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 15 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 final 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 Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight and Part Nine of this series. Coming up next will be analyses of the prisoners released as a result of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals in 2004-05.
Peta Muhammed (ISN 908, Afghanistan) Released March 2004
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I told the story of a group of 30 prisoners rounded up after a raid by US Special Forces, in December 2002, on a compound in Musawal village, near Zormat, in Paktia province in Afghanistan, which was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan. Eight of the 30 were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo, even though they appeared to have had nothing to do with the supposed anti-coalition activities of their boss, and were (according to testimony recorded at Guantánamo) treated brutally in a US base in Gardez and at Bagram, where they were abused until they admitted attacking US forces. Only four of these stories were available at the time I wrote The Guantánamo Files, but they were deeply shocking, as they revealed that, of the four, two (Asadullah Rahman and Naqibullah, see below) were only 13 or 14 years ofd when they were seized.
Mentioned briefly in my articles, “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (12) – The Last of the Afghans (Part Two)” and ” The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” Peta Muhammed, also seized in the raid, was also possibly a juvenile (defined as those under 18 at the time their alleged crimes took place), as he was born in 1985, according to the prisoner list released by the Pentagon in May 2006 (PDF), which included, where available, the dates and places of birth of the prisoners.
However, in Muhammed’s Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” his date of birth was recorded as 1984, which, if correct, would mean that he was almost certainly 18 at the time of his capture.
Elsewhere, the file confirmed that he was essentially insignificant, and had not raised arms against US forces. It was noted that he “stated that he worked as a cook” for Samoud Khan (erroneously described as “a known Taliban supporter”), “who had recruited him to do menial work around his compound.” He also “stated that while working around the compound he heard the Americans were coming but he believed they were not coming to attack but to form an alliance.” He “did note that several key figures fled the compound but he denie[d] being told to stay behind and fight the Americans.”
He explained that he and “about a half dozen others stayed behind and when the Americans came they rounded everyone up and loaded them [onto] trucks and took them to prison.” A “Field note” added that “[o]ther detainees arrested in this same raid advised that they were ordered to ‘fight’ the Americans while the leaders fled the compound however no firefight occurred.”
It was also noted that he was sent to Guantánamo “around 5 August 2002″ (that should be 2003) “because of his knowledge of Samoud Khan’s compound,” which was only partly true, because, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention, though he has not been completely forthcoming concerning his association with individuals affiliated with the Taliban. Based on all the above, detainee poses a low threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Muhammed himself added that he “wishe[d] to return to Afghanistan and would like to work for Americans there.”
Abdul Samad (ISN 911, Afghanistan) Released September 2004
Another of the eight prisoners seized in December 2002 during a raid by US Special Forces on a compound in Afghanistan that was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan, Abdul Samad was probably a juvenile at the time of his capture. As I noted in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (12) – The Last of the Afghans (Part Two),” the Pentagon recorded his date of birth as 1982, but when representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross met Guantánamo’s commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, on October 9, 2003 (PDF), they noted that he was actually born in 1987.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was also a “Transfer Recommendation,” his date of birth was recorded as 1986, meaning that he was just 15 or 16 years old when he was seized. In an account that was largely similar to that of Peta Muhammed, it was noted that he was hired by Samoud Khan to work in his compound near Gardez (which was described as “Takar compound”), “doing menial laborer jobs including security.” He also “stated that as he worked in the compound, people started talking about the Americans and that they were coming to the compound,” but “he did not fear the Americans and did not believe they were going to attack the compound.” Like Peta Muhammed, he stated that “several people fled the compound, fearing being arrested,” adding that, “When the Americans arrived, they took all the guns and arrested [him] with about six others.” Crucially, he added, “there was no shooting by either side.” He also noted that “he had only been at the compound for about 25 days before being arrested.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of personality information on Samoud Khan, personalities associated with Samoud Khan, and the Partak and Shirwakala compounds and their activities.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that, “Based on current information, detainee  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 and its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Asadullah Rahman (ISN 912, Afghanistan) Released January 2004
One of three well-known juvenile prisoners released in January 2004 (also see Naqibullah and Mohammed Ismael Agha, below), Rahman, like Naqibullah, was one of eight prisoners seized in December 2002 during a raid by US Special Forces on a compound in Afghanistan that was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan. The eight also included two other juveniles, or probably juveniles — Peta Muhammed and Abdul Samad (see above).
As I explained in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing on an article in the Guardian that was published in March 2004, Rahman, who was described as being 12 years old at the time of his capture, was originally from Logar province, but moved to Paktia with his family when he was eight, after a feud over land, and had been working for Samoud since he was ten, when his uncle found him paid work serving food and washing dishes. Repeatedly kicked and beaten in his first five days in custody at Gardez, he was missing for seven months before his father found out that he was still alive.
This was an adequate précis of some of the key elements in the Guardian article, but other details were also included, and other information surfaced for the first time in the first article about Rahman written after his release, which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 13, 2004. In that article, Sonia Verma stated that Rahman told her that “[h]e was just 10 years old when American soldiers stormed the compound of the local Afghan commander who was holding him captive,” although she added that, based on medical tests, US military officials said that they believed Asadullah was “older than he claim[ed], perhaps 13 to 15.” She added that Naqibullah and Mohammed Ismael Agha, released with him, said “he was about 13 when he was freed.”
As proof of his youth, Asadullah points to a Polaroid hanging on his bedroom wall, too fresh to have faded, taken just before he was captured. In the photo, he looks like a child — standing, flanked by his cousin and older brother, in a field of wildflowers. Today he is 5 feet tall and mostly muscle, with a tired smile, dense lashes and old-man eyes.
Rahman told Verma, “They should have arrested al-Qaeda, not me. I was just innocent.” To the Pentagon, however, he was “a trained gunman conscripted to fight in an anti-US militia.” Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokesperson, told her, “The Taliban leadership directed younger members to counterattack the US forces in the area. The juveniles were removed from the battlefield to prevent further harm to US forces and to themselves.”
In contrast, however, Asadullah maintained that “he was sold into sexual slavery” to Samoud Khan, described as “a militia leader with a reputation for terrorizing surrounding villages.” As Verma described it:
“I was brought there to service the commander’s men,” Asadullah says in a quiet voice. During the day, he served food and washed dishes. At night, he was asked to do other things he is too ashamed to utter.
Verma also explained, “By his 10th birthday, he had spent about a month with the militia and knew his way around an AK-47,” but added that, according to his own account, he “never pulled a trigger.” He also said that, although Samoud had many enemies, “Americans weren’t among them. ” As he put it, “He wasn’t Taliban, but he was a criminal.” Mohammad Sabir, the military commander of the district police force, agreed with Asadullah’s assessment, explaining that Samoud and his 30 men (or boys) “were not Taliban but an armed band that often extorted money from local villagers.”
Describing his capture, Asadullah told Verma that Samoud and his entourage “were sitting down to dinner when around 50 American soldiers stormed the compound.” He added, “They said they were looking for al-Qaeda and Taliban soldiers.” Those captured — who did not include Samoud himself — were taken to the US base in Gardez, where, according to some accounts, they were treated brutally, although Asadullah stated, “At Gardez, I was beaten. But I wasn’t beaten too much. There was some kicking, nothing more.” He was then transferred to Bagram, where he believed he was held “for four or five months,” and was then transferred to Guantánamo, where, he said, his interrogators “seemed shocked” when they asked him how old he was and he told them. “I was the youngest person they had ever arrested,” he said.
In the Guardian, Asadullah Rahman explained how his interrogation became what James Astill described as “a predictable affair.” “I said, ‘Look, I don’t anything about the Taliban,'” Asadullah said. “But anyway, the Taliban were the government so lots of people worked with them. Just because you were Taliban it doesn’t mean you’re a criminal.”
Asadullah also explained that “[t]he first sign his family received that [he] was alive came in a letter delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross more than a year after he went missing,” and his mother showed it to Sonia Verma, who described it as “creased and tear-stained and bear[ing] the stamp of military clearance.” In it, Asadullah wrote, “All of the greetings from my heart I convey to the family. I keep my hope alive by the grace of Allah. Please send me a letter when you can. Please don’t cut the connection, write soon.”
