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

11.8.11

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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 12 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-Qaida 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 analyzed 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 seventh 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 Three, Part Four, Part FivePart Six, Part EightPart Nine and Part Ten of this series.

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

Abdul Rahman Noorani (ISN 582, Afghanistan) Released July 2003

In Chapter 15 of The Guantánamo Files, I discussed the most intense period of torture at Guantánamo (from the fall of 2002 until the summer of 2004), when over a hundred prisoners were subjected to an array of “enhanced interrogation techniques” including the use of prolonged isolation, extreme heat and cold, forced nudity, the use of extremely loud music and noise, and short-shackling in painful stress positions (often until prisoners soiled themselves). One apparently insignificant prisoner who was subjected to techniques that seemed, in general, to have been reserved for prisoners regarded as significant or uncooperative was Abdel Rahman Noorani, 29 years old at the time of his capture, who said on his release that he was “badly punished 107 times,” and added that “during his 20 months at Guantánamo, his captors had chained his hands and feet and had beaten him with a metal rod on his legs and back.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 18, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was stated that he was born in 1973, it was noted that he lived in the Saranan refugee camp in Balochistan for 18 years (because of the Soviet occupation), and told his interrogators that he and his brother opened an Afghan restaurant in Quetta, Pakistan, in July 2001, where, in late January 2002, he was seized by the Pakistani authorities, “who demanded that he pay an exorbitant fine immediately or go to jail.” Noorani claimed that, because he did not have enough money, he was jailed, and later transferred to US control, and explained that he thought the reason was because, the day before, he had “argued with a customer, Mullah Basir, a Taliban official who refused to pay for his meal.” He was apparently “convinced that Pakistani Police arrested him as a direct result of this altercation.”

He was sent to Guantánamo, on or around June 25, 2002, allegedly “because of his knowledge of Afghans living in the Saranan Refugee Camp in Pakistan and of Mullah Basir, a Taliban and al-Qaeda leader from Kandahar, Afghanistan.”  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-Qaida and Taliban suspects” were widespread.

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 [582] 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. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

In a fact sheet issued by the Pentagon in June 2008, entitled, “Former GTMO Detainee Terrorism Trends,” a contradictory account of Noorani (described as Abdul Rahman Noor) was released by the Pentagon. In this document, he was described as one of 13 former prisoners accused of “Reengaging in Terrorism.” The fact sheet stated, “Noor was released in July of 2003, and has since participated in fighting against US forces near Kandahar. After his release, Noor was identified as the person in an October 7, 2001, video interview with al-Jazeerah [sic] TV network, wherein he [was] identified as the ‘deputy defense minister of the Taliban.’ In this interview, he described the defensive position of the mujahideen and claimed they had recently downed an airplane.”

It is not known if there is any credibility to the Pentagon’s claim that Abdul Rahman Noorani was actually Abdul Rahman Noor, the deputy defense minister of the Taliban, although it seems unlikely, if Noorani was indeed seized in Pakistan at his restaurant, and was not identified on capture as someone of significance.

Brahim Benchekroun (ISN 587, Morocco) Released July 2004

In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Brahim Benchekroun, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, said after his release that he was “rounded up by the Pakistani security forces at the end of 2001″ near Lahore, “at the time of the first round-ups of Arabs in the Koranic schools.” He was taken into custody with Ahmed Errachidi (ISN 590, released in March 2007), a Moroccan chef, who had been living in the UK for 18 years, and Karama Khamisan (ISN 586), a Yemeni soldier (transferred to Yemeni custody in August 2005), who went to Afghanistan as part of a drug smuggling ring, and was held as a human guarantor until the deal was completed. Errachidi was captured in Islamabad, where, he said, he had been working in a jewelry store after visiting Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by the US-led invasion, and Khamisan explained that, after the US-led invasion began, the drug dealers fled, leaving him near the border with Pakistan, where he was captured by Pakistani villagers.

