WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Four of Ten)

18.7.11

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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 9 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.

Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to contain allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or 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, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.

I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners.

As a result, the stories of these prisoners are particularly important in demonstrating how many 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, were held at Guantánamo (and specifically how this latter category included many unwilling Afghan recruits).

What is also worth bearing in mind (and which is not spelled out in these documents) is that many prisoners were pointlessly rounded up because 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, and also offered substantial bounty payments for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects to the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies.

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. That was the point at which 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 fourth 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. When lies and distortions are covered up on this scale, and an 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 One, Part TwoPart ThreePart Five, Part SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine and Part Ten of this series.

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Four of Ten)

Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad (ISN 267, Spain) Released February 2004

As I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, a 27-year old Spaniard from the North African enclave of Ceuta, was accused of fighting with the Taliban, but said that he went to Afghanistan in July 2001 to study his religion and to escape the drugs, violence and corruption in his neighborhood. “I’ve always dreamt about studying at a madrassa,” he said, “where [the] Islam is the most authentic.”

After flying to Tehran, he made his way to an Islamic school in Kandahar, where, he said, for two months his dreams came true. The school was “a very pleasant place … with luscious gardens and open space,” and the owners “gave me a room and they let me attend the classes. In exchange for their hospitality, I only had to help a little in the garden, to take care of the flowers and to help in the kitchen. There were many foreigners, mainly Asians, and life was very peaceful.”

He explained that everything changed after 9/11, when there was talk about “possible and immediate retaliation,” and everyone was told to leave. He and some of his fellow students took a car to Jalalabad, where they found that “bombs were falling everywhere,” and people were desperately trying to escape. Some locals advised them to go to Pakistan on foot, as a car would be an easy target for missiles, but when they arrived in Pakistan they were “intercepted by a patrol of Pakistani soldiers,” who put them in “some kind of an improvised jail” for a few days, before handing them over to the army.

In Chapter 11 of The Guantánamo Files, I reported Ahmad’s account of his time at Camp X-Ray, the first incarnation of Guantánamo, where the prisoners were held in open cells like animal cages:

Although the interrogations were not particularly severe at this early stage, there was a crushing circularity to them. Interrogators from various agencies took turns with the prisoners, but as … Ahmad explained, “The questions were always the same: if I knew Osama bin Laden or someone of his inner circle, what I was doing in that region, who my contacts were, where I had fought, etc. This went on for two or three hours. They asked the same questions in different ways. They finally told me that if I wasn’t more cooperative, I would never see my family again.” He added, “In the morning they woke us up at 8 o’clock with a song by Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born in the USA,’ which they played at full volume through the loudspeakers.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” he was identified as Ahmad Abd Al Rahman Ahmad, born in 1974, and it was also stated that he had been diagnosed with latent tuberculosis (in common with many of the prisoners) and also with “Primary Insomnia.” The Task Force also made it clear that they did not believe Ahmad’s own story, running through a story of marginal work and time spent as “a small-time thief and a drug dealer” in Ceuta before he became interested in the vast missionary organization Jamaat al-Tablighi, and traveled to Morocco, where he was shown “videos of Jihad in Chechnya,” which paved the way for his visit to Afghanistan (via London, where he worked at a disco, selling drugs on the side) in early August 2001.

He then apparently met up with a Moroccan named Abu Mundir and entered a training camp outside of Kabul, where he claimed that “he was only instructed on the use of AK-47s.” In contrast, the Task Force claimed that his description of his training was “fabricated in order to minimize his involvement and [it was] assessed that he … had several layers of advanced weapons training to include the use of explosives” — an odd conclusion, given that he was in Afghanistan for so short a time before the US-led invasion began in October 2001, when all the training camps were being closed down.

According to the Task Force, after 9/11 “he was given a choice either to leave or stay and fight. His choice was to leave.” He then traveled “with a  group of Arabs” to the Pakistani border, where “they were all arrested by Pakistani soldiers.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, allegedly “because of his knowledge of information on the issue of illegal Iranian travel visas from an unidentified person in the Iranian Embassy in Madrid, Spain, and suspicion of being affiliated with Al-Qaida.”

