Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.
This is Part 6 of the 70-part series.
In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for the detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.
The release of the documents prompted international interest for a week, until it was arranged by President Obama (whether coincidentally or not) for US Special Forces to fly into Pakistan to assassinate Osama bin Laden. At this point an unprincipled narrative emerged in the mainstream media in the US, in which, for sales and ratings if nothing else, unindicted criminals from the Bush administration — and their vociferous supporters in Congress, in newspaper columns and on the airwaves — were allowed to suggest that the use of torture had led to locating bin Laden (it hadn’t, although some information had apparently come from “high-value detainees” held in secret CIA prisons, but not as a result of torture), and that the existence of Guantánamo had also proved invaluable in tracking down the al-Qaeda chief.
This latter point was particularly galling for those who had championed WikiLeaks’ important release of the Detainee Assessment Briefs, as they contributed significantly to establishing that, in fact, the opposite was true, and that the kind of targeted and precise information that was necessary to track down bin Laden was almost impossible to secure in Guantánamo. On the face of it, the Detainee Assessment Briefs were stuffed with allegations against numerous prisoners which purported to prove how dangerous they were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons. In all three environments, torture and abuse had been rife.
The supposedly reliable witnesses whose testimony has been repeatedly used by the US government include Abu Zubayadah, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was specifically invented. Held for four and half years in secret prisons before his transfer with 13 others to Guantánamo in September 2006, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, on 83 occasions in August 2002. Although the Bush administration touted Zubaydah as al-Qaeda’s number 3, the US has steadily walked back from those lofty claims, as it has become apparent that he was, in fact, the mentally troubled gatekeeper of a training camp that was not associated with al-Qaeda, as the FBI had always maintained. The Obama administration has not abandoned all claims that Zubaydah was an active US enemy — now portraying him as the leader of what appears to be a spectral militia — but as the case has collapsed against him and the truth about his torture has been exposed, the inherent unreliability of his statements has also been revealed.
Other “high-value detainees,” themselves tortured in CIA prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and elsewhere, or in proxy facilities in other countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, also turn up regularly in the allegations, as do a handful of notoriously unreliable witnesses from Guantánamo itself, who became informants either because they could no longer stand the pressure, or because they were drawn by the offers of preferential treatment. Both are understandable, of course, and while the most notorious example is Yasim Basardah, a Yemeni whose reliability was called into question by intelligence agents and military personnel, the statements of other unreliable witnesses (who, like Basardah, were also regard with suspicion by some intelligence officials, and, since 2008, by judges ruling on the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions) pepper the allegations. Moreover, these false allegations are supplemented by other false statements made, at some time or other, by almost every prisoner held at Guantánamo, as only a handful were able to resist ever telling false stories out their fellow prisoners — to avoid punishment, if not to secure favorable treatment. For further information, see my introductory article for the Wikileaks documents, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.”
The truth about the men held at Guantánamo is that the vast majority were either innocent men or insignificant foot soldiers for the Taliban, engaged in combat with the Northern Alliance before the 9/11 attacks, and unconnected with international terrorism. The truth also is that the Bush administration ordered the military not to screen the prisoners on capture, leading to a dragnet of “Mickey Mouse” prisoners, as was noted by Maj. Gen, Michael Dunlavey, a commander of the prison in 2002. Contributing to this was the decision to offer substantial bounty payments for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects to the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, and as a result, the Detainee Assessment Briefs largely reveal stories of numerous innocent or insignificant prisoners (often for the first time), and, even more importantly, reveal to the discerning eye the extent of the lies and distortions used to build up a body of “evidence” that is no such thing, and that, instead, is largely a house of cards, and a monstrous indictment of the Bush administration’s failures in the “War on Terror,” and Obama’s failures in not finding a way to close Guantánamo as he promised.
In a five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” I began analyzing, transcribing and condensing the stories revealed in the documents released by WikiLeaks, looking at 84 stories of prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004 that had never been told before. The work of extracting information from the files and presenting it in edited form, with commentary based on my extensive research and experience, is a project that will take up the rest of the year. The next step is this ten-part series revisiting the stories of the 114 other prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, before the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) began, a military review process that, in turn, led to the first official release of documents relating to the prisoners in 2006, providing the material that I analysed and transcribed for my book The Guantánamo Files.
While this ten-part project is underway, I also propose to begin examining closely the files relating to the 171 prisoners still held, supplementing the series of articles that I produced last fall, entitled, “Who Are the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo?” This is important not just because the remaining prisoners have largely been abandoned by the mainstream media, even though 89 of the 171 have been cleared for release, and only 36 were recommended for trials by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but also because, in the US, attorneys for the prisoners have only just won the right to look at the files (and not to download, save or print them), and the media in general is unwilling to subject them to much scrutiny because of how they became public in the first place.