In addition, Asadullah told Verma about the circumstances in which he, Naqibullah and Mohammed Ismael Agha were held after the US military recognised that they were juveniles — in Camp Iguana, separate from the main prison population. “From his bedroom,” she wrote, “he could see the ocean.” In Camp Iguana, the boys were allowed to play football, sometimes with the soldiers guarding them, and Asadullah also learned to play chess. They were also “taught to read and write English,” which “was the first time they had attended anything resembling school,” and Asadullah “was also given books in Pashto and a copy of the Koran.” As he also explained, “Sometimes we were allowed to watch television. I liked to watch movies.”
As he also told Verma, “Guantánamo was like home if you compare it to Bagram.” He added, however, “I wished I was more independent, more free. I wished I was not like a prisoner.” In the Guardian, Asadullah expanded this theme. “I was very sad because I missed my family so much,” he said. “I was always asking, ‘When can I go home? What day? What month?’ They said, ‘You’ll go home soon’, but they never said when.” Nevertheless, he noted that “the soldiers assigned to guard them became friends,” stating, “They were so kind to us.” When they were released, one of the guards “gave him a football and a chessboard to take back to Afghanistan.” “The guards gave me a big hug and said, “Be good. Go to school,'” Asadullah added.
Back in Afghanistan, the boys were met by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who escorted them to the Interior Ministry in Kabul, where they received identity papers before being taken to be reunited with their families. Asadullah’s mother said, “We did not expect to see him alive. Everybody was crying.” She also said, as Sonia Verma put it, that she “barely recognized her son. His voice had changed. He had whiskers and a sprinkle of acne.”
The Guardian article also expanded on Asadullah’s mother’s concerns, noting how she cried “every night thinking about my son,” and said, “I prayed to God, I asked, ‘Where is my son?’ He was just a boy, much too young to disappear on his own.”
The Guardian added that Asadullah “was gone for seven months before his parents discovered his whereabouts. For the first two months, his uncles and cousins were afraid to tell his elderly father, Abdul Rahman, that he was missing, believing the shock might kill him.” James Astill added, “Almost the entire male population of Khoja Angur, a fortified mud-village, snowbound and ringed by icy peaks, downed tools and went searching for the boy. ‘They went to Bagram, but the Americans said they didn’t know anything about him,’ said Abdul Rahman, white-bearded and heavy-breathing. ‘They went to Logar and Gardez, even to Kandahar, but no one knew about him.'”
On his return to his home village of Khoja Angur, the elders “ruled that the matter was closed” after accepting his explanation that he had been treated well. For his father, however, “the matter [was] not closed,” because he had “borrowed several thousand dollars to support his relatives’ families while they looked for his son,” and, to raise the money, had been “forced to forfeit his land” and was fending off creditors whom he was unable to repay. He explained how his eldest son, a shopkeeper in Kabul, had had to cancel his engagement because of a lack of money, and also stated, “I thank God that my son has come back, but he has changed. He is impatient and refuses to listen to his elders. He has grown disobedient.” There seemed to be some truth to this, in Asadullah’s words to James Astill, while he was in Kabul, seeking help from the UN to continue the education he had received in Guantánamo. “There is no electricity and no clinic in my village,” he said. “It’s a bit boring, nothing new happens there.”
Interestingly, Sonia Verma’s account noted that US military officials refused to acknowledge that there had been anything wrong with detaining the three boys. They said they “had provided useful intelligence but had no further value and were no longer a threat to the United States.” What was not discussed were the other juveniles — at least 19 in total, as I explained most recently in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo” — who were not held separately from the main prison population, and rehabilitated rather then punished, as stipulated in the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which rather undermined comments made by Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Burfeind, who said, “We recognize the special needs of juvenile detainees and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their young lives. Every effort was made to provide them a secure environment free from the influences of older detainees.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Asad Ullah, and his date of birth was given as 1988, the disputed American claim that some of those seized “advised that they were ordered to ‘fight’ the Americans while the leaders fled the compound” resurfaced, although crucially it was also conceded that no violence actually took place. As described in the file, he reportedly “stated that when US and allied forces raided [Samoud’s] compound … he and several others were ordered to stay behind. The Taliban members at the compound were forewarned of a pending raid and departed the area but directed the younger members to wait and attack the US forces when they arrived.” The important addition was that “[he] and others surrendered without fighting and that [he] was not captured with any weapons.”
He was sent to Guantánamo in December 2002 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban and Al-Qaida activity in the Paktia province and their probable connection to Chinese weapons suppliers.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that he was “assessed as being a child soldier who was forced by the Taliban into conscription,” and that, “[t]hough [he] may still have some remaining intelligence, it’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove this juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to ‘grow out’ of the radical extremism he has been subject to.”
The Task Force also noted that, based on the information collected about Asadullah, “it must be assessed that [he] is of low intelligence value to the United States at this time. Based on the above, detainee poses a low threat to the US, its interests and allies and 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.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to an approved organization with a program that can provide assistance to help [him] become a productive member of his society.”
Naqibullah (ISN 913, Afghanistan) Released January 2004
Another of three well-known juvenile prisoners released in January 2004 (also see Asadullah Rahman, above, and Mohammed Ismael Agha, below), Naqibullah (also identified by the US authorise as Naqib Ullah), like Rahman, was one of eight prisoners seized in December 2002 during a raid by US Special Forces on a compound in Afghanistan that was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan.The eight also included two other juveniles, or probable juveniles — Peta Muhammed and Abdul Samad (see above).
As I explained in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing on an article that was cross-posted on the Cageprisoners website, Naqibullah, described as being 13 years old at the time of his capture, was not even part of Samoud’s group. The local imam’s son, he was arrested after stumbling on the US raid while cycling home from a friend’s house. Subjected to brutal interrogation in Bagram, he also said that his first ten days in Guantánamo were the worst ten days of his life.
In a Guardian article published in March 2004, James Astill explained how Naqibullah, located in “his remote village in south-eastern Afghanistan,” described life in Guantánamo as “good,” explaining that “[t]he food in the camp was delicious, the teaching was excellent, and his warders were kind.” In his own words, “Americans are good people, they were always friendly, I don’t have anything against them. If my father didn’t need me, I would want to live in America.”
Nevertheless, describing his time at Bagram, he confirmed that it had been arduous. “It was terrifying, I didn’t know what was happening to me,” he said. “There were many of us in a small cell. Some men were screaming to be let free.” He said that he was interrogated every day. “They kept asking me, ‘Do you know the Taliban? Do you know al-Qaida? Have you given them shelter? Have you given them food?’ I told them, ‘I don’t know these people, and I am too young to give anything to anyone without my father’s authority.'”
In Guantánamo, where he was sent after two weeks in Bagram, and where, as I mentioned previously, he regarded his first 10 days as “the worst of his life,” he was held “in a tiny cell with a single slit-window as his interrogation continued.” He also discussed how “everything changed” after he “was taken to an American general who said, ‘We will educate you and soon you will go home.'”
Providing further information about how he, Asadullah Rahman and Mohammed Ismael Agha were treated prior to their release, James Astill explained how they were “moved into one large room, which was never locked, ” and “were taught Pashto (their own language), English, Arabic, maths, science, art and, for two months, Islam.” Naqibullah said, “The American soldiers ate pork but they said we must never do that because we were Muslim. They were very strict about Islam.”
As well as playing football, as noted by Asadullah Rahman, Naqibullah said that they also sometimes played basketball and volleyball with their guards. He also revealed to James Astill the first letter he had sent home from Guantánamo, as facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross:
“My greetings to beloved family, to my beloved father, to my beloved uncles, to my beloved cousins, to my beloved brothers. I am in good health and happy. I am in Cuba, in a special room, but it is not like a jail. Don’t worry about me. I am learning English, Pashto and Arabic.” The next two lines of the letter were scrubbed out by the Guantánamo censor. Asadullah said he couldn’t for the life of him remember what they said.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was stated that he was a Pakistani national, “born in approximately 1988″ in Zargary Camp, a refugee camp (meaning, to my mind, that he was not a Pakistani national, but an Afghan refugee born to Afghan parents), it was also noted that he “stated that he was kidnapped while doing an errand for his father by 11 men who belonged to a group called ‘Samoud’s people,'” who “abducted him, forcibly raped him at gunpoint and he was taken back to their village encampment as a prisoner and forced to do manual work.”