Benchekroun described what happened to the three men once they were in Pakistani custody. “We were looking through the makeshift blindfolds that the Pakistanis had put on us,” he said, adding that Errachidi spoke English and was following the negotiations, when “people showed up with black suitcases and started bargaining with the Pakistanis over the price for handing us over.” When they agreed on a price of $5,000 a head, Benchekroun explained, they all applauded. He also said that Khamisan was singled out for unusual treatment: “The Pakistanis made him grow a beard and learn to pray. I taught him the basics about washing myself. We didn’t understand that it was so that they could sell him to the Americans, too.”

In Chapter 14, I related how Brahim Benchekroun described harassment at the US prison at Bagram airbase. “The soldiers came out of nowhere, sometimes several times in the same night, screaming bloody murder, throwing everything around on the pretext that there was a search, and rarely forgetting to throw the Koran on the ground, if they didn’t tear it up,” he said. He also said that, when the Red Cross visited, “The ones who were the most bashed up were hidden in a storage room over the interrogation chamber.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 13, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which he was described as Ibrahim Bin Shakaran, born in August 1979, the Task Force provided a contradictory account, claiming that he traveled to Afghanistan in November 2000, after “hearing about the Afghan situation” in a mosque in Casablanca, and that he then undertook military training at the al-Farouq camp near Kandahar (associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) from January to May 2001. According to this account, in October 2001 he “rotated to the front lines near Kabul, AF, where he manned an observation post.” After the bombing that followed the US-led invasion began, he reportedly left for Logar province in a truck containing Afghan Taliban and Arabs, and then crossed into Pakistan in Waziristan, “where he surrendered his weapon to a Taliban soldier,” and then traveled on to Bannu, in  the North West Frontier Province, where he sought refuge at an Islamic centre “with several others.” From there, he “traveled to Lahore, PK in a car with two Pakistanis, three Arabs and a Turkmenistani,” but they were involved in an accident, after which the Pakistani police “arrested everyone except the two Pakistanis.” It is not known how truthful (if at all) this account is.

Benchekroun was sent to Guantánamo, on May 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Libyan training camp near Kabul, AF, a travel facilitator named Abu Mussab [in Casablanca], and of an Arab safehouse/guesthouse located in the Kartiyah Barwan [probably Karte Parwan] region of Kabul, AF.”

In its assessment, the Task Force concluded that he had been “deceptive, and uncooperative during interrogations.” and had been “identified as a high-ranking member of the Theological Commission of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group,” with “sensitive reporting” suggesting a connection with ISN 270 (Mosa Zi Zemmori, a Belgian citizen released in April 2005), who, it was claimed, was also a member of the MIFG. This latter claim seems particularly untrustworthy, as Zemmori (aka Moussa Zemmouri) was freed on his release in 2005, and was allowed to travel to the UK in 2009 to take part in a Cageprisoners event.

Unable to come up with anything else resembling evidence, however dubious, the Task Force then noted that Benchekroun had made verbal threats against the US, which always strikes me as a particularly weak argument for establishing proof of militancy, as anyone held in the horrendously experimental conditions at Guantánamo might be expected, at some point, to have lashed out verbally against his captors. Nevertheless, the Task Force concluded that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and that he posed “a high risk as he [was] likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DOD control.”

After his release from Guantánamo, just eight months later, Benchekroun was freed on bail in Morocco in March 2005, but both he and another Moroccan ex-prisoner, Mohammed Mazouz (see Part Four), 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.

Bakhtiar Bameri (ISN 623, Iran) Released March 2004

Briefly mentioned in a footnote in Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, based on a short Cageprisoners report, Bameri had reportedly “traveled to Afghanistan to buy stereo parts,” although the US military claimed that he was “captured in Afghanistan during fighting with the Taliban in 2002.” It was also noted that, on his return to Iran, he “was accompanied by a doctor and a representative of the Red Cross,” as “he was said to be in poor health.”

