his son was responsible for these materials.”
In a detailed statement, in which he protested his innocence, and also seemed to suggest that he had been robbed at the time of his capture, he said:
The allegation[s] that I’ve heard here are entirely false. If there is any proof, then, of course, I am guilt[y]. But there is no truth to these allegations. While I am making my statements my witnesses hear me and listen to me. I am a businessman. I don’t need to be involved in these activities. Of course, I have telephones. That doesn’t mean that I am part of the Taliban. I don’t know how to operate a computer. I bought it for my sons, for their education. There is nothing on the computer against the government or against the coalition forces. If you have any proof from outside my house, if someone in the village said something, I will take responsibility for that. You will not find anyone in the village who will accuse me of these things. While I have been detained in the facility, I have not cause[d] any problems or been involved in any detainee reports (DR’s). At the time of the search, I left $28,500 US dollars with my passports and some other business cards. How come they only mentioned 20 US dollars? Any witnesses that will testify against me, or any documents against me, I have a right to know about them. I am a businessman. I don’t hide anything from the board. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an innocent man, I [am] not involved in any activities against the government, nor do I have any ties to the Taliban.
During questions from board members, he not only dealt with questions about people regarded with suspicion by US forces, whom he admitting knowing but not being close to, but also answered questions about his computer as follows:
I can’t tell if that is my computer. I don’t know how to run a computer. I know that it is a computer, but I can’t identify it … It’s common in Afghanistan now to find videos of beheadings and IED explosions in the bazaar. Maybe my kids bought them just for fun. I myself am not involved. I didn’t buy them. I have never been against the government or the coalition forces. I’m a well-liked businessman, and I have nothing to do with those kinds of videos.
Speaking further of his sons and his work, he said:
I have ten sons, all of which live with me. They all use the same laptop. I don’t know how to work the computer, so I don’t know how to keep track of what they are doing on it. My sons are not dangerous people. They are my kids. In the area where I live, there is no Taliban. I live in the middle of the city for the last sixteen years. I live in Sahino, and there is not Taliban influence. If I were released, I would just continue with my businesses. I have some house[s], shops and lands. I own about 2,500 acres of land. I am not in favor of those who want to destroy the country. I am in favor of those who build the country. I am in favor of the government, the Coalition Forces, and American Forces. I have farmers and supervisors who take care of my land. I lease my lands to other people, and they grow grain and wheat on it. I do not personally work on the land. I am not a farmer. I have a brother-in-law in [redacted], who takes care of leasing the lands to people.
Speaking of Pakistan, he said:
I have made some trips to Pakistan because I have a cooking oil factory there. I go there to take care of business. Also, sometimes when someone in my family gets sick, I take them to Pakistan for treatment. I do business in Dubai involving cooking oil, dry milk and sugar.
In a final statement, after witnesses had also spoken on his behalf, he said:
I have been detained here for almost a year. What is the reason for my detainment here? I have no ties with the Taliban. I have never been in favor of the Taliban. I have never lied in the previous interrogation and I will never lie in any future interrogation.
ISN 3997: Ajmal Shamsher
At a Detainee Review Board on June 9, 2010, the board concluded that he did “not meet the criteria for internment,” and a senior officer approved his release without conditions. In the documentation, it was stated that he had been seized on April 22, 2009, but the exact allegations against him were not spelled out. However, he told the board, “I have a land dispute with a guy and he is the one who made the false report,” explained that “My brother, his son, his five daughters, my two wives, and seven children live with me,” and made the following statement:
My name is Ajmal. My dad’s name is [redacted]. I was a member of the local security team … I was driving for the Government of Afghanistan and I worked all my life to reconcile the differences between people in different parts. When I was driving for the Government I had the Taliban actually threaten to kill me. With all these threats why do you guys think that I am a member of the Taliban? If they are trying to kill me why would I try to be a part of them and support them? This is a proven fact that I have never been part of the Taliban. The Taliban burned my truck trying to kill me. Whoever reported to you that I am a bad person is against peace and reconciliation … They are my enemies and have made false reports about me. As I told you before, if the oil, diesel and spare parts for my truck are considered explosives than these are the only ones I have. The Taliban is out to kill me.
Witnesses also spoke on his behalf.
ISN 4112: Rahmat Wali
At a Detainee Review Board on September 17, 2009, the board recommended that he should be transferred to the Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution. In a rare “Unclassified Summary” included with the documentation, it was stated that he “was captured [redacted] weapons network and its commander,” but there were no further clues as to what he was accused of. He reportedly “stated that he is glad that the Americans came because now we have good schools for his children,” adding that “he had never been involved with the Taliban coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan,” and “that he was afraid of the Taliban and Haqqani Network [an independent insurgent group, under veteran warlord and former mujahideen commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is closely aligned with the Taliban].” There is no further information, however, as no one on the board asked him any questions.
ISN 4122: Abdul Ghani
At a Detainee Review Board on October 8, 2009, the board concluded that he did “not meet the criteria for internment,” and a senior officer approved his release without conditions. He was evidently a teacher, as the following statement reveals:
I’m not a Taliban member and have no association with them. My nephew was with me going to a wedding. I stayed the night in Deh Chopan [redacted]. I don’t understand why I’m here. I’m from a sub district in Zabol. I have lived there for 10 years. I’m a teacher and after my students pass five grades I teach them religion as well.
After explaining that the “Taliban are not in the district itself but in the mountains,” and that, “If released, I would go back to teaching,” he also explained that he was captured with two others, who had both been released. As he said, “[Redacted] is my friend and was released as well as my brother.”
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.
On Facebook, Kat Tehranchi wrote:
Sickening – and we call out other regimes on their human rights abuses.
Christine Casner wrote:
Pot meet Kettle!!!! Shame!!!!
Karen Todd wrote:
yeah- we call out other regimes after we sell them arsenals of our crap weapons- i hate our back-azzwards foreign policy- and the tripe that people think- about us spreading democracy—with guns and ammo? i am sorry- but to my mind you can’t beat democracy into people- it is counter productive- like hijacking people’s lives- it tends to make them unhappy and distrustful-
Fee MercuryMoon wrote:
I joined digg especially to digg your things Andy 🙂 XX
Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:
Kat, Christine, and Karen – that’s the truth! I was thinking the same thing as Obama (shudder) was pontificating about Qaddafi’s abuse of his people… talking about O Holy USA going in to save the world from crimes of humanity – while we (the US) are one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. ;-( He did the same thing with Egypt. I couldn’t watch the speech – it was too infuriating.
Kat Tehranchi wrote:
Throw Iran and China in there too, Ghaliyaa.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I am sharing this now. Digging too.
Thank you, my friends, for your perceptive and/or supportive comments, and thanks also to the 55 of you who have so far seen fit to share this. I hope we get to a hundred shares by tomorrow.
And Fee, your Digg story is very heartening indeed!
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, thanks again. Sharing.
EXCELLENT must-read article by Andy Worthington – leading expert on issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay, Bagram prison, and detainee issues in this “war on terror.”
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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