However, 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 concluded that Ahmad was “an Al-Qaida recruit and operative who was recruited to complete advance schools, specializing in weapons, explosives, and tactics, who would then return to Spain and become part of the European Al-Qaida network.” This was all apparently based on a belief, with the aid of “[s]ensitive reporting,” that Ahmad and his brothers “were key individuals in [a] Spanish network of Islamic extremists,” and that Ahmad “was indirectly linked to Barakat Yarkas.” Described as an associate of Osama bin Laden in Spain, Yarkas was imprisoned in Spain in September 2005 for conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the 9/11 attacks, although it is worth noting that having Ahmad “indirectly linked” to Yarkas was a thoroughly weak connection, and one that failed to materialize as a viable claim on Ahmad’s return to Spain.

Nevertheless, the Task Force described him as being “of moderate intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high threat to the US, its interests and its allies,” and Brig. Gen. James E. Payne III of the US Army, who signed the memo, recommended that he “be retained under DoD control.”

After his release, just six months later (which was almost certainly facilitated so that he could be tried in Spain), Ahmad was jailed for six years in October 2005 after a successful prosecution initiated by Judge Baltasar Garzón, a well-known “super-judge” famous for having pursued the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet through the courts. However, Ahmad was cleared in 2006 by the Spanish Supreme Court, who ruled that he had not been considered “innocent until proven guilty,” and castigated the government for using evidence collected at Guantánamo that “should be declared totally void and, as such, non-existent.” The Supreme Court also said that the High Court had been “entirely remiss in its role of providing evidence,” and stated, “Neither the motivation the subject had to travel to Afghanistan, nor the activities he carried out, justifies the verdict passed by the High Court.”

In April 2009, after Garzón had a complete change of heart regarding the Guantánamo prisoners, and decided to investigate the torture claims of four former prisoners — Ahmad, Spanish resident Lahcen Ikassrien and British residents Omar Deghayes and Jamil El-Banna — instead of seeking to prosecute them, he launched an investigation, which, as with his prosecution of Augusto Pinochet, drew on Spain’s adherence to the principles of universal jurisdiction.

The Obama administration has put pressure on Spain not to proceed with this investigation and another, directed at six senior Bush administration lawyers, but as of February this year there was still life in case. As I explained at the time:

Spanish courts are empowered to hear certain types of international cases, but following a limitation placed on the country’s universal jurisdiction laws in November 2009 (very possibly with pressure from the US), the cases in question must have a “relevant connection” to Spain. The National Court concluded that it was competent to take the case because Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for 13 years prior to his capture, and it will be overseen by Judge Pablo Ruz, who, in June 2010, replaced the colorful and controversial Judge Baltasar Garzón, who initiated the proceedings, after Garzón fell foul of political opponents in Spain.

For more information, see the Center for Constitutional Rights’ page, “The Spanish Investigation into US Torture.”

Yuksel Celik Gogus (ISN 291, Turkey) Released November 2003

Prior to WikiLeaks’ release of the Detainee Assessment Briefs, little was known about Yuksel Celik Gogus, one of three Turks captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. After his release in November 2003, he made only one statement that I was able to discover (which I noted in Chapter 18 of The Guantánamo Files), but it was significant, because it indicated how one course of action taken by the authorities at Guantánamo, in an attempt to prevent prisoners from speaking out about what had happened to them in US custody, was to intimidate them. “They will come and take me away if I tell what happened in Guantánamo,” he said.

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 1, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that he was born in 1967 and, as well as having latent tuberculosis, had been diagnosed with chronic gastritis [and] H. pylori,” the bacteria responsible for ulcers and stomach inflammation. When it came to the reasons for his imprisonment in  Guantánamo, the authorities were particularly clueless. Gogus said that he left his home in March 2001 and “traveled alone to Afghanistan via Bahrain and Pakistan for the purpose of avoiding overwhelming debt.” He added that he had “read in the newspapers that the Taliban was giving away free homes and other valuable items to individuals who traveled to Afghanistan,” and also explained that he “intended to establish a carpentry business and live for free in a pure Islamic society and [he] did not travel to Afghanistan to participate in jihad.”

