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

25.7.11

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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 10 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 fifth 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 Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Six, Part Seven, Part EightPart Nine and Part Ten of this series.

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

Aziz Khan Zumarikourt (ISN 348, Afghanistan) Released March 2004

As I explained in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, discussing around 65 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Kandahar in late 2001 and early 2002, “45-year old Aziz Khan Zumarikourt, the father of ten children (released in March 2004), was arrested at his home in Paktia province for having four Kalashnikovs. Speaking after his release, he said of his captors, ‘They had very bad treatment towards us. Americans are very cruel. They want to govern the world.’” He also said that “he was sometimes kept in chains and sometimes ‘put in a place like a cage for a bird.’”

His Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 26, 2004, was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” in which his date of birth was listed as 1962. In previous assessments, Maj. Gen. Miller had recommended that he be “retained for continued detention, based on [an] assessment that [he] was likely a Taliban Intelligence Official,” but he was “no longer assessed as being a Taliban Intelligence official,” because there was “nothing to directly link [him] to the Taliban documents and equipment recovered at the same time of his capture [sic].” This, it was also made clear, was because “[t]he compound where [he] was captured belonged to his brother-in-law,” who was “a representative of the Karzai government and was responsible for gathering equipment, weapons, etc. from surrendering Taliban members.”

As a result, the Task Force determined that Zumarikourt posed “a low risk as he [was] unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) had assessed him as “a low risk” on May 22, 2003, so that both JTF-GMTO and CITF agree[d] on [his] threat assessment … as a low risk.”

Mohammed Sadiq (ISN 349, Afghanistan) Released October 2002

As I explained in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, discussing around 65 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Kandahar in late 2001 and early 2002, “Of the Afghans captured at this time, at least 30 were subsequently released. Most slipped away quietly in 2003 and 2004, without their stories being told, although there were a few notable exceptions. Mohammed Sadiq, from Paktia province, was 88 years old when he was captured, apparently because his nephew had worked for the Taliban [as the journalist Ashwin Raman explained in an article in March 2004]. One night in January 2002, US forces bombarded his house, blasted his door with rockets, confiscated his belongings and took him to Kandahar. Although he was one of the first prisoners to be released, in October 2002, it took the Americans eight months to decide that he did not pose a threat to them. After his release, with his house in ruins and his belongings gone, he moved in with his relatives and was ‘unable to come to terms with what happened to him.’”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was, indeed, born in 1913, and that he was “undergoing medical evaluation for prostate cancer.” It was also noted that his “medical issues include[d]: Major Depressive Disorder, Senile Dementia, and Osteoarthritis, for which he receive[d] prescribed treatment.”

Backing up his story, which remains one of the most shamefully inept in a prison full of people seized for little or no reason, the Task Force explained that coalition forces had take him into custody at “a compound where he resided” in Yahya Kheyl, which is actually in Paktika province, on January 7, 2002, because “[a] Thuraya Satellite phone, which belonged to [his] neighbour Abdul Rahman, and a list of phone numbers associated with suspected Taliban figures were discovered on the premises,” this document having apparently been discovered by a 13-year old friend of his son. Eventually, the authorities discovered that “[t]hese items could not be directly linked to [Sadiq], and he did not know how to operate the phone,” and also discovered that he “had no knowledge of other assorted documents in the compound and attributed some of them to his son Mohammed.” Sadiq explained that he “did not know who might have given any documents to his son,” and it was also noted, “He said his son is crazy.”

He was sent to Guantánamo on May 4, 2002, allegedly “because of the telephone, phone numbers, and various documents found in the vicinity of his capture, including a letterhead document related to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan National Directorate of Intelligence.”

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 a sad postscript, the Task Force repeated that Sadiq “could not provide any information” about any of the items that were supposed to be the reason for his transfer halfway round the world from Afghanistan, and also explained that he had taken a polygraph examination, “which revealed no deception on his part as he denied any connection with the materials.”

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 [349] 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 that he was “elderly,” and had “diagnosed medical problems involving senile dementia and depression, and that, “[d]uring initial interviews in AF, [he] gave his true name to US forces rather than an alias.”

Ehsanullah (ISN 350, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As I explained in Chapter 8 of The Guantánamo Files, discussing detention in the US prison at Kandahar, Ehsanullah, a 28-year old Afghan, was one of several prisoners who noted the abuse of the Koran. He said that soldiers in Kandahar hit him and taunted him by throwing the Koran in a toilet. “It was a very bad situation for us,” he explained. “We cried so much and shouted, ‘Please do not do that to the Holy Koran.’”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Ihsan Morzai, born in 1973, it was noted that he was an unwilling Taliban conscript. “Taliban forces forcibly removed [him] from his farm and held him captive after kidnapping his father,” the Task Force stated, adding that he “was told his father would be released if he paid the Taliban three million Afghani dollars [sic] or agreed to fight for the Taliban, so he agreed to fight.” He was then “placed in a unit, sent to Mazar-e-Sharif, and surrendered to General Dostum’s forces in November 2001, after the city fell.”

He was sent to Guantánamo on June 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban activity in the area of Askar Abad and Mazar-e-Sharif, recruiting practices by the former Taliban regime, and familiarity with several Afghani subjects, who were with him at a house in Mazar-e-Sharif” — a particularly weak reason in an ocean of feeble attempts to justify the largely random industrial-scale rendition of men after the event.

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

Abdul Razaq (ISN 356, Afghanistan) Released May 2002

The first prisoner to be released from Guantánamo, Abdul Razaq (also identified as Abdul Razeq and Abdul Razak) was a notorious schizophrenic, as I explained in Chapter 8 of The Guantánamo Files, in which I discussed detention in the US prison at Kandahar, and drew on the testimony of Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of a former interrogator at Kandahar and Bagram, as described in his book The Interrogators:

In keeping with the violent treatment to which the prisoners were subjected on arrival and during processing, their detention was also punctuated by acts of random brutality. This was unsurprising, given that the prison was referred to by the soldiers as “Camp Slappy,” and that they dehumanized the prisoners by referring to them all as “Bob,” so that, for example, a grievously wounded prisoner was referred to as “Half-Dead Bob,” and Abdul Razeq — a schizophrenic, who was held in a cage on his own, where he ranted and raved and ate his own excrement — became “Crazy Bob.”