He added that “he had been at the camp around 3 days when US forces conducted a raid.” As with Peta Muhammed and Asadullah Rahman, the disputed American claim, alleging that some of those seized “advised that they were ordered to ‘fight’ the Americans while the leaders fled the compound” resurfaced, although crucially it was again conceded that no violence actually took place. In Naqibullah’s DAB, it was stated, “The group had been forewarned of the pending raid and they ordered [him] and some others to stay behind and fight the Americans.” It was also noted that Naqibullah “was captured in possession of a weapon but it had not been fired.”
He was sent to Guantánamo in January 2003 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his possible knowledge of Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that he was assessed as “a kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban,” and that, “[t]hough [he] may still have some remaining intelligence, it’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove this juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to ‘grow out’ of the radical extremism he has been subject to.”
The Task Force also noted that, based on the information collected about Naqibullah, “he has no further intelligence value to the United States.’ It was also noted that 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” and was “considered [a] low threat to the US, its interests and its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to an approved organization with a program that can provide assistance to help [him] become a productive member of his society.”
Mohammed Ismael Agha (ISN 930, Afghanistan) Released January 2004
The last of three well-known juvenile prisoners released in January 2004 (also see Asadullah Rahman and Naqib Ullah, above), Mohammed Ismael Agha, as I explained in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, was 14 years old when he was seized with another 14-year old, Abdul Qudus, who was not released until April 2005. The two, according to their own accounts, were sold to the Americans by Afghan soldiers. Agha said they had been looking for work, and ended up spending the night at an Afghan militia post in Gereshk. The following morning, Qudus said that the soldiers wanted to give them weapons and make them fight, and when they refused they were put in a car, delivered to the Americans, and accused of being with the Taliban.
Speaking to the Associated Press after his release, in “a relative’s general store at the bazaar in Naw Zad, a market town about 300 miles southwest of Kabul,” which was near to his home village, Agha, described as being 15 years old, and identified as Mohammed Ismail Agha, said, “At first I was unhappy with the US forces. They stole 14 months of my life.” He explained that US forces had interrogated him at Bagram asking him “whether he was a Taliban supporter,” but that, in Guantánamo, “there were few questions, only schooling, prayer, and good food.” “[T]hey gave me a good time in Cuba. They were very nice to me, giving me English lessons,” he said.
Explaining, “I’m not Taliban, it’s not true. I’m innocent,” Agha reiterated his story about traveling with a friend to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, in late 2002 in search of work, stating, as the AP described it, that he and his friend — identified as Mohammed Wali rather than as Abdul Qudus — “were standing outside a shop in a town along the way when they were detained by Afghan militiamen.”
“They said, ‘Come and join us,’ but we told them we are poor people, jobless, and we don’t want to join the militia, we want to earn money,” Agha said. “Then they said, ‘You are Taliban.'”
Handed over to US soldiers, he said that he was taken first to Kandahar, where he “lost track of his friend” and had “not seen him since,” and then to Bagram, “where he was held in solitary confinement.” “They were interrogating me every day, and in the first three or four days giving just a little food and giving punishment,” he said, explaining that, as the AP put it, “[h]e was not beaten but was made to sit on his haunches for three or four hours at a time, even when he wanted to sleep.”
He also said that his family “feared he was dead,” because they did not receive a letter from him until ten months after he was first held.
Asked to comment on Agha’s case, US officials refused to speak directly about him, “saying that identifying the youths could put them in danger,” but they did state that one of the three juveniles freed “told of being conscripted into an anti-American militia group. A second said he was abducted by the Taliban and forced to train and fight, while the third was studying in an extremist mosque and captured while preparing to obtain weapons.” As with Asadullah Rahman’s case, it was also noted that military officials said that they “had provided viable intelligence but had no further value and were no longer a threat to the United States.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was stated that his name was Mohammed Ismail, and that he was born in 1988. Despite the date the file was compiled, it was stated that, as a result, he was 16, even though that was impossible, and he was either 14 (if born after August 23) or 15 (if born before August 23).
In relating his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had “worked since childhood with his father constructing buildings and houses, when [until] a lack of employment forced him to search for work elsewhere.” He then traveled to neighbouring towns and villages in Helmand province, including Lashkar Gah, looking in vain for work, and then, with his friend Mohammed Wali, who he talked about after his release (but who was here described as Mohammed Whali), he “traveled to Gereshk and stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of town.” There, he essentially told the same story he told after his release, although with some new details.
“Soldiers in the vicinity were working on an irrigation ditch known as a ‘Khali,'” he said, “so [he] thought he might find work on the project. [He] and Whali woke a soldier sleeping in a nearby tent and requested work, but were denied. Instead the soldier offered the pair a chance to join the Taliban and fight against Americans. Whali accepted the offer for both of them, but detainee was apprehensive, stating that he wanted to find construction work instead.” Both boys were then betrayed, as the soldiers “planned to go into Gereshk city the next day and offered to take the detainee and Whali with them. However, instead of taking them to Gereshk, the soldiers turned them over to a commander” who “put them into another vehicle and took them to jail.” There, according to Agha’s account, “interrogators allegedly told [him] that Whali would be released because he admitted that he was Taliban, so he admitted it also.”
Instead, he was transferred to Bagram, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002 (actually, 2003) on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of possible plans to attack American forces in Afghanistan, as well as ingress and egress routes in Afghanistan.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force failed to mention his age, noting only that he was “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 poses a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government,” although it was also noted that, although “JTF Guantanamo notified the Criminal Investigative Task Force of this recommendation on 17 June 2003, [o]n 16 July 2003 the CITF Assessment Board met and determined that [he] be recommended to be retained in DoD control because CITF ha[d] not fully assessed his case.”
Four years after his release, In a fact sheet entitled, “Former GTMO Detainee Terrorism Trends” (PDF), issued by the Pentagon on June 13, 2008, it was claimed that he “was recaptured four months [after his release] in May 2004, participating in an attack on US forces near Kandahar. At the time of his recapture, Ismail carried a letter confirming his status as a Taliban member in good standing.”
It is not known whether there is any truth to this claim, or, perhaps more importantly, whether, if recruited, Agha did so willingly. When he was first interviewed after his release, the Associated Press noted that officials in Naw Zad, where he was interviewed, “sent a messenger to summon Agha from Durabien village, where he lives, to talk to reporters, warning that there were Taliban in the hills where he lived,” and it is easy to imagine that these men would have targeted Agha for recruitment, whether willingly or not, because of his status as a former prisoner of America.
Haji Naim Kuchi (ISN 931, Afghanistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, “Having failed to round up a single Taliban leader throughout 2003, only one of the 90 men captured in this period was flagged as a significant catch — and even he turned out to be nothing of the sort. 62-year old Haji Naeem Kochi, a tribal elder of the nomadic Kochi tribe, was the object of a manhunt from the earliest days of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ when the Americans bombed numerous locations in an attempt to kill him. Human Rights Watch reported that defense department officials told them that he ‘was a former Taliban official and a “scumbag” involved in smuggling arms over the Pakistani border,’ but when he was finally captured by US forces, on his way to meet President Karzai to discuss a tribal dispute on January 1, 2003, his reputation seemed to vanish like a mirage. Instead of validating the Americans’ concerns, this frail, unthreatening man, who suffered from diabetes and wore a surgical belt after one of his kidneys was removed, was so insignificant that he was released from Guantánamo in September 2004.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 3, 2004, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which he was identified as Haji Niam Kuchi, born in 1940, the only medical problem noted was his diabetes. In relating his story, the Joint Task Force confirmed that he was seized on January 1, 2003, “while traveling with his nephew in Kabul,” and “due to suspected affiliations with the Al-Qaida and Taliban [sic].”
He was sent to on Guantánamo on March 22, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was “due to the probability that [he] would be able to provide information on the escape of Arab Al-Qaida members into Pakistan as well as Afghan politics, ground forces, and personalities that have and will provide leadership in Afghanistan.”
However, the Task Force also claimed that he “was a key logistical facilitator for subversive activities throughout Afghanistan with direct and strong ties to Al-Qaida, Taliban, Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate [ISI] and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) operatives,” and that he “possesses knowledge of Taliban and Al-Qaida operations and was involved in the smuggling of weapons.” In addition, the Task Force stated that he was “purported to have information concerning Taliban, Al-Qaida, and Chechen operatives and their actions during Operation Enduring Freedom,” and “has strong ties with senior level operatives in several terrorist organizations and support networks to include Al-Qaida and the HIG.”