So with thanks to WikiLeaks — and whoever leaked these documents — the first part of my ten-part analysis of the 114 prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004 (in addition to the 84 stories covered in my previous series) is below, telling the stories of the first eleven of these 114 former prisoners. When lies and distortions are covered up on the scale that they have been at Guantánamo, and this experimental prison built on torture and abuse remains open, even under a Democratic President who promised to close it, everyone who believes in justice should publicize what has been revealed, and, if you agree, I hope that you will share this information widely. Also see Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten of this series.
Yasser Hamdi (ISN 9, USA-Saudi Arabia) Transferred to US custody on the US mainland April 2002, released September 2004
Yasser Hamdi, also described as Yaser Hamdi, and initially identified by the US authorities as Himdy Yasser, was one of 14 Guantánamo prisoners whose profiles did not appear in Wikileaks’ April 2011 release of Detainee Assessment Briefs for almost all the prisoners. As I explained in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files“:
[Hamdi] was one of around 80 survivors of a massacre in the Qala-i-Janghi fort in Mazar-e-Sharif in November 2001. This came about after several hundred prisoners had surrendered, as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz, apparently on the basis that they would be allowed to return home after doing so. However, after being transported to the fort, some of the men started an uprising, because of their betrayal, or because they feared that they were about to be killed, which was then suppressed savagely. Hamdi and the other survivors hid in the basement for a week, where they were bombed and, finally, flooded.
Hamdi was initially regarded as a Saudi, even though he had told a journalist on his emergence from the basement that he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When it finally dawned on the US authorities that they were holding an American citizen at Guantánamo, Hamdi, who retained his US citizenship, although he had moved to Saudi Arabia as a child, was immediately moved to the US mainland (on April 5, 2002), where he was one of only three US citizens or residents held as “enemy combatants” — along with Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri — and subjected to profound isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation (in other words, torture), until he was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in September 2004 — and stripped of his citizenship — after he won a landmark case in the US Supreme Court (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in which the Court rejected the government’s attempts to detain him indefinitely without trial).
Abdul Sattar Safeezi (ISN 11, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar” (one of 12 additional online chapters, telling stories that were not available in The Guantánamo Files, either for reasons of space, or because they were not known at the time), I noted that Safeesi, who was 30 years old, was one of 35 prisoners transferred to Pakistani custody in September 2004 and released in June 2005, and that, on his release, he told the Nation (a Pakistani newspaper) that he was “tortured and his beard was forcibly shaved” by US troops at Guantánamo. “The Americans removed our beards and have been spitting over the holy Book,” he said, adding that the prisoners protested at the abuse of the Koran and went on hunger strikes.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 20, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” it was noted that he was born in 1971, and his name was given as Abdul Sedar Nafessi. It was also stated that, as well as having latent tuberculosis (in common with many of the prisoners), he had been diagnosed with “Schizophrenia, and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” although it was also claimed that he was “otherwise in good health.”
In assessing his case, it was noted that he had “stated that he was part of a fighting force of the [Pakistani militant group] Harkat ul-Jihad al- Islami (HUJI) that was sent to the second defense line near Kunduz, Afghanistan.” When Kunduz fell in November 2001, he and 50 to 100 others retreated “after receiving the order to travel to Mazar-e-Sharif, AF, to surrender.” On the way, however, their convoy “came under attack in which all their trucks were destroyed and many were killed.” The following morning, he joined another convoy heading to Mazar to surrender, which was stopped by Northern Alliance troops, who took all the passrngers into custody after they surrendered.
It was also stated, as a reason for his transfer to Guantánamo on or around February 4, 2002, that he was transferred “because of his knowledge of financial support supplied to the Taliban by Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, members of the Taliban, the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, detainees who were in Kandahar, and persons who attended the Petroman College in Pakistan,” but, as I explained in my article, How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In its assessment, the Task Force claimed that he had been “deceptive during interrogations,” and that he “may have been involved in several different activities with HUJI to include computer assistance, establishing email accounts and delivering finances to the Taliban for the HUJI.” It was also noted, “Based on previous statements by the detainee, he may have been associated with Al-Qaida members.” These were vague, unsubstantiated claims, but although the Task Force concluded that he was “assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida, nor Taliban,” he was assessed as being “associated with a terrorist organisation,” and as having “demonstrated a commitment to Jihad as well as participated in hostile action against the US or its allies.”
As a result, it was stated that he was “still of intelligence value to the United States,” and that he posed “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he “be retained under DoD control.” It was also noted that there had been a disagreement between JTF-GTMO and the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), which had approved his transfer to the control of another government on May 12, 2003. He was finally repatriated a year after this Detainee Assessment Brief, and 16 months after CITF had recommended his transfer.