In Chapter 14, drawing again on Mackey’s testimony and on a May 2002 article in Newsweek by Sami Yousafzai, I explained:

As Kandahar wound down, Mackey was left with a dwindling prisoner population. One of the last things he saw was the return of “Crazy Bob” — the schizophrenic Abdul Razeq — who taxed the interrogators at Guantánamo to such an extent that they sent him back after just a few months. Mackey noted that he arrived “strapped down in the centre of the plane like Hannibal Lecter.” The first prisoner to be released from Guantánamo, he was taken to a maximum security cell in a hospital, where the journalist Sami Yousafzai interviewed him.

The ethnic Uzbek, a native of Mazar-e-Sharif, explained that he was captured a week after Mazar fell to the Northern Alliance. “The Americans stopped me near the city and asked me where I was from,” he said. “I told them, ‘I am an Afghan.’ They didn’t believe me. They said, ‘No, you are a foreigner.’ And they took me. They took me to America to treat my mental problems. I was taken to a very good hotel [Kandahar] and after a month they shifted me to a place where they kept Chechens and Pakistanis [Camp X-Ray]. I was the only Afghan. Afterwards, they flew me back to Afghanistan.” Razeq had no complaints about his brief stay in Guantánamo, although he didn’t know why he was persistently interrogated about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, but Yousafzai wondered why the US authorities took so long to diagnose his schizophrenia.

in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks, the Detainee Assessment Brief for Razaq was an urgent-sounding memo from Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the first commander of Guantánamo, to the Commander in Chief of US Southern Command, dated February 9, 2002, and entitled, “Recommendation for Removal of Detainee from JTF Control, and Subsequent Repatriation.”

In this tragic document, which fully revealed how random the process of transferring prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantánamo was, and how those on the ground in Afghanistan were prohibited from conducting any meaningful screening by those directing the war (including the detention operations) from Camp Doha in Kuwait, the full extent of Abdul Razaq’s mental illness was revealed, in a document that was also useful for describing “the three critical objectives” of “detainee operations aboard US Naval Base Guantánamo Bay” — to “provide tactical intelligence on current and future operations,” to “remove Al-Qaida and Taliban forces from the battlefield, reducing the threat to ongoing operations within US Forces’ Area of Operations in Afghanistan,” and to “facilitate the prosecution of those detainees who have committed crimes.”

Brig. Gen. Lehnert noted that all the prisoners arriving at Guantánamo were subjected to a psychiatric evaluation, intended to screen them “for emotional stressors or possible behavioural disorders that could cause them to become difficult or impossible to draw intelligence from during JIIF interviews,” adding, “Any detainee deemed mentally unstable or severely mentally impeded against providing valuable information during these screenings does not qualify for the JIIF interview process.” He also explained that, at the time, the Task Force was holding only one detainee who met tis category — Abdul Razaq, described as Modullah Abdul Raziq,who he described as being “unfit to be held by Joint Task Force-160 (JTF-160) for either intelligence gathering or military commission purposes.”

After explaining that he was “captured by Anti-Taliban Forces” and was “identified as a combatant member of the Taliban, with 5 years’ experience, and by judging his training a low ranking fighter,” Brig. Gen. Lehnert also noted that he had been registered as “having marital difficulties, an admitted addiction to narcotics, and was reported to have shown symptoms of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder.”

Lehnert also explained that he was “transported to GTMO on 20 Jan 02, and had caused difficulty for the air transport guards to the extent that he was sedated and physically restrained,” and added that, “[s]ince his arrival date, [he] has exhibited extreme psychotic behaviour.” In a list of examples, it was noted that he had “repeatedly ripped off his uniform, tying pieces of cloth to his extremities and genitals,” and had “consumed his feces on multiple occasions while drinking shampoo, and had spread feces on his body and within his cell.” It was also noted that he had “attempted to fashion weapons in his cell on multiple occasions,” and had “urinated in his canteen and [had] thrown soiled water on XRay guard personnel, as well as spitting on personnel on multiple occasions.” It was also noted that the Internal Reaction Force (armed guards responsible for forced cell extractions and brutal punishment of even minor infringements of the rules) had “been called to deal with  [him] on multiple occasions,” and that he had “been removed from his cell or placed in isolation on numerous occasions.”

In addition, a psychiatric examination revealed that Razaq had a “[b]ehavior pattern reflecting long-term behavioural disorder,” that “the disorder [was] psychotic in nature, most likely schizophrenia,”  and that “[t[he prognosis for significant improvement [was] poor.” Apparently unconcerned about his mental health for any reason other than how it related to his ability to be interrogated, the staff psychiatrist stated that he was “unlikely to be capable of providing accurate testimony.”

In further calls for his repatriation, Brig. Gen. Lehnert conceded that, although “[t]he objective of removing [him] from the operating area of US forces [had] been accomplished,” and repatriation would reverse that, it was “unlikely that Afghan officials would allow him the freedom to join hostile forces.” He added that interviews had “determined that he [was] not a member of Al-Qaida,” and that he had been “deemed incapable of providing reliable intelligence of any nature.”

Lehnert also explain that his “diminished mental state and behaviour [had] caused a significant disturbance to Camp XRay’s operation and a severe burden on manpower for US Forces operating the camp,” adding that, “[o]nce Camp XRay [was] filled to near capacity, US Personnel [would] lose the ability to isolate [him] from the detainee population during his outbursts.” Lehnert also noted that Razaq was ‘a security problem within Camp XRay in that his actions agitate the other detainees, and force US Personnel to focus on him, taking away from security details throughout the facility.”

Mohammed Sargidene (ISN 358, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As the Washington Post explained, when he and 17 other Afghans were freed, 24-year old Mohammed Sarjudim (as he was described) “was one of several men who said they were forced to fight with the Taliban after the United States declared war on terrorism.” When he and other conscripts “tried to surrender and go home,” they were “betrayed” by Northern Alliance commander, Gen. Rashid Dostum, who, he said, “‘sold’ them to American forces for cash.” In his own words, Sarjudim said, “America wanted to capture terrorists and Dostum just wanted the money, so he sold me.” The Post‘s article added that, on his return, he left the jail in Kabul “carrying medical records in English, which he could not read, indicating he had received regular medical care at Guantánamo, including psychological counseling for ‘life circumstances issues,’” and the Post also noted that he said, “The American soldiers treated me well. I am very happy with them.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 5, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1977, and had been diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, and also “recurrent tonsillitis,” although he was regarded as being “otherwise in good health.”