This was quite a list, and reasons for doubting it are described below, but it is of interest not just because of its purported scope (which, if true, would surely have led to Kuchi’s ongoing detention), but also because US forces were interested in monitoring the activities of the ISI, Pakistan’s largest intelligence service, and, theoretically, one of the Americans’ closest allies during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, although, in reality, of course, the US has never quite comprehended the extent to which parts of Pakistan’s establishment have their own distinct agenda, involving, in some cases, explicitly backing the Taliban.
In its assessment, the Task Force insisted on maintaining Kuchi as a high-level threat, noting that he was assessed as “a key logistics facilitator and supporter of terrorism in Afghanistan,” who “has the capability to continue to do so.” He was also described as being “of high intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high threat to the US, its allies and interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DoD control,” although it was also noted that the Criminal lnvestigative Task Force had evidently disagreed with this assessment. It was stated that, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee poses a high threat.” As a result, CITF may well have played a part in reevaluating Kuchi’s significance, leading to his release eight months later.
After his release, Kuchi was mentioned in a front-page story in the Guardian in February 2008, which I analyzed in an article entitled, “Expelled UN official criticizes Afghan policy re: Taliban – and defends ex-Guantánamo detainee.” In that article, Michael Semple, an Irish UN official expelled from Afghanistan, along with British EU official Mervyn Patterson, for posing a threat to national security by making contact with the Taliban (despite being described by the British Ambassador to Afghanistan as a man who “speaks fluent Pashtu, and understands the grain and granularity of Afghan society better than almost any other foreigner”) spoke about the case of Haji Naim Kuchi (described as Haji Naeem Kochi), as a successful example of “official policy to bring people in from the cold.”
“Take Haji Naeem Kochi, someone I have known for a very long time in Afghanistan,” Semple said. “After 9/11 and the invasion he ended up doing time in Guantánamo Bay. When he came back … I met up with him. The first thing I asked him was did he learn any English and he replied: ‘Yes, but all I learned was sit up and sit down from the American guards.’ Yet despite doing time in Guantánamo he is now a member of the peace commission aimed at reconciling all Afghans.”
Abdurahman Khadr (ISN 990, Canada) Released November 2003
In the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, Abdurahman Khadr’s was one of 14 missing files, as I noted in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files.” In that article, I stated that, “Of the 14 missing stories, just two are overtly suspicious,” and one of those was that of Abdurahman Khadr. The brother of the former child prisoner Omar Khadr (ISN 766), he was persuaded to work as a spy, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files:
Abdurahman was captured by Afghans in Kabul in November 2001, when he was 20 years old, and was then handed over to the Americans. Describing himself as the “black sheep” of the family, who saw no value in the radical beliefs of the rest of his family, Abdurahman agreed to work as a spy for the CIA in Kabul, and then in Guantánamo, but was told that, to protect his cover, he would have to be treated like all the other prisoners. He said that his imprisonment at Bagram — where he was stripped, photographed naked and subjected to an anal probe — was the start of “the longest and most painful ordeal of his life,” and that he “had no idea what he was getting into.”
After ten days at Bagram, he was flown to Guantánamo, where, he said, he arrived “a broken man,” and was then kept in isolation for a month before being moved to a cell near other prisoners. The plan, as he described it, was that “they could put me next to anyone that was stubborn and that wouldn’t talk and I would talk him into it. Well, it’s not that easy — lots of people won’t talk to anyone because everybody in Cuba is scared of the person next to him. I couldn’t do a lot for them.” Unable to cope with his situation, he spent the rest of his time in Guantánamo in a “luxurious” private cell, and was then sent to Bosnia, where his mission was to infiltrate radical mosques and gather information on Al-Qaida’s activities.
When the CIA wanted to send him to Iraq, however, he decided that he couldn’t take the pressure any more, and after resigning from the agency he returned to Canada, where his most salient comments concerned the prisoners in Guantánamo. He said that he told the CIA that the vast majority of the prisoners were innocent, and that it was “a huge mistake for the US military to offer large cash rewards for the capture of Al-Qaida suspects when they first arrived in Afghanistan.”
Haji Mohammed Wazir (ISN 996, Afghanistan) Released March 2004
In the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, Haji Mohammed Wazir’s was one of 14 missing files, as I noted in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files.” In that article, as I explained, all that was known of him was that he was a 60 year old farmer from Helmand province, who was released in March 2004 with 22 other Afghans after spending a year in Guantánamo and being held for two and half years in total. Speaking briefly to reporters on his release, he said, “I’m a poor and innocent man. I was in my home, unaware of Taliban and Al-Qaida, when I was caught. If I’m a Taliban or Al-Qaida I want to be punished. If I’m not, then they should compensate me. The two-and-a-half years that I have spent in pain and soreness — who is going to pay?”
Bashir Ahmad (ISN 1005, Pakistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Ahmad’s story was only known before WikiLeaks released the Detainee Assessment Briefs because he had been interviewed in 2008 by Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers for a major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners.
25 years old when he was seized, he admitted that he “was fighting for the Taliban,” but as Tom Lasseter noted, although he had “little training and no concept of the structure or detail of al-Qaeda or the Taliban,” and seemed, therefore, “to have known nothing of much value to US interrogators,” his story indicates that “American military officials had a hard time distinguishing between foot soldiers and jihadist leaders.”
Ahmad was one of dozens of Guantánamo prisoners seized in November 2001 after the fall of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, the last stronghold of the Taliban, who first had to survive the journey from Kunduz to a Northern Alliance prison in Sheberghan run by the Afghan Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum. The prisoners, who surrendered in their thousands, were transported to Sheberghan in container trucks, when hundreds — or even thousands — of prisoners died of suffocation, or by being shot through the sides of the containers by Northern Alliance soldiers, in what has become known as “the convoy of death.”
Ahmad said that ten to 15 men survived in his container. “There was a mini-revolt in the container” he explained, “which caused Dostum’s men to fire. Many died of bullet wounds; many suffocated. When the door opened, suddenly there was light. All the bodies fell out. They sprinkled water on the bodies and felt their pulse to see if they were alive.” Held for 16 to 17 months at Sheberghan, he recalled some examples of extraordinary brutality. “The Northern Alliance soldiers were very cruel,” he said. “They asked a Taliban commander to shave his beard. He refused. They took him off and chopped off one arm, and then another, and then they killed him.”
When he was finally picked out from the dwindling population of Sheberghan, he was taken to the US prison at Bagram airbase, where he was held for 40 days. “When I was taken to interrogation and then taken back to our area, they (guards) would kick me and slap me,” he said. “Sometimes three guards would come take me to a separate room and tie my hands to a chain that was hanging from the ceiling. They would pull the chain tightly so that I rose up in the air. Sometimes they did it the other way, pulling me up by my feet. And then they would punch me or hit me with a wood rod they used to carry.”
His life did not improve in Guantánamo, where he was subjected to regular assaults by the team of five armored guards responsible for quelling the most minor infringements of the rules. “Five soldiers would come with bulletproof jackets and weapons to my cell, to my cage,” he said. “One of them would spray me in the face. My eyes would burn and water. They would come in and punch and kick me until they were satisfied.”
Unable to endure “the beatings, the fear, the loneliness, the hunger strikes, the anger,” he said that he tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. When he awoke in the prison hospital, a psychologist asked him why he had tried to kill himself. “I had lost all hope in life,” he said. “I decided to die instead of living in that hell.” He added, “What can I say about my mental health? My friends say I am half-mad.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 10, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Ahmad Bushir, born in 1976, it was clear how, as Tom Lasseter noted, “American military officials had a hard time distinguishing between foot soldiers and jihadist leaders.” It was also apparent, reading between the lines, how Ahmad had refused to cooperage with his captors, and why, as a result, he had been subjected to regular violence, although to my mind this demonstrates, above all, how, when confronted by a superpower in brutal overdrive, those subjected to it had only a few options which tended to define their experiences — to fight back, as Ahmad did, to shut down, or to cooperate, either to a major or a minor degree.