Shabidzada Usman (ISN 12, Afghanistan) Released May 2003
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” I noted that Usman, whose real name was Sahibzada Osman Ali, was 19 years old at the time of his capture, and was released with Shah Mohammed (see ISN 19, below). It also appears that he had been mistakenly described as being an Afghan and was actually a Pakistani. In September 2008, journalist Mark Bowden recalled traveling to Pakistan in 2003 to meet the men, who, as he noted, “hailed from tiny villages in the mountainous region of Pakistan where al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been hiding.” He wrote that, as an American, he “was nervous traveling in that region, and honestly didn’t know what to expect when I found them,” but explained:
I was greeted with warmth and elaborate courtesy. Both were men in their early 20s, uneducated, unworldly, and dirt poor. They had been rounded up by entrepreneurial Afghani warlords who were being paid $4000 a head to capture jihadis for the Americans. Four thousand dollars is a huge payday in Afghanistan, and the warlords were not discriminating. Both apparently hapless young Pakistanis were among the original herds of elaborately restrained detainees in orange jumpsuits delivered to Camp X-Ray, the ones who were all treated like mass murderers. Some of them were. Many, it turns out, were not.
He added, “Maybe the authorities and I both have it wrong. Perhaps these two are huddling right now with Osama bin Laden himself, but they have stood in my mind ever since as examples of why detainees deserve a hearing of some kind, whether in federal court or before some panel that is seen to be fair and reasonably concerned about basic justice.”
In an article in October 2003, Bowden also explained that both men “told me that except for some roughing up immediately after they were captured, they were not badly treated at Camp X-Ray. They both felt bored, lonely, frustrated, angry and helpless (enough for Shah Mohammed to attempt suicide), but neither believed that he would be harmed by his American captors, and both regarded the extreme precautions (shackles, handcuffs, hoods) that so outraged the rest of the world as comical. ‘What did the American soldiers think I could do to them?’ asked Sahibzada, who stands about 5ft 8in and weighs little more than 11st.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 1, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that, in mid-October 2001, he had “traveled to Afghanistan for the purpose of performing Islamic missionary work, and met other Pakistanis, who were traveling there for the same purpose. [He] joined the other Pakistanis on their quest to teach the Koran to all they encountered.” After eight days, however, he “was coerced to join the group as they traveled to northern Afghanistan to fight in the Jihad against the Northern Alliance. Fearing for his life, [he] complied,” traveling with the group to Kunduz, where he received one day’s training on the Kalashnikov. After 20 days in Kunduz (and with no mention made of engaging in combat), he tried to escape as the Northern Alliance advanced, but was captured. He was apparently sent to Guantánamo on January 10, 2002, the day before the prison officially opened, on the spurious basis that his transfer was because of “his knowledge of specific information on various cities, religious leaders, and Abdul Ghaffar, the leader of a group of Pakistani boys in Afghanistan who were sent from Pakistan to fight in the Jihad.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.” It was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [Usman] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
Shah Mohammed Alikhel (ISN 19, Pakistan) Released May 2003
As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing on reports in Time and the BBC, Mohammed, a 20-year old baker from the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province, was … captured in Mazar-e-Sharif. He said that he was “kidnapped by an Uzbek commander and sold to the Americans for a bounty,” and explained that he only went to Afghanistan in search of a better job: “I was employed by the Taliban to bake bread for them, and they paid me a monthly stipend for these services. I had nothing to do with the military side of things in Afghanistan.”
I also noted, drawing on a New York Times report, that he had attempted suicide four times before his release. “I was trying to kill myself,” he said. “I tried four times, because I was disgusted with my life. It is against Islam to commit suicide, but it was very difficult to live there. A lot of people did it. They treated me as guilty, but I was innocent.” In his BBC interview, he spoke about how he felt that he had been used in medical experiments. “They used to tell me I was mad,” he said. “I was given injections at least four or five times as well as different tablets. I don’t know what they were meant for.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” this account was reinforced by the US military’s findings. It was stated that Alikhel, who was born in 1981, “was employed as a baker in Pakistan, and traveled to Kunduz, Afghanistan, when offered work as a baker and cook for the Taliban.” It was also noted that “Northern Alliance forces captured him while he was fleeing Kunduz for Afghanistan,” and that, after being held in Sheberghan (which was not mentioned), he was flown to Guantánamo, arriving on January 14, 2002. The spurious reason given for his transfer to Guantánamo was that it was “based on his knowledge of logistical and medical support for Taliban units operating in Kunduz area since October 2001, and of recruiting activities in Swat, Pakistan.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida, and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.” It was also noted that the Pakistani government had “stated it [was] willing to accept custody of [ISN 19], if released by the US government.” It was also noted that the Task Force had “notified the Criminal Investigative Task Force of its recommendation on 31 July 2002.”
In May 2009, when the Pentagon issued contentious allegations about the number of former Guantánamo prisoners who were “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities” (PDF), Shah Mohammed was included as a “confirmed” case of a former detainee who had “Reengaged in Terrorism,” and it was stated, although without any evidence being provided, that he had been “[k]illed fighting US forces in Afghanistan.”
