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

15.8.11

Please support my work!

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 13 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 eighth 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 SevenPart Nine and Part Ten of this series.

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

Abdul-Karim Ergashev (ISN 641, Tajikistan) Released July 2004

In Chapter 19 of The Guantánamo Files, I briefly mentioned Abdul-Karim Ergashev (identified as Abdulrahmon Rajabov), based on an interview he conducted with RFE/RL in January 2005, in which I noted that he said that, in Guantánamo, he developed hepatitis C after being denied “consistent medical care.”

In that interview, he stated that “he went to Afghanistan to search for his brother who had disappeared there,” but was then seized by Northern Alliance soldiers and handed over to the US military. He also described in detail what had happened to him during the two and a half years that he had spent in US custody, until his release from Guantánamo in 2004. He explained that US military interrogators had used psychological pressure to force him to falsely confess to fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan: “They told me you have ties to the Al-Qaida and the Taliban. I said I don’t know al-Qaeda; the Taliban I know were in control of most of Afghanistan. I didn’t think the Afghans would hand me over to the Americans and that the Americans would take me to Guantánamo. I [still] don’t know why. I didn’t understand what the Americans wanted from me.”

Describing what happened to him during his time in Guantánamo, Ergashev said that he was often kept in solitary confinement, and added that whenever a detainee clashed with the authorities the other prisoners would be punished for it. He also stated that he suffered from a liver ailment during his detention, and that it was the lack of medical care that led to him being diagnosed with hepatitis C. “I was sick and I asked to see a doctor,” he explained. “The soldier told me tomorrow. The next day I told another soldier that I’m feeling worse. He also said, ‘tomorrow.’ After three days I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I told the soldier, ‘three days has passed, why are you lying to me?’ but he told me, ‘no more talk.’ So I threw some water on his face. After that, several persons came, chained and stripped me but they didn’t beat me. They left me only in my underwear in a [cold] cell with iron walls.”

In August 2007, Ergashev announced that he was suing President Bush for damages, and told the website Ferghana.ru more about his experiences, explaining that, at the time of his capture, he was staying with Uzbek refugees, who had fled their homeland to escape the brutal regime of President Islam Karimov, often taking their entire families with them. In the RFE/RL interview in 2005, he had said that “supporters of Juma Namangani, the former military leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, often helped him in Afghanistan,” and in 2007 he explained:

I was a driver in their camp. Everyone scattered when the Americans invaded Afghanistan and bombardments began. I wanted to go home too but couldn’t because I did not have any papers or even money. Closer to the end of winter [2001], I drifted to the town of Tahor and the rais or chairman of a nearby village offered me a job. He said I would become his personal driver. I said “Why not?” It was a chance to earn my fare back. The man said the auto was waiting in one of the kishlaks (settlements) in Mazar-e-Sharif and we went there to collect it. The man brought me to some household and asked me to wait while he went and fetched the keys. The Afghani police broke into the building as soon as he left. They had me handcuffed and blindfolded in no time at all and turned me over to the waiting Americans. The Americans had been waiting nearby, you know. They ordered me to don a special blue coverall marking me as a POW. It occurred to me then that they had deliberately left me in the house in order to sell me to the Americans as a terrorist or Talib … I was taken to the city of Bagram where I was imprisoned with very many others for March-May 2002. It was Kandahar after that and finally Guantánamo, in September that year.

Describing the situation in Afghanistan at the time of Ergashev’s arrest, in the months following the US-led invasion in October 2001, the reporter for Ferghana declared, “The Americans paid $5,000 for a Talib soldier and twice that for [an] officer. The Afghani police found it quite to their liking. When they discovered that there was nobody else to be sold to the US Army, they turned on pedestrians. As a matter of fact, some men the Americans ended up with were mental cases.”

In addition, although RFE/RL stated that Ergashev was “receiving medical care” in Tajikistan in January 2005, Ferghana’s reporter described him as still suffering from “grave health problems,” and determined to sue President Bush because the US authorities had shown themselves to be “absolutely indifferent” to his plight and “disinclined to offer him any recompense or aid.”

Another aspect of his “grave health problems” was reported by a fellow prisoner, Airat Vakhitov, in an interview with Cageprisoners in 2005, as I reported in Part Five of this series. Vakhitov said that, although Ergashev “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.”