Whereas he spoke honestly to Tom Lasseter, he maintained, with the Joint Task Force, that he was “working as a cook at the Taliban school” in Kunduz, when “he received orders to surrender to Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces in early November 2001.” It was noted that he was thern taken to Sheberghan, and that he was sent to Guantánamo on May 8, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was “because he was suspected of being a mid-level Taliban commander who was closely associated with Mullah Omar.”
To the Task Force, Ahmad had “refused to be forthright concerning his activities.” He told his interrogators that he worked as a cook for one month prior to surrendering, but the Task Force regarded it as “probable” that he was “training at the Dasht-e-Archi training camp near Kunduz,” which, it seems, he mentioned vaguely at some point while being interrogated. The Task Force “also believed that [he] may be a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) member because of his affiliations with several known members at the training camp but that information cannot be confirmed.” Nevertheless, his “suspected affiliations and his unexplained attendance at the training camp contribute to [his] assessment as a possible Islamic extremist.”
Although he was also “assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader,” and was regarded as being “of low intelligence value to the United States,” he was designated as “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended him for “[t]ransfer to the control of another government for continued detention.” Noticeably, however, the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed with this assessment, having assessed him as “a low threat.” However, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee poses a medium threat.”
Mohammed Irfan (ISN 1006, Pakistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” Ahmad’s story was only known before WikiLeaks released the Detainee Assessment Briefs because he had been interviewed in 2008 by Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers for a major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners.
When Lasseter met him, he was working, fixing equipment at a sugar mill. Interviewed in Islamabad, he explained that he had traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 as a volunteer medic, but was then seized by General Dostum’s troops with “hundreds of other men” outside Kunduz. He claimed not to be a combatant, but the reporter noted that, while describing what happened at Kunduz — “a broken treaty, then a standoff between Dostum and the Taliban” — he “said things like ‘when a skirmish broke out between us and Dostum’s men’ and ‘we should fight for our lives,’ which suggest that he was armed at the time, as was almost everyone around him.”
He was then taken to Sheberghan, where he was held for a year and half, in abysmal conditions. Once a week, he said, the prisoners were taken from their cells to be counted, and every time “he stood in a courtyard and shook because he knew what was about to happen: A guard would walk up and begin beating him with a plastic garden hose filled with dirt or with a stick, until he fell to the ground in pain. Then they’d beat him some more.” He added that “he knew of at least 30 other Pakistanis who died of starvation” during his time at the prison.
Astonishingly, however, he said that the 40 days that he subsequently spent at the US prison in Bagram airbase, before his transfer to Guantánamo, were even worse. “Bagram was the worst,” he said. “I was never treated so badly anywhere else as I was at Bagram.” The reporter explained that “while the violence at Sherberghan was more intense, it came only once a week,” whereas at Bagram, “he was beaten almost every day.” What’s particularly disturbing about this account is that the period Irfan was at Bagram, in early summer 2003, was around six months after two prisoners had been killed by guards, and indicates that there was no improvement in the conditions at the prison. “We were told we were being taken for a shower,” Irfan said. “But they would take pictures of us, laugh at us; they would beat us to the ground and then drag us around naked. When they took us to the interrogation room, they would punch us, kick us and knee us and push our head into the wall. They did this on the way to interrogation and in the interrogation room.”
After Bagram, Irfan said, his transfer to Guantánamo was “almost a relief,” although he stressed that he was still subjected to violence. “The guards still punched him occasionally,” the reporter noted, “and when he asked, in broken English, why they did, they laughed and punched him some more.” For the most part, however, he was left alone. Because he “didn’t participate in hunger strikes and usually kept to himself, he spent most of his time sitting in his cell, waiting for the next meal.” He added that he was only interrogated “a handful of times,” and spent his last six months in Camp Four, the communal camp at .Guantánamo, reserved for cooperative prisoners. “It wasn’t great,” he added, “but at least it wasn’t Bagram.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which it was noted that he was born in 1979, his story about being a medic was not mentioned, Instead, the recruitment story perceived by Tom Lasseter was discussed explicitly, with the Joint Task Force noting that Irfan had stated that, in November 2001, he heard a speech at his town hall in which a preacher “encouraged all men to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to help with Jihad.” While there, he met a man named Mohammed Ahmed and the two “befriended each other,” subsequently traveling to Kunduz, where he stayed in a house for ten days and trained on a Kalashnikov rifle, and then stayed in another house for eight days until his group was ordered to surrender to Northern Alliance forces.” A survivor of the notorious “convoy of death,” when thousands of soldiers and civilians who surrendered were suffocated or shot en route to General Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, he said, as the Task Force put it, that they “were put in containers for a day and then transported to Sheberghan,” indicating that, if he had discussed the horrors of the journey, they were not mentioned in the report. According to the Task Force, he was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, “because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter.”
“[A]ssessed as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader,” Irfan was also regarded as being “of low intelligence value to the United States,” and of being “a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and, 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.”
Walid Al Qadasi (ISN 1014, Yemen) Released March 2004
In Chapter 16 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Walid al-Qadasi was one of ten men seized in Iran and handed over to Afghan forces as part of a prisoner exchange in early 2002. The men were then handed over to US forces, and sent to Guantánamo after being held in secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, although as one of them, Aminullah Tukhi, an Afghan, explained, although ten prisoners in total were transferred from Iran — six Arabs, two Afghans, an Uzbek and a Tajik — only six ended up in Guantánamo, and it is not known what happened to the other four.
As I wrote in The Guantánamo Files (and in an article in April 2009 entitled, “CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months Before DoJ Approval“), drawing on a case sheet produced by Amnesty International in August 2005, al-Qadasi was rendered to Afghanistan in January 2002. Describing his time in a prison that he identified as the “Dark Prison” near Kabul, but which was probably another secret prison instead, he said, “The Americans interrogated us on our first night which we coined as ‘the black night.’ They cut our clothes with scissors, left us naked and took photos of us before they gave us Afghan clothes to wear. They then handcuffed our hands behind our backs, blindfolded us and started interrogating us … They threatened me with death, accusing me of belonging to al-Qaeda.”
After this initial interrogation, he said, “They put us in an underground cell measuring approximately two meters by three meters. There were 10 of us in the cell. We spent three months in the cell. There was no room for us to sleep so we had to alternate … It was too hot in the cell, despite the fact that outside the temperature was freezing (there was snow), because the cell was overcrowded.” He added that they were only fed once a day, that loud music was used as “torture,” and that one of his fellow detainees “went insane,” and pointed out that, when Red Cross representatives were allowed to visit, the most severely disturbed prisoners were secretly moved to another cell that was off-limits.
In documents released by WikiLeaks, al-Qadasi’s was a “Recommendation [for] Release or transfer to Another Country.” In this document, dated February 27, 2004, in which he was identified as Walid Mohammed Shahir, born in 1979, it was noted that he claimed that “he illegally entered Saudi Arabia in 1999 to look for work,” but that, in 2001, “when Saudi Arabia began to crack down on illegal workers, [he] contacted a smuggler to take him to Italy.” However, in May or June 2001, he succeeded only in being smuggled to Iran, via Iraq, where he and the smuggler “remained for five months.”
In December 2001, he was arrested by Iranian police, and, after spending three months in prison, was “transported to Afghanistan as part of a prisoner exchange between the two countries.” In this analysis, it was stated that the Iranian authorities, rather than the US, “considered [him] an Al-Qaida operative,” and that the secret prison in which he was held was not run by the CIA. The Task Force claimed that he “was held in an Afghanistani prison for about a year before being turned over to US Forces.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was because of his “possible connections to Al-Qaida,” and because his “travel route [was] suspicious.”
In assessing the reasons for his release of transfer, the Task Force noted that, “As a suspected Al-Qaida member, [he] had more value in the prisoner exchange,” but the Iranian police had provided “[n]o documentation or corroborating information” regarding his status as an Al-Qaida member.” It was also noted that JTF GTMO “found no information that directly link[ed him] to Al-Qaida,” and that, although his “circuitous travel route to Italy seems suspicious, no other information is available to contradict [his] story.”
JTF GTMO determined that he was “of low intelligence value due to his knowledge of Local smuggling routes between Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran,” and he was assessed as posing “a low risk as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “released or transferred to the control of another country as appropriate,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force “ha[d] not completed an assessment and [we]re unable to supply a threat at this time.”