After arriving in Afghanistan from Pakistan and finding a guesthouse in Kabul, Gogus apparently “met and stayed with a Kurd named Omar Kurdu while searching for employment and a possible place to open a carpentry business.” After the US-led invasion, he fled to Jalalabad, where he stayed until mid-December 2001, and then boarded a truck to Pakistan, traveling to Peshawar, where he was seized in a mosque. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 15, 2002, and the only reason that the authorities could think of to graft on afterwards was that it was “because of his general knowledge of Omar Kurdu.”

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 [291] 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 all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”

Mohammed Mazouz (ISN 294, Morocco) Released July 2004

As I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, based on an interview in La Gazette du Maroc in April 2005, Mohammed Mazouz (also identified as Mohamed Mazouz or Mohammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz), who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, and was one of four Moroccans released from Guantánamo in July 2004, described himself as an economic migrant, who studied at Leningrad university and then traveled to London, where he survived for a few years doing various odd jobs.

After apparently befriending a Pakistani, he arranged to marry his sister and traveled to Pakistan in August 2001 to meet his bride-to-be and to sort out the marriage. However, four days after his marriage, on 22 September, he was stopped in the streets of Karachi by members of the Pakistani security forces, who were “rounding up anything that looks even a little like an Arab.” Held for five days in a police station, he was then moved to a hangar with numerous other prisoners, “beaten, denied meals, and questioned about Mullah Omar [and] Osama bin Laden,” and was then transferred to Kandahar, where he described daily interrogations, in which, “at the beginning, we were beaten, face on the ground, by insane soldiers,” and the use of electric shocks.

After Kandahar, Mazouz was transferred to Bagram, which he described as follows:

The prison of Bagram is the twin sister of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Without giving too many details, we endured the same tortures, the same physical and psychological mistreatments that the detainees endured in Iraq. You know, when I returned to Morocco and I could have access to the newspapers, I discovered what the Iraqi detainees had endured in Abu Ghraib, it was the same techniques and the same abuses. Today I think that Bagram was the laboratory which prepared the way for Abu Ghraib.

While some of Mazouz’s account of Bagram is harsher than that reported by the majority of other prisoners, particularly regarding female soldiers, guards having sex in front of prisoners, and allegations of rape, there is no doubt that he accurately described the kinds of torture that, in December 2002, led to the murders of two prisoners at Bagram. Specifically, he said, “Other techniques were employed like hanging us with shackles on iron bars fixed on the walls. We could remain suspended for nights without sleep.”

Speaking of his time in Guantánamo, Mazouz spoke eloquently about the abuse of the Quran, which he had also described taking place in Afghanistan:

About the Quran, I must specify that I rued the fact that they gave us the sacred book to read. Afterwards they used it as a form of torture, in the same way that they had used it in Bagram to push us to madness. It was a game for them. They came to take it one day, they gave it back again to us another day, then came to take it again and this, for all our detention time, not forgetting all the other aspects which I described above. Obviously, we responded by hunger strikes, cries, suicide attempts, blows and each time, we were broken in blood. They could also come to shave our hair and beard, to make us eat what they wanted, to give us injections and to throw us into isolation. We asked them to torture us physically, but not to touch the Quran, but there was nothing we could do. Their aim was to wound us in whatever we deemed most precious.

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 27, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” he was described as Mohammad Bin Ahama Mazooz, born in December 1975, and it was also stated that he had been “diagnosed with Asthma,” but was “otherwise in good health.” The Task Force confirmed that he had spent time in London, stating that he “converted to Islam in January 2001 while living in the United Kingdom,” and also noting that he “claim[ed] he was recruited to travel to Afghanistan to learn more about Islam in April 2001.” however, the US authorities were evidently unconvinced by Mazouz’s own account of traveling to Pakistan in August 2001 marrying, and being seized on the streets of Karachi on September,22, 2001. In the Task Force’s words, “Detainee’s timeline of travel is unclear. It is assessed that he traveled from Peshawar, Pakistan (PK) to Jalalabad, Afghanistan (AF) sometime between April and November 2001,” and that, around the end of November 2001, “he was traveling to the Pakistani border in a five-vehicle convoy, but was not allowed to cross the border by Pakistani authorities. After waiting approximately 15 days and paylng a large bribe he was able to cross over the border into a small unknown village and was arrested.”