In the documents released by WikiLeaks, Ergashev’s file (in which he was described as Abdul Karim Irgashive, born in 1965), was dated March 16, 2004, and was a “Transfer Recommendation.” In the Task Force’s account, a much more colorful picture emerged, although it is unknown how much of it was true. Dealing with Ergashev’s life long before his capture, the Task Force claimed that he “was a conscript in the Soviet army in the mid-1980’s and spent 4 years in prison for stabbing a fellow soldier,” and that, “after his release from prison in 1990, [he] became a career criminal and attempted to join the Tajik resistance movement but was rejected.”

He then reportedly joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999, and allegedly “volunteered to fight in Afghanistan for the Taliban because he believed the Taliban would one day come to the aid of the Mujahideen fighting to overthrow the secular governments in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.” It was also claimed that, after completing “advanced training as a sniper and an explosives expert, [he] was airlifted into northern Afghanistan in 2001, along with 200 other IMU and Uighur fighters to support the Taliban against the US lead Northern Alliance [sic].”

The circumstances of his capture were not replayed, but it was noted that he was sent to  Guantánamo on June 8, 2002 (not September as he stated), “because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter and his membership in the IMU.” 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.

The Task Force also noted in particular that he had “a personal affiliation with several IMU leaders,” which was something that he had essentially admitted, although his claim that he was a driver was rather different than the US claims about him being “a sniper and an explosives expert,” and it was also noted that he had “participated in fighting against the US and its allies,” which was also not verified elsewhere. In addition, it was noted that the Tajik government had interviewed him and had “confirmed [his] membership in the IMU and his extensive criminal history,” and had also “informally requested that [he] be returned to their custody for further prosecution,” but if all this was true it was inexplicable that, on his return, Ergashev was not imprisoned, and was not prosecuted unlike other Tajik prisoners.

As a result, the entire case put together by the Task Force must be regarded with suspicion. Certainly, when it came to backing up its claims, the Task Force was less confident, noting that Ergashev had been determined to be “of low intelligence value to the US,” although “he may provide the Tajik government with additional intelligence concerning the IMU’s insurgency within Tajikistan.” It was also noted that he had been “generally cooperative” and had not been “violent or overtly aggressive while  in detention,” However, as a result of the litany of claims outlined above, it was also noted that he was, in the Task Force’s opinion, “highly vulnerable to re-recruitment back into the IMU if he were released outright.” As a result, and because he was assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), which also contributed assessments, had not, as of March 16, 2004, made an evaluation of Ergashev. Just four months later, he was a free man.

Mohammed Tahir (ISN 643, Afghanistan) Released May 2003

In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how 26-year old Mohammed Tahir and 21-year old Rostum Shah (see Part Seven), 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. On his release, as explained in “Afghans Bitter Over Guantánamo Detention,” an Associated Press article published on May 9, 2003, Tahir said that he suffered mentally and had “difficulty remembering things,” and underlined the failures of the screening process. “I’m just angry that the Americans waited until we were in Guantánamo to interrogate us,” he said. “Had they questioned us here in Afghanistan it would have saved us a lot of trouble. They could have realized a lot sooner that I was innocent.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated March 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that he was born in 1975, and it was noted that he had “worked for years as a common warehouse laborer in Tehran, Iran,” but returned to Afghanistan in October 2001, after the US-led invasion, because “he feared for his elderly father’s safety.” However, while he was at home, he was forcibly conscripted by the Taliban, taken to Bamiyan province and “dropped off with two other conscripts at an observation outpost,” where he served as a guard for about 15 days. The Task Force noted that, although he was given an AK-47. he received no military training.

After the fall of the Taliban, he “tried to walk back home,” but was captured by Hazara militia and held for about five months. He was transferred to US control in April 2002, and was sent to Guantánamo on June 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban leaders and their disposition in the mountains of the Bamiyan Province of 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 [643] 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.”