Following his return from Guantánamo, al-Qadasi was imprisoned by the Yemeni authorities for two years, first in a prison in his hometown of Tai’z and then in Sana’a, attracting attention from Amnesty International and lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who visited him in prison in 2005 and highlighted the fact that he was still being held without trial.
He also attracted the attention of the United Nations. In November 2005, the Special Rapporteur on torture drew on these allegations in a letter to the US government. The Rapporteur noted, “In its response, the Government of the United States reiterated its earlier announcements that no Government agency was allowed to engage in torture and that its actions complied with the non-refoulement principle.” This note was included in a mention of al-Qadasi’s story in a UN report on secret detention, for which I was a major contributor, which was published in 2010. The report is available here, and the section dealing with the US was also cross-posted on my website in three parts, the relevant section being, “UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
In 2009, he was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star for a feature on Guantánamo’s Yemeni prisoners. Shephard wrote:
He says his wife has just left him and he can’t find a job. Any job. He says he doesn’t care what he does … Now 29 and married, he has two children, the youngest just 10 days old at the time of the Star‘s interview [in August 2009]. He depends on his father-in-law for support. Slumping listlessly, he answers most questions in short sentences. “My wife says she will not return until I get a job,” Al-Qadasi says. He shrugs. “There are no jobs.”
Wassam Al Ourdoni (ISN 1018, Jordan) Released March 2004
In Chapter 16 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Wassam al-Ourdoni (identified as Wisam Ahmed) was one of ten men seized in Iran and handed over to Afghan forces as part of a prisoner exchange in early 2002. The men were then handed over to US forces, and sent to Guantánamo after being held in secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, although as one of them, Aminullah Tukhi, an Afghan, explained, although ten prisoners in total were transferred from iran — six Arabs, two Afghans, an Uzbek and a Tajik — only six ended up in Guantánamo, and it is not known what happened to the other four.
As I wrote in The Guantánamo Files (and in an article in April 2009 entitled, “CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months Before DoJ Approval“), drawing on an article entitled, “Abandoned to their fate in Guantánamo,” which was written by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and published by Index on Censorship in 2005, Wisam Ahmed ran a clothes shop in Jordan and traveled to Pakistan every year with a religious group. After getting married in 2000, he decided to take his wife and their newborn child to Pakistan for his visit in August 2001. In December, they were on a bus, traveling home, when they were stopped at a checkpoint in Iran, and Ahmed — under suspicion “because they associated [my] headdress with Al-Qaida and must have overlooked the fact that it was also my national dress” — was taken into custody.
Rendered to Afghanistan on March 1, 2002, he was held in the “Dark Prison,” in what he described as “unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” and spent 77 days in a room that “was so dark that we couldn’t distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn’t see the sun once during the whole time.” He was then moved to another secret prison — “Prison Number Three” — where the food was so bad that he lost a significant amount of weight, and was then moved to Bagram, where, in the 40 days before his transfer to Guantánamo, he was threatened by dogs, made to watch torture videos, and intimidated in other ways: “they used to start up an electric saw and while they were sawing we would hear cries of agony. I thought they would cut me into pieces sooner or later.”
In 2008, he was interviewed by Tom Lasseter for a major report by McClatchy Newspapers on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners, in which he was described as Wissam Ahmad. Lasseter’s article began with a harrowing account of “Ahmad’s first night in the small jail in Kabul,” where was held after being transferred from Iran. Lasseter noted:
[H]e trembled with fear. Nine other men were crammed around him in the cell, he said, and he heard one of them, an elderly Afghan, wailing in the darkness. The old man screamed a lot. He had hallucinations of men whispering threats in his ear, and he often urinated on himself. He was going mad, Ahmad said.
The guards who beat the prisoners with small rubber hoses were Afghans, but the interpreters and soldiers in the building next door were Americans, he said.
Ahmad said he’d been taken next door with a sack over his head and thrown to the floor of the interrogation room. When his body hit the floor, he said, the sack over his head rose just enough for him to see the first American combat boot flying at his body.
The sack was removed, he said, and he was hoisted onto a chair. There were US soldiers behind him, he said, and an American man and woman were sitting in front of him, wearing civilian clothes and calm expressions. Ahmad said he assumed that they were with the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Then the interrogator shouted at me. He told me, ‘Either admit that you are a part of Al-Qaida, or we will send you to a room full of dogs,’ ” Ahmad said.
Ahmad said that he wasn’t a part of Al-Qaida. In fact, he told the two interrogators, he’d never been to Afghanistan before in his life. About 10 minutes later, he was taken back to his cell.
Wissam Ahmad told his story at a mosque in Amman, where he was the imam. As the report explained, “When he began to talk about being punched or kicked, he shooed his 5-year-old daughter, Yaqeen, and 3-year-old son, Obaidah, out of the room.”
Repeating what he had said to Clive Stafford Smith, he confirmed that “he was detained on a bus at a routine checkpoint outside Zahedan, Iran, in January 2002,” and elaborated on how he had become a preacher, explaining that he had joined the vast missionary organisation Jamaat al-Tablighi, “after meeting members in a mosque in his hometown of Zarqa, about an hour north of Amman.” As the McClatchy report noted, “He was 22 and working at a clothing store in the town, which is known as a bastion of conservative Sunni Islam. His life had had little direction — he wasn’t interested in a career in the army, like his father — and the group’s call to return to the basic tenets of Islam, as it saw them, appealed to him. Ahmad said he was 26 when he went on his first mission for Tablighi Jamaat, to Pakistan in January 2002.”
In Zaheran, however, where his life changed so horribly, although the police asked him “to come with them for routine questioning,” he was not questioned. He said that the Iranians “held him for about a month without ever interrogating him or telling him why they were holding him.”
After his transfer to Afghanistan, and that first grim night, Ahmad said, Americans, who were “in the building next door,” questioned him two months later. They “asked his name, his affiliation with Al-Qaida, his reasons for being in Iran — and he gave the same answers.” He also reiterated that he was held for 77 days and then moved to “another jail in Kabul,” where “he had his own cell.” He also said that “he was interrogated once during his first month by Americans in plainclothes who again demanded to know about his relationship with al-Qaida,” and “was interrogated a few more times during the next year, but mostly he just sat in silence.”
He also spoke about being taken to Bagram, in spring 2003, where, he said, he was asked the same questions about Al-Qaida, and was subjected to three days of sleep deprivation, when “he wasn’t allowed to sleep for more than two hours or so,” and “was put in a small space on the floor, fenced off by concertina wire, and kept in the shackles, mask, goggles and earmuffs. He was moved then to a small plywood cell, he said. The goggles were taken off, along with the mask and earmuffs. A guard outside hit the walls of his cell periodically to keep him awake.”
After about three weeks of interrogations, he said, “guards took him to a room, lifted his arms above his head and tied his handcuffs to the ceiling, leaving him standing on his tiptoes. He was kept that way for a week, he said, let down only for a couple of hours a day to eat and rest.”
Afterwards, he said, he was taken back to interrogation, and “[a]n American man was there, smiling. Now, he said, what do you have to tell us about your connection to Al-Qaida?” Ahmad explained that “he shook his head warily and said that, God help him, he didn’t know anything about Al-Qaida,” but what was most revealing about this was how torture was directly linked to the manufacture of false confessions, if prisoners did not have the resistance of Ahmad or others like him. A week later, he added, he was sent to Guantánamo.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 20, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was described as Osam Abdul Rahman Ahmed, born in 1975, his own story was confirmed. It was stated that “he arrived in Pakistan in August 2001 from Jordan,” although the Task Force could not resist throwing doubt into the narrative, noting that he was “claiming he was there to do Muslim missionary work for the poor.” The Task Force added that he “was in Pakistan for approximately four months before deciding to return to Jordan with his family,” but that, shortly after arriving in Iran, his bus “was stopped, searched, and he was arrested under suspicion of being an Al-Qaida member.” It was also noted that his family “was not detained and they returned to Jordan,” and that he “was held by the Iranians and the[y] turned him over to the Afghan government, who transferred [him] into US custody.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 8, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his suspected affiliation with Al-Qaida,” even though it must have been known at the time that he was not. In an interesting note, the Task Force stated that his “enemy combatant (EC) status was reassessed on 29 Aug 03,” and that “[h]e remains an EC as we have no factual basis to change the original determination made prior to his arrival at Guantánamo Bay.”