In the files leaked to WikiLeaks and released in April, Bameri’s file, dated January 31, 2004, was an “Annual Enemy Combatant Review.” This type of document was evidently used to assess the status of all the prisoners as “enemy combatants,” although it is not one that I had seen before its appearance in the documents released by WikiLeaks.

In the memo relating to Bameri, in which he was described as Baktian Bamari, it was noted that he was transferred to Guantánamo from Afghanistan on June 17, 2002. It was also noted, crucially, that, “Although he was assessed as an enemy combatant at the time of his transfer to GTMO, on-going assessment and determination of his status as an EC is required by the Implementing Guidance for Release or Transfer of Detainees under US Department of Defense Control to Foreign government Control, dated 11 December 2002 and approved by the Secretary of Defense on 26 December 2002.” This is the first reference I have seen to this document, although a version of it, relating to Bagram and issued on December 10, 2002, is available here. In it, as Bameri’s memo explained:

Enemy combatant is defined by the above guidance as “any person that US or allied forces could properly detain under laws and customs of war.” For purposes of this conflict, an enemy combatant includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a member or agent of Al-Qaida, the Taliban, or another international terrorist organization against which the United States is engaged in armed conflict.

In describing how he ended up in US custody, the Task Force admitted that he “approached the guards at the American airbase in Kandahar, where he offered his services as a translator and guide,” but where, instead, he was arrested “while attempting to gain access to the airbase in order to talk to the US forces.” Following his arrival at Guantánamo, it was noted that he “admitted” — as though there was some reason for his transfer to Guantánamo, even though there was none — “to a long history (since age 11) of theft, drug use, drug and weapons smuggling across the Iranian/Afghan border,” and “one incident of attempted murder in Iran.” However, it was also noted that the authorities had determined that he was “not a member of Al-Qaida or the Taliban.”

The Task Force added, “Furthermore, no information has developed to support his determination as an EC under any other aspect of the EC definition above. Therefore, after reviewing all relevant and reasonably available information, it is GTMO’s assessment that [he] is not an enemy combatant.” The memo concluded by noting that his case was being “processed by the Department of Defense Detainee Assessment Team for release.” This is notable for two reasons: firstly, because it is the first mention I have seen of the existence of a Department of Defense Detainee Assessment Team responsible for processing the prisoners for release; and secondly, because it is almost unprecedented for a prisoner to be designated as “not an enemy combatant.” The terminology, when the Combatant Status Review Tribunals began in the summer of 2004, was that those whose release was recommended (38 out of 558 prisoners whose cases were reviewed) were not judged as “not an enemy combatant,” but as being “no longer an enemy combatant.”

Majid Mehmood (ISN 624, Pakistan) Released November 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” I told the story of Majid Mehmood, a stray Pakistani, who was 22 years old when he was seized, which was unknown until 2008, when he was interviewed by Tom Lasseter, for a major McClatchy Newspapers series focusing on 66 released prisoners, while he was working as a delivery man in Karachi. After explaining that his name was actually Abdul Majid Mahmoud, he told Lasseter that he, like Noor Habib (ISN 626, see below), had been seized in Bamiyan, where, he said, he had traveled “to attend a friend’s wedding when he was caught in the fighting between US-backed Northern Alliance forces and the Taliban.”

As Lasseter explained, when Mahmoud was “tied up in a kitchen” at the Alliance checkpoint, with “shrapnel wounds to his knees, shoulders and head, no one was buying his tale of being an unlucky wedding guest.” “Sometimes they hit me. Sometimes they kicked me. Sometimes they hit me with sticks,” Mahmoud explained. After about four days, he said, he was “taken to a house that the Northern Alliance was using as a jail, where he was trussed up with a rope and thrown into a storage room.” “They beat me with belts, with the butts of their guns and a few times with sticks,” he said. “When they beat me up they would cuss at me. They would say that I was there to kill them, that I was there to fight them. I said, ‘No, I came here for a friend’s wedding. I’m a tailor.’”

Four months later, US forces arrived at the impromptu jail, and that night, Mahmoud said, “the man who brought his dinner said the Americans had agreed to pay a $5,000 bounty” for him. Flown to Bagram, he then came clean, and admitted that he had been recruited by the Taliban at an office that had been established in Karachi. He added, however, that telling the truth made no difference. He was transferred to Kandahar, where he spent about five months, and was then flown to Guantánamo, where he fell into a pattern of regular conflict with the guards. “The riot guards would come in, five to seven of them, and try to pin me down,” he said. “In that struggle I would punch whatever I could … this used to happen all the time.”

He then joined one of the many hunger strikes that have taken place in the prison, and explained that it started “when a guard knocked a Koran on the floor and left it there.” He also said that, along with dozens of other prisoners, he was taken to the hospital, “where medics forced his mouth open with a metal clamp and poured in liquid meals.”

On his release, he was imprisoned for a year in Pakistan, but was then fortunate to find work, although he told Lasseter that he “has to report to the police station once a week to describe his recent activities,” and that “an intelligence officer comes to the stand where he parks his truck almost daily to be sure that he hasn’t left Karachi.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Mahjid Mahmood, born in 1980, much of what he later told Tom Lasseter was confirmed. He apparently “stated that before becoming involved with the Taliban, he worked in several different career fields, including being a tailor, automobile mechanic, store clerk, bus conductor, and a truck driver,” and he also “stated that he had not had any military or paramilitary training before joining the Taliban,” which happened after he traveled to Karachi to look for work, taking his wife with him, and, as he later confirmed, “saw a fatwa inviting ‘all brothers of Islam’ to fight in the Jihad in Afghanistan.” He then “sent his wife back home to live with her parents while he went to join the Taliban,” because “he admired the ‘pure Islamic state’ touted by the Taliban, and felt that it was his duty as a Muslim to defend it with Jihad.”

After visiting a Taliban recruitment office and setting off for Afghanistan on October 28, 2001, he was injured in a bombing raid in Darah Sof, in Samangan province in northern Afghanistan, and “spent time in Taliban hospitals,” before being seized by men serving the governor of Bamiyan province and imprisoned on January 30, 2002. According to this account, he was held for two days in a storeroom in a large house in the city of Bamiyan, until Americans then came and photographed him, although he was not transferred to US custody for approximately two months, being held both in the storeroom (for another month) and also in Bamiyan city jail (for 20 days). He was sent to Guantánamo on June 12, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter.”

In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that, “Based on current information, detainee [624] is assessed as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee is of no intelligence value to the United States. Based on the above, detainee poses a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Brig. Gen. James E. Payne III of the US Army, who signed the memo, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”

Noor Habib Ullah (ISN 626, Afghanistan) Released July 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” I explained how, in November 2003, Noor Habib (identified by the Pentagon as Noor Habib Ullah), who was 21 when he was seized, spoke briefly to the BBC, asking, with regard to his detention in Guantánamo, “Is this what they call human rights?”

Nothing more was known of him until 2008, when Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers tracked him down for a major report on 66 released prisoners, but Lasseter conceded that he was unable to work out exactly why he had been captured. “Habib,” he wrote, “might have been a Taliban foot soldier or he might have been what he said he was, a truck driver who was picked up by US-backed Northern Alliance troops who were shooting or arresting anyone who appeared to be an Islamic militant.” He added, “Afghan officials familiar with Habib’s home village and the militant networks there said they had no idea who he was. They guessed that he was either a Taliban grunt who’d have had no information to offer American interrogators or just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

What is clear, however, is that Habib was seized in Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, in November 2001. According to his own account, he was “helping to transport a load of goats to Kabul,” when he “came to a checkpoint manned by Northern Alliance soldiers, who opened fire at the truck.” He told Lasseter, “They thought we were Taliban. I jumped out of the truck and ran as fast as I could, but they caught me.” He added that he was “thrown into an old Russian transport truck and beaten with rifle butts the whole way back to the city. It was a long ride, he said, as the Northern Alliance troops stopped every few minutes to haul in another suspected batch of Taliban.”

Habib then spent four months in a local jail, where, he explained, “They said I had connections with the Taliban. At the time, I had a long beard. They began beating me — kicking and punching me — saying that I had to confess.” He was then transferred to Kandahar, where, while being taken to interrogation, the guards “pushed me to the ground and jumped on my back. One time they did this, a rock got stuck in my chest. It stayed there, and sank in lower and lower into my flesh, and the skin around it got swollen, with pus coming out.”

Habib explained that he had to wait until he was sent to Guantánamo for a doctor to remove the stone. Apart from this, his time in Guantánamo was clearly uneventful. He told Lasseter that he “spent a year in Cuba, rarely being interrogated and not doing much of anything other than praying and wondering why he was there.” When he was interrogated, he said, they “wanted to know about the top guys from al-Qaeda; they wanted to know if they lived in Jalalabad. I told them that I am just a laborer, that I had no idea. I asked them, ‘Why do you keep asking me the same questions?’ They did not answer.” On his release, the reason for his transfer to Guantánamo was finally revealed, when two interrogators “told him that he’d been sent to Guantánamo because he was suspected of being a senior Taliban commander.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated March 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that he was born in 1980, and another version of his story emerged, which may well have been the truth — that he was an unwilling Taliban conscript, seized by coalition forces almost as soon as he was forced into service. In the account prepared by the Task Force, he “worked as a farmer on his family’s two-acre farm” near Jalalabad, but was conscripted after district representatives came to his local mosque, “accompanied by Taliban military members,” and “advised the town that each family had to pay money or have one family member conscripted into Taliban service for an unspecified length of time.”

Over the next two days, the Taliban apparently collected money and nine conscripts, including Noor Habib Ullah, who was taken to Bamiyan province on November 12, 2001, “where he worked as a cook for two days until Hazara soldiers [opponents of the Taliban] occupied the village.” He then fled, but “Hazara soldiers captured [him] and returned [him] to Bamiyan to be imprisoned for his Taliban affiliation.” After being “incarcerated for almost five months,” he was sent to Guantánamo on June 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of: Taliban operations in the vicinity of Bamiyan prior to the Taliban surrender [in] November 2001, treatment of prisoners while in custody of Haji Jowari’s Hazara forces, and of a prison facility in Bamiyan.” There was no mention of the allegation that he was “suspected of being a senior Taliban commander,” as he told Tom Lasseter, indicating, perhaps, that the guards who told him this were trying to cover their backs, and to make out that there had been some reason for his thoroughly pointless brutalization, transportation to Cuba and detention at great expense.

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 [626] is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”

Rostum Shah (ISN 632, Afghanistan) Released May 2003

In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how 21-year old Rostum Shah and 26-year old Mohammed Tahir (who were both released in May 2003) were Taliban conscripts from Helmand who had been sent to fight in Bamiyan province, where they were captured by Hazara soldiers of Hezb-e-Wahdat, one of Afghanistan’s two main Shia Muslim factions, who were implacably opposed to the Taliban. Imprisoned for four months, they were then handed over to the Americans.

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Rostum Akhtar Mohammed, born in 1980, his story was largely endorsed by the Task Force, which noted that he “was a farmer on his family’s land in Musa Qala [in Helmand province] when he made arrangements on 9 November 2001 with a Taliban leader, Abdul Khaliq, to prevent his father’s conscription by substituting himself.” He was then taken in “a three-vehicle convoy” to “an old base in Kunduz with approximately thirty-four other conscripts.” From there, he apparently deserted, and, with three other men, “escaped to a nearby hotel where they stayed two nights before catching a ride in a vehicle bound for Kabul.” En route, however, “Hazarists [sic] attacked the vehicle with small arms, killing the driver, taking the passengers prisoner, and transporting the prisoners to a Hazarists [sic] camp in Bamiyan,” where he was held for four months and then transferred to US forces and taken to Bagram. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 22, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Abdul Khaliq, Taliban conscription methods, Taliban leaders, and their chain of command.”

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 [632] is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”

Mohammed Naim Farouq (ISN 633, Afghanistan) Released July 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” I told the story of Mohammed Naim Farouq, a tribal leader in Zormat, in eastern Afghanistan, who was 42 years old at the time of his capture. Speaking to the BBC after his release, he said, “We were in prison only because we are Muslims,” and added that two men who had attempted suicide had been punished with solitary confinement. He also spoke to Amnesty International in August 2003, when he stated, “We were without hope because we were innocent. I was very sad because I could not see my children, family and friends. But what could we do? Yes, we got enough food but what does this mean? My mother lost her eyesight while I was there.”

In 2008, he spoke to Tom Lasseter for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released prisoners, explaining that he “had several run-ins with the Taliban during the 1990s, and that his brother was exiled from Afghanistan.” Eventually, he said, “the Taliban relented because its leaders ‘realized that I am from a big tribe … so we came to an agreement.’ Each side agreed to let the other alone.” After the fall of the Taliban, he said that he became the security commander of Zormat district, near the restive city of Gardez, but was arrested by US forces — and sent to Guantánamo, via Bagram and Kandahar — after chasing and threatening a group of US soldiers who had detained some of his police officers.

Farouq explained to Lasseter that he was not subjected to physical violence by the Americans, but described a series of humiliating experiences, which, to a Pashtun, are far worse. After he was first seized, the US soldiers took him to their base, where, he said, “They stripped me naked, out in the open, where everybody could see. I was thinking that these are infidels who have come to a Muslim country to imprison us, just like the Russians.” After 40 days in Bagram, this experience was repeated in Kandahar, where, on the day of his arrival, “they took me into interrogation completely naked. They asked me if I knew Osama bin Laden. I said, ‘Fuck bin Laden and fuck your wife, too. Bin Laden came and destroyed our nation, and you came and destroyed our nation. But at least bin Laden was a Muslim and did not humiliate us like this.’”

Like many other prisoners, Farouq also said that, in Kandahar, he saw a US soldier drop a Koran in a barrel that was being used as a toilet, and declared, “If I had a gun I would have shot that soldier. We began shouting and beating ourselves and asking God to punish this man.” His final humiliation took place in Guantánamo, where he was stripped naked again. As Lasseter described it, “he and a large group of men were stripped naked, then put in a line — blindfolded, he said — and marched to a station where they were issued new clothes. Along the way, he said, soldiers were yelling and laughing at them, and putting cameras up close to their body parts and snapping pictures.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 18, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Mohammed Nayim Farouq, born in 1960 (he was also identified by the US authorities as Muhammed Naim Farooq), it was noted that he had latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, and also “chronic shoulder and lower back pain,” but was “otherwise in good health.” When it came to the reasons for his detention, the story he told Tom Lasseter about being seized “after chasing and threatening a group of US soldiers who had detained some of his police officers” was not repeated (perhaps because it reflected so badly on the US military), but it was clear that the Task Force found no reason to detain him, and conceded that he was an ally, and not an enemy.

According to the Task Force’s account, in early December 2001 he “was appointed as the commander for security forces for the Zormat region in Paktia province by the interim Afghani government.” Soon after, US forces detained four of his “security force members” at a checkpoint. Farouq traveled to Gardez “to secure their release,” but “was stopped en route by Afghani and US officials,” who seized him after he stated that he was in charge of the checkpoint where his men had been detained. Farouq told his interrogators that he “suspected that Mullah Kacem, an individual who once worked for the Taliban Investigation Activities Office, denounced him as a Taliban supporter in order to eliminate him as the security forces commander in the region,” and also that he did the same in the cases of other rivals, “provid[ing] US forces in Afghanistan with erroneous information on his personal enemies in an attempt to have them eliminated or detained.” Farouq was sent to Guantánamo on June 18, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of security services, political personnel, and Mullah Kacem in Paktia Province, 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 [633] 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. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Further information about Farouq, and his allegiances, was provided in Tom Lasseter’s article in 2008. According to Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit, who interviewed Farouq in Guantánamo, although he was part of “a criminal group” involved in kidnapping and extortion, he “was a rural gangster, not a terrorist,” and had no links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Lasseter also spoke to a senior UN official in eastern Afghanistan, who was “familiar with Farouq” and “said it was a mistake to detain him.” Speaking anonymously, the official said, “It’s crazy to arrest people who can help bring about stability when there are very few people in these fragile areas who can do that. It’s obviously not constructive to detain people who are not enemies of the state.”

Ironically, as Tom Lasseter noted in his interview, it was unclear in Farouq’s case “whether US troops had captured a Taliban operative or created one.” After his release, according to a Department of Defense fact sheet, entitled, “Former GTMO Detainee Terrorism Trends,” which was published in June 2008, he “quickly renewed his association with Taliban and al-Qaida members and has since become re-involved in anti-coalition militant activity.” This may not be true, as the Pentagon’s claims have been challenged , but Tom Lasseter explained that an Afghan intelligence official told him that Farouq “now met with Taliban leaders every two weeks to discuss operations,” and added, “Farouq has met several times with the top Taliban commander in this area, but he denies it.” Given his feelings about the humiliation he endured at the hands of US forces, this would not be altogether surprising, and in May 2009, McClatchy Newspapers published an article reiterating that Farouq “told McClatchy that he was a local security leader in Afghanistan when he was arrested and became a radical Islamist only during his detention.”

Please also see here for a short video of Mohammed Naim Farouq speaking to McClatchy Newspapers.

Mohammed Akhber (ISN 635, Afghanistan) Released July 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” I explained how, in November 2003, Mohammed Akhber, who was 46 years old at the time of his capture, spoke briefly to the BBC, and, although the circumstances of his capture were not discussed, was clearly nonplussed as to why he had been seized. “Why did they take me to Cuba?” he asked. “My young wife was left with no one to look after her. Who was to feed everyone? Who was to give clothes for God’s sake to my children?”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Mohammed Akhbar, born in 1956, it was stated that he was conscripted by the Taliban in mid-August 2001, because he “was unable to pay the Taliban 5,000,000 Afghanis (around 1,000 USD) to avoid being conscripted.” He and “other local conscripts” were then taken to Bamiyan province, “where they were given weapons to perform guard duty,” and “lived in a modified cave, which contained a stove with a ventilation pipe to keep the conscripts warm.” After three weeks, they were attacked by the Hazara (described as “Hazarists”), and fled to some hills where other Hazara soldiers seized them and took them to a local jail. He was later transferred to US custody and was sent to Guantánamo on June 9, 2002, on the spurious bias that it was “because of his knowledge on [sic] forces operating in the Bamiyan region.”

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 [635] is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release to the control of another government.”

Nathi Gul (ISN 636, Afghanistan) Released July 2003

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” I explained how Nathi Gul, described as Nate Gul, who was 22 years old when he was seized in unknown circumstances, was one of a group of 16 Afghans released in July 2003. Most complained about their treatment, but Gul, from Khost province, told a reporter from the Associated Press that he was “treated well.” “They didn’t beat us during the interrogation,” he said. “They wrote down anything we said. They interrogated me about 30 to 40 times.” He explained, as the AP described it, that “he was held in a small room that looked like a cage,” but that he “had towels, shampoo, a toothbrush, blankets, three meals a day and time for prayer.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated April 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was noted that he was born in 1980 and “resided in Khost with five brothers, his mother, his wife, and his son,” it was also noted that he had been working for the Karzai government at the time he was seized. This may explain why he did not complain about his treatment, if interrogators rapidly discovered that he had been seized by mistake. It was stated that he “worked for the Intelligence Department as an Intelligence Commander for 3 months prior to his arrest,” and that “his duties included guarding repossessed items taken from the Afghan government during the Taliban regime for return under the current Karzai presidency.” It was also noted that the majority of the repossessed weapons and ammunition was controlled by Pacha Khan (aka Pacha Khan Zabran), a US-allied warlord of dubious integrity, who was responsible for the unnecessary capture and imprisonment of other men in Guantánamo.

In Gul’s case, however, his journey to Guantánamo took place because he was stopped at a checkpoint while traveling to work with four other men in his boss’s vehicle by forces serving a rival warlord, Sardar, who seized him and held him for 24 hours, and then summoned US forces — probably Special Forces — who arrived by helicopter, and, evidently without making any attempt to ascertain who he was or who he was working for, transferred all five men to Bagram. Gul’s companions were probably released, but Gul himself was sent to Guantánamo on April 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Intelligence department in Afghanistan and Sardar, an Afghan warlord.”

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 [636] is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government.”

Badshah Wali (ISN 638, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how two brothers from Khost — 39-year old Niaz Wali, a cobbler, and 24-year old Badshah Wali, a taxi driver — were “targeted for arrest by local people, who were their enemies from another Pashtun tribe.” On their release in March 2003, they were “too scared to talk about their experiences.” The quotes above are from an article, “A Tough Homecoming,” published in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s “Afghan Recovery Report,” shortly after their release.

In the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, Badshah Wali’s was one of 14 missing files, as I explained in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files,” although his brother’s file was included (see Niaz Wali, ISN 640, below). In this document, it was revealed that Badshah Wali (identified as Patcha Walijan) was seized after his brother’s arrest in connection with an unidentified book found during a search of his home in a village near Khost airport, when he traveled to ask US forces why they had seized his brother. It is clear that the Task Force subsequently found no reason to hold him, leading to his release at the same time as his brother.

Niaz Wali (ISN 640, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As I explained in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files,”  it was revealed for the first time In the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks that Niaz Wali (identified as Neyaz Walijan), whose file, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” was dated January 11, 2003, was seized during “a routine search” of his home because “local security forces” “discovered a large, thick hard cover book.” When “questioned about the nature of the book,” Niaz Wali “was unaware of its existence.” On the basis of this book, he was taken into US custody, and when his brother, Badshah Wali (identified as Patcha Walijan) “freely visited” him at his place of detention “to inquire about the book,” he was “told to mind his own business.” “Shortly thereafter,” he too was seized.

As the Task Force conceded, Wali was nothing more than a shoe repairman, who worked in the Khost bazaar near the Spin Jemahat mosque, and had lived in a village near Khost airport for seven years with his brother. However, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 11, 2002 (on the day the prison opened), on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Spin Jemahat Mosque used by the Taliban in Khost, 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 [636] 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. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Also see Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part FivePart Six, Part Eight, Part 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.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s one I prepared earlier. Hope you enjoy it. I’m still in Athens, and still very hot!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Barbara Cummings wrote:

    Thanks, Andy , for all the work that you do!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    Dugg. I hope you can go swimming in Athens.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Moving on to a small island on Sunday, Louise, where there will be swimming opportunities — not that I’m a great fan of swimming!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Aren’t you supposed to be on holiday :-)

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the supportive words, Barbara, and Carol, yes, I am on holiday. I prepared this article before I left, and have a few more up my sleeve …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Look forward to those :-)

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David Wayne wrote:

    great work, andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Charley Carpenter wrote:

    Just remember that US gov docs are full of convenient fiction.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Dhyanne Green wrote:

    Andy I thought you were on holidays!! Continue enjoying family time.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing and digging this now, Andy. Hope you are enjoying your vacation.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, my friends. I am definitely enjoying my family holiday/vacation, Dhyanne and George. Thanks for the supportive words, David, and Charley, I really hope I’m expressing sufficient skepticism about the contents of the Detainee Assessment Briefs. It’s certainly been my intention since I was first asked by WikiLeaks to examine the documents and liaise with their mainstream media partners. The entire body of “evidence” created at Guantanamo is a house of cards based on torture, coercion and bribery.

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

    [...] [...]

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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