Mirza Muhammed (ISN 644, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six ‘Ghost Prisoners,’” according to press reports in March 2003, when the first large group of Afghans was released (18 in total), Mirza Muhammed, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, said that he was seized by the Taliban and forced to fight with them, and added that he was captured by the Northern Alliance after just five days, and was then sold to the Americans. Described in a report in the Washington Post as Merza Khan, he explained that “Americans in Kandahar tied him up and alternately forced him to lie face down on the ground, then squat with his hands on his head for hours. He also said he saw American soldiers throw the Koran on the ground and sit on it while in Kandahar.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 5, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was described as Mirzam Mohammed, born in 1964, and it was noted that he was a farmer who was “forcefully conscripted to fight with the Taliban Army against the Hezb-e-Wahdat in Bamiyan Province,” where he “worked primarily as a cook.” He stated that “he did not see any combat while serving the Taliban,” and on November 5, 2001 was “captured at gunpoint by two people in his village, and turned over to the American forces patrolling the village.” He told his interrogators that he “assumed that these people turned him in because, for some unknown reason, they held a grudge against him.” He was sent to Guantánamo on or about June 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his general knowledge regarding the Taliban order of battle and command personalities in Bamiyan Province.”

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 [644] 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 its interests.” The second page of the assessment was missing, but it was clear from the subject line, “Transfer Recommendation,” that the Task Force recommended his transfer or release.

Haji Faiz Mohammed (ISN 657, Afghanistan) Released October 2002

In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Haji Faiz Mohammed, who was 70 years old but thought that he was 105 years old, was one of several prisoners seized in raids by US Special Forces in Uruzgan province. Mohammed, who was seized in a clinic, said on his release, “I don’t know why the Americans arrested me. I told them I was innocent. I’m just an old man.”

In a CBS News report at the time of his release — with two other Afghans, Jan Mohammed (ISN 19, see Part One) and Mohammed Sadiq (ISN 349, see Part Five) — it was noted that the men, “looking frail and tired but in good spirits, said they had had no contact with their families since being taken away by the Americans from various places in Afghanistan. They said they were chained up during frequent interrogations by Americans, but that they were not mistreated and were allowed to practice their religion while in detention.” Haji Faiz Mohammed (described as Mohammed Hagi Fiz) said, “They interrogated us for hours at a time. They wanted to know, ‘Where are you from? Are you a member of the Taliban? Did you support the Taliban? Were your relatives Taliban? Did the Taliban give you weapons?”‘

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1932 and had been “diagnosed with Senile Dementia, which is expected to worsen with time.” In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that, in April 2002, he “visited a friend and wanted to see a doctor to get more medicine,” but was seized by US forces while staying the night in a mosque in the Deh Rawood district of Uruzgan province. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, although the Task Force admitted that “[t[here is no reason on the record for [him] being transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility.” This is the first time that I have come across an assessment in which no reason for transferring a prisoner was presented at all, even though, as I have repeatedly made clear, all the reasons for transfer were bogus, and grafted on afterwards.

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 [657] is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader.” In addition, it was noted that he “has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, who was the commander of  Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Bismillah (ISN 658, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how 49-year old Bismillah, like Haji Faiz Mohammed (ISN 657, see above) was also seized in a raid by Special Forces in Uruzgan province. After his release, Bismillah said that he was seized because he is hard of hearing. “At 2 am Americans came to our house and asked me to show them where the Taliban are,” he said. “Since I am deaf, I couldn’t understand what they said so they arrested me. It took them more than a year to realize I am innocent.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Bismillah Muhammed, born “around 1952,” a variation on this story was reported, which provided slightly different details, but did nothing to reassure anyone that US forces had applied any intelligence to the rounding up of prisoners. Bismillah told his interrogators that he “was sleeping on the roof of his house” in Uruzgan province “when US forces arrested him in April 2002 during a raid to apprehend Mullah Baradar,” a senior Taliban leader who was reportedly killed in August 2007 and then reportedly captured in February 2010.

Bismillah “stated that he did not know Mullah Barader, although he had heard that the Mullah’s father lived somewhere in the Deh Rawood district.” The only other information about him that the Task Force had gathered was that he “purportedly served as a soldier for two years in approximately 1993 to 1994 (no further details available).” He was sent to Guantánamo on June 12, 2002, although, as with Haji Faiz Mohammed (ISN 657, see above), the Task Force admitted that “[t]here is no reason on record as to why [he] was transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

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 [658] is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader.” In addition, it was noted that he “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. Dunlavey recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Reda Fadel El Weleli (ISN 663, Egypt) Released July 2003

In the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, El-Weleli’s was one of 14 missing files, as I noted in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files.” In that article, I explained how he was identified by the US authorities as Fael Roda Al-Waleeli, born in 1966, and how he was the first Egyptian transferred from Guantánamo to Egypt. He arrived in Cairo on July 1, 2003, and subsequently disappeared, although, as I reported in an article in April this year, entitled, Torture and Terrorism: In the Middle East It’s 2011, In America It’s Still 2001:

In October 2009, Martin Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, complained that, after a visit to Egypt in April 2009, he “regrets that the Government of Egypt did not reply to his questions on the fate of … El-Weleli,” although I was later told that UN representatives finally succeeded in tracking him down, and that he was a broken figure, and very obviously a threat to nobody, who explained that, after his return from Guantánamo, he had been held and tortured in a secret prison in Egypt for three and a half years.

Said Abassin (ISN 671, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how 19-year old Said Abassin was one of two taxi drivers, along with Wazir Mohammed (ISN 677, see below), who were seized by Afghan soldiers in April 2002. Abassin, an admirer of Western culture, who told the BBC after his release that he had been beaten up by the Taliban for playing music in his taxi, was traveling from Khost to Kabul when a loud explosion rocked the US garrison in Gardez. Stopped at a checkpoint and taken to the local police station with his passenger, 33-year old car dealer Alif Khan (ISN 673, see below), he and Khan were accused of being members of al-Qaeda, as was Mohammed, a friend of Abassin, who was captured after asking what had happened to his friend. According to the journalist Ashwin Raman, Taj Mohammad Wardak, the governor of Khost at the time, “was informed of the arrests.” Raman added:

Without bothering to check the facts, Wardak called the US Special Forces who took the two taxi drivers away … When the father of Abassin and the brother of Wazir tried to plead with the governor, they were beaten. Later, some town elders managed to convince Wardak that the young men were innocent. Wardak promised to do all in his power to have the taxi drivers released. Nothing happened. Abassin’s father wrote to the US Ambassador in Kabul, but received no reply. A reminder was sent, but to no avail.

Held in Bagram for 40 days, Abassin described a regime of “sleep deprivation, 24-hour lighting and guards banging on cells and shouting to keep detainees awake.” He said that he was not hit, but was forced to stand, sit and kneel for prolonged periods, and explained that “being forced to kneel for four hours a day felt worse than being beaten.”

He also gave an example of the random injustices that were prevalent in Guantánamo. “While I was there, I had problems with my knees,” he said. “I was told by the military doctor to do exercises, and when I started doing them a guard came and locked me up in a container for five days. I hadn’t done it by my own choice, I was told to do it by the doctor.”

“My life is ruined,” Abassin said after his release. “Why? For which crime? I’d heard that in America or Europe when they arrest someone they have proof. I saw none of that. I was just driving. Arrested and taken to prison. My hands were tied behind my back. They put a sack over my head and took me away in a helicopter.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Said Abassi Rochan, born in 1982, the randomness of his capture was acknowledged by the Task Force. It was noted that he was a taxi driver in the Khost area, and that, “[w]hile traveling through Gardez on his way to Khost, local Afghanistan authorities arrested [him] and the vehicle occupants at a checkpoint based on the suspicion that one of the passengers [Alif Khan, see below] was a relative of a Zadran tribal leader named Pacha Khan.” What was not mentioned was that Pacha Khan had initially been regarded as an ally of the US, and had been responsible for sending other men to Guantánamo for money, and on the basis of false information.

The Task Force also revealed how a 20-minute period sealed Abassin’s fate for the next eleven months, although the role played by Taj Mohammad Wardak was not mentioned. The Task Force noted, “All of the taxi occupants were taken to the local police station where the detainee spent about 20 minutes before being turned over to US forces and later transported to Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, arriving on 13 June 2002.” The spurious reason given for his transfer was “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khost and Kabul based as a result of [sic] his frequent travels through the area as a taxi driver” — a thoroughly weak post-detention piece of reasoning, and something that, if required, could have been obtained from Abassin simply by asking, rather than by brutalizing him and 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 [671] is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader.” In addition, it was noted that he “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. Dunlavey recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Alif Khan (ISN 673, Afghanistan) Released March 2003

In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Alif Khan, who was a passenger in a taxi driven by Said Abassin (ISN 671, see above), was held in Bagram and Kandahar, and described similar treatment to that mentioned by Abassin. He said that the Americans made him kneel for an hour with his hands above his head. “One of them was standing in front of me, the other was pointing the Kalashnikov,” he explained. “If we moved our face to the side they would make us stay for a further two hours. If we moved just slightly it would increase to three hours. We would become unconscious.”