He was sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, after six months in Pakistani custody, and in US custody at Kandahar and Bagram, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his potential knowledge of Abu Ali, who spoke to [him] about a Da’awa in the UK, of a man named Moussa who was [his] facilitator, and because of his possible affiliation with Al-Qaida.” He was apparently regarded as possibly affiliated with Al-Qaida because he had been “linked to the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group through sensitive reporting” and was regarded as “a probable member,” and because he was “identified” — although no source was provided — as having attended the al-Farouq training camp, which trained foot soldiers for the Taliban, but was also associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks. The Task Force also stated that Mazouz had been “uncooperative,”  and had “not provided satisfactory explanations for his extensive travels, which include[d] Russia, England, United Arab Emirates, Spain and Pakistan.”

As a result, the Task Force assessed him as being “a member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group with Al-Qaida ties” adding that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and posed “a medium risk as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests, or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be retained under DoD control.

After his release from Guantánamo, Mazouz was freed on bail in Morocco in March 2005, but both he and another Moroccan ex-prisoner, Brahim Benchekroun (see Part Seven), were rearrested in November 2005 and accused of planning to join a new terrorist cell. According to a Department of Defense fact sheet, entitled, “Former GTMO Detainee Terrorism Trends,” which was published in June 2008, the two men were convicted in September 2007 “for their post-release involvement in a terrorist network recruiting Moroccans to fight for Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).” According to testimony presented at the trial, whose reliability is unknown, Benchekroun (described as Ibrahim Bin Shakaran) “had already recruited other jihadists when Moroccan authorities broke up the plot in November 2005,” and he received a 10-year sentence, whereas Mazouz was sentenced to just two years, which means that he should, by now, be a free man, although no reports of him have surfaced.

Ibrahim Shafir Sen (ISN 297, Turkey) Released November 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (6) – Escape to Pakistan (Uyghurs and others),” I explained how Ibrahim Shafir Sen, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, was interviewed after his release, and said that he went to Afghanistan to study religion, and was captured after his madrassa was bombed and he tried to return to Turkey via Pakistan.

From the account given by another Turk, Salih Uyar (ISN 298, released in April 2005), who said that he left Afghanistan with some other Turkish people, one of whom was called Ibrahim, it’s probable that the two men were seized at the same time, along with another man, Yuksel Celik Gogus, discussed above. In Sen’s case, however, according to a Department of Defense fact sheet, entitled, “Former GTMO Detainee Terrorism Trends,” which was published in June 2008, he was arrested by the Turkish authorities on January 2008, and “charged as the leader of an active al-Qaeda cell.”

No further information has been provided to corroborate this claim, and the only other information about Sen comes from MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), a contentious organisation, founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence and Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-born, American political scientist, which, as Wikipedia notes, has been accused of “often producing inaccurate translations with undue emphasis and selectivity and disseminating the most extreme views from Arabic and Persian media while ignoring moderate views that are often found in the same media outlets.”

In Sen’s case, MEMRI translated an interview in Turkey’s Vakit newspaper, in which anti-semitism was prominent, with Sen reportedly stating that Guantánamo “Was Filled With Jews,” and that “A Rabbi was Present at Interrogations.” Sen’s account in general is harsher than most accounts, and should, no doubt, be analyzed with care (as with that of Mohammed Mazouz, above), but on certain points his testimony corresponded with statements made independently by other ex-prisoners, as with the following description of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in Guantánamo:

[In Guantánamo,] they leave you alone in the room of insanity. They sit you on a chair, connect various cables to different parts of your body. When they turn them on, you started hallucinating. You hear weird and frightening sounds in your ears and you want to die.

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” nothing remarkable was noted about Sen, who was described as Ibrahim Shafir Shen, born in October 1981, and it may be, therefore, that if he did indeed engage in activities related to terrorism after his return, it was because he had been radicalized by the brutality of his treatment in US custody. The Task Force noted only that he “went to Afghanistan in search of business opportunities and a wife,” that he “spent six months in Kabul,” leaving after he heard that the city “was going to fall to the Northern Alliance,” and that he “was apprehended in approximately November or December 2001 after crossing the border into Pakistan, and turned over to the Pakistani police.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 15, 2002, and the only basis that the authorities could find for justifying his transfer, after the event, was “because his travel profile matched that of a terrorist recruit.”