Isa Khan (ISN 23, Pakistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, Khan, a 26-year old doctor, was seized by the Northern Alliance after the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif. Originally from Bannu in the North West Frontier Province, he had moved to Mazar with his wife and his six-year old son, and was running a clinic at the time of his capture.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated March 20, 2004, which was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” little was made of his profession. Instead, after noting that his real name was, apparently, Isaka I. Bannu, and that he was born on April 1, 1975, the Task Force focused its assessment on the perceived threat he posed.
After noting that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller had recommended that Khan “be retained in DoD control,” based on an assessment that he was “possibly affiliated with Al-Qaeda and [had] connections to high level Taliban officials,” it was stated that “[c]ontinued interrogations have shown no connections between the detainee and Al-Qaeda,” and that “[previous information indicating that [he] was a Taliban Orderly has been found to be incorrect.” It was also stated that, although he was “married to the daughter of a Taliban Judge, and admit[ted] to knowing several mid- to high-level Taliban members,” there was “no evidence” to indicate that he was a member of the Taliban.
As a result, he was determined to be “of low intelligence value due to his knowledge of mid- to high-level Taliban members and the drug trade in Afghanistan,” but was also described as “a medium risk,” who “may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and its allies,” because he was assessed “as still having high-level Taliban connections.” The Task Force recommended that he “be transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.” but it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) had been “unable to make a risk assessment” as of November 2003 and had “recommended that the detainee be retained in DoD [control],” although this disagreement was obviously resolved by September 2004, when he was freed.
Khan was also interviewed for a major McClatchy Newspapers report on 66 released prisoners in 2008, in which he was identified as Issa Khan. Speaking to Tom Lasseter in Islamabad, he “said that he understood why men would take up arms against US forces in the region.” “The equation,” he explained, “was simple: If you put men in captivity and treat them badly, they will want to fight you when they’re released.”
Confirming that his father-in-law was the Taliban’s chief judge in Mazar-e-Sharif. Khan told Lasseter that he had moved to Mazar in 1998 with his Afghan wife, and had “set up a small medical practice.” After his capture by Northern Alliance troops, he was taken to a house “that was being used to hold prisoners, mostly foreigners such as himself, who could be sold to US forces for bounties,” where he was held for 126 days and interrogated occasionally by American soldiers. “Their one question,” he said, “was, ‘Where is Osama bin Laden?'” He continued, “If you said you are Taliban, they would ask you where Osama bin Laden was and beat you if you said you didn’t know. If you said you weren’t Taliban, they would say you were lying and beat you” — and I have to say that it would be harder to find a more succinct example of the ways in which interrogation policies in the “War on Terror” resembled the witch hunts of the 17th century.
After his transfer to the US prison at Kandahar, where there was more violence, Khan was flown to Guantánamo, which, he said, “wasn’t much different, except that detainees had regained some of their weight and had enough stamina to protest and, often, fight with guards.” As Khan explained, “We were tired of being there, so we wanted the Americans to kill us.” As an example, he said that, “when a female guard whom [he] disliked walked by, ‘We put soap and pee in our cups of water and threw it at her.'” He added that, “If other guards got within reach, the detainees punched them.”
Asked about interrogations, Khan described the kinds of practices that were routinely applied, between late 2002 and June 2004, to at least a hundred prisoners regarded as valuable and/or uncooperative: “They were put in cold rooms for 10 hours. They were strapped to chairs and made to listen to loud American rock music for hours on end.” He added, “When prisoners took part in protests, soldiers often held them down and shaved their heads, eyebrows and beards, sometimes leaving tufts of hair here and there just to make them look ridiculous.” He also explained how female soldiers “were used to taunt the prisoners,” who would “tell the men they were menstruating and then touch them, sometimes with wet hands, an act intended to make them unclean for prayer.” They also “danced in front of the men, trying to arouse them, to shame them” — activities confirmed elsewhere, by former military personnel and by the FBI.
On his return to Pakistan, he was imprisoned in Peshawar for questioning, where he learned that “his wife had been killed in 2001 and that his 7-month-old son had been missing since then.” He was cleared for release by five Pakistani intelligence officers and police officials, who found that “no anti-state or terrorist activities could be linked to him,” and concluded that he had gone to Afghanistan to live with his wife’s family and “nothing else,” but he never received any help or compensation. He told Lasseter that the Pakistani government “said it would help him start a new business, maybe a fish farm, but the money never came,” and added, “People bring me books about Guantánamo, and ask if what they say is true. I tell them to get the books away from me; I don’t want to think about that place.”
Asad Ullah (ISN 47, Pakistan) Released July 2003
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – ‘Osama’s Bodyguards,” Asadullah Jan, to give him his full name, was also interviewed by Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers for a major report on 66 released prisoners in 2008, and was clearly nervous when he met Lasseter in Abbottabad, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. Now working as a construction worker, Jan explained that he “has to check in regularly with police,” who “watch his movements closely,” and added that in 2007, after he met with representatives of a Western aid group, who “wanted to know about his experiences in Guantánamo and his treatment in Pakistan after he was released,” agents of Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence service (the ISI) “hauled him in for four days of interrogations and threats.”