A businessman, Khan told the BBC in November 2003 that, while he was in Guantánamo, “his business rivals grabbed his assets,” including a number of shops, from him, and that, since his release he had “fought to get his property back.” He explained that both he and Said Abassin (described as Sayed Abassin) “were handed in to the Americans in return for bounty payments of several thousand dollars each,” and he said to the BBC, “I told them that in Afghanistan there are many personal disputes. They handed me to you because of some personal feud. I am not Taliban, not a terrorist, not Al-Qaeda. People handed me over because someone wanted to gain influence — dollars or because of a personal dispute.”

This was Khan’s description of his journey to Guantánamo:

They put cuffs and tape on my hands, taped my eyes and taped my ears. They gagged me. They put chains on my legs and chains around my belly. They injected me. I was unconscious. I don’t know how they transported me. When I arrived in Cuba and they took me off the plane they gave another injection and I came back to consciousness. I did not know how long the plane was flying for. It might have been one day or two days. They put me onto a bed on wheels. I could sense what was going on. They tied me up. They took me off the plane into a vehicle. We go to a big prison and there were cages there. They built it like a zoo.

And this was his description of the conditions in Guantánamo:

Each container housed 48 cages. Everyone was in a cage individually. Every cage had a tap, a toilet and water for washing. There was room to sit but not enough to pray. We were praying with difficulty. My joints were damaged. The light was very bright there as well. They were switched on all the time. Because of that our eyes were damaged and from constantly having to look through the netting. There were other blocks and we were not allowed to speak to the people on the other blocks. If we talked to them, they would draw the curtains and they would take our bedding and blankets and they wouldn’t give them back for three days. We would just have our towels to sit on.

What was also notable about his case was that he was mistakenly thought to be a cousin of the renegade warlord Pacha Khan (aka Pacha Khan Zadran), who was trusted by the US, only to betray them, and whose baleful influence extended to other prisoners. As Ashwin Raman reported in March 2004, “There is ample evidence that rogue warlords like Bacha Khan Zadran [aka Pacha Khan Zadran] have palmed people off to US forces as terrorists in return for dollars.”

In 2008, Khan was able to explain more of his story when he was interviewed by Tom Lasseter for a major McClatchy Newspapers series on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners. He told Lasseter that, after his return from Guantánamo, the Taliban in Khost province “sent word that he should join them. Avenge your time in prison, they said, and take up arms against the infidels.” He added that “they asked him to move to the Pakistani province of Waziristan and join the Taliban struggle,” and, when he refused, spread rumors that he had only been released from Guantánamo because he was a spy. As a result, he was living in Kabul, “selling cars and property, and quietly slipping back to Khost once a year to see his family.” He explained, however, that he hadn’t been able to rebuild much of his life, because “he had to spend about $5,000 to buy his business and property back from the warlords who’d seized it when he was detained.”

At Guantánamo, Khan recalled, “he received occasional letters from his family through the Red Cross: ‘Hello and greetings from your brother Dawood. We the whole family and relatives are OK. We pray for your release.’ The US military blacked out large parts, however, citing security concerns. ‘I thought that if they don’t even allow entire letters to come from my family that it meant they would kill us,’ Khan said. ‘I didn’t think I would ever return to Afghanistan.'”

He also “pulled out a laminated card that was signed by the noncommissioned officer in charge of detainee operations at Bagram, where he landed when he returned from Guantánamo,” which was fascinating because it confirmed that some paperwork existed declaring definitively that prisoners were not a threat. The card, which had his name and detainee number on it, said, “This individual has been determined to pose no threat to the United States military or its interests in Afghanistan.”

Khan also “said he had no idea what to think about being at Guantánamo,” stating, sadly, “I was living in a cage in the middle of the ocean.” He added, “I saw Arabs try to hang themselves, but the guards came in time and took them to the hospital. Maybe it was because they were there for a long time, because they had no hope.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1967 and had been diagnosed in Guantánamo with latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, and also with hepatitis C, although it was also noted that he “currently does not require treatment,” and that he was “otherwise in good health.”

In a twist on the story of his capture, it was revealed that he “was a self-employed owner of a car dealership” in Khost province, and that his capture had something to do with two people “whom he apparently had done business with in the past,” named Fazel and Sharif, at least one of whom — Sharif — appears to have been a corrupt policeman. As the Task Force described it, they “stopped [him] on the road from Gardez to Khost. Sharif extorted 9,000 rupees from [him] after holding him for three days at the Gardez Police Department. After paying Sharif for his release, Fazel then demanded a vehicle from [him]. [He] refused and was subsequently turned over to American forces.”

Speaking to Tom Lasseter, Khan provided further details, explaining that the men who had seized him — presumably Fazel and Sharif — “had arrested him a few days earlier, on the way to Kabul, but released him when he paid a bribe with a stack of Pakistani rupees and a Rado watch. This time, however, the men dragged him to their headquarters, beat him on his feet with sticks, then handed him over to the Americans.”

Lasseter also explained that the security chief in Gardez at the time of his capture, Abdullah Mujahid [ISN 1100], was also held at Guantánamo “after being charged with organizing attacks on American troops,” and that his men “had a reputation for corruption — extortion was a frequent pastime — and for drumming up charges against their political and tribal enemies.” Lasseter added that Afghan security and political officials interviewed in Kabul, Khost and Gardez “said they’d never heard of Khan, which suggests that if he had ties to Islamic militants, they weren’t very strong.” Lasseter also pointed out that Khan’s “relatively fast exit from Guantánamo suggests that whatever the allegations against him were, they either weren’t very serious or were found to be false.”

He was sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his possible knowledge of an Afghan Machas Refugee Camp located near Miram, Pakistan,” a statement that doesn’t even seem to make sense, and that, noticeably, fails to mention the Pacha Khan connection that was supposed to have justified his detention in the first place.

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 [673] is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader.” In addition, it was noted that he “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. Dunlavey recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”

Timur Ishmuradov (ISN 674, Russia) Released March 2004

Like five other prisoners freed from a Taliban jail in Kandahar and then, inexplicably, sent to Guantánamo (see, for example, the story of Jamal al-Harith, ISN 490, in Part Five), Timur Ishmuradov, a 26-year old from Tyumen Oblast (part of the Russian Federation, in the Urals), said that he was imprisoned by the Taliban in summer 2001, and was then freed but sent to Guantánamo, along with another prisoner, Arkan al-Karim, an Iraqi.

On his release, Ishmuradov was particularly incensed at the treatment he received at the hands of the Americans. In an article entitled, “Russians sue US government for torturing them at Guantánamo camp,” which was published by the Associated Press on February 4, 2005, he said, “I have traces of their tortures on my body [and] scars on my back after being dragged on the ground. They would beat me during interrogations and also while taking me from one place to another.”

In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 5, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Timur Ravilich Ishmurat, born in 1975, it was noted that he had been diagnosed with hepatitis A and C, latent tuberculosis (in common with many of the prisoners) and “antisocial personality traits,” although it was also noted that he was “otherwise in good health.”

The Task Force also stated that he was “a former oil worker,” who had joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 in Tajikistan, “where he received basic military training,” and then traveled to Afghanistan, “[w]hen the Tajik government moved the IMU to Kunduz, Afghanistan, under the patronage of the Taliban in January 2001.” He then reportedly moved with the IMU to Mazar-e-Sharif, where they “took over an old Russian facility that was provided to them by the Taliban,” but retreated to Kunduz when Mazar fell to the Northern Alliance, and then surrendered.

According to this account, he was never imprisoned by the Taliban at all, but, fearing that he would be handed back to the Russians because of ties between the Russian government and the Northern Alliance, he fled, only to be “captured while entering the first Afghan village he encountered,” and then transferred back to the custody of the Northern Alliance. Rather confusingly, it was stated that he was then “sent to join an Afghani-Uzbek group” and “was later taken to the village of Iskamish, where he stayed until soldiers of the new Afghan government arrived and arrested him in April 2002.” He was then “taken to Mazar-e-Sharif and interrogated for one week,” and was then transferred to Bagram and sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of “his knowledge of Hizbunadzad Tajik Islamic insurgency group, of its leader, Saeed Abdullah Nuri, of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its military/political leadership, and of a training facility located near 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 [674] 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.”

It was also noted that, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 14 to 19 November 2002, Russian Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 674] 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, he poses no future threat to the US or its allies. In addition, the Russian government has agreed to share all intelligence derived from him while under their control with the United States.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of the Russian government.”

After their return to Russia, these punitive demands were not exactly followed, although the men suffered at their own government’s hands. All seven ex-prisoners “were initially held in a detention center in the southern town of Pyatigorsk that is run by the FSB, the domestic successor of the KGB,” as the Washington Post explained in an article in September 2006. The Post further explained that all seven were released in June 2004, “after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to hold them,” but also noted that their release “did not end official interest in the men.”

This was confirmed in “The Stamp of Guantánamo,” a report by Human Rights Watch in March 2007 in which it was noted:

Faced with the return of seven former detainees from Guantánamo, Russian law enforcement might legitimately have been expected to keep an eye on whether the men were engaged in any suspicious activity after they got home. Such surveillance could have been conducted while also respecting the ex-detainees’ human rights. It was not.

The detainees and their family members uniformly complained of being frequently called, followed, and threatened by the FSB, UBOP [Russia's brutal organized crime squad], and other police officials after their return.Some family members reported that their homes were searched without warrants, in violation of Russian and international law. Some reported, in fact, that their homes were so frequently searched that they were unable to provide exact dates of those searches.

Timur Ishmuratov told Human Rights Watch that he “also experienced beatings at the hands of the FSB and the UBOP,” and explained that, just before their release from Pyatigorsk, “a high-ranking FSB official met with all of them and told them that ‘the Russian government has no complaints against you,'” and that, “if you live according to the law, then you won’t have any harassment. He cited the Russian leadership. I believed him.”

In contrast, Ishmuratov was harassed after an explosion, early in the morning of January 8, 2005, on “a small pipeline delivering home heating fuel to a residential section of Bugulma, a city in southern Tatarstan, several hundred kilometers east of Moscow.” He and his wife “lived in a small town not far away.,” but although there were “no casualties in the explosion,” Ishmuratov was “called in for increasingly aggressive questioning and harassment” over several months, and was then “taken into custody on April 1, 2005, from the Bugulma mosque where he worked as a guard.”

In a statement smuggled out of the Almetevsk detention facility, he explained how the FSB forced a false confession out of him, forcing him to strip, and then punching him and kicking him violently. He added that they also “threatened to call in my mother and my pregnant wife for questioning,” and abused the Koran, and that eventually he agreed to make a false confession. “I agreed to give them the testimony,” he said, “being unable to withstand the physical and psychological pressure, and also out of concern for my wife and unborn child. They warned me that I had to stick to the testimony in all my interrogations, otherwise they’d beat me up again.”

Ishmuratov’s mother also told Human Rights Watch that “security service officers brought Ishmuratov in handcuffs to the maternity hospital, where his wife had just delivered a baby, to put pressure on his family not to hire a lawyer to pursue complaints of abuse,” and his brother explained how he too had been beaten by police, while handcuffed to a radiator, “to coerce him to admit that he had witnessed preparations for the crime.”

Ishmuratov later recanted his confession in both his 2005 trial and 2006 retrial, but was sentenced to 11 years and one month in prison, in large part because of his coerced confession. For another angle on the alleged plot, see the story of Ravil Gumarov, ISN 203, in Part Three, who received a 13-year sentence for his alleged involvement in the pipeline explosion.

In conclusion, in April 2005, Ishmuratov “asked for a criminal case to be opened against the men who had beaten him in detention,” in which he stated, bluntly and powerfully, “I ask you to help me escape from torture and obtain justice. I’m a former prisoner of the American camp at Guantánamo, where I endured the bullying of the American military, and now I’m treated even worse by the special forces and law enforcement authorities of Russia.”

Wazir Mohammed (ISN 677, Afghanistan) Released November 2003

Before the release by WikiLeaks of the Detainee Assessment Briefs, all that was known of Wazir Mohammed was that he was a taxi driver, seized after his friend Said Abassin, another taxi driver (ISN 671, see above), was arrested by Afghan forces, along with his passenger Alif Khan (ISN 673, also see above).

Clearly he — like Abassin and Khan — should never have been seized, let alone transferred to Guantánamo, and this was confirmed in his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Wazir Zalim Ghul, born in 1977, and it was noted that he “stated that he was arrested on 4 April 2002 by Gardez security forces in the city of Gardez, Afghanistan,” while traveling from Kabul to Khost “with four passengers in his taxicab,” and while he was “carrying his cab license, identification papers, taxi permit, and other related documents for the vehicle.” The Task Force added that “[n]o weapons or equipment were found with him at the time of his arrest,” and explained the circumstances of his capture as follows:

While stopped at [a] checkpoint, [he] was asked by the security forces whether he knew another taxi driver who had also stopped at the checkpoint. The other taxi driver [Said Abassin] had a man in his cab [Alif Khan] whom was thought to be working for a rival warlord in Paktia, AF. While detainee does know the other cab driver, he did not know any of the passengers [and] believes that he was taken into custody because of a misunderstanding.

This was something of an understatement, as there was clearly no reason whatsoever that he should have been held for more than a cursory amount of time in Gardez, before being freed, and his ignorance of anything to do with militancy or insurgency was apparent from the Task Force’s comment that, although he “admits he knows who the local leaders are, he had never met them nor does he work for them.” In a further insult, the spurious reason given for his transfer to Guantánamo on June 14, 2002 was “because of his suspected knowledge of local warlords and their activities.”

In reviewing his case, the Joint Task Force assessed him as “being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader,” who was “of no intelligence value to the United States,” and who posed “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.”

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

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Hope you’re all well out there! I’m now on Agistri, a lovely little Greek island, marveling at the ability of wi-fi to connect me to you all — but generally, I must admit, not bothering to think about computers and the world wide web at all! The sea is warm and blue, the sun is hot, and I have one more week of relaxation. For anyone wondering, I prepared this article before leaving London.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Felicity Arbuthnot wrote:

    It was you that started the riots – from Agistri – see what Cameron said about restricting modern technology …(!)

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Oops! Ah yes, Felicity, hatching a campaign to mildly inconvenience JD Sports from the other end of the EU!
    I’m sooo glad I haven’t been around to hear all the cross-party complaints about our feral youths, with no one asking if possibly politicians and the media should bear some of the blame for spending the last few decades promoting nothing but a message of greed and materialism and self-absorbed stupidity, and few wanting to mention that, even if random looting is not an adequate response to the cuts, the two may not be unrelated.
    Cameron and Osborne have utterly failed to inspire in the British people anything other than misery and fear, missing the essential point that if you want to be a successful Tory landowner (as they so very obviously do), you have to treat your serfs with something other than contempt. If I have to hear Cameron talking down to me again like I’m a mentally damaged child, it will be too soon!

  4. Alexey Braguine says...

    Enjoy your holiday the food and retzina! :)

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    That’s the spirit, Andy!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    Dugg

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m Digging and sharing this now.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Louise and George, and everyone who has shared this. Part Nine will be published on Friday and I’ll be back in the UK on Monday. In the meantime, I’m supposed to be working on two articles, but it’s almost too hot to think! I’m sheltering from the sun today, as I nearly fried yesterday (despite powerful sunblock), cycling with my family to a secluded beach on Agistri’s west coast.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Alexey! Good to hear from you.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Worse than what you wrote, Andy. What is being talked about now in the UK might be a test case for abandoning any notion of proportional justice and ditto sentencing. The result might be judicial arbitrariness.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it looks like it, George, although we’ll have to see what’s possible after the initial authoritarian impulses die down. Nevertheless, it’s deeply troubling to have so many people calling for those involved in looting, if unemployed, to have their benefits cut and their homes taken away from them, as the notion here, if extended, could be applied to anyone involved in any crime. I despair at my fellow countrymen and women when they reveal so easily the violent thoughts that lurk just beneath the surface of their supposedly placid and respectable lives.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote;

    That’s right, “any crime” is what I meant.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, George. Glad to know that you’re so perceptive about the dangers of the establishment hysteria here in the UK. Again, it’s alarming how few British people perceive the fascistic undercurrents of their thinking — as well as their deep disdain for the poor. Few people, it seems, want to talk about the general lack of values in our lives — perhaps because it would involve them looking in a mirror and realizing that their only philosophy in life is “I’m all right, Jack.”

  14. Joe says...

    it’s alarming how few British people perceive the fascistic undercurrents of their thinking — as well as their deep disdain for the poor. Few people, it seems, want to talk about the general lack of values in our lives — perhaps because it would involve them looking in a mirror and realizing that their only philosophy in life is “I’m all right, Jack”

    https://www.facebook.com/anxietytreatmenttips

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington Bagram British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Guantanamo Habeas corpus Hunger strikes Lewisham London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Photos President Obama Reprieve Save Lewisham A&E Shaker Aamer Taliban Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts WikiLeaks Yemenis