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 [297] 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, it was recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Mohammed Ansar (ISN 304, Pakistan) Released July 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Mohammed Ansar, one of 11 Pakistanis released in July 2003, was 20 years old when he was captured, and was seriously ill after his release. Speaking briefly to the Pakistan Daily Times, he alleged that during interrogation he was “threatened that I would be kept there forever or that I would be hanged.” In June 2004, the New York Times reported the following comments that Ansar made about his time in Guantánamo: “We were locked in cages. Each person was chained and sometimes made to work on our knees. At the camp, we were not allowed to say prayers. We couldn’t cover our heads. Prayers were allowed after we all went on a [hunger] strike.” He also said, “They let me go because I was innocent but what about all those days that I was kept in prison? Shouldn’t I be compensated? Where is the law that the Americans talk about?”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1981 and had been “diagnosed with Pott’s disease [a form of extrapulmonary tuberculosis that affects the spine] and tuberculosis,” although it was also noted that he was “undergoing treatment for both,” that “his condition ha[d] improved,” and that overall medical prognosis [wa]s good.” It was also stated that, in approximately June 2001, he met a man at a cricket match, and they “became friends and decided to go to Afghanistan as tourists to ‘sight-see’ and to perhaps earn money as a servant or personal assistant to other Pakistanis in Afghanistan.” However, when they traveled to Afghanistan, in July 2001, they “ended up in a training camp between Kabul and Bagram,” where they stayed “for approximately eight days and received physical trashing as well as three or four days training with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.” Ansar was then “sent to the area around the Bagram airport where he stood guard duty” for a month. He was then sent to Kunduz, and “served on the front lines near the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.” After the 9/11 attacks, he “told his leader, Ustad Sultan, that he wanted to return home,” and, after the US-led invasion and bombing campaign began, he retreated and surrendered to Northern Alliance troops.

He was sent to Guantánamo on February 10, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was because of “his possible knowledge of the recruitment of Taliban fighters in Pakistan,” and his knowledge of “a training camp at Muhammad Agha, Afghanistan” (in Logar province, about an hour’s drive from Kabul).

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 [304] is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor 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. [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 that, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 304] 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.”

Hanif Mohammed (ISN 305, Pakistan) Released September 2004

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Hanif Mohammed, who was 19 years old when he was seized, was repatriated with 34 other Pakistanis in September 2004, and freed from Pakistani custody with 16 others in June 2005, It was reported In the Pakistan Daily Times that he joined with Salahuddin Ayubi (ISN 138, see Part Three) and another freed prisoner, Hafiz Ehsan Saeed (discussed in The Guantánamo Files) in saying that the prisoners were prevented from practicing their religion for the first year of their imprisonment, but that they were “given some religious freedom after the Red Cross’s intervention.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 13, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was described as Mohammed Hanif, born in 1981, and it was also stated that he claimed he was “tricked” into visiting Afghanistan to participate in the jihad against the Northern Alliance and the Americans by a man named Shoeb Nadim, who “never told [him] how bad things were,” and, as a result, “he felt betrayed.” He “claimed he was stranded with the Taliban and forced to train and fight with them in Kabul,” and he also “claimed he was abandoned with 200 Taliban personnel after a 2-3 hour drive northwest of Kabul,” although, according to the Task Force, he “refused to talk about ‘why’ they were abandon [sic].” He also “claimed to have fought in several conflicts north of Kunduz for one month,” although it was also noted that he “surrendered to NA forces at an unspecified location away from the front lines.” After being held in Northern Alliance custody for two months, he was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his involvement with the Taliban as a foreign fighter.”

Analyzing Hanif’s story, the Task Force stated that he had been “generally cooperative but untruthful,” because he had “lied repeatedly during his interviews,” and had “refused to answer specific questions.” It was also noted that his “claims of having been forced to fight with the Taliban” were “assessed as completely false and he ha[d] shown clear motivation to participate in what he [saw] as his religious duty.” It was also stated that he “remain[ed] defiant and dedicated to the cause of Islamic extremism.” These were not necessarily accurate claims, of course, but they led to an assessment of Hanif in which, although he was recognized as “not being a member of Al-Qaida, or a Taliban leader,” and as being “of no intelligence value to the United States,” he was assessed as posing “a medium threat risk to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, he was not released for another year.

Sherghulab Mirmuhammed (ISN 313, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One),” Shergulab Mirmuhammed could easily be described as a prisoner who “fitted into [a] category of blank slates to be filled with whatever allegations the authorities thought they could get away with.” A 29 year old Afghan working as a laborer in Pakistan, he was one of the first prisoners to be released from Guantánamo, in March 2003, but all that was known about him, prior to WikiLeaks’ release of the Detainee Assessment Briefs, were two comments he made as he was set free in Kabul, when he said, “I am not angry at the Americans, but I am angry at the Pakistanis because they arrested me,”  and when he also said that he did not have a hard time in Cuba “because God was with me.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 1, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Sharhulab Mirmuhammed, born in 1972, it was stated that, after traveling to a neighbouring village in Jalalabad province for Eid, he met someone who told him there was work in Pakistan. He set off for Wacha Dara in Pakistan on January 4, 2002, but “[w]hen [he] arrived at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Pakistani officials approached and questioned him concerning four Arabs who were just apprehended,” apparently believing that he was a guide for the four Arabs. Taken to the police station in Parachinar, he was handed over to US forces the day after. That was, of course, undue haste when no attempt could possibly have been made to verify who he was, and just 10 days later, on January 15, 2002, he was sent to Guantánamo, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of covert routes though [the] Tora Bora mountains south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Parachinar, 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 [313] 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 all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”

Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane (ISN 323, Denmark) Released February 2004

As I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane,  the only Danish citizen in Guantánamo, who was 28 years old when he was seized, went to Afghanistan to receive military training, but he insisted that his intention was to fight in Chechnya, where, he said later, “The Muslims are oppressed … and the Russians are carrying out terror against them.” After fleeing from the war and crossing the border, he was captured by locals who held him in a village prison before handing him over to the Pakistani authorities.

I also explained:

Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane described the conditions at Kohat jail, where he was taken after the villagers who captured him handed him over to the Pakistani authorities. He and dozens of other prisoners were blindfolded and bound and herded onto trucks, and after several hours’ drive he ‘could hardly move as his legs and hands were badly swollen.’ On arrival at Kohat, they were made to stand for several hours in the prison yard, ‘still tied with ropes,’ and ‘were not given anything to eat or allowed to relieve themselves.’ After a brief interrogation by army personnel, he was taken to a cell, where iron rings were fastened around his ankles to which iron poles were attached which had to be lifted when walking. Ten days later, he was brought before two US interrogators, who did nothing to end his ill-treatment, and was then transferred to US custody.

Describing his time in Kandahar, where, like every prisoner, he was photographed naked, he also said that soldiers “made fun of his genitals while he was chained, hooded and naked,” adding, “The Americans did it all to humiliate us. Why else should we be naked in the middle of a tent? Why should they hit me and shave me against my religion? Because it was a psychological fight.”

He also inadvertently revealed that, once he was in Guantánamo, he was not regarded as particularly significant. He told the Danish media that “he was not abused as such during his 747 days at Guantánamo but felt like an animal in his four-square-meter ‘cage,'” and he also “said the prison guards did not use the same methods in Cuba as they did in Kandahar,” explaining that an officer told him, ”We don’t do that here. We let time work for us.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 6, 2003, which was an “Updated Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which he was described as Suliman Hadj Abd Al Rahman, born in 1973, it was claimed that he had been recruited as a courier for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and had “transported equipment, money and false documents between the United Kingdom (UK), Algeria, Germany, Spain, Mali, and Denmark,” although it  is not known whether there is any truth to these allegations. He apparently traveled to Afghanistan “with the intent to join the Jihad” in August 2001, and sought out “an Al-Qaida operative/facilitator who assisted in arranging for Algerians to attend training camps” (Abderrahmane’s mother is Danish and his father is Algerian).

After staying in a guest-house in Jalalabad, “where he was taught basic skills on several weapons,” he learned of the 9/11 attacks, and he and other recruits were “given the opportunity to stay and fight or to leave.” Choosing the latter, he made his way “with a group” into the mountains, and then crossed into Pakistan, where this group was seized. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 9, 2002 on the spurious basis that  it was “because of his knowledge of personnel running safehouses throughout Afghanistan and facilitators assisting those entering Afghanistan for Europe.”

In its assessment, the Task Force decided that Abderrahmane was “an Al-Qaida sympathiser and a GSPC member.” It was also claimed that he supported the Front Islamique du Salut in Algeria (the popular Islamist party in Algeria whose dissolution in 1992 prompted a bloody civil war), and had connections with several individuals allegedly associated with terrorism, including Belkacem Bensayah, one of six Algerians kidnapped in Bosnia-Herzegovina in January 2002 and sent to Guantánamo. Interestingly, Bensayah was described as “an Al-Qaida contact and Osama bin Laden’s representative in the Balkans,” even though there is no basis for this analysis, because the case against Bensayah unravelled as part of the  Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions. Although he lost his habeas petition in November 2008 and is still held, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled last June that the lower court should reconsider is opinion, essentially because there was no evidence whatsoever that Bensayah was involved with al-Qaeda.

In conclusion, the Task Force described Abderrahmane as being “of intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high threat to the US, its interests, or its allies,” It was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) had assessed him as “as high threat” on May 22, 2003, and as a result Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be retained under DoD control. Nevertheless, he was released just two months later.

After his release, he caused some consternation in Denmark and elsewhere when, on a TV show in September 2004, he said that he wanted to “try to find a way to Chechnya.” explaining, “I am going to Chechnya and fight for the Muslims. The Muslims are oppressed in Chechnya and the Russians are carrying out terror against them.” He also stated that “a contract signed with US authorities when he was released, agreeing not to take part in terrorist activities or conspire against the US or their allies,” as the BBC described it, was as worthless as toilet paper. “This document is toilet paper for the Americans if they want it,” he said, adding that he was “not afraid of being thrown in jail” by the Danish authorities.

In October 2007, he received a ten-month jail sentence for the theft of two passports and three credit cards, which he used to withdraw more than 110,000 Danish kroner ($20,000), and which he apparently stole from a mail sorting office where he had been working under a new name given to him by the Danish government.

Nizar Sassi (ISN 325, France) Released July 2004

As I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, Nizar Sassi, who was 22 years old when he was seized, traveled to Afghanistan in summer 2001 from Venissieux, a poor suburb of Lyons, with his friend Mourad Benchellali (ISN 161, also see Part Three). As I also explained:

After attending a training camp, Benchellali and Sassi spent some time in Jalalabad, where they met up with Hervé Djamel Loiseau, a convert to Islam from Paris. Loiseau was a close friend of another French prisoner, Brahim Yadel, a Parisian who arrived in Afghanistan in July 2001, accompanied by Redouane Khalid, who was also from Paris. Completing the connections between the men, Khalid traveled in Afghanistan with Khaled bin Mustafa, from Lyons, who had met him at his wedding in Paris. Yadel, like Benchellali and Sassi, was released in July 2004, while the others were freed in March 2005.

It was also alleged, in the Detainee Assessment Brief for another French prisoner, Imad Kanouni (ISN 164, also discussed in Part Three), that he had connections with Sassi and bin Mustafa (apparently having fled with them from Kabul to Jalalabad), and had also reportedly lived with Sassi and Benchellali (presumably in Jalalabad), although it is not known whether these allegations are at all accurate.

When it came to fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan, Sassi and Benchellali traveled with Loiseau, but their companion died on the way. When they arrived in Pakistan, they were captured by locals and handed over to the Pakistani army, who sold them for $5,000 each to the Americans.

In the French press, Sassi was described as Benchellali’s “double,” and it was stated that he had tagged along with his friend. Prior to his departure for Afghanistan, he had been a night watchman for the council, and he was described by his brother Aymen as “a normal guy who liked to go nightclubbing,” who had “no fundamental terrorist leanings.”

He “had just purchased a new car and was intending to leave his job with the municipal government to open a restaurant,” Aymen explained during a visit to the US to raise his brother’s plight in March 2004, as part of a delegation that also included included Rabiye Kurnaz, the mother of the German-born prisoner Murat Kurnaz, and Azmat Begg, the father of British prisoner Moazzam Begg. The ACLU reported that Aymen also stated that his parents were “deeply disturbed by Nizar’s arrest — his father didn’t eat for a week when told he had been detained and was nearly hospitalized due to the stressful developments.”

In August 2002, Sassi sent his family a postcard, which was critical of the regime at Guantánamo, and which somehow managed to slip past the Pentagon’s censors. He wrote, “If you want a definition of this place, you don’t have the right to have rights.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated March 27, 2004, which was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” it was noted that he was born in January 1979, and everything he and Benchellali stated regarding their “adventure,” and their recruitment by Benchellali’s brother was corroborated. The two men traveled first to the UK, then flew to Afghanistan on June 29, 2001, training at al-Farouq in the summer, and finally fleeing to Pakistan, where they were seized on December 15, 2001. The reason given for Sassi’s transfer to Guantánamo on February 15, 2002 was “because of his affiliation with Al-Qaida as a foreign fighter in Afghanistan,” although, as with all the prisoners, this was a reason that was grafted on afterwards.

Under “Reasons for Continued Detention in Another Country,” as well as his connections with Benchellali and his family, and allegedly the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat, and the supposed al-Qaeda connections at the “Algerian House” in Jalalabad, were additional claims, from an unknown source, that he had “probable knowledge, and possible participation in the procurement and manufacture of chemical weapons,” and had been “trained on the building and use of explosive devices and the possible incorporation of explosives and chemicals.” These claims should be regarded with deep suspicion, as they are not echoed elsewhere and were probably, therefore, extracted under dubious circumstances from one or more of Sassi’s fellow prisoners.

As a result, however, Sassi was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a probable member of Al-Qaida,” who also had “possible ties to another global terrorist network,” and he was also assessed as posing “a high risk, as he [was] likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” so that Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood of the US Army recommended that he “be transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”

After his release, Sassi wrote a book about his experiences, Prisonnier 325, Camp Delta (published in March 2006), and an interview (in French) can be found here.

Also see Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Five, Part SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine and Part Ten of this series.

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.

11 Responses

  1. tashi says...

    After reading this… I am wondering to myself, what could these people possibly have done, that anyone could use as justification for torturing them so horribly and brutally? Lets say, for arguments sake, that these were the worst criminals in the world, if we as ‘civilized’ beings take such actions against them – doesn’t that make us the same as them? Equally – as evil? If one is torturing to gain something, like revenge or information – then I would say it makes the one doing the torturing – even more evil than the criminal, because they know they are doing wrong. If one is committing evil knowingly, with a full intention, then they can no longer claim to be civilized, just, fair or even humane. If only humans could wake up from this dark sleep!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Heidi Emers wrote:

    Thank you Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Heidi — and everyone who has shared this so far. I’m glad that there’s interest in the stories of all these men, whose stories are largely forgotten. I probably should have called the series that to attract more interest: “The Forgotten Prisoners of Guantanamo.” I might use it in future.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Tashi,
    Thanks for the heartfelt comments. I do agree that it’s inexplicable that this sordid history is so hidden, or overlooked. It’s why I keep chipping away at it, hoping that the cumulative stories that I’m putting together for these articles will help to puncture the enduring lies about Guantanamo and those who have been held there.

  5. tashi says...

    You know, Andy, I have learned so much from you, over the past three years that I have been reading your articles. I am very thankful that you continue ‘to chip away’ and keep bringing all of this insanity into the light – for all of us to see. All your faithful readers (students) appreciate your dedication, sacrifices and hard work.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Tashi. That’s made my day!

  7. Rita Maran says...

    Thank you Andy.
    Rita

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rita. How very nice to hear from you. I hope all is well with you — apart from the terrible political situation in which we still find ourselves, of course.

  9. WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (All Ten Parts) – Andy Worthington « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] [...]

  10. arcticredriver says...

    According to the Copenhagen Post Slimane Hadj Aderahame had recently traveled to Syria as a volunteer helping to overthrow Bashir al-Assad, and is believed to have died there on 2013-02-16.
    http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcphpost.dk%2Fnews%2Finternational%2Fdanish-jihadist-reported-dead&date=2013-02-20

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I hadn’t seen that.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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