This is an extremely useful note for confirming how the prisoners were all judged as “enemy combatants” before their arrival at Guantánamo, even though there was no official process involved in this assessment — nothing more, in fact, than being regarded as an “enemy combatant” without any rights whatsoever based solely on ending up in US custody — and it rather overshadows the rest of the file, in which it was noted that he was “assessed as being neither a member of Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader,” and was also regarded as being “not of intelligence value to the United States,” and as posing “a low risk as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies.”
As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended him for “[r]elease or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention,” and the Criminal Investigative Task Force, which had evidently not assessed his case, stated that they would assess him on December 23, 2003. This could have been the end of the story, leading to his release just three months later, but in the documents released by WikiLeaks there was a second document relating to Ahmed, which follows up on the discussion about his status as an “enemy combatant” in his DAB.
This second document was an Annual Enemy Combatant Review, dated January 31, 2004, which, as I have mentioned previously, was a type of document that was evidently used to specifically assess the status of all the prisoners as “enemy combatants,” although the only ones I have seen previously were in the cases of the Iranian Bakhtiar Bameri (ISN 623, see Part Seven) and the Tajik Muhibullo Umarov (ISN 729, see Part Nine).
In Ahmed’s Annual Enemy Combatant Review, as with the other two examples cited, it was 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.” As I have mentioned previously, a version of this document, relating to Bagram and issued on December 10, 2002, is available here. In it, as I previously noted in connection with Bameri and Umarov:
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 organisation against which the United States is engaged in armed conflict.
In describing how he ended up in US custody, the Task Force reiterated that he “was turned over to US control by Afghanistan forces in February 2003,” adding, in an analysis that repeated the dubious claim that US forces had nothing to do with his detention prior to this time, “He had been detained in Afghanistan since April 2002, having been held in Iran for approximately 4 months.”
It was also stated that he “was originally detained and assessed as being a possible Al-Qaida member based on the information available at the time.” Crucially, however, the Task Force added, “Since his arrival at GTMO, no further information has developed to support the possibility that he is a member of Al-Qaida. 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 only the third 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.”
In 2010, Ahmed’s story was included in a United Nations report on secret detention, for which I was a major contributor. The report is available here, and the section dealing with the US was also cross-posted on my website in three parts, the relevant section being, “UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
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.
On Facebook, Esteban Chavez wrote:
thanks for your great work and of course the truth will prevail it always does.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m digging this now, Andy, despite the aftereffects of a faculty member’s birthday party.
Willy Bach wrote:
A great work of love, Andy. Thank you.
Thanks, Esteban and George. And Willy, that’s set me up for a great weekend — “a great work of love.” It really is, but no one’s told me that before!
Patrick O’Brien wrote:
… bookmarked …thank you for all your work, Andy.
Thank you, Patrick.
Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:
Wow! Amazing work, Andy!! THANK YOU!
Jason Leopold wrote:
Andy, truly amazing and groundbreaking reporting!
Well, thank you so much, Ghaliyaa and Jason. I was just adding more about one of the men (Wissam Ahmad from a McClatchy interview) that I’d overlooked — plus a photo.
Glad to have this project appreciated. I guess it will be about three-quarters of a million words by the time it’s finished at the end of the year, so ,er, it’s not exactly a soundbite-y kind of undertaking, but I’ll start trying to publicize the compete project a bit better over the coming months.
Noa Kleinman wrote:
Many thanks Andy
Thanks, Noa. I’m just planning the rest of the series. That’s 15 articles done (5 on the unknown prisoners, 10 on those released from 2002-04), with only another 55 to follow! I may need my head testing …!
Thanks again for your excellent work Andy. I am going to take the liberty of adding a few more details about Mohammed Agha, the youth held in Camp Iguana, who was reported to have been recaptured in May 2004. There were some press reports of his recapture, in 2004.
It probably won’t surprise your readers that the accounts of his recapture stated that he was 17 when captured — so he had aged two or three years during his four months of freedom.
Oliver North, one of the point men for Ronald Reagan’s clandestine backing of the brutal Contras in their attacks on the elected Sandanista government in Nicarauga, wrote that one of the former youths held in Camp Iguana had turned out to be a member of the Taliban. But, according to North, he was killed in combat. North asserted the youth’s name was “Mullah Shahzada”. DoD spokesmen had asserted that “Mullah Shahzada” was killed in combat in May 2004.
Personally, I suspect that this “Taliban letter” was no more than a safe conduct pass, written by a senior Taliban official, telling other Taliban, “although this kid was held in Guantanamo, and was released after a relatively short stay there, he was just a kid, didn’t know anything to betray, so he should not be considered a collaborator, and he should not be killed, for being a collaborator.
One common theme of many of the 66 interviews Tom Lasseter conducted with former Guantanamo captives was that not only were many of them terrified of their government’s security officials, but those from Afghanistan or Pakistan’s tribal areas also seemed terrified that they were at risk of assassination by local Taliban who might suspect their release from Guantanamo proved they had collaborated with their American interrogators.
I’ve read an article that had a brief quote of a Taliban spokesman bragging about assassinating a former Guantanamo captive due to suspisions he had collaborated while in Guantanamo. So, I would question whether getting a letter saying one did not collaborate in Guantanamo made one a member of the Taliban. Many of the first hundred or so Afghans got similar letters saying the US government no longer suspected them, when they were sent home.
As to Oliver North’s assertion that a youth who had been held in Camp Iguana was killed in combat — clearly North got part of the story wrong. But I am concerned that one of the elements North got right was that Mohammed Agha was killed by US forces. Like-minded ideologues who remained in uniform may have leaked to North that both “Mullah Shahzada” and Mohammed Agha were killed in May 2004. North could have conflated the two, or his like-minded leaker could have conflated the two.
There is a strong meme in US culture that US soldiers who have taken captive an individual they are sure has violated the laws of war, are authorized to shoot them. There are contracts that many captives have been made to sign, prior to their repatriation, where they are made to go on record as committing not to engage in hostilities against the USA, and, if I recall correctly, they are made to promise to never speak to reporters about their experiences in Guantanamo.
The legal scholars at Seton Hall University who examined the claims of “recidivism” among former captives, reported one instances where former captives were labelled as “recidivists” solely for talking about their experiences in US captivity. They listed the British friends kmown as the Tipton Three, and the first five Uyghurs set “free” to internment as refugees in Albania as having been listed as recidivists. I am concerned that the wild increase in the number of “recidivists” the DIA claims is solely due to tracking how many captives who were forced to sign promises not to talk about their captivity, who did, nevertheless, talk to reporters like Lasseter.
That meme that US soldiers can shoot prisoners, for, for instance, fighting without wearing a uniform, is mistaken. It is not just international law — both the USA’s own Uniform Code of Military Justice, and Army Regulation 190-8 clearly state that once an individual has been taken into custody, and disarmed, so they are not a threat, US soldiers have a responsibility to keep their captives safe. They are supposed to make sure they receive food, are protected from the elements, receive medical care. If necessary, they are allowed to restrain them. But it doesn’t matter if they find what they regard as evidence of war crimes, atrocities, soldiers are supposed to continue to treat those captives as if they qualified for the protections of POW status. Army Regulation 190-8 clearly states that once a captive has been secured it becomes the responsibility of military justice officials to investigate, charge, prosecute, and punish suspected war criminals.
Excellent! Thank you as ever, arcticredriver, for your comments and additions.
Andy, thanks for your information about Abdullah Khadr. I have some additional information to offer about him, and some wild speculation too.
Here is my teaser — I suspect the CIA intended his mission to Bosnia to be a suicide mission. I’ll explain this below.
The documentary “Son of al Qaeda” was the second time I saw him on TV. When he returned to Canada from Bosnia he gave a press conferennce, which the CBC’s news service broadcast live. I found the press conference memorable for a couple of answers he gave that stirred nationwide controversy.
When he was asked if he had learned to use an AK47 in Afghanistan he replied that, of course, he had — that a teenager learning to use an AK47 in Afghanistan was as normal as a Canadian youth learning how to play Hockey.
He was then asked if he attended an al Qaeda training camp.