It was also confirmed that he had been an unwilling Taliban conscript. The Task Force stated that he was a driver in Arghasan, in Kandahar province, where he “attracted the attention of the Taliban because they needed drivers in northern Afghanistan.” After being informed that “he had to either serve three months as a Taliban driver, or pay 500,000 Afghanis to exempt himself of this duty,” he “chose to serve as a driver and was conscripted in mid-September of 2001.” He was then flown to Kunduz, and taken to a guest-house where he stayed for two months, transporting new conscripts from Kunduz to Takhar in a 4×4 pick-up truck provided by the Taliban. After being told by his immediate boss that the Taliban were surrendering to General Dostum’s forces at Yanghareq, in the desert outside Kunduz, he “and several hundred Taliban prisoners were placed in shipping containers and transported to Shebergan Prison near Mazar-e-Sharif” — a coy reference to “the convoy of death,” in which thousands of prisoners were killed, mainly through suffocation, while being transported to Dostum’s prison in containers.

After 20 days in Sheberghan, he was handed over to US custody and taken to the prison at Kandahar, and he arrived in Guantánamo on June 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his general knowledge of Taliban travel routes and recruitment procedures.”

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 [358] 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. [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. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Murtazah Abdul Rahman (ISN 361, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Murtazah Abdul Rahman (described in a BBC report as Murtaza), one of 18 Afghans released in March 2003 (along with Mohammed Sarjudim, above), explained that he had been fighting with the Taliban when he was arrested in Kunduz province, but said that he had been forced to join the militia. Speaking after his release, he stated, “Initially they told us it would take one month for the investigation and we would be released immediately if we were proven innocent.” He added, however, “We spent two months in Sherberghan, five months in Kandahar, and more than one year in Guantánamo and finally now they release us because we are innocent.” Referring to his time in Guantánamo, he said, “We were in two-meter long cages. Some of us were interrogated 20 times, others 50 times, others 60. But the food was good and they did not beat us.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 1, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was noted that he was born in 1976, it was also stated that he was another unwilling Taliban conscript. The Task Force noted that he was from Helmand province, “where he farmed his family’s land and drove a taxi,” and explained that, on October 31, 2001, he “was conscripted by Mir al-Fazel Mohammad, a local Taliban official, to serve for three months with the Taliban,” adding that he “believed that his family would be imprisoned or the water would be shut off at the family farm for failure to comply with this Taliban edict.”

Tasked to serve as a driver based at a police station in Kandahar, he said that he “mostly ran errands by picking up groceries and supplies with Mullah Sabib who was in charge of finances and often went with [him] on errands.” After just three weeks, he was told that the Taliban were surrendering at Yanghareq, outside Kunduz, and he apparently traveled there to surrender, and was then, with others, “placed in shipping containers before being transported to Sheberghan Prison” — another coy reference to “the convoy of death.” He was sent to Guantánamo on June 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his specific knowledge of logistics support provided to the Taliban in Kunduz, Afghanistan.”

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 [361] 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.”

Mohammed Yusif Yaqub (ISN 367, Afghanistan) Released May 2003

As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files (and also in an article entitled, “If the US administration had behaved intelligently, ex-Guantánamo inmate who blew himself up would never have been released“), Mohammed Yusif Yaqub was reportedly the name used by Taliban commander Mullah Shahzada as part of his successful ploy to fool the US authorities into releasing him.

Shahzada reportedly gave the Americans a false name (according to a major report on Guantánamo in the New York Times in June 2004) and claimed that he was an innocent rug merchant who was captured by mistake. Released in May 2003, he seized control of Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan, recruiting fighters by “telling harrowing tales of his supposed ill-treatment in the cages of Guantánamo,” as an article in Time explained, and masterminded a jailbreak in Kandahar in October 2003, in which he bribed the guards to allow 41 Taliban fighters to escape through a tunnel. His post-Guantánamo notoriety came to an end in May 2004, when he was killed in an ambush by US Special Forces.

However, while right-wing commentators seized on the release of Shahzada — and reportedly five other Taliban fighters who subsequently returned to the battlefield — as evidence that no one should ever be released from Guantánamo, a rather different interpretation was offered by Gul Agha Sherzai, a US-backed warlord, and the post-Taliban governor of Kandahar, who pointed out that Shahzada would never have been freed if Afghan officials had been allowed to vet the Afghans in Guantánamo. “We know all these Taliban faces,” he said, adding that repeated requests for access to the Afghan prisoners had been turned down. Sherzai’s opinion was reinforced by security officials in Karzai’s government, who blamed the US for the return of Taliban commanders to the battlefield, explaining that “neither the American military officials, nor the Kabul police, who briefly process the detainees when they are sent home, consult them about the detainees they free.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 14, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was noted that he was born in 1960, the false story he told was more fully revealed — if that was indeed the case, as no evidence has been provided to demonstrate that Mohammed Yusif Yaqub was actually Mullah Shahzada. According to the Task Force, on approximately November 20, 2001, he was in Archi, Afghanistan, “waiting to acquire rugs for resale in southern Afghanistan,” when he heard about the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, and traveled to Kunduz to await transportation back to southern Afghanistan. Unable to leave, because of the mass surrender of the Taliban, he stated that he was seized on November 26, 2001, and transported to Sheberghan, arriving on November 30, presumably as a survivor of “the convoy of death.” He was held in Sheberghan for approximately 50 days before being handed over to US custody and taken to the US prison at Kandahar. He arrived in Guantánamo on June 15, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his general knowledge of Taliban members and facilities.”

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 [367] 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. [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. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Brahim Yadel (ISN 371, France) Released July 2004

As I briefly explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, Brahim Yadel, a 30-year old Parisian, arrived in Afghanistan in July 2001, apparently accompanied by Redouane Khalid, who was also from Paris. Yadel was reportedly a friend of Hervé Djamel Loiseau, a convert to Islam (also from Paris), who died as he tried to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan with two other Frenchmen, Mourad Benchellali (see Part Three) and Nizar Sassi (see Part Four). Connections with other French prisoners came about because Khaled bin Mustafa, from Lyons, had met Redouane Khalid at his wedding in Paris, and Imad Kanouni (also see Part Three) had reportedly traveled in Afghanistan with some of the other French prisoners. Yadel, like Benchellali and Sassi, was released in July 2004, while the others were freed in March 2005.

At the time of writing The Guantánamo Files, the only additional information I had about Brahim Yadel was that, when the French prisoners were released from Guantánamo, all were freed on bail, except for Yadel, the only one with a track record of militancy, who had apparently been “sentenced in his absence to seven years in prison for his alleged participation in waves of attacks in France in 1995.”

In 2008, Brahim was interviewed by Matthew Schofield for a major report on 66 former Guantánamo prisoners by McClatchy Newspapers. He conceded that he “trained with Taliban forces and with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network,” and that he “learned to handle weapons and even took advanced al-Qaida courses in electronics that would have led to bomb making,” but he “maintain[ed], however, that he never raised a weapon against US soldiers and that by October 2001, disgusted by the 9/11 attack on civilians, he was fleeing Afghanistan to head back to his home in France.” Explaining his philosophy, he told Schofield, “I always differentiated between war to defend Islam and terrorism. I went to Afghanistan to defend Islam, for jihad. Had this been a military engagement, I would have stood and fought. Of course, it was not, and I wanted nothing to do with it.”

After noting that Yadel “spent two years in a French prison for affiliating with terrorists, which is a crime in France,” Schofield asked an important question: if his “experience training with people who became enemies of the US [made] him an enemy combatant if he didn’t fight, or try to fight, Americans?” For Yadel, the answer was no, and he reported that his interrogators “always seemed to agree with his assessment of the situation.” He told Schofield, “I simply told the truth, that I wished to be a soldier to fight soldiers, that I had no intention of fighting civilians. I always told the entire truth. I think they respected that.”

Telling Schofield his entire story, Yadel explained how he was the child of secular Algerian immigrants, who had become obsessed with Israel’s oppression of Palestine in the early 1990s, when “he was living alone, working nights and feeling isolated” and “his parents began what became a nasty divorce.” After stating, “I came to Islam through political engagement, and stayed politically active,” he said that he was “outraged by the oppression of Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya,” and admitted that he had been “jailed in 1998 for having links to Algerian terrorists, which he acknowledged were real.” However, he also explained that, “while he was in jail, he realized that he wasn’t going anywhere on his present path.” He became more devout, visited Saudi Arabia for a month of study, and then, “through the contacts of a good friend,” decided to visit Afghanistan in March 2000.

“We were going there to train, to engage spiritually and politically,” he said. “It was a Muslim government, and we were going to defend it against the oppressors.” He added that he trained primarily with other Algerians, and “was in an al-Qaida camp in October 2000, when the destroyer USS Cole was attacked off Yemen, killing 17 American sailors,” and commented, “I knew bin Laden was against the Americans. In the logic of war, attacking a warship made sense. It wasn’t my battle, but I could understand it.”

After 9/11, however, his ideas changed. “Unlike the Afghans, I’d grown up in Western culture, which means American culture,” he said. “They didn’t understand the enormity of what had happened. I did. It was horrible. I didn’t believe in this war.” According to his account, which, Schofield noted, “French prosecutors have accepted in their case against him,” he stated that “he and several Algerians immediately decided that they wanted no part of defending such actions and fled.”

Wounded by shrapnel from a bomb, he was seized by Northern Alliance soldiers in the Tora Bora mountains, who “locked him in a basement and whipped him until he signed a note saying that he was involved with al-Qaida.” He added that “they told him that this would increase the bounty the Americans paid.”

Once in US custody, he was taken to Bagram, where, he said, “he was interrogated during surgery to remove the shrapnel.” Schofield noted, “It seems highly unorthodox, but other former detainees also have claimed to have been questioned in the midst of medical procedures.” Nine days later, he was taken to Kandahar, and soon after to Guantánamo, where, he said, “the treatment was consistently awful, demeaning and dehumanizing.”

Recalling a lighter moment, he explained how the authorities had tried to prey on the prisoners’ modesty, stating that once “a skimpily dressed woman” had been sent to interrogate him. “Perhaps this is something that unsettled the Arabs, who were not used to women dressed in such ways,” he said. “But I am French. It was nice.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 31, 2004, which was a “recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” he was described as Gha’im Yadel, born in March 1971, and much of what he told Matthew Schofield was reiterated, with a suspicious twist. It was noted that, in March 2000, he “traveled to the United Kingdom, to help facilitate his further travels to Afghanistan (AF) and to participate in Jihad against the Northem Alliance on behalf of the Taliban,” and that he arrived in Afghanistan in August 2000, trained at al-Farouq for six weeks, and then “traveled to an Algerian safehouse in Jalalabad,” where he was allegedly “given specialized instruction in explosives and electronic circuitry.” He then reportedly “remained in Afghanistan where he continued to receive training into 2001.”

According to the US authorities, after 9/11, directly contradicting Yadel’s detailed account, he reportedly “traveled throughout Afghanistan participating in the fighting, and facilitating the travels of other GSPC [the Salafist Group for Call and Combat] and Al-Qaida members.” According to this version of events, “As the Taliban began to break apart on the battlefield, [he] fled to the Tora Bora Mountains along with other members of Al-Qaida, until he was captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over to US Forces.” He was sent to Guantánamo on January 25, 2002, and the reason that was grafted on afterwards was that it was “because of his affiliation with Al-Qaida.”

In a litany of apparently damning analyses and associations, it was claimed that he had “never been cooperative or forthright during his time in detention,” had “consistently lied in order to misdirect any investigative leads,” and had also “refused to reveal any concrete information about his associations.” Despite this, the Task Force stated that he was “a probable member of Al-Qaida, with direct affiliations and memberships to [sic] several other extremist groups,” including the GSPC, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and the Tunisian Combat Group, and added that all three organizations had “alliances with Al-Qaida.” Through “sensitive reporting,” it was also claimed that he had “direct terrorist associations with Al-Qaida members who were involved in planned attacks in several Western countries,” and a GSPC plot in Strasbourg in late 2000 was mentioned (when he was already in Afghanistan) as well as “affiliations with the group that carried out the murder of the Afghan Northern Alliance commander [Ahmed] Shah Massoud,” who was assassinated on September 9, 2001.

As a result of all these allegations, the Task Force assessed Yadel as “a probable member of Al-Qaida and a confirmed member of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat,” and also described him as being “of high intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be retained under DoD control. It was, however, also noted that the Task Force “notified the Criminal Investigative task Force of this recommendation on 6 January 2004,” and, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee poses a high risk,” which clearly indicates that CITF were not convinced.

Since their release from Guantánamo, Yadel and four of the other ex-prisoners –Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Khaled bin Mustafa and Redouane Khalid — have faced a long ordeal in the French courts. In 2007, they were convicted of “criminal association with a terrorist enterprise,” and given one-year sentences, but they were not imprisoned because of the time they had already spent imprisoned in Guantánamo. However, their convictions were overturned on appeal on February 24, 2009, because, as the New York Times explained, “The court ruled that information gathered by French intelligence officials in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, violated French rules for permissible evidence, and that there was no other proof of wrongdoing.”

On February 17, 2010, the Court of Cassation, a higher court, ordered a re-trial of the five men, and that trial began on January 20 this year, with lawyers drawing on US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks to argue that the case should be dropped. As the Miami Herald reported, “defense lawyers presented at least three US diplomatic cables citing French anti-terrorist investigators,” and “argued that it was inappropriate for French investigators to have discussed the ex-inmates’ cases with American authorities.” In April, it was noted by a French researcher for Cageprisoners that the men’s conviction had been upheld by the Court of Cassation.

There have been no publicly reported comments from Brahim Yadel since 2008, but Matthew Schofield concluded his article by stating, “Yadel now goes to the mosque only occasionally. He thinks that he’ll get his life back to normal eventually.” See here for a video interview (in French, from September 2007).

Abdul Maula (ISN 442, Pakistan) Released July 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Abdul Maula, a 32-year old taxi driver from a village in Malakand district (described as Abdul Mulla), was “extremely bitter” about his detention, and did not want to talk about it when the BBC tracked him down with other released prisoners in November 2003. “What purpose will it serve?” he asked the reporter. “You are all infidels.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated April 26, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was described as Abdul Mowla, born in 1969, and it was noted that he was “blind in his right eye” and had “a G6PD deficiency” (a glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, which is the most common human enzyme defect), but was “otherwise in good health.” It was also noted that, “[o]n or about October 2001, [he] heard a speech at a local mosque about participating in Jihad against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan,” and “traveled to a local bazaar, which was being used as a recruitment center,” where “[t]here were several thousand Pakistanis waiting for transportation into Afghanistan.” All these recruits were then “loaded into several hundred Datsun trucks,” which set off for Afghanistan, arriving at Mazar-e-Sharif after spending a night each in Jalalabad and Kabul.

On arrival, however, “the US bombing campaign against Taliban forces was in full effect and [he] fled the area.” He then “sought refuge in an Afghan village for approximately two months and was eventually turned over to the Northern Alliance,” and then to US forces. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 11, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban safe houses in Jalalabad, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif.”

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 [442] 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 to the control of another government.”

Jihan Wali (ISN 444, Pakistan) Released May 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Jihan Wali (described as Jehan Wali), who was 34 years old when he was seized, was released in May 2003 with a baker called Shah Mohammed (ISN 19, see Part One), but did not speak about his experiences. Instead, Mohammed, who was quite talkative (although it was later revealed that he was deeply traumatized by his ordeal), told a BBC reporter that Wali had “not talked to anyone for the past eight months.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Jan Wali, born in 1966, it was noted that he was suffering from “both depressive and personality disorders,” as well as the latent tuberculosis common to many of the prisoners. The Task Force added, however, “Otherwise, he is in good health.” It was also noted that, “along with forty to fifty individuals, [he] left for Afghanistan after listening to a speech given by Sufi Said calling on all Muslims to travel to Afghanistan to fight in the jihad,” and that he “stayed in a Taliban facility” in Jalalabad, where he “supported” the Taliban “by cooking and cleaning.” He “was then sent to Mazar-e-Sharif as a cook,” and was captured by the Northern Alliance “as he tried to flee the city” around the time of the US bombing campaign in November 2001. He was then turned over to US forces, and he was sent to Guantánamo on June 11, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was because of “his possible knowledge of the role of a Taliban foot soldier” — a particularly vague explanation for transporting him halfway around the world.

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 [444] 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. Dunlavey recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

It was also stated that,”During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 444] 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.

Jamal Al Harith (ISN 490, UK) Released March 2004

As I explained in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, discussing around 65 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Kandahar in late 2001 and early 2002, Jamal al-Harith was one of five prisoners found in a Taliban prison in Kandahar, initially mentioned in the New York Times, who, inexplicably, were later sent to Guantánamo:

The most unfortunate group of prisoners captured at this time were five men who were held by the Taliban as spies in a prison for political crimes in Kandahar: Jamal al-Harith, a 35-year old Briton (released in March 2004), Abdul Rahim al-Ginco, a 23-year old Syrian Kurd, Airat Vakhitov, a 24-year old Tatar (released in March 2004), and two Saudis, Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, a Uyghur who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia (released in June 2006), and 46-year old Abdul Hakim Bukhari. When the Taliban vacated Kandahar, 2,500 prisoners — including 1,800 in the political prison — were released, but the five foreigners were made to stay behind. “We want to release these men,” the prison’s new warden said, “but for their security we are requiring them to stay here as guests. If they walk into the bazaar, the people will think they are from al-Qaeda and will kill them.”

The five men had found themselves on the wrong side of the Taliban in different ways. Jamal al-Harith first revealed his story to the journalist Tim Reid [of the Times], who met him at the prison and gained his trust by bringing him some antiseptic cream and a shortwave radio, which he had requested. Born Ronald Fiddler to parents of Jamaican heritage, he had converted to Islam and had changed his name in 1992, after reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. A website designer, he went to Iran to learn more about his religion in 1993, and traveled to Pakistan in September 2001 for a three-week holiday to continue his studies.

His problems arose when the US-led invasion began, and he decided to return home. Having paid a lorry driver to let him travel with him to Turkey via Iran, he had no idea that they were going to travel through Afghanistan, and after a few days they were stopped by three Taliban soldiers. According to al-Harith, “It all turned to hell” when they saw his British passport. Stripped of his belongings, he was accused of being a spy, beaten for three days and sent to the prison in Kandahar, where an American prisoner died after a particular brutal beating. “I am sure I would have got the same treatment,” he said, “but I made sure that every time my guards saw me I was praying. The Taliban liked me because I always had the Koran in my hands. I was beaten very badly, but not as badly as most of the other inmates.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated July 9, 2003, which was a “Revocation of Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Government,” it was stated that he was born in 1966, and the Task Force described how he was “traveling by truck through Pakistan when the vehicle was hijacked,” on October 3, 2001, and he was transported to the Sarposa political prison in Kandahar, run by the Taliban, “where he was accused of being a British or American spy,” and “incarcerated and interrogated” until Kandahar fell to the Northern Alliance. At that point, despite having been imprisoned by the Taliban, he was transported to the US prison at Kandahar airport, where he remained until he was sent to Guantánamo in early February 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.”

It is difficult to capture quite how despicable it is to have transferred a former Taliban prisoner to Guantánamo, and then to have tried to justify that by stating that the prisoner in question is being exploited for intelligence about the Taliban’s methods of detention and interrogation. What makes it worse is the extent to which the US authorities sought to justify al-Harith’s detention by scrabbling around to find information that could be made to fit him up as someone engaged in terrorism. This was the general modus operandi of Guantánamo, of course, but it appears to be nakedly cynical when the process was enacted on former Taliban prisoners, as in al-Harith’s case, and that of his four companions in Sarposa, as well as a handful of other Guantánamo prisoners who were liberated from Taliban jails and then re-imprisoned by the US.

On September 27, 2002, Maj, Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that al-Harith be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government,” based on an assessment that he “was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader,” but under “New/unexploited information,” the Task Force decided that, “[a]ccording to sensitive information,” he was “probably involved in [a] former terrorist attack,” an outrageous allegation that was not explained further, except to note that he had “not been questioned on his ties with those involved in this attack, nor [had] he been questioned on his own involvement.”

It was also claimed that his “timeline [had] not been fully established to include his extensive travels in the Middle East from 1992-1996,” which included an allegation that he traveled to Sudan in 1992 with “a well-known Al-Qaida operative,” and other allegations for which nothing resembling evidence was produced. In addition, it was stated that, [a]ccording to British Embassy personnel” at Sarposa “when the five political prisoners were released,” al-Harith “was indicated as being the ‘leader’ of the five prisoners,” and they added that he was “cocky and evasive, stating that he had provided all that he was going to provide the British Embassy personnel.” These were deeply alarming reasons for regarding him as a potential “enemy combatant,” but the criticisms continued. “This” — being “cocky and evasive” — “was after he had sent a request to the British Embassy through the Red Cross to get out of Afghanistan,” the US authorities added. Whether, as a result, it was solely because of US insistence that he was taken to Guantánamo is unknown, but the British do not come out of it well either, as the inference must be that they did nothing to defend al-Harith when the transfer was decided, especially given what we now know about the involvement of British ministers — including Tony Blair and Jack Straw — in approving the transfer of British prisoners to Guantánamo.

Because of all this additional information, al-Harith was reassessed “as being affiliated with al-Qaida; however, not a Taliban leader.” He was described as being “still of intelligence value to the United States and should be detained for further intelligence purposes,” and also of “possess[ing] a high threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller revoked the previous recommendation for release or transfer. It took another eight months for these claims to unravel sufficiently for him to be returned to the UK.

Airat Vakhitov (ISN 492, Russia) Released February 2004

As I explained in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files,  drawing on an article in the St. Petersburg Times in December 2002, Airat Vakhitov (less accurately identified as Aryat Vakhitov), a Tatar from the town of Naberezhniye Chelny, was another of five prisoners found in a Taliban prison in Kandahar, who, inexplicably, were later sent to Guantánamo.

Vakhitov was sent to a newly-opened madrassa at the age of 14 by his mother, who hoped to keep him away from the town’s notorious street gangs. Within five years he became an imam, but his opportunities to preach were limited in Tatarstan, which was still ruled by a heavyweight Communist, so he made his way to Chechnya, visiting several times in the years up to 1999. On the last occasion, however, a former colleague accused him of being a spy, and he was held in a pit for two months and beaten severely, until another Tatar arranged to take him home. Soured by his experience, he apparently became far more militant as a preacher, and was watched by the secret police. Soon after, the Grand Mufti in Tatarstan asked him to stand down, and the following day he was arrested for “participating in illegal armed formations in Chechnya,” but was released due to a lack of evidence.

Before the secret police came calling again, he fled to Afghanistan, where he and a companion were immediately arrested by Taliban soldiers, who accused them of being Russian spies and imprisoned them in Kabul. When the US-led invasion began, he was transferred to the jail in Kandahar, and when a French reporter spoke to him in December he had some particularly grim tales to tell. “I spent seven months in Afghanistan, locked in a total darkness,” he said. “Two nights a week we were beaten until dawn and they screamed, ‘Confess, you brute, that you are a KGB agent.’ They slit my friend Yakub’s throat in front of me, then hung me up by my hands and whipped me with electrical wire.”

In Chapter 8, drawing on a Jamestown Foundation article by Andrew McGregor from June 2006 (“A Sour Freedom: The Return of Russia’s Guantánamo Bay Prisoners”), I mentioned a specific interrogation session with CIA and FBI agents who were demanding to know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. According to the report, “he promised to tell his captors where he had seen bin Laden in exchange for much-needed blankets and warm food. After receiving coffee, pizza, and two blankets, [he] told his inquisitors that he had seen bin Laden on the cover of Time magazine.” In return, he was “punched in the face” and held for another six months before being transferred to Guantánamo.

In Chapter 15, I drew on a statement Vakhitov made prior to visiting London for a conference organised by Amnesty International in November 2005, when he discussed the use of torture at Guantánamo, whereby, prior to interrogations, prisoners were frequently moved into isolation blocks, where they remained for days, weeks or even months, and where the air conditioning was usually turned up full, so that the cell was freezing. Vakhitov recalled, “During the interrogations they left you in a cold room for a few weeks … We weren’t given anything to lie on — no carpet. All of us have problems with our kidneys because we slept on the iron [floor] with [the] air conditioning on. It was freezing cold. The ceilings began to be covered with condensation from the cold. We were held like that for months. I was in the isolation ward for five months.”

In 2008, Vakhitov was interviewed by Tom Lasseter for a major report on 66 former Guantánamo prisoners by McClatchy Newspapers. Describing his story as “a swirl of Russian politics, separatist Uzbek Islamic guerrillas, Tajik soldiers, Taliban prisons and American troops,” Lasseter explained that Vakhitov had only agreed to be interviewed by phone because “he worried that Russian officials would detain and torture him if a Western journalist were seen going to his house in Tatarstan.” Lasseter added, “His voice was steady during most of the three-and-a-half-hour conversation, but it dropped to a mumble when he was asked about the hard times, the times when his sanity began to fade.”

Vakhitov told Lasseter that “his journey to Guantánamo began when he was 22,” when Vladimir Putin was vowing “to crush Muslim rebels in Chechnya,” but “[t]he crackdown extended to other provinces in Russia with significant Muslim populations, including Tatarstan.” An imam, he “was jailed for two months and charged with being a member of an illegal militia,” but was “released as a goodwill gesture during legislative elections.” However, when the police “came to his mother’s house, looking for him” on the day after the elections, “he fled to Tajikistan to stay with relatives.” There, in June 2000, he claimed that he “was kidnapped by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” and taken to Afghanistan by helicopter after an agreement was made between the Tajik government and the IMU.

This may sound far-fetched, but it was the kind of thing that was happening at this time, although Wahid Mojdeh, a former Taliban diplomat, “laughed when he heard Vakhitov’s kidnapping story, and said it was ridiculous,” according to Lasseter. He “said that the only instance of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan keeping prisoners in Kabul was when its members had a dispute about splitting up the money they got from the Japanese government when they freed four kidnapped Japanese geologists and started kidnapping one another,” and explained, “I went to their house often; there were a lot of Chechens and Kazakhs, speaking Russian, and none of them had been kidnapped.”

However, when Tom Lasseter asked Vakhitov “why he didn’t tell the Tajik troops that he was a hostage, that he wasn’t a fighter loyal to the Islamic movement,” he replied, “I was terribly intimidated. I didn’t know who was who … I didn’t know who to talk to.”

Vakhitov provided further information in a Cageprisoners interview in December 2005, when he explained what had happened when the Taliban abandoned Sarposa prison:

We requested the mission of the United Nations, which at that point started its work in Kandahar, so our request was to be handed over to our embassies in Pakistan so that we would be granted the status of political asylum over there. The UN representatives had passed this request to the government of the Northern Alliance, the new government asked the Americans; he Americans at that point were buying all the foreigners, so the military intelligence or police people (Americans) arrived and basically bought us and took us to the airport concentration camp in Kandahar. There I spent 6 months, and from there I was taken to Guantánamo.

Describing his time in Kandahar, he said, “The interrogations at Kandahar took place only 2 or 3 times, because it was quite obvious to them I had nothing to do with the terrorist activities. Nevertheless I was transferred to solitary confinement for 3 months because I wasn’t polite to the interrogator.” Talking of Guantánamo, he spoke particularly of beatings, the desecration of the Koran and sexual humiliation, and gave the following response when asked, “how did you remain strong throughout your ordeal?”:

I don’t consider myself being strong, I just took it all with a smile on my face. Even when they were beating me, I was still smiling. Once I can recollect the incident that I was tied up and on the floor, and there were four people attacking me and they were beating me. I was just smiling and laughing at them, and the rest of the prisoners reacted and were cheering and supporting and saying, “yes, go on like that.” That made the guards absolutely crazy. They couldn’t believe it but they couldn’t do anything about it. It happened in the place in the area where we walked, so quite a few of the blocks witnessed this, so basically the impact was huge as a lot of people saw that and they all cheered and supported, so there was a huge reaction to it. And I realised that whenever they want to harm you and to do something bad to you, all you have to do is smile and laugh at them, that’s the only way to deal with it. They just can’t stand or bear that, and that brought me a lot of moral satisfaction.

Vakhitov also spoke of particular medical mistreatment, explaining:

I can recollect the guy under the name of Lutvi [Lotfi Lagha, ISN 660] from Tunisia. They amputated 11 of his toes and fingers and they justified this by saying he had infected blood and gangrene. And really it was only inflammation, and his fingers and toes could have been saved easily. He told me that the doctor who operated on him was the one who interrogated him after that and while interrogating him he was beating him in all the places where he had just operated on him, this happened in Kandahar and when he was taken to Cuba, they stopped giving him any medical assistance. And then that’s where he developed real gangrene and he even had leeches in his legs. Around 10 people declared hunger strike in protest of his condition and only after that, a few days after that, they started to provide him medical assistance and provided wound dressing.

I remember the Uzbeki guy, Zakirjan [Zakirjan Asam, ISN 672], he complained in Bagram he had a stomach ache and they operated on his appendix, and when they finished operating on him they said you have cheated on the American soldiers, you don’t have any appendicitis, and because of that they began beating him on the operating table in the operation theater. And that was just because he only complained about having a stomach ache.

There was another Kazakhstani under the name of Yaqoob [Yakub Abahanov, ISN 526], he was absolutely healthy when he arrived in Cuba, he had been injected a few times by the Americans and after that his mental condition has changed, there was something wrong with him; he couldn’t sleep. When he was more or less recovering from these injections, the guys around him tried to make him do some sort of exercise or do some normal activities. The guards would take him to the psychiatric unit and when they would bring him back he would be absolutely abnormal again; he would have saliva dripping from his mouth, he wouldn’t be able to sleep and he would not understand what was going on around him.

I also saw, when I was in the psychiatric unit, the people were given pills and after taking them, they would develop high fever, they would be extremely sick and they would have terrible headaches and after that the nurse would arrive and she would write down all the symptoms every 5 minutes. It was obvious they were experimenting, or trying some sort of medication on them.

If you want to, I can carry on like that forever, but I can mention another incident about Abdur-Rahman Rajabov [aka Abdul-Karim Ergashev, ISN 641] from Tajikistan. Again, he was quite healthy when arrested, when he was in Cuba he was, as many of us were, infected with Hepatitis B. He started complaining and even declared a hunger strike because they didn’t provide any medical assistance for him in spite of him asking for it constantly. He was given pills which I think were much stronger than opium or heroin, because some of the guys tried them as well and the effect was much stronger than the real ones. One day, he overdosed and they stopped giving it to him, and then they took blood from him, and his condition of Hepatitis B didn’t stop developing because the problem is not only contained in the gall bladder. When he got back (from Guantánamo) some of the doctors and professors examined him and commented saying there was no justification for them to do that. These are only a few examples I have given to you, I can go on forever.

In Vakhitov’s Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 5, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was clear that the US authorities believed they had made a mistake in seizing Vakhitov from a Taliban prison and sending him to Guantánamo. He was described as Dirat Vakhitov, born in 1977, and it was also stated that he had been “treated for posttraumatic stress disorder,” as well as having latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, although he was also described as being “otherwise in good health.”

Explaining how he ended up at Sarposa prison, the authorities stated that, on December 29, 1999, Vakhitov left his home, traveling through Tajikistan to Imam Sab, on the Tajik-Afghan border. “Soon afterwards,” the Task Force noted, “[he] was arrested by the Taliban on suspicion of espionage, and incarcerated at the Sarposa prison complex in Kandahar.” He was “subsequently transferred to US forces,” and was sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of “his possible knowledge of an American citizen killed at the Sarposa prison complex while he was there.”

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 [492] is assessed as neither 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.”

It was also noted that, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 14 to 19 November 2002, Russian Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 492] and stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.” Crucially, it was also noted that, “Since the Russian government has agreed to incarcerate [him] upon his transfer, and provided that he remains incarcerated under the control of the Russian government, the detainee poses no future threat to the US or its allies. In addition, the Russian government has agreed to share with the United States all intelligence derived from this detainee in the future.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of the Russian government.”

In Chapter 18 of The Guantánamo Files, I noted how particular deals were alleged to have accompanied the release of the seven Russians. Vakhitov said that a US military intelligence officer told him that the original terms of his release called for a prison sentence in Russia of 15 years, together with round-the-clock access for CIA and FBI investigators. Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation explained that their release may have been “a public display of magnanimity,” as Moscow sought the release of two Russian agents held in Qatar for the assassination of the Chechen President. Once the assassins were returned, however, he noted that the prisoners were no longer needed as pawns in Russia’s foreign relations, and faced “a dark and uncertain future,” and this was indeed the case.

As I explained in Part Three, discussing Ravil Gumarov, another of the Russian prisoners, the punitive demands (mentioned by McGregor) were not exactly followed on their return, although the men were initially held in a detention center run by the FSB, the domestic successor of the KGB, and although they were released in June 2004, they continued to be scrutinized and harassed, with Gumarov and two others ending up in prison, and another man, Ruslan Odizhev, being shot and killed as an alleged terrorist. Nothing has been heard publicly from Vakhitov since the McClatchy interview in 2008, but in this case no news may be good news.

Also see Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Six, Part Seven, Part 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.

8 Responses

  1. tashi says...

    Really fascinating set of articles. I look forward to reading the next…

    Thanks.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Tashi. Thanks. This ten-part series will probably take me through to the end of August, and then I’ll be dealing with the prisoners released following the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), held between July 2004 and March 2005. I wish I had a snappy title for this entire series, and a more focused way of presenting all these articles, as, by the end (for the 10th anniversary of Guantanamo opening, on January 11, 2012) it will be the first time that such detailed profiles of all the prisoners will be available online. Perhaps something else will occur to me as this project progresses …

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m digging this now, Andy. I was very busy yesterday and today, passing around links and translating from Swedish and Norwegian into English and Dutch. Had to be done.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, George. I completely understand. I was away — at my wife’s parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, which was certainly something to celebrate! — and so I was unable to spend hours studying the story of the terrorist attacks in Norway or even to put pen to paper (fingers to typepad). I completed this Guantanamo article last week before setting off.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    60 years! That’s wonderful. I just shared the Guantanamo piece and decided to buy your book soon.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    If you can look at my profile you will find a lot of data. A good number of people kept me supplied with links. I didn’t need to go to a single blog, or paper besides my Guardian app. It was exhilarating but a bit tiring.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. 60 years is indeed wonderful, and it was a lovely celebration.
    As for work, I’m delighted to hear that you’ll be buying my Guantanamo book — and congratulations also on your hard work getting the story of these terrible attacks out in so many languages.

  8. arcticredriver says...

    Andy thanks for all this excellent additional information.

    Can I share with your readers some additional information about Mohammed Yusif Yaqub, ISN 367, aka “Mullah Shahzada”? When I read Abdul Matin’s testimony, I noticed that he too faced the allegation that he was a Taliban leader named Shahzada. Abdul Matin’s case seemed to me to be one of those of a captives who offered an alibi that could have been refuted or confirmed with minimal effort, but, for whom, American intelligence officials were unwilling or unable to arrange to have that detective work performed.

    According to his testimony, Abdul Matin was an educated man, who sat out most of the Taliban era in exile in Pakistan. He traveled to Pakistan with his family in 1992, while he was still in school. He completed his education in Pakistan, and became a high school science teacher. His alibi was that for the seven years prior to his capture his time sheets and payment records from the high school where he worked would show he was not living in Afghanistan, and serving as the Taliban’s intelligence chief in Mazari Sharif, he was, instead working as a high school teacher.

    He testified that for the first eight months or so that he was in custody his interrogators kept insisting he was named Shahzada, but, through the Red Cross, he was able to send letters to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that it was through reading his mail his interrogators decided he was not Shahzada.

    I checked the dates. It seems to me that the arrival of the letters that Abdul Matin believed confirmed to his interrogators that he was not the Taliban leader Shahzada coincided pretty closely with the release of ISN 367 — the other captive intelligence analysts believed was the Taliban leader named Shahzada. I very strongly suspect that the release of the captive who DoD spin doctors used to keep calling “Mullah Shahzada” was due to intelligence officials in Guantanamo reading the replies to letters sent by one captive they thought was named Shahzada, and confusing him with ISN 367, another captive they thought was named Shahzada. I think the letters were sufficient to convince someone that a captive they thought was named Shahzada was an innocent man, and someone ordered the release of the wrong man.

    Up until May 2007 the Bush administration only identified three men as “recidivists”. Mullah Shahzada, Abdullah Mehsud, and Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar. When three more “recidivists” names were made public, and only one of the six names could be found on the official lists of captives’ names, I wrote to Commander Jeffrey Gordon. He acknowledged that the names he and other spin doctors used weren’t on the official list — but this was the fault of the captives, because they had too many aliases.

    One further “fact” about Mullah Shahzada. Three youths were held in more humane conditions in Camp Iguana. They were released in January 2004. They were interviewed following their release. They liked their guards, liked their lessons. These three youths were illiterate when they arrived in Guantanamo. Their detention included daily lessons, and they all learned to read and write. All three boys’ fathers described being pleased their sons had returned as “educated men”. Personally, I think the DoD made a big mistake by blowing the opportunity of paying for the boys to go to a boarding school in Kabul. About four months later one of the youths was reported to have been recaptured, because he was carrying a “Taliban letter”. However, Reagan crony Oliver North claimed that the youth who had been treated humanely in Camp Iguana, was “Mullah Shahzada” — and that he had been killed in combat, not captured.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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