Although the Pentagon claimed that Jan was 20 years old when he was seized, he explained to Lasseter that he was just 16 when, as he described it, Pakistani police arrested him at a checkpoint in Kohat, Pakistan, as he returned from visiting members of his extended family in the Afghan province of Zormat. Lasseter was unable to verify this story, of course, although he noted that Jan’s father, who had spoken to a Pakistani translator working for McClatchy, had mentioned that he had said that his son “had been convinced to go [to Afghanistan] by some friends.”
However, while this may suggest that he had in fact traveled to assist the Taliban, it was clearly no basis for what happened next. As Jan explained, he was taken to Peshawar jail, where many of the foreigners captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan were also held, and after about a month was taken to be interrogated by three CIA agents, who, he said, had some “surprising questions.” “One of them asked if I was the son of Osama bin Laden,” he said, adding, “The Pakistani intelligence had told them this.” Despite explaining that he was “born to a family of Afghan refugees in Pakistan who originally were from Zormat and that he made regular trips back to his ancestral home,” he was transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airport a few days later.
His descriptions of his experiences match many other accounts of the typical abuse at Kandahar, which I reported at length in Chapter 8 of The Guantánamo Files. “They took us to a tent, and stripped off all my clothes and took pictures of me naked, wearing shackles,” he said. “The soldiers were laughing at me. Then four of the soldiers came around me and began kicking and punching me. I fell down and tried to stand up but they kept hitting me. I could hear them laughing.” He also described how he and 15 other men “slept on the dirt, surrounded by a perimeter of concertina wire.” “We were sitting on the ground, in winter, with no blanket,” he said. “I had bruises on my body from the beating; my bones hurt.”
After about a month at Kandahar, Jan was flown to Guantánamo. He explained that, although he weighed about 132 pounds when he was initially arrested, his weight had dropped to 100 pounds on his arrival at Guantánamo. He also said that he was “interrogated more than 100 times: What is your name? Where are you from? Why were you in Afghanistan? Are you a member of the Taliban? Are you a member of al-Qaeda?” And although he only spent 18 months in Guantánamo, he said that he was still haunted by the experience. “I never feel relaxed,” he said. “There’s always something bothering me, there’s always something pressing down on my mind.” He added, “pointing to his receding hairline and haggard face,” as Lasseter described it, “I used to be very healthy and good-looking. But look at me now. You would never guess that I’m 22.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, on February 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that he was born in 1981 and had been persuaded to travel to Afghanistan for jihad “to repent for his sins of smoking opium and having premarital sex.” He apparently set off for Kabul from his home in the North West Frontier Province in November 2001. Wounded in Bagram during the coalition bombing campaign, he managed to flee to Kabul and to get a taxi back to Pakistan, but as he headed towards Peshawar, his vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint, and, [w]hen the Pakistan Army saw that [he] had what appeared to be war wounds,” he was “taken into custody and later transferred to US forces.” The spurious reason for his transfer to Guantánamo on January 15, 2002 was “because of his knowledge of Taliban recruiting procedures in Pakistan and organisations that supported jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida, and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”
Abdullah Tabarak (ISN 56, Morocco) Released July 2003
Abdullah Tabarak (also identified as Abdullah Tabarak Ahmad) was one of 14 Guantánamo prisoners whose profiles did not appear in Wikileaks’ April 2011 release of Detainee Assessment Briefs for almost all the prisoners, and, as I explained in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files“:
Of the 14 missing stories, just two are overtly suspicious. The first of these is the file for Abdullah Tabarak Ahmad (ISN 56), a Moroccan who, according to a Washington Post article in January 2003, “was one of [Osama] bin Laden’s long-time bodyguards,” and who, in order to help bin Laden to escape from the showdown with US forces in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in December 2001, “took possession of the al-Qaeda leader’s satellite phone on the assumption that US intelligence agencies were monitoring it to get a fix on their position.” Whether or not there is any truth to this story is unknown, as the Post‘s source was a number of “senior Moroccan officials,” who have visited Guantánamo, and had interviewed Tabarak. One official said, “He agreed to be captured or die. That’s the level of his fanaticism for bin Laden. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it was enough.” Moroccan officials also stated that Tabarak, who was 43 years old at the time, “had become the ‘emir,’ or camp leader,” at Guantánamo.
One sign of Tabarak’s supposed significance is that, when representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Guantánamo in October 2003, he was one of four prisoners they were not allowed to visit. However, the problem with this is not that they were refused access to him, but that he was no longer present at Guantánamo. Although it was reported in August 2004 that he had been released from Guantánamo at that time with four other Moroccans, it actually transpired that he had been released 13 months earlier, on July 1, 2003.
The reason for this is unknown, although in January 2006, in another article in the Washington Post, Tabarak’s attorney, Abdelfattah Zahrach, “said his client’s importance as an al-Qaeda figure ha[d] been exaggerated, although he acknowledged that Tabarak knew bin Laden and worked for one of his companies.” Zahrach stated, “He was in bin Laden’s environment, but he didn’t play an operational role. Do you think that if he was really the bodyguard of bin Laden that the Americans would have let him come back to Morocco?” In response to this question, others in Rabat who were “familiar with Tabarak’s case” told the Post that “Moroccan officials had pressed the US military for many months to hand over Tabarak, arguing that they would have a better chance of persuading him to reveal secrets about al-Qaeda.”
The truth may never be known, but Tabarak’s missing file suggests that there were some secrets that were regarded as off-limits to general readers of the Guantánamo DABs in the US intelligence circles with access to them — focused, presumably, on the 13 months between his real date of his release, and his stated date of release.
Mishal Al Shedoky (ISN 71, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2003
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained that it was probable that four Saudis released in May 2003 — 19-year old Mishal al-Shedoky, 19-year old Fahd al-Shabrani, 23-year old Fawaz al-Zahrani and 20-year old Ibrahim al-Shili — were survivors of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, but nothing at the time was known of the circumstances of their capture, only what happened to them after their repatriation.
In 2006, Human Rights Watch reported that in May 2005, after a four-day closed trial in which the men were not allowed legal representation, the Greater Riyadh Court sentenced them to six months in prison for “leaving the country without permission,” although they were all released for time served. As a condition of their release, the Saudi authorities apparently “prevented them from speaking openly about their experiences in Guantánamo and their time in Saudi custody.”
Al-Shedoky was born in 1982, and it was noted in his Detainee Assessment Brief on February 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Mesh al-Muhammed Rashid al-Shedoky, that, with a friend, he traveled to Afghanistan for jihad in June 2001. It was also noted that, “As a Taliban member operating in Afghanistan as a foreign fighter” (an illogical description when examined closely), he trained for two weeks at the al-Farouq camp near Kandahar, and then, presumably, traveled to either the front lines or the rear lines, although no details were provided. Instead, it was noted that, after surrendering to the Northern Alliance, he was transported to the Qala-i-Janghi fort — and makeshift prison — in Mazar-e-Sharif (although no mention was made of the massacre, which he was fortunate to survive). The spurious reason given for his transfer to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002 was “because of his knowledge of Taliban’s organisation, strength, equipment, and procedures and of Taliban leadership at the al-Farouq camp,” which was interesting phrasing when al-Farouq was, in more guarded moments, described by the US authorities solely as being associated with Osama bin Laden.
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as neither valuable nor tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”
According to a report in the New York Times in July 2004, al-Shedoky and the other three men were released as part of a prisoner swap, in which five British prisoners and two other prisoners were released from Saudi jails. In addition, in February 2009, al-Shedoky’s name was included, as one of 11 former Guantánamo prisoners, on a list of 85 wanted Saudi militants. He was described as Mishaal Mohammed Rasheed al-Shadoukhi, but there was no indication given as to why he was an alleged militant.
Fahd Al Shabrani (ISN 80, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2003
Released in May 2003, like Mishal al-Shedoky (ISN 71, see above) and two others, al-Shabrani (described as Fahed al-Sharbani) was, like the others, sentenced to six months in prison for “leaving the country without permission” in May 2005, although all four were released for time served. In his Detainee Assessment Brief on February 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1982 and that he had been “diagnosed with and treated for osteomylitis [which the PubMed Health website describes as “an acute or chronic bone infection”] related to a clavicle fracture,” but that he was “otherwise in good health.”
It was also noted that al-Shabrani had been recruited “to participate in jihad in Afghanistan” in late October 2001, and that he agreed to take part because he “wanted to fight communists and [Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah] Massoud’s troops who [he] believed were killing innocent Muslims.” Paying for his own journey — a sign that he was inspired to travel for jihad rather than directly recruited — he took an overland route to Afghanistan through Iran, traveling by car to Kunduz, where he “joined a group of approximately 100 Arabs” under the command of a man identified as Abdul Salam.
He apparently “never witnessed any battles or enemy troops,” and, after two weeks on the front lines, was “ordered to retreat.” After then surrendering to Northern Alliance forces, when he was apparently wounded (although the circumstances of this were not explained), he was taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where, like Mishal al-Shedoky, he survived the massacre. The spurious reason given for his transfer to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002 was “because of his knowledge of Islamic radical groups recruited from Saudi Arabia and of Arabs fighting in the Taliban under Abdul Salam.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as neither valuable nor tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”
Rasul Kudayev (ISN 82, Russia) Released February 2004
One of four prisoners from the former Soviet Union who survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, Kudayev (also identified as Rasul Kudaev), a Balkar from Kabardino-Balkaria, north of Georgia, was just 17 at the time of his capture. A former wrestling champion, he apparently left home to avoid military service, and in December 2002], Igor Tkachyov, the head of a team of Russian officials who visited the Russian prisoners at Guantánamo, explained to the St. Petersburg Times that they had all traveled via Tajikistan, where members of the Islamic opposition to President Rahmonov helped them get to Afghanistan. He added that once they were there they “found themselves in a kind of totalitarian sect commanded by the Taliban … They were not allowed to be alone and had to do everything together, obeying strict regulations that left no time for anything but prayers.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief on December 5, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was described as Abdullah D. Kafkas, and it was acknowledged that he was born in 1984 — and was therefore, just 17 at the time of his capture in November 2001, as I explained in my articles, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo” and “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo.” It was also noted that he had “a retained bullet in his right pelvis from a previous gunshot wound,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
When it came to his reasons for being in Afghanistan, and the circumstances of his capture, the Joint Task Force agreed with Kudayev’s own account, told by family members in his absence. It was noted that he “entered Afghanistan in November 2001 to escape military service in Russia,” and stayed with an Uzbeki group in Kunduz, “where he worked in an Arab medical clinic for foreign fighters.” It was also noted that he had “served as a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, going as far as taking up arms with the Taliban,” and had, at some point, been transferred by the Taliban to an Uzbeki group in Kandahar. From there, he ended up back in the north, “located in Mazar-e-Sharif during the uprising,” which was actually a reference to Qala-i-Janghi, and his survival of the massacre.
The spurious reason given for his transfer to Guantánamo, “on or about” February 12, 2002, was because of “his knowledge regarding events that occurred at Mazar-e-Sharif from November 2001 to December 2001, information on Uzbeki Islamic radical groups, and possible information about Taliban members.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as neither valuable nor tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with al-Qaida or as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes.” In a significant diversion from the regular script at this point, it was additionally noted, “Since the Russian government has agreed to incarcerate this detainee upon his transfer, he poses no future threat to the US or its allies. In addition, the Russian government has agreed to share all intelligence derived from him while under their control with the United States.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he “be considered for transfer to the control of the Russian government,” and it was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 14 to 19 November 2002, Russian Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 82] and stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
When Kudayev and six other Russians were released in 2004, they “were initially held in a detention center in the southern town of Pyatigorsk that is run by the FSB, the domestic successor of the KGB,” as the Washington Post explained in an article in September 2006. The Post‘s article also confirmed that “Russian authorities had assured the US government that they would investigate the inmates, and they were held on suspicion of crossing international borders illegally and mercenary activity.” Russian officials also denied allegations made by one of the men, Airat Vakhitov, that, as the Post put it, “the prisoners were immediately subjected to physical abuse.” He said at a news conference in Moscow in 2005, “They told me to get down on my knees and pray as a Christian to Jesus Christ. I refused. They beat me and burnt my back with cigarette butts.”
The Post further explained that all seven were released in June 2004, “after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to hold them,” but also noted that their release “did not end official interest in the men.” Saadiya Chaudary, a London-based lawyer working with the human rights group Reprieve, said, “They have been subjected to constant surveillance and questioning, home raids which have taken place at all hours of the day and night, [and] mistreatment during these raids and during arrests.”
Two of the former prisoners, Timur Ishmuratov and Ravil Gumarov, were then seized after a gas line explosion in January 2005, and imprisoned in May 2006 for 13 and 11 years, even though their lawyers alleged that their confessions were coerced, and researchers from Human Rights Watch uncovered a confession from another man, which was hidden during the trial. In addition, Rasul Kudayev “was arrested in the southern Russian city of Nalchik after an assault on government facilities in October 2005 and accused of leading a group that killed a police officer in the attack. His lawyers and family said he was tortured into signing a confession.” His torture was also discussed in a letter from Airat Vakhitov in December 2005, in this RFE/RL report from January 2006, and, in particular, in a Human Rights Watch report, “The Stamp of Guantánamo,” published in March 2007, in which his mother stated that he “returned from Guantánamo in poor health … he suffered from hepatitis, stomach ulcers, the after-effects of a bullet he received in the hip in Afghanistan that was never removed, serious headaches, high blood pressure, and other ailments.” The latest report about him, in 2008, indicated that he was still imprisoned.
Munir Bin Naseer (ISN 85, Pakistan) Released November 2003
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” I described how bin Naseer, described as Munir Naseer, was also interviewed by Tom Lasseter for McClatchy Newspapers’ award-wining series on released Guantánamo prisoners. Naseer was 22 years old at the time of his capture, and Tom Lasseter found him speaking English with an American accent and working in a call center in Karachi, where he handled calls for a mortgage broker in the United States. “What’s up?” he asked, adding, “There are too many freaking mortgages in your country, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
However, Naseer turned serious when the topic of Guantánamo was raised. “I went for jihad,” he said when asked why he had traveled to Afghanistan in late 2001. “I said let’s do it, and I went off. Everybody was astonished.” As Lasseter explained, there was “little to indicate that Naseer was anything other than what he appear[ed] to be: a guy who got swept up in radical Islam in his early 20s and went to fight in Afghanistan as much out of a sense of adventure as anything else.”
Naseer explained that his group of “mostly Taliban” fighters got lost on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif, but that when they asked for help at a farm, they were betrayed. The men in the house, who “said they supported the Taliban,” invited Naseer and his companions to eat dinner and stay the night, but handed them over the next morning to a local Northern Alliance commander, who took them to Sheberghan prison.
Naseer explained that he “spent about two and a half months in the jail, sick with diarrhea and fever,” in a 6 by 10 feet cell, which he shared with 35 other men. He added that “the guards let him alone,” but that others “weren’t so lucky.” “The Northern Alliance guys used to take people outside and beat them with iron rods, half-naked in the snow … when a person didn’t stand up after the beating, it meant that he was dead. They would pick him up and throw him in a ditch. Guys would go out and not come back.” It was, he added, “kind of hellish.”
He was then transferred to Bagram, where he spent about a month before his flight to Guantánamo. “I was beaten a lot at Bagram,” he said. “I spoke English. I would say, ‘Why are you acting so tough? You didn’t catch us, you bought us.’ They [the guards] would say, ‘Shut the fuck up, you’re al-Qaeda.’” He added, as Lasseter described it, that “almost all the men he knew there had been handed over by Pakistani troops who’d caught them crossing over from Afghanistan and collected bounties for them, or, like himself, were picked up by Afghan Northern Alliance fighters who also collected bounties.”
In Guantánamo, he said that he was interrogated every two or three days for the first year, but that in the second year he was only interrogated once a month, or once every two months. “It was the same thing” as in Bagram, he said, where he thought the interviews “lacked imagination.” “Name? Address? Why did you come to Afghanistan? Where did you get your training? Have you seen Osama bin Laden?”
However, he was not subjected to physical violence in Guantánamo, and eventually he decided to stop cooperating. “They said you won’t go home if you don’t talk. I said OK, and didn’t answer their questions. So they sent me to isolation for three or four days.” He added that he ran into particular trouble in the cellblocks, where, because he could speak English, he got into arguments with the guards. “They would say all Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “I would say, ‘Shut up,’ which they hated. They said, ‘You are telling us to shut up?’ I would say, ‘Yes, shut the fuck up.’ I would get into an argument with them; they would send the men in black [the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF) or Immediate Reaction Force (IRF)] … they would tell you to kneel down. If you didn’t kneel down, they would spray you with pepper spray and then they would do the helicopter –- they would tie your arms and legs together and pick you up in the air, like a helicopter, you know? And then they took you to isolation.”
Naseer also explained that it was easy to despair in Guantánamo, thinking that you were “never going to see home again,” and added, “I saw a lot of people go mad.” He was released in November 2003, and was then imprisoned for another year, but although he had a wife and four-month child at the time of his interview, he explained that his misadventure had derailed his life. “Before, I wanted to do computers,” he admitted. “Now I’m kind of lost.”
In his assessment at Guantánamo, dated November 29, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” it was stated that his name was Monir Naseer, that he was born in 1978, and that he had been “diagnosed with Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease and Anemia,” but was “otherwise in good health.” Much of the rest of the account in the file supplements information in the account he gave to Tom Lasseter. While running a computer store in Karachi with his older brothers, he “admitted that he became upset when the Americans attacked Afghanistan and decided he would fight on behalf of the Taliban.” He then attended a training camp in Pakistan for two weeks, run by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), elsewhere described as “a Tier 1 terrorist target, which is defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.” After training, he traveled to Kunduz, where he reportedly “joined the Taliban on the frontlines.” Captured after Kunduz fell, he was transported to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his affiliation with the Taliban and his membership of JEM.”
Bizarrely, his fluency in English led his interrogators to think that he might have been Monir Ali, the friend of the three British prisoners known as the Tipton Three, who disappeared when they were seized in Kunduz in November 2001, and has never been seen again. As the Task Force explained, “analysis indicates that [he] may be a British citizen and may possibly be the ‘fourth’ individual that the Tipton Three traveled with” — although of course that particular sentence doesn’t actually make sense. Obsessed with prisoners who spoke English, because of a paranoia that they were planning attacks on the West, the Task Force noted with suspicion that the Joint Detentions Operation Group had “noted on many occasions” that he spoke fluent English, that he had “translated between detainees, guards and medical staff,” and that his correspondence was also “written in English, indicating that he likely received formal education in English.”
As a result of his affiliation with Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Task Force described him as being “of intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and recommended that he be detained under DoD control. This evidently conflicted with the opinion of the Criminal Investigative Task Force, but, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF defer[red] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a medium threat.” Despite this, he was apparently released the very next day.
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 June 2011, 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.
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Thanks, George, and thanks also to those who have liked it and shared it. I’ve discovered that analyzing and transcribing all the Guantanamo files released by WikiLeaks is actually a huge project, but I think it will be worth it. All these military documents require interpretation, and that, after all, is what I’ve been doing for the last five years.
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