H replied that while he had attended a training camp, it was not an al Qaeda training camp. He then paused, and added something like “it was only an al Qaeda related camp”.
The reporters present at the press conference roared out in response to his suffix.
Khadr seemed shocked and overwhelmed by the reporters’ reaction. He told them the press conference was over. He had no obligation to give a press conference — I am not sure why he did so. His new lawyer, a youngish guy who specialized in immigration cases resigned a day or two later, saying he had received death threats.
Reporters continued to ask Khadr questions, and, even though he had said the press conference was over, he stayed and continued to answer questions.
So, why do I suspect the CIA intended his mission to Bosnia to be a suicide mission? In the documentary Son of Al Qaeda Khadr says the CIA gave him training for the mission to penetrate the jihadist community in Bosnia. However, he couldn’t withstand even a few minutes of questioning by reporters, where he could pick and choose which questions he answered. How long would he be able to fool the determined jihadists the CIA expected him to contact once he arrived in Bosnia?
If he had met those determined jihadists I doubt he would have been able to maintain his cover story. If he had met determined jihadists, and those theoretical determind jihadists had doubted his cover story, the most sensible thing for them to do would be to avoid him, or to keep him in the dark about any of their theoretical jihadist activities.
I suspect that the CIA never expected him to fool these theoretcal determined jihadists. I suspect that the CIA expected the theoretical determined jihadists to penetrate his cover, and then kill him. Whoever killed him would have confirmed he was a dangerous jihadist. If Khadr survived his initial contacts with the theoretical jihadists they may have planned to leak clandestine denunciations of him, to see if that would trigger an assassination.
In Guantanamo he had proved himself untrustworthy — so they would have regarded him as unreliable. His assassination may have served them better than having him stick around where he might go public. In addition, they had promised to bank $3000 per month in a clandestine trust account, plus various bonuses, so they would have owed him close to $100,000. His death would have saved them $100,000.
For what it is worth, it was the Khalden camp that Abdurahman and his elder brother Abdullah attended. There is a book by a French guy, who describes his peripheral contact with determined Jihadists. He attended Khaldan at the same time as Abdurahman and Abdullah — who attended the camp at the unusally young ages of 11 and 12 years old. The Frenchman described the two as illustrating a dangerously volatile instance of sibling rivalry on the marksmanship range — getting so angry with one another he thought they might start blazing away. I think allowing volatile children to put those on the shooting range at risk should erode analyst’s assessment of the competence with which the camp was run.
Colin Powell told the United Nations that the Khaldan camp was where Iraqi weapons specialists trained al Qaeda fighters how to use Weapons of Mass Destruction. Abu Zubaydah, on the other hand, described the Khaldan camp as a rival camp to al Qaeda’s less well known training camps.
Abdurahman Khadr’s description of the camp as not being an al Qaeda camp could be considered as partially confirming that the camp was not officially part of al Qaeda. What did he mean by calling it an “al Qaeda related camp”? Various possibilities occur to me.
The US intelligence establishment clearly suspects that Bosnia contains or contained a large and dangerous jihadist community, as the kidnapping of six Bosnians citizens of Algerian descent due to fears they were going to bomb the local embassy demonstrates.
I think I recall that there were other Guantanamo captives who faced the allegation that their names were on the list of Bosnian mujahedin. My recollection is that almost all these men were mystified as to why their names would be on that list. Those who could guess that this was a list of foreign volunteers who traveled to Bosnia to fight to protect muslim communities during the Bosnian civil war, all said that they hadn’t been present in Bosnia during the civil war, travelling there after the civil war was over. But, if I recall correctly, one of those men did know how he got on that list. If I recall correctly he testified that he learned that as a gesture of gratitude Bosnia waived the normal application fee for applicants who had volunteered during the civil war that ended with Bosnian independence from Yugoslavia. He testified that, when he applied for citizenship, he paid his application fee, only to learn that a corrupt immigration official had pocketed his fee, had covertly filed the paperwork to claim he had volunteered during the civil war.
I called the community of jihadists the American intelligence establishment believed could be found in Bosnia “theoretical” because they got their hands on a list all the immigrants who had their immigrant application fee waived because paperwork had been filed stating the had traveled to Bosnia during the civil war to fight for Bosnian independence — but without considering the possibility that there were other explanations for why the list was so long.
I suspect the reason why the list was so long was that many of the civil servants in Bosnia’s new Ministry of Immigration were corrupt, and that applicants with muslim names routinely had their fee pocketed by corrupt clerks who covertly applied for fee exemptions in their name.
Another excellent addition to the article, arcticredriver. Again, thank you very much. There’s more relevant information about Khalden, “the al-Qaeda relared camp” (in Khadr’s words) that was so loosely related to al-Qaeda that the Taliban closed it down when its emir, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, refused to allow it to come under al-Qaeda control, in Tyler Cabot’s Esquire article about Noor Uthman Muhammed, which I’m cross-posting later today, and also in the first part of the next series of WikiLeaks/Guantanamo articles, which will be published on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Interesting speculation, as well, about Khadr’s Bosnian mission …
Thanks Andy. I’ll look forward to that additional information about Noor Uthman. I see the US intelligence establishments conflation of Khaldan, and the Al Wafa charity with Al Qaeda as one of its most damaging failures.
I first remember hearing about Osama bin Laden back in the 1990s, when Clinton bombed the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant because Richard Clarke had warned bin Laden could divert it to breed deadly bacteria for germ warfare. Back then he was bin Laden was described as a rich guy who bankrolled al Qaeda entirely from his own personal fortune. We know better now — bin Laden was al Qaeda’s chief fund-raiser. I think we know that bin Laden tapped other conservative, Gulf region money-bags.
I think the US intelligence establishment has been able to trace some of the donations, and know who the donors are. I think one reason bin Laden resented al Wafa and the Khaldan camp was that his donors were fickle. They didn’t only sponsor bin Laden’s anti-American jihadists, but they also supported al Wafa — which I suspect was exactly what it said it was — a charity that restricted itself to genuine humanitarian projects, like schools, hospitals, irrigation wells, and refugee camps.
Similarly, I suspect one reason bin Laden got the Taliban to shut down training camps operated by rival organizations — like Khaldan — was that he resented when his sponsors sent funds to Khaldan.
If we take Abu Zubaydah’s testimony at face value their was a crucial ideological difference between those who ran Khaldan and al Qaeda. In his testimony Abu Zubaydah described who approved for training, and who he didn’t approve. He testified it was his job to weed out the crazy jihadists. He testified that his trainees were (1) observant muslims who wanted to use their training to fight beside muslims who were being attacked by non-muslims; (2) who subscribed to the intepretation of Islam that observant muslims had an obligation to undergo military training so they could defend their family, tribe or nation.
Abu Zubaydah testified that part of his job was to help trainees make their way to Chechnya or Palestine or other regions where they thought that non-muslims were oppressing muslims. But Abu Zubaydah testified that Khaldan only taught “defensive jihad”. That his trainees were trained to attack military targets, not civilians.
I think this was another key difference between Khaldan and al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, of course, did not limit itself to trying to defend muslims where they were already attacked. It wanted to strike first, and it wanted to strike western countries, like the USA, which weren’t attacking muslims. And, of course, we know Al Qaeda had no reservations against attacking civilians.
I think the wise thing to have done when Ibn al Sheikh al Libi and Abu Zubaydah were captured would have been to recognize this key ideological difference with al Qaeda. These two men were famous. If they were treated humanely, if they were prepared to go on record as disapproving of al Qaeda’s attacks on civilians, I think it would have been in the US interest to release these men.
Thanks again, arcticredriver. I love the closing comments: “I think the wise thing to have done when Ibn al Sheikh al Libi and Abu Zubaydah were captured would have been to recognize this key ideological difference with al Qaeda. These two men were famous. If they were treated humanely, if they were prepared to go on record as disapproving of al Qaeda’s attacks on civilians, I think it would have been in the US interest to release these men.”
And, of course, had the US NOT tortured either of these men, and had left them in the FBI’s hands, they may well have provided a vast amount of useful information. That should be pumped out over and over while Cheney’s on his book tour, promoting torture as a valid intelligence-gathering procedure, but I doubt that we’ll hear a peep from the mainstream, for whom power, and grovelling to it, are all that count, and our international obligations to prosecute torturers have been swept aside.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: