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 16 of the 70-part series.
In late April, WikiLeaks pushed Guantánamo back onto the international media’s agenda by publishing thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which drew on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.
As an independent media partner of WikiLeaks, I liaised both before and after the publication of these documents with WikiLeaks’ mainstream media partners (including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais), and then, after the killing of Osama bin Laden pushed Guantánamo aside once more, and allowed apologists for torture, and those who engineered its use by US forces, to resume their malignant, criminal and deeply mistaken defense of torture, and of the existence of Guantánamo, I began to analyze all of the Detainee Assessment Briefs in depth.
I began, in May and June, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. These men and boys were amongst the first 201 prisoners released, and unlike the other prisoners, for whom information was released to the public from 2006 onwards, as a result of court cases involving Freedom of Information requests, no information had been officially released about the first 201 prisoners.
“WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo” was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” published from June to August, in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources.
As a result, of the 201 prisoners released between 2002 and 2004, I have, to date, published the most comprehensive reports available in one place on 198 of the 779 prisoners held, with just three stories currently unknown (of prisoners whose Detainee Assessment Briefs were missing, and whose stories have not surfaced in any other media).
For the next phase of this 70-part project (with 15 parts now complete), I am turning my attention to the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released (also see Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five). This was the period in which, after the prisoners won a spectacular victory in the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, when the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights (in other words, the right to ask an impartial judge why they were being held), lawyers were allowed to meet the prisoners for the first time, and the secrecy that was required for Guantánamo to function as an interrogation center beyond the law was finally broken.
However, although the Bush administration allowed habeas petitions to proceed, Congress attempted to strip the prisoners of their habeas rights in the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005, and the administration also responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling with its own inferior version of habeas, the Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
The tribunals were designed to review the evidence against all the prisoners (which they did from July 2004 to March 2005), to decide whether they had been correctly designated, on capture, as “enemy combatants” who could be held without rights. They were, however, a corrupt and inept process, designed essentially to rubber-stamp the administration’s prior decisions, and not to allow the prisoners to fundamentally challenge the largely flimsy basis of their detention. The prisoners were, for example, not allowed lawyers, and they were not allowed to either see or hear the classified evidence against them, although it was not until 2007 that the extent of the failings of the CSRTs became fully apparent, when their supposed integrity was thoroughly undermined in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham.
A veteran of US intelligence who had worked on the tribunals, Lt. Col. Abraham not only revealed how shambolic the process of compiling the supposed evidence for the tribunals was, but also how, when tribunals such as the one he took part in, disagreed with the authorities’ preconceived notions, by deciding that the man before them was not an “enemy combatant,” the officers were dismissed and “do-over” tribunals were convened until the authorities got the results they desired.
Despite the insuperable problems with the CSRTs, they — and their successors, the annual Administrative Review Boards — often provided the only opportunity for the prisoners to have their own voices heard, and they proved invaluable when I was researching and writing The Guantánamo Files.
Now supplemented with information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks, the 62 stories in this five-part series cover 29 of the 38 prisoners who were the only ones, out of 558 prisoners in total, to succeed in convincing their tribunals, and the authorities overseeing the tribunals, they they were not “enemy combatants” — or, as the administration insisted, that they were “no longer enemy combatants.” The Pentagon’s document listing the 38 (PDF) describes them as “Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of ‘Enemy Combatant’ during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantánamo.” The other nine were not freed because, in all but one case, it was unsafe for them to be returned to their home countries, and, as a result, they were not released until 2006 and 2009, when third countries were found that were prepared to accept them.
This series also covers the stories of 33 others released between September 2004 and November 2005 who were not cleared for release after the CSRTs, but were released anyway, and readers will, I hope, be able to see how much of the decision-making process involved political maneuvering rather than anything to do with justice.
I also hope that readers will bear in the mind the Bush administration’s refusal to concede that it made any mistakes, which is apparent in its refusal to accept that prisoners were “not enemy combatants,” and its decision to described them as being “no longer enemy combatants” instead, and will reflect on the problems of overclassification that have been thoroughly chronicled in the preceding series analyzing the Detainee Assessment Briefs.
My analysis to date has established repeatedly that even patently innocent prisoners seized by mistake were regarded as a “low risk,” rather than as no risk at all, and it is important for readers to bear in mind that the entire process of detaining and processing prisoners and exploiting them for their supposed intelligence was shot through with a drive to conclude that they were all a threat, and to overlook the distressing fact that most of them were seized in a largely random manner, mostly by America’s Afghan and Pakistan allies, at a time when substantial bounty payments were widespread, and were never subjected to anything that resembled an adequate screening process.
Abdul Sattar (ISN 10, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Sixty-two Pakistanis were sent to Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003, and the majority were seized in northern Afghanistan, and held in a notoriously brutal and overcrowded prison in Sheberghan run by General Rashid Dostum, an Afghan Uzbek warlord (and former Soviet ally), who was also one of the commanders of the US-backed Northern Alliance, until US forces came and picked them out and sent them to Guantánamo, mostly via the prison at Kandahar airport.
Thousands of mainly young and impressionable Pakistanis had been recruited to help the Taliban against the US, via a number of militant organisations, including Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM). They may well have included Abdul Sattar, although, as I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files:
Hundreds of HUM soldiers travelled to Afghanistan to assist the Taliban after the US-led invasion, including the organization’s leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who crossed the border in early November, accompanied by a number of guards and colleagues. While Khalil subsequently escaped, many, if not most of the HUM volunteers were killed in Afghanistan. One survivor, at least, made it to Guantánamo, although he had little to tell. In his tribunal, 20-year old Abdul Sattar (who was transferred to Pakistani custody in September 2004 and released in June 2005), spoke only to deny that he knew of any connection between HUM and al-Qaeda.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 23, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” the Joint Task Force explained how Sattar, born in 1981, had become a minor HUM recruit. After noting that he had “worked odd jobs after finishing high school until 1999, when he began working at a textile factory,” the Task Force stated that he met the local leader of HUM shortly before he was laid off from the factory, who “spoke to [him] about Jihad.” A few days later, he went to the local HUM office to apply to attend a training camp, “to get out of his parents’ house and because he wanted to fight the Jihad,” and attended the camp for approximately one month, where he was trained on number of weapons.
In June 2001, the local head of HUM told him it was “time for Jihad in Afghanistan,” and he then traveled to Kabul, staying in a HUM guesthouse for two days before traveling to Bagram, where he “was given an AK-47 and told to stand guard under Shamshir, the HUM leader in Bagram.” He was then apparently “sent to guard a building just south of Bagram, where he served as the leader of approximately 20 others.” After approximately two and half months, he was transferred to Kabul with ten others to guard a building for approximately 20 days, and then, in September 2001, was flown “with 20 others associated with HUM and 50 Taliban fighters” to Kunduz, and then traveled by truck to the front line at Khawaja Ghar, where he remained for a month and a half “in bunkers/fighting positions near the town.”
He then went back to Kunduz in October 2001 for more guard duty at a compound, before surrendering to the Northern Alliance the following month, with thousands of others, when Kunduz fell. However, contradicting this account, it was also stated that he “fled to a village in the west as Mazar-e-Sharif was bombed,” where “[t]he villagers turned him over to the Northern Alliance who then turned [him] over to US Forces.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 3, 2002, allegedly “because of his knowledge of AI-Qaida recruiting practices in Pakistan,” although, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In its assessment, the Task Force claimed that Abdul Sattar had “repeatedly expressed his commitment to Jihad and martyrdom” during his detention, noting some dubious statements he had reportedly made — “that he did not care whom he fought for or even who the enemy was,” which is seriously at odds with the fact that most of his short service for the Taliban consisted of guard duty, and that he “stated that he still claim[ed] himself as a member of HUM.” It was also noted that, during interrogation in August 2003, when he “was asked if released would he go to Afghanistan to be a martyr, [h]e replied,’I don’t have to go to Afghanistan to be a martyr, there are many other ways to become a martyr.’”
As a result, he was “assessed as not being a member of AI-Qaida, nor a Taliban leader,” although it was noted that “his commitment to Jihad martyrdom makes [him] a continuing threat,” and even though he was regarded as being “of minimal intelligence value to the United States,” and was also regarded as “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” Maj .Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, then recommended that he be “retained under DoD control,” and notified the Criminal Investigative Task Force, who had previously “approved [his] transfer under a conditional release agreement on 06 June 2003.” Nevertheless, he was released 13 months later, with 34 other Pakistanis, who were then held in Pakistani custody for another nine months, before being released in June 2005.
Muhammed Ijaz Khan (ISN 17, Pakistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, many of those who were recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan were not necessarily well-informed about who the Taliban’s enemies were. One of the examples I cited was that of 25-year old Mohammed Ijaz Khan, who was captured leaving Kunduz. In his tribunal, Khan “admitted that he traveled to Afghanistan ‘to fight the jihad,’ but said that he didn’t know that the Northern Alliance were Muslims.”
This may or may not have been a calibrated lie, but there was nothing in the documents released by WikiLeaks to suggest that he was anything more than the most basic foot soldier recruit. In the case of Khan, described as Mohammed A. Khan, born in August 1976, the file was an “Update to Affirm Recommendation to Release to the Control of Another Country,” dated August 20, 2004, in which it was stated that he left high school in 1991 or 1992, and then worked in a textile mill in Faisalabad, in a Suzuki parts factory in Lahore and in a bookshop from 1994 to 1999. After returning to his home village in approximately May or June 2001, he reportedly “went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban because he was unable to find work in Pakistan.”
After surrendering to Northern Alliance Forces near Ushkar, Afghanistan (which is near Bamiyan, west of Kabul, in Hazara country), he was transferred to US forces and sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, just three days after the prison opened, on the spurious basis that it was because “[i]t was suspected that [he] had knowledge of training techniques and individual members of the Pakistani military as well as information on Taliban recruiting in the mosques in Lahore, Pakistan.”
In its assessment on September 27, 2002, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government … based on an assessment [that he] was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader and [did] not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” However, under “New Information,” it was stated that he had “expressed continued commitment to Jihad,” and that a foreign intelligence source had indicated that his name was “found in a document from a Libyan-born, Dublin-based Muslim extremist who may have links to the 1998 Embassy bombings in Africa,” which is, frankly, a ridiculous suggestion, as he was clearly nothing more than a short-term foot soldier in Afghanistan, although it led to a determination that he was “of medium intelligence value due to his Muslim extremist links to the 1998 Embassy bombings in Africa.”
In conclusion, although the Task Force recognized that Khan was “not a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” it was noted that he “does admit to being a Taliban foreign fighter,” and he was assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he had “demonstrated a commitment to jihad,” and had “expressed during interrogation a continued commitment to jihad.” Also mentioned was the ludicrous claim of a possible link to the African embassy bombings. and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, “affirm[ed] a recommendation that [he] be released to the control of another country,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force had been “unable to make a threat determination” about Khan in September 2002, and that, until they did so, “JTF GTMO and CITF cannot agree on this particular detainee.” Within weeks, CITF had evidently agreed with the Task Force, leading to his release, and his imprisonment in Pakistan for another nine months.
Feroz Abbasi (ISN 24, UK) Released January 2005
As I explained in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, Feroz Abbasi, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, was seized in Kandahar. A student from Croydon, he apparently traveled to Afghanistan in December 2000 with James Ujamaa, a black American civil rights activist who converted to Islam in the early 1990s and travelled to the UK, where he became close to the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri at London’s Finsbury Park mosque.
According to Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, in their book, The Suicide Factory: Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park mosque, Abbasi also became close to al-Masri, eventually living at the mosque. After initially hoping to travel to Chechnya to defend the Muslims oppressed by the Russian government, he traveled instead to Afghanistan, where he reportedly trained at al-Farouq (a camp associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11), and was then apparently sent to receive specialized training in a camp at Kandahar airport, where, he said, he was the only one of the recruits to argue that martyrdom operations should only be directed at military targets and not at civilians.
As I explained, this was a moral stance which was also at odds with the views of his mentors, but which resurfaced in his opinions about 9/11. “I’ve had enough of innocent people losing their lives,” he wrote in a 156-page autobiography that he produced in Guantánamo. “I did not leave my home except to defend innocent people.”
Allegedly called upon to defend Kandahar airport against the forces of Gul Agha Sherzai, the US-backed former governor of Kandahar, he described it as a terrifying experience in which he spent his time “running around like a madman in the middle of nowhere trying to dodge missiles,” and then found himself alone, as the Yemeni fighters with whom he had spent the night ran away. A few days later, he was caught with a grenade stuffed down his trousers by two Northern Alliance soldiers in Kandahar. “This guy’s a nuttier,” one of them apparently said, before handing him over to the Americans.
Abbasi has not spoken publicly about his experiences, either in Afghanistan or in Guantánamo, although he is well-known for his criticism of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, in which he took part, and in which, after he brought up his status under international law, the Tribunal President stated, “International law does not apply. Geneva Conventions do not apply. You have been designated an enemy combatant. This Tribunal will fairly listen to your explanation of your actions.” When Abbasi refused to drop the subject, the Tribunal President, tiring of his refusal to behave, stated, “I don’t care about international law. I don’t want to hear the word international law again.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated November 11, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which it was noted that he was a British national, born in Entebbe, Uganda in 1979, most of the above was reiterated. It was stated that, after becoming interested in jihad and contacting Abu Hamza, he traveled to Afghanistan, and trained at al-Farouq. More contentious are the claims that he then met up with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Saif Ul Abel (actually Saif al-Adel), an Egyptian explosives expert and a high-ranking member of al-Qaida, and the Australian David Hicks (ISN 2), and was chosen for advanced training.
Describing his capture, the Task Force failed to mention the colorful story above, noting only that he had been in a guest house in Kandahar, and that he “fled towards Pakistan with several others,” was “captured by a band of Afghans and disarmed, and subsequently turned over to the US Marines.”
He was apparently sent to Guantánamo the day before the prison opened, on January 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his affiliation with Al-Qaida and knowledge of their training camps,” and also because he was “very familiar with the tactics and training employed by Al-Qaida in various terrorist operations, recruitment of Islamic men outside Afghanistan and Al-Qaida intelligence collection training and operations.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force described him as “a confirmed member of Al-Qaida, who has received advanced training and who has pledged to martyr himself in Jihad against the West and the United States in particular. [He] has had personal contact with some of Al-Qaida’s most senior operatives and planners and is assessed to have considerable information pertaining to Al-Qaida personalities and future operations.” It was therefore noted that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and that he posed “a high threat to the US, its interests and its allies.” Asa result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.”
The Task Force also noted that he was “a candidate for prosecution as a terrorist, under the President’s Military Order of November 2001,” authorizing the creation — or revival — of the deeply contentious Military Commission trial system for terror suspects, which was particularly backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, for which Moazzam Begg (ISN 558) was also “a candidate.” Both men were, however, released before their hearings began, and were freed without charge on their return to the UK.
Adel Kamel Haji (ISN 60, Bahrain) Released November 2005
As I explained in Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, Adel Kamel Haji, who was 37 years old at the time of his capture, told those reviewing his case in Guantánamo that he took a break from his job as a clerk for the ministry of defence in Bahrain “to help the refugees and the poor who suffered from the war” in Afghanistan. Taking 2,500 Bahraini Dinars (around $6,700) of his own money, he entered Afghanistan in a taxi from Iran in late October, passing through Herat, where he expected to see refugees but found none, and taking a bus to Kabul via Kandahar, where he discovered that the office of the International Red Cross was boarded up. In Kabul, he told the owner of his hotel that he had come to help refugees and the poor, and he “offered to show me people in areas outside the city where people were in need of help,” so “I went and gave money to families living in poor small houses and things like that.”
A few days after his arrival, however, Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance, and the owner advised him to flee, finding a driver who took him towards the Pakistani border, dropped him off and said that if he carried on walking he would reach Pakistan. He was then picked up by an Arab called Omar (Rajab Amin, ISN 65), in a car with an Afghan driver, who “saw my clothes and my features, which looked familiar to him, so he stopped.” On arrival in Pakistan, he handed himself in to the authorities, anticipating that he might receive “a verbal admonishment” for not arriving through the proper channels, but never considering that he would be arrested. When this was pursued by a Board Member, who asked, “Why do you think you ended up here after showing up with the proper papers?” he replied:
I don’t know what happened exactly. But it became clear to us later that … the Pakistani police force was selling people for money [and] that the price for Arabs was a large sum of dollars. I think you have documentation to show that many of the people here had nothing to do with fighting or killing … I think you have become certain that these people did not have anything to do with this affair. One of the interrogators told me that a lot of the Pakistanis were selling people for money … They said these people are all from al-Qaeda and they turned them in.
In Chapter 7, I included Haji’s descriptions of his detention in Peshawar, Pakistan, prior to being transferred to US custody. He explained that, having been detained for the night at the border with other foreigners, he expected to be taken to a police station for routine questioning when a military helicopter arrived instead, with about 15 officers from the Pakistani Special Forces on board. At this point, he said, “we realized that we had been betrayed by the officers at the border post.”
Blindfolded and bound, the men were thrown onto the helicopter and flown to Peshawar. On the way, each prisoner was assigned four soldiers, who “sat on our backs throughout the flight,” and at Peshawar airport they were dragged from the plane and thrown on the ground, where “we remained in the open for about two hours without anyone uttering a word with us.” They were then taken in trucks to a police station and held in cells, which were “located somewhere underground with doors made of steel.” Haji explained that the cells were “very dirty,” that “the treatment in [the] prison was awful,” and that “the food was very bad.”
He also said that, during his detention in Peshawar, the Pakistanis took him and some other prisoners for what they claimed was routine questioning, but explained that they were taken to a villa where they were confronted by American interrogators, who “asked us about our names, nationalities, age, qualifications, the reason of going to Afghanistan, how we entered and when,” and then returned them to the prison.
In “Guantánamo Bay Detainee Statements,” compiled in May 2005 by his attorneys Mark Sullivan and Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of Dorsey & Whitney (PDF), he spoke briefly about his time in Kandahar, explaining that, on arrival, “US soldiers beat [him] in the face and stomach as he was led from the plane.”
He also wrote an op-ed after his release, in which he was identified as Adel Kamel Abdulla. This was published in The Media Line on December 28, 2006, and is available here in a cross-post from the Cageprisoners website. In it, his most powerful insight into his time at Guantanamo was in the introductory paragraphs, in which he wrote:
Captivity means isolation. We were in a military base, on an isolated island in Cuba. It was as if we did not exist on Earth! We never used to see anyone or anything nor receive any news. We could barely see sunlight. Almost none of the letters that we wrote to our families were sent. After a year at the Bay we knew something was wrong when we received letters from our family saying they had not heard from us.
At night the lights were so strong that it was difficult to know whether it was night or day. We couldn’t sleep because it was constantly noisy. There were lots of scorpions, insects, lizards and rats. We were allowed a 3 minute shower per week. There were no clean clothes and those we had were made of polyester, which was horrible in the hot and humid weather.
The prison is under the control of psychiatrists whose goal is to turn us crazy by the time we left, but I think it’s they who are crazy now.
He also explained how the prisoners “turned to God for help, spending as much time as we could in prayer and reading the Holy Qur’an and as the days went on we began to feel we were in God’s hands and that gave us all the strength and patience we needed to survive Guantanamo.” he added, “Without God’s help no one can tolerate that place for even one minute.”
He also revealed how the prisoners “had become one big family. We were very caring and supportive to each other and after four years, I had adapted to life in Guantanamo Bay. In leaving I felt I was leaving behind my family because the inmates were genuinely my brothers.”
In conclusion, he wrote about the general ignorance about Guantanamo in Bahrain and around the world, explaining that “when we were there we … suffered serious injuries due to clashes and torture but it was never announced. The world does not know anything about Guantanamo.”
In 2008, he was one of 66 former prisoners interviewed for a major McClatchy Newspapers report, in which he was identified as Adil Kamil al-Wadi. In an article based on an interview with him conducted by a McClatchy reporter in a coffee shop in Bahrain, Tom Lasseter explained how he was particularly concerned to explain how, at Kandahar, the guards had begun attacking the prisoners’ religion. After initial bemusement, al-Wadi said:
[T]he soldiers began to laugh at the prisoners when they prayed. He said that some shouted obscenities about them being terrorists. The prisoners, he said, continued without acknowledging the hecklers with M-16s. Then the soldiers began to demand that the prisoners stand up for head counts, he said. When the prisoners refused to get up and continued to pray, the soldiers hoisted them to their feet and sometimes punched them.
That, Wadi said, is when things changed. “The soldiers told us, ‘We will teach you a lesson.’ We told them, ‘If you want to do something, you will be sorry. We are not afraid to die for our religion,’” Wadi said. “We told them, ‘If you want to stop us from praying, we will fight you to the death.’” Wadi said that for him and many other prisoners, the battle came to seem like a religious war between Muslim prisoners and American soldiers who seemed to hate Islam.
Al-Wadi also showed his interviewer “pencil-thin scars across his flesh,” which, he said, were “left by tight handcuffs and shackles,” but primarily he wanted to continue talking about the Americans’ assault on Islam, explaining how, in Guantánamo, after the prisoners were given copies of the Quran, guards conducting cell searches sometimes abused the holy book. This was how al-Wadi described the problems:
During one of the first searches, he said, “they threw mine [my Quran] on the floor; a soldier kicked it.” “We became angry and asked him, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘What did I do?’ We said, ‘You kicked our holy Quran. He said, ‘Oh, this book?’ And then he kicked it again. We started to scream and kick the fence.”
An officer came to the cellblock to see why the detainees were making so much noise. Told that a soldier had kicked a Quran, the officer apologized, Wadi said. “He said the soldier was a fool,” Wadi said. “We said, ‘OK, please do not let it happen again.’” Five days later, a different soldier threw a Quran to the floor and kicked it, Wadi said.
When Camp Delta opened in May 2002, al-Wadi said, “he was called in for interrogation less frequently than he had been before; months passed without him being asked a single question.” He added, “They didn’t give me any idea about my case; they just said, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ They didn’t ask me any questions. I said, ‘Are you joking? You have me here and have no questions?’”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Haji was an “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated November 22, 2004, which was, as it stated, input from the Task Force for the prisoners’ annual Administrative Review Boards (ARBs). These were conducted on an annual basis after the CSRTs, and were designed to ascertain whether the prisoners still had intelligence value and were still regarded as a threat. In it, the Task Force recommended that Haji be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).”
The document also noted that, at the time of his last assessment, on November 11, 2003, he was regarded as a high-level threat, of medium intelligence value, who was recommended for ongoing detention. The Task Force assessed him as “a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” who had been “neither forthright nor cooperative during his interrogations.” It was claimed that there were “inconsistencies in [his] story,” and that his “travel patterns and contacts indicate [that he] did not travel to Afghanistan to help the poor as he claimed, but that he in fact traveled to Afghanistan to fight Jihad against the United States and was probably supported and facilitated by Al-Qaida.” It was also noted that he was “captured with a confirmed Al-Qaida member, but refuse[d] to explain in detail the true circumstances of this association,” even though this does not appear to have surfaced as an allegation in either his CSRT or his ARB.
In conclusion, as well as assessing him as “a probable Al-Qaida recruit,” who had “clearly demonstrated his dedication to Jihad,” the Task Force also noted that he had been “disruptive and aggressive while in detention,” and “had to be confined in the maximum-security unit because of this behaviour” — which, of course, proves only that he reacted with anger to his detention, and not, as the Task Force implied, that reacting with anger to one’s detention in Guantánamo somehow provided proof of an affiliation with terrorism.
It was also noted that, despite the above, the Task Force had determined that he was not a high risk, but was, instead, “a medium threat to the US and its allies,” and it was also noted that the Task Force had determined that he was “of low intelligence value,” and was “assessed as being fully exploited.” Providing further uncorroborated information, the Task Force claimed that, although he had “consistently denied that he went to Afghanistan for jihadist reasons, his brother, Mahir Kamil Abdullah Haji, provide[d] evidence that [he] actually went to Afghanistan twice for jihadist purposes.” The Task Force conceded that there was “no indication that [he] received advanced training or had any leadership role in Al-Qaida,” but this whole scenario involving his brother strikes me as deeply suspicious, partly because the first instance cited was a visit “for two months for jihad against the Soviets in 1988,” which, of course, was a US-backed “jihad” that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda’s global terrorism, and secondly, because no proof was provided that his visit in October 2001 was for jihad, and it sticks me as deeply unreliable that his brother was supposed to have stated that, at the time, he “had also decided to go to Afghanistan for jihad himself,” and “that he and his brother agreed that [he] would go to Afghanistan first and then call Mahir to tell of his whereabouts in Afghanistan.”
Whatever the exact status of these dubious allegations, Haji and two other Bahrainis were freed a year after this document was issued, and were then released without charge on their return to Bahrain.
Lahcen Ikassrien (ISN 72, Spain) Released July 2005
I first told the story of Lahcen Ikassrien in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” drawing on an article in El Pais in November 2006 (which was translated into English for Cageprisoners), and expanded on it in March 2011, in an article entitled, “The Case of Lahcen Ikassrien: Torture in Kandahar and Guantánamo.”
A former gardener, cook and construction worker, who had spent three years in prison for dealing hashish, Ikassrien’s journey to Guantánamo began when he traveled to Afghanistan after separating from his Moroccan wife in Spain. “I wanted to know how it was to live there, if what was said about the Taliban was the truth,” he said. “For me, Taliban was synonymous with Muslim, good Muslim.”
After a difficult journey via Turkey and Iran, Ikassrein arrived in the western Afghan city of Herat. There, he said, the Taliban “interrogated me in a police station for six hours. They wanted to know everything. Where I went and what I wanted to do. These people did not trust anyone. I told them that I came from Europe to live like the true Muslims. They sent me to Kunduz, near Mazar-e-Sharif, and there I bought a taxi and a butcher shop that was run for me by two Afghans. I could not run it because I understood neither Pashto nor Arabic.”
Denying allegations that he trained in an Al-Qaida camp and fought alongside the Taliban, he explained that he was captured by men serving under the Northern Alliance warlord General Rashid Dostum, after fleeing Kunduz in a convoy of trucks, and taken to Qala-i-Janghi, an ancient fort, with hundreds of other captured men. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, known as the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which was put down with savage force, and the survivors, like Ikassrien, huddled underground in a basement, as the Northern Alliance and their US allies bombed them, attempted to set them on fire, and finally flooded the basement. Ikassrien, who was wounded in the arm and hand by shrapnel from a US bomb, said, “My group was in an underground trench and they were throwing gasoline at us. Many died burnt. Then Dostum’s men flooded us with water and it went up to my neck. It was horrible. I left alive by a miracle.”
From Qala-i-Janghi he was taken, via Dostum’s vile and overcrowded prison at Sheberghan, where, he said, he was questioned at gunpoint, told that he had been sold for $75,000 and described as an “important terrorist,” to the US prison at Kandahar airport, where an American soldier fastened a plastic bracelet on his wrist, which stated, simply, that he was “Animal Number 64.” Treated with a brutality that is familiar from other prisoners’ reports — “They burned my legs with cigarettes, they hit me over the head with gun butts, and repeated time and time again that a person like me did not have the right to live” — he was then transferred to Guantánamo.
Recalling his arrival at Guantánamo, he noted that he was weighed, and that “the scale marked 55 kilos, 23 less than when I was seized in Afghanistan.” He added, “My arm had gangrene, and they gave me a paper to sign to authorize an amputation. A volunteer of the Red Cross advised me not to do it, as he thought that it was possible to save my arm, and thanks to him I kept it.”
The hospital in Guantánamo was “a tent,” and he remained there for about three months, seated in a folding chair and tied at his feet and hands, in the company of 20 other prisoners, most of them Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis. “The soldiers entered the infirmary with dogs that barked wildly at us,” he said, adding, “We went on a hunger strike so that they would not enter anymore.”
In May 2002, Ikassrien received his first visit from a Spanish delegation, which included a diplomat from the Spanish embassy in Washington D.C. and Spanish police officers. He explained that, after the visit, the Americans began to treat him worse, and torture and threats followed one another. “They said that, according to the information provided by the Spaniards, I was an international drug trafficker and I financed jihad inside and outside Spain.”
He explained that the interrogations in Camp Delta, which opened in May 2002 to replace the animal cages of Camp X-Ray, were held in a special room, which reminded him of his experience in Kandahar. There, he said, interrogators showed him hundreds of photographs of alleged jihadists and spoke of tens of groups close to al-Qaeda. As he also explained, referring, in all probability, to the regime introduced by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller later in 2002:
They came to the cell, they used a spray that made you cry, you turned around, went down on your knees with your hands intertwined over your head, and they tied your hands and feet with chains. They led you to a room with plastic walls, and there they left you alone for hours. Hours of anguish waiting for them to arrive. They put ventilators so that you were freezing cold.
The Spanish police officers visited again in early 2003. Again, there were several agents led by the same commissioner and a representative from the embassy. Ikassrien was played tapes of a conversation about jihad in which he was supposedly one of the speakers, but he denied that the voice was his. “They offered to make me a protected witness,” he explained. “They said that they would give me money, work and a house if I collaborated. They offered to let me speak to my mother the following morning. I said yes to this, as I had no news from her for three years.”
The next day a US captain and an interpreter prepared to let him call his mother in Alhucemas in front of Spanish police officers. “You can speak for two minutes,” they said to him. “Tell her that you are alive and well, but do not say where you are.” Ikassrien said, “I told them that if I could not tell my mother where I was, I would not accept the call, and they went away angry. Soon the Americans returned and gave me a beating. They undressed me and threw me into a container where there were rats. I remained alone for three days, naked, without food or water. Like an animal. People from the Red Cross came to visit to me and asked me why I was there.”
Although the Spanish police stated in a report presented at Ikassrien’s trial (see below) that they did not return to see him in Guantánamo, he was adamant that they visited him again in June or July 2003. “They came with more photos,” he said. “I told them that I was Moroccan and that they did not have the right to interrogate me. They replied that they wanted to help me.” Ikassrien added that he also told them, “Every time you come, the Americans torture me.” He also explained that he had been interrogated by Moroccan agents.
After this third Spanish visit, as Ikassrien anticipated, the Americans again subjected him to torture, in an attempt to persuade him to identify alleged terrorists in photographs. “Again I was naked for several days and without food,” he said. “An interrogator who called herself Anna came and began to show me more photos. I refused to answer. They brought black dogs with muzzles, they hooded me and the animals barked and they struck me with their legs. I only felt the shoves, I did not know if they were loose. My companions heard everything and struck with their fists on the cell walls.”
The last visit of the Spanish police took place in March 2004, and in July Ikassrien was moved to the solid-walled isolation cells of Camp Five, where a psychiatrist who looked oriental subjected him to sustained psychological mind games, and told him, ‘If you do not collaborate you will be here all your life.” Ikassrien added, “To eat, I got a piece of bread and a little bit of onion. It was hell. You could not hear any noise, you did not know if it was day or night .”
A year after he was moved to Camp Five, Ikassrien was taken to the infirmary, where he was given a check-up and read a document in Arabic, which stated that the US government “did not have anything against him, but if they found he was linked to al-Qaeda they had the right to take him to Guantánamo again.” He added, “They wanted me to sign it, but I refused.” He was then hooded and taken to a plane that returned him to Spain on July 18, 2005.
When Ikassrien was returned to Spain, he was not a free man, but had been extradited at the request of anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzón, who claimed that he was linked to the Syrian-born Spaniard Imad Yarkas, serving 12 years in prison for belonging to al-Qaeda.
In June 2006, however, the Spanish Supreme Court threw out Yarkas’ conviction for conspiracy to commit murder in the 9/11 attacks, and, with the case against Ikassrien demolished, he was finally freed on October 11, 2006. The Associated Press reported that the court concluded, “It has not been proved that the accused, Lahcen Ikassrien, was part of a terrorist organization of Islamic-fundamentalist nature, and more specifically, the al-Qaeda network created by Bin Laden,” adding that wire-tapped conversations between Ikassrien and another suspected al-Qaeda member in Spain had also been considered invalid.
Prior to WikiLeaks’ revelations in April 2011, all that had been revealed about Ikassrien from the US government was a one-page summary of unclassified evidence for his CSRT, identifying him as Laacin Ikassrin. In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Ikassrien was an “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated November 8, 2004, which was, as it stated, input from the Task Force for the prisoners’ annual Administrative Review Boards (ARBs). These were conducted on an annual basis after the CSRTs, and were designed to ascertain whether the prisoners still had intelligence value and were still regarded as a threat. In it, the Task Force recommended that Ikassrien be “retained under Department of Defense control.”
It was also noted that this recommendation corresponded with the most recent JTF GTMO assessment, on November 11, 2003, in which he was assessed as being a high risk threat, and of medium intelligence value. In the document released by WikiLeaks, claims were made about his involvement with terrorists in Spain (the claims that were later dismissed by the Spanish Supreme Court, leading to Ikassrien’s release). It was also stated, with no evidence provided, that Ikassrien had “actively tried to recruit another individual to go fight jihad in Afghanistan with him,” and the Task Force also drew on a statement made by an Iraqi prisoner, Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111), also held in Qala-i-Janghi, who was well-known within Guantánamo for the unreliability of his statements. Al-Tayeea stated that Ikassrien “could provide detailed information regarding Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi,” a senior al-Qaeda military commander for al-Qaeda who was finally seized by US forces and sent to Guantánamo in 2007, because he “was in an artillery group commanded by Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.”
As a result, the Task Force not only believed that he could provide further information about those involved in the terrorist attack in Madrid in March 2004 (which does not seem to have been true), but also that he “should be able to provide information on Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, whom he has denied knowing in the past,” even though there was a good reason for doubting that he had lied about this in the past.
In conclusion, the Task Force stated that, although Ikassrien had been “cooperative with his debriefers, [his] accounts remain[ed] vague and inconsistent when questioned on topics of a sensitive nature,” and cited as an example the analysts’ inference that he was an Al-Qaida member, but that he “ha[d] yet to admit being part of Al-Qaida and continue[d] to deny any knowledge of any terrorist affiliation.” An analyst’s note that was included added that, as Ikassrien insisted after his release, he “denie[d] ever joining a terrorist organization and even claim[ed] to have never received military training in Afghanistan.” It was also noted that he “continue[d] to deny any incriminating information,” and, confirming that protestations of innocence could only be met with the kind of response that accused witches met with during the 17th century witch-hunts, the analyst added that this was “a common anti-interrogation technique used by numerous JTF GTMO detainees, as well as by known members of Al-Qaida,” without mentioning that it was also identical to the stance taken by innocent people seized by mistake.
In February 2011, as I explained in an article entitled, “Spanish Court Gives Go-Ahead for Guantánamo Torture Investigation to Continue,” the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) gave hope to those seeking to hold accountable the Bush administration officials and lawyers who authorized torture by agreeing to continue investigating allegations made by Lahcen Ikassrien that he was tortured at Guantánamo, where he was held from 2002 to 2005. For more on this, see the website of the Center for Constitutional Rghts, which is involved in two ongoing torture cases in Spain against the US government.
Habib Rasool (ISN 120, Afghanistan) Released July 2005
In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Habib Rasool, whose real name was Rabel Khan, was born in Afghanistan but had Pakistani ID. In Guantánamo, he explained that he had been living in Pakistan, where he was working in the logging industry, but was forcibly conscripted by the Taliban when he returned to Afghanistan to work on his house in October 2001, and was taken to a compound in Kunduz, where he was kept under guard for 20 days. “There were armed guards outside the compound and we could not leave the compound on our own,” he said. “They were sending people by numbers to fight. In those 20 days they did not get to my number and I did not fight.” He also explained that he gave a false name — Habib Rasool — to the Uzbeks who captured him, “because I know that the Uzbek military are not our allies, they do not like Pakistanis. If they understand that I am a Pakistani, they would kill me because they did it before. They killed a lot of Pakistanis there.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Rasool was an “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated November 4, 2004, which was, as it stated, input from the Task Force for the prisoners’ annual Administrative Review Boards (ARBs). These were conducted on an annual basis after the CSRTs, and were designed to ascertain whether the prisoners still had intelligence value and were still regarded as a threat. In it, the Task Force recommended that Rasool be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).”
It was also noted that this recommendation corresponded with the most recent JTF GTMO assessment, on November 22, 2003, in which he was assessed as being a medium risk threat, and of low intelligence value. In the document released by WikiLeaks, it was noted that he was “assessed as being a low level Taliban recruit,” who, after joining the Taliban, “spent approximately 20 days in the Kunduz, Afghanistan (AF) frontline region before surrendering to Northern Alliance forces at Sheberghan,” largely confirming his story. It was also noted that the spurious reason for his transfer was because of his knowledge of the “[l]ocation and activity at the safe house in Kunduz, where [he] stayed for twenty days before he surrendered.”
It was, however, also noted that his “truthfulness [was] in question,” based solely on a polygraph test administered on January 19, 2004, in which, “according to the examiner, deception was indicated when asked the following questions: (a) Other than the Taliban, have you ever been a member of any other anti-US organization? (b) Did you ever participate in attacks on coalition forces? (c) Have you planned to conduct combat operation on coalition forces upon your return home?”
Fazaldad (ISN 142, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Fazaldad is the only one included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals. In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar,” I explained how he was 19 years old at the time of his capture, and how he told his tribunal at Guantánamo a rather confusing story in which he claimed to have gone to Kunduz with other Pakistanis to preach, but also admitted attending two training camps — one where he learned to use a Kalashnikov, because “everyone is fighting over there (in Pakistan),” and one that was religious, whose purpose, he said, was “to tell people to follow the Koran, do their duties, and not to fight against each other.” Settling on one particular story, he said that he went to Afghanistan “to serve,” adding that he “did not fight against anyone,” and that he was “making beds and giving food and water to the Pakistanis there.” Describing the circumstances of his arrest, he said, “an airplane came and there was a big light and people were dying. Then we started heading back toward our homes in Pakistan. We were captured by some ‘English people’ and were handcuffed. Then I was put in jail.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 9, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was revealed that Fazaldad had mental health problems. As the Joint Task Force explained, he “stated he was in Kunduz, Afghanistan (AF) for three months where he went to serve Pashtun people by bringing water and washing dishes for them.” He “claimed he never served any soldiers while he was there and was simply fulfilling a religious obligation to ‘serve Allah as best he could.’” He also explained that he “fulfilled his obligation by remaining in Kunduz, AF for 15 days,” and was then seized in Mazar-e-Sharif, “while preparing to return to Pakistan,” by Northern Alliance soldiers, and delivered to US forces at Bagram, in December 2001, “without weapons, documents, passports or money.” He was sent to Guantánamo in January 2002 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his possible affiliation to the Taliban as a foreign fighter.”
The Task Force assessed him as “not being a member of any extremist group nor associated with any extremist association,” and, crucially, he was “described as a ‘simple’ person with a very low IQ and who was a ‘follower’ who is barely able to function on his own.” The Task Force concluded that he was “of no intelligence value and pose[d] a low threat risk to the US, its interests and allies and should be repatriated without condition” — a clear revelation of how completely innocent prisoners seized by mistake ended up being described as “a low threat risk,” rather than no threat at all. As a result of the assessment, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer or release,” although for some reason it took another 13 months.
Khalid Al Hubayshi (ISN 155, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Khalid al-Hubayshi, who was 26 years old at the time of his capture, crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan with two Tunisians, traveled to Afghanistan in June 2001, but had previously visited in 1997, when he trained at the Khaldan camp, and got to know its gatekeeper, Abu Zubaydah, who was seized on March 28, 2002 in Faisalabad, and regarded — erroneously — as such a significant “high value detainee” that the CIA’s torture program was developed specifically for use on him.
Al-Hubayshi explained all of this at Guantánamo, stating that Abu Zubaydah was responsible for “receiving people and financing the camp,” that he once bought him travel tickets, and that he was the man he went to when he needed a replacement passport. He also noted that Zubaydah did not have a long-standing relationship with bin Laden. When asked, “When you were with Abu Zubaydah, did you ever see Osama bin Laden?” he replied, “In 1998, Abu Zubaydah and Osama bin Laden didn’t like each other,” adding, “In 2001, I think the relationship was okay,” and explaining that bin Laden put pressure on Zubaydah to close Khaldan, essentially because he wanted to run more camps himself.
Al-Hubayshi was extremely suspicious of both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and presented himself, instead, as a freedom fighter who focused on particular struggles that various Muslims around the world had with non-Muslim oppressors (the notion of “defensive jihad” that was also the main philosophy of Khaldan). It was for this reason, he said, that he trained at Khaldan, which was not associated with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda at the time, and it was also for this reason that he returned to Afghanistan in 2001, joining “a private small camp” outside Jalalabad, which was subsequently closed down by the Taliban. He insisted, “I wasn’t a member of al-Qaeda or on the front lines with the Taliban because I don’t believe in what they are doing. I believe what the Taliban did in Afghanistan was ethnic war [and] al-Qaeda is a terrorist organisation.” He also explained:
I think Osama bin Laden is wrong. He just wants to be famous. He doesn’t care how he does it, killing people, killing Muslims, or destroying countries. I think he got what he wanted — to be famous. I don’t need to meet him. I don’t understand the politics. People look at the vision of Osama bin Laden and believe America is their enemy. They don’t understand what is going on or what happened in Afghanistan in 1980.
In April 2008, al-Hubayshi was interviewed by Faiza Saleh Ambah for an article, “Out of Guantánamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden,” that was published in the Washington Post, which I drew on for an article entitled, “The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubyadah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts.” The Post‘s article began, “A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists’ training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.”
In the interview, he admitted that, although he had certainly become disillusioned with the inter-ethnic fighting in Afghanistan — “I was not there … to help Afghans fighting Afghans for political gain,” he said, adding, “If I was going to die, I wanted to die fighting for something meaningful” — his return to Afghanistan in May 2001, and what he subsequently did there, was both more complicated and more compromised than he had admitted at his tribunal.
He explained that, while attempting to return home in 1999, he had been arrested and imprisoned by the Pakistanis, who confiscated his passport. After his release, he used a false passport to travel to Yemen, and was smuggled back into Saudi Arabia, where he resumed his job at a utilities company. Two years later, however, when he learned that he was “wanted for questioning by the Saudi authorities,” he obtained another false passport and fled to Afghanistan, where, he said, he noted that “al-Qaeda’s influence had spread and the organization had become more like a corporation … with company cars and many safe houses,” and the Taliban “had also grown more powerful.”
After becoming “adept at making remote-controlled explosive devices triggered by cellphones and light switches,” he admitted that an associate of bin Laden, who was “impressed by his skills,” asked him “to join al-Qaeda, or at least meet with bin Laden.” He recalled that he “spent half an hour with bin Laden at a converted military barracks near the city of Kandahar,” where the two men “sat on carpets in bin Laden’s office and shared a fruit platter.”
The following conversation took place, according to al-Hubayshi. “What are my duties toward you, and what are your duties toward me, if I join with you?” he asked, to which bin Laden replied, “That you don’t betray us and we don’t betray you.” He added that bin Laden also offered him a plot of land, but said that he refused the offer to join al-Qaeda, explaining that bin Laden’s fight “had changed from defending Muslims to attacking the United States. I wasn’t convinced of his ideology. And I wanted to be independent, not just another minion in this big group.”
After returning to his independence — presumably at the small camp near Jalalabad that he talked about in his tribunal — al-Hubayshi said that he was training Chechen fighters on 9/11, and that a month later, when the US-led invasion began, the Afghans “blamed us … and forced us out of the city at night. We slept by the river for two weeks.” Later, he was drawn once more into bin Laden’s orbit when another of his associates came and took him and some of the other men to the Tora Bora mountains, for what, it seems, was touted as a glorious showdown with the Americans.
“Bin Laden was convinced the Americans would come down and fight,” al-Hubayshi said. “We spent five weeks like that, manning our positions in case the Americans landed.” He added, however, that as the airstrikes moved closer, and as the Americans’ Afghan allies advanced on their positions, bin Laden abandoned the fight and fled. Faiza Saleh Ambah wrote that al-Hubayshi “remains bitter about what he considers bin Laden’s betrayal: calling the fighters to Tora Bora and then abandoning them there.” “The whole way to Cuba,” he explained, “I prayed the plane would fall. There was no dignity in what he made us do.” He also said that he was “sorry that Muslims carried out the Sept. 11 attacks because they targeted civilians.” “That was wrong,” he explained. “Jihad is fighting soldier to soldier.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 31, 2004, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which he was described as Khalid Sulaymanjaydh al-Hubayshi, born in 1975, much of the story he told at his tribunal and after his release was corroborated.
The Task Force noted that In 1996 he had traveled to the Philippines, where, it was alleged, he “received basic paramilitary training from a Moro Islamic Liberation Front terrorist training camp under the command of Kuwaiti Al-Qaida operative Umar Al-Farouq” (who was later captured by US forces, and reportedly killed in Iraq in 2006, after escaping from Bagram in 2005), although it should be noted that he also denied the significance of his training in the Philippines during his tribunal. It was also noted that he then traveled to Pakistan in 1997 with his twin brother “under the direction of Umar al-Farouq,” meeting Abu Zubaydah and attending the Khaldan (or Khalden) camp as he admitted.
After two months of training, he allegedly “returned to Pakistan in order to retrieve his passport from Abu Zubaydah,” but “spent two months in a Pakistani jail and then spent six months in Islamabad, PK, with Abu Zubaydah while waiting for a false Saudi passport. When the false passport arrived, he reportedly “traveled to Yemen and stayed with Umar Al-Farouq’s uncle Mohammed for approximately two weeks before Mohammed smuggled [him] back into Saudi Arabia in 1997.”
After working at an electrical power plant until 2001, he allegedly stated that, in July 2001, he “traveled to Afghanistan to join the jihadist movement again and to receive further training to assist him in fighting in Chechnya.” At a guest house, while waiting to attend al-Farouq, he said that he met a man called Abu Nasser, described as an “Al-Qaida recruiter,” who took him to another guest house “that was for fighters heading to Chechnya.” It was also noted that he “claim[ed] he didn’t want to fight with or for the Taliban.”
After approximately three months of training at this camp, near Jalalabad (the “private small camp” he talked about in his tribunal, but which the Task Force described as being Derunta, a well-known advanced training camp, also known as the Abu Zubair camp), the US-led invasion began, and “he and his class fled to the south towards Pakistan,” where he “was captured with a group of four by Pakistani authorities on 26 December 2001,” and then handed over to US forces. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Sceco Power Plant located on [sic] the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and his association with Al-Qaida.”
In its assessment, the Task Force claimed that he had stated that his full name was Khalid Sulayman ‘Ayld Uwayidh Salim Salman al-Zuwa’l al-Hubaishi al-Jihani,” and that “[s]ensitive reporting” indicated that his twin brother was “involved in a plot to attack US interests in Uzbekistan,” and that he “has two other brothers who have traveled to the US and one of them attended flight training in Arizona.” It was also noted that it was “suspected that [he was] related to Al-Qaida suicide operative Khalid lbn Mohammed al-Jihani, who was involved in the 12 May 2003 terrorist attacks that took place in Riyadh, SA, and may have been engaged in planning additional attacks.” In addition, it was claimed that “a passport by [sic] the name of Ahmad Sulayman’ Ayld al-Jayshi al-Jahini (possibly a relative of detainees [sic]) was found among the possessions of two Saudi Arabian citizens who admitted to being involved in an alleged plan to conduct suicide operations in Saudi Arabia on the behalf of Osama Bin Laden.”
After noting his training in the Philippines, and “at three Al-Qaida sponsored training camps in Afghanistan” (Al-Farouq, Derunta, and then Al-Farouq again), as well as noting that the full extent of his and his family’s “involvement with Al-Qaida and international terrorism is undetermined and needs to be exploited further,” the Task Force concluded that he was “assessed as being a member of Al-Qaida who has definite ties to senior level Al-Qaida operatives, received specialized training, demonstrated a commitment to jihad and may be a key member in the international Al-Qaida network.” As a result, he was regarded as being “of high intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DoD control.”
How much truth there was to any of the allegations against him is unknown, but it is, I contend, odd that he was one of the first Saudis to be repatriated, despite this assessment. On his return, however, he was put through a rehabilitation program to which the majority of the Saudi prisoners in Guantánamo were subjected, which, as the Christian Science Monitor explained in August 2008, “seeks to convince prisoners to abandon what officials call ‘deviant’ or ‘misguided’ beliefs. It is run by a committee that includes a religious subcommittee of about 100 clerics, a psychological-social subcommittee of about 30 psychologists and social scientists, and a security subcommittee, which determines suitability for release and monitors ex-prisoners.”
As Carlyle Murphy explained in that article, al-Hubayshi’s rehabilitation “started in Guantánamo, but ripened only after he returned home in 2005 to an unexpected reception. Mr. Hubayshi was treated to a mix of forgiveness, theological reeducation, psychological counseling, prison time, and cash. With this carrot-and-stick approach, the Saudis aimed to bring Hubayshi back into the fold of society and ensure, as much as possible, that he left behind old ways of thinking.” Murphy added, “It seems to have worked for Hubayshi … who now lives with his new wife in Jeddah, where he works as a power plant technician.” As al-Hubayshi himself explained, “if the government had not helped me marry and get my job back, I might be in Iraq now.”
The success of al-Hubayshi’s rehabilitation still doesn’t explain why he was released before so many other Saudis, but it should serve as a reminder of the importance of the Saudis’ rehabilitation program, which, it seems to me, remains a largely enlightened response to a problem that, elsewhere — in Guantánamo, for instance — has involved brutality, torture, and a disdain for the law.
Abdullah Al Noaimi (ISN 159, Bahrain) Released November 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Noaimi, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, is the cousin of a lawyer who represented over a hundred Guantánamo prisoners. At Guantánamo, he said he went to Afghanistan to find another of his cousins, and was captured by Pakistani guards after crossing the border with four Arabs and two Afghans.
In Chapter 8, drawing on “Guantánamo Bay Detainee Statements,” compiled in May 2005 by his attorneys Mark Sullivan and Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of Dorsey & Whitney (PDF), I explained that he spoke briefly about his time in Kandahar, explaining that, while being moved to the processing center after his arrival with other prisoners, “the soldiers kicked his legs out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground,” and he “heard other detainees screaming in pain.” He also explained that he and other prisoners “were ordered to stand with their backs to the soldiers, who then knocked them to the ground and held guns to their heads,” and added that, during his anal probe (to which all the prisoners were subjected), a female MP grabbed and held his penis.
Al-Noaimi also told his lawyers that he “witnessed other detainees being bitten by military dogs,” and said that “a female soldier, upon learning that [his] brother lived in the USA, threatened to kill him.” He also developed a urinary tract infection and came down with a fever, which made him vomit and left him unable to eat, but explained that, when he was taken to the clinic, “a military doctor allowed a military policeman to inject him with an unknown substance. When he began to bleed as a result, the doctor and the policeman laughed.” He was then placed in isolation for seven weeks, and was ignored by the medical staff, even though his eyes were yellow and there was blood in his urine, and added that a doctor told him, “you’re about to die and there’s nothing we can do for you.”
In Chapter 19, I also related al-Noaimi’s recollections about being used for medical experimentation at Guantánamo, drawing on the statements he made to his lawyers, in which he told them that, during his first few days at the prison, he “was injected with an unknown substance which made him depressed and despondent. He was unable to control his thoughts and his mind raced. He was also unable to control his body and fell to the floor.” He was then placed in isolation for three days, where medical staff administered an unknown medicine “that made him feel drunk,” until he refused to take it any more, and on another occasion was given pills which “caused him to hear voices.” When he told his interrogators that he “felt like he was losing his mind,” their only response was, “Yeah, we know.”
In June 2006, after the mysterious deaths of three men at Guantánamo, which was officially described as a triple suicide, al-Noaimi (described as al-Nuaimi) provided a detailed explanation of why he did not believe the official story — doubts that were spectacularly amplified in January 2010 in an article for Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton, based on the testimony of a number of soldiers who were present in Guantánamo at the time (and which I commented on here and here).
In an article in Gulf News, he explained, via a statement sent to the newspaper, “The three brothers who died last Saturday were, based on my own knowledge about them and my relationship with them, totally innocent. They were not even accused of any crime by the US military.”
He added, as Gulf News described it, that Manei al-Otaibi [aka Mani al-Utaybi], Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali Abdullah [aka Salah Ahmed al-Salami] “had memorized the Holy Quran and were deeply religious,” and that, of course, “Islam forbids Muslims from committing suicide or engaging in harmful activities.” He also said, “Otaibi and Abdullah told me that they were studying in Pakistan when they were seized. I do not know if they were together when they were arrested, but they were sold out when they were living in a house and turned over to American custody in 2002.” [Note: Al-Otaibi was actually seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan].
Crucially, al-Noaimi explained that al-Otaibi and Abdullah “had been told by the military interrogators and authorities that they were not regarded as threats and that they would be going home soon.” In his own words, “The interrogations dealt with them only during the first month of their detention. For more than a year before I left Guantánamo in November 2005, they were left alone. But they were still held in bad conditions in the camp by the guards.”
He also explained that Yasser al-Zahrani “was too young to be in Guantánamo,” saying, “He was 21 when he died, barely the legal age in most countries, and was merely 16 [actually 17] when he was picked up four and half years ago. His age shows that he is not even supposed to be taken to a police office; he should have been turned over to the underage [juvenile] authorities.”
Speaking more generally of juvenile prisoners at Guantánamo, he said that “young boys” were being held at the prison, as indeed they were. “I have seen 13-year-old and 15-year-old kids sitting together,” he said. “Where are their governments? What are the human rights communities doing to protect those young people?” He also “called upon activists to be allowed to visit Guantánamo and assess the conditions and the age of the inmates,” saying, “If the US has nothing to hide, why doesn’t it let people go in there, see the circumstances and tell the international community?”
In conclusion, he said that the US administration “cannot keep people in detention as a political currency. There is a limit and they must pay attention to it. After all, the US administration did not benefit anything from keeping people like Manei, Yasser and Ali in detention to use for political issues, like putting pressure on countries to give them something for their return to their families. This political card has already expired.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Noaimi was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention(TRCD),” dated April 1, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in March 1982. It was also noted that he was monitored by mental health [personnel] for personality disorder and mood disorder until November 2002,” but that “[b]oth conditions are stabilized and [he] is not taking medications for these conditions.”
It was also noted that the recommendation to transfer him superseded a recommendation to detain him that was issued on October 21, 2003. It was not clear why this change had taken place, as he was still “assessed as an admitted member of the Taliban/Al-Qaida and its global terrorist network.”
However, it was also stated that he “claim[ed] his commitment to jihad was due to despair over his family life,” and, describing how he came to be in Afghanistan, the Task Force noted that, after graduating from high school in 1999 and traveling to the US to study, he left after three semesters because of poor grades and “a desire to be closer to his girlfriend.” However, for his family (his father worked in the Bahrain Royal Court), his girlfriend was considered “not good enough for their son.” As a result, he “felt his choices in life were due to his parent’s inability to accept this relationship,” and he “decided to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to participate in jihad, to become a martyr by dying while fighting enemies of Islam.”
Although he made it to Afghanistan, and presented himself to the Taliban in Kabul, where he ‘admitted he had no training,” he then “became ill with a bladder infection, and was taken to a private clinic in Kabul,” where a Dr. Amanuallah cared for him. Just before US bombing raids reached Kabul, he said, the doctor “cleared out the clinic and took a taxi with [him] to Jalalabad,” where he stayed in another clinic for two weeks, and then traveled to a small village with the doctor, where he stayed until late November 2001, “with Dr. Amanuallah visiting periodically.”
Around December 16, 2001, he said, he joined a grouo of other men, who were being escorted by a guide to the Pakistani border. He then requested to be taken to the Bahraini embassy, but was arrested instead, and transferred to US custody on December 30, 2001.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he could “[p]rovide information on the following: Personalities of the Bahrain Royal Court; Taliban recruitment process; Al-Qatiba (“The Battalion”) Safehouse in Kandahar, AF; Al-Qaida recruiter and travel facilitator Abdul Bin Laden; [and] Medical care in Afghanistan.”
Assessing the threat he allegedly posed, the Task Force noted that he had been “immersed in the English language and Western culture by attending a US university in Norfolk, Virginia,” and that “[t]he combination of [his] personality disorder and the fact he can easily blend into Western society makes [him] susceptible to recruitment for extremist activity and possibly martyrdom operations in the West.” In the Task Force’s opinion, his continued detention would “allow for further exploitation and prevent him from engaging in further terrorist activity.” He was assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may likely pose a threat to the US, its interests and its allies,” and as being “of medium intelligence value.”
Three years after his return from Guantánamo, al-Noaimi was working as an electrician, and was married with two children, but on October 29, 2008, as he made his way along the King Fahad Causeway, which joins Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, he was seized at a Saudi checkpoint and appears to have been detained ever since. An article in Gulf Daily News stated that it was “understood his name was included on a list of nearly 1,000 Al-Qaida suspects accused of carrying out ‘acts of war’ against Saudi Arabia,” but, as Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), explained, al-Noaimi (described as al-Nuaimi) “had not been allowed to hire a lawyer or see any of his family,” and “had no idea of the charges against him, violating numerous articles in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
He said, “While we fully respect and appreciate our brothers in Saudi Arabia, we do not accept any of our citizens to be arrested in this arbitrary manner, which violates the simplest international norms. Today, there are international standards and charters that should be respected as part of every country’s role in the international community.”
No explanation appears to have been provided by the Saudi authorities, and in August 2010, on Newsblaze, Brij Sharma, a Bahraini journalist, mentioned how “Abdurrahim al-Murbati, brother of former Guantánamo prisoner Issa al-Murbati, has been held in Saudi Arabia since 2003 and lately even his family has not been allowed to see him. And Bahrainis Khalil Janahi and Abdullah al-Nuaimi, a former Guantánamo inmate, are also in Saudi jails for a number of years.”
In May 2009, when the Pentagon issued contentious allegations about the number of former Guantánamo prisoners who were “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities” (PDF), al-Noaimi was included, described as being “involved in terrorist facilitation,” and with “known associations with al-Qaeda,” although no evidence was provided to back up this claim.
For further information about al-Noaimi, see this statement on the Cageprisoners website, and also see this poem he wrote, originally published in the book Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, compiled by attorney Marc Falkoff.
Redouane Khalid (ISN 173, France) Released March 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Redouane Khalid, a Parisian who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, had apparently arrived in Afghanistan in July 2001 with another Parisian, Brahim Yadel (ISN 371, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Five of Ten)“), and how a good friend of Yadel’s, Hervé Djamel Loiseau, died while leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan with two other Frenchmen who ended up in Guantánamo — Mourad Benchellali (see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Three of Ten)“), and his friend Nizar Sassi (ISN 325, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Four of Ten)“).
At Guantánamo, he was accused of training at a safe house in Kabul and a Taliban camp in Kandahar, but he said that he went to Afghanistan “to find the correct Muslim lifestyle for himself and his family,” and hoped to buy a house there. He added that he “initially looked at Pakistan, but ended up choosing Afghanistan because it was a cheaper place to live and he could get a house for under $3,000.”
Although he stayed at a house in Jalalabad called “the House of the Algerians” while he was working out how to leave Afghanistan, which was a house that, according to US forces, was connected to al-Qaeda, he said that he moved to another house in Jalalabad after the owner told him that the border was closed and he would have to be patient trying to leave the country.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, Khalid’s file was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated March 27, 2004, in which he was described as Ridouane Khalid, born in August 1967. In this analysis, the Task Force acknowledged that he had stated that he “wanted to live in a ‘pure’ Islamic state,” that “he was very dissatisfied with the environment in France,” and that “he no longer wanted to raise his family in France,” but claimed that, through his affiliations and connections with extremist individuals, [he] traveled to the United Kingdom, [where] known Al-Qaida members facilitated his travels into Afghanistan (AF), to receive military/terrorist training at Al-Qaida sponsored training camps.” It was also noted that he “denie[d] having received any training,” although it was “suspected he attended training at the Al-Farouq camp,” and that he “possibly” did so with Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi, with whom he was seized while trying to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan.
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his probable affiliation with Al-Qaida as a foreign fighter in Afghanistan,” and, in providing reasons for his ongoing detention, the Task Force claimed that he was “a probable member of Al-Qaida who has specific knowledge concerning their members and leadership (both captured and incarcerated),” that he also had “specific knowledge concerning Al-Qaida members who recruited and facilitated his travels and training from the United Kingdom,” and that he “spent time in two different Algerian guesthouses,” one of which was run by “Hassan,” an Algerian believed to be Hassan Hattab, head of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC). There were other claims, although it is not known, of course, whether there was actually any substance to any of these claims, or whether Khalid’s journey to Afghanistan, and that of the other French prisoners, was little more than an adventure, as Mourad Benchellali has always maintained.
For the Task Force, however, Khalid was assessed as “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and it was, presumably, not until the French government exerted pressure on the Bush administration that he was released.
On his return, Khalid and four of the other ex-prisoners — Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Brahim Yadel and Khaled bin Mustafa — have faced a long ordeal in the French courts. In 2007, they were convicted of “criminal association with a terrorist enterprise,” and given one-year sentences, but they were not imprisoned because of the time they had already spent imprisoned in Guantánamo. However, their convictions were overturned on appeal on February 24, 2009, because, as the New York Times explained, “The court ruled that information gathered by French intelligence officials in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, violated French rules for permissible evidence, and that there was no other proof of wrongdoing.”
On February 17, 2010, the Court of Cassation, a higher court, ordered a re-trial of the five men, and that trial began on January 20 this year, with lawyers drawing on US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks to argue that the case should be dropped. As the Miami Herald reported, “defense lawyers presented at least three US diplomatic cables citing French anti-terrorist investigators,” and “argued that it was inappropriate for French investigators to have discussed the ex-inmates’ cases with American authorities.” In April, it was noted by a French researcher for Cageprisoners that the men’s conviction had been upheld by the Court of Cassation.
Majid Al Shammari (ISN 181, Saudi Arabia) Released November 2005
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (4) – Escape to Pakistan (The Saudis),” I explained how Majid al-Shammari, who was 27 years old when he was seized, was a soldier in the Kuwaiti Army from 1992 to 2000, who “had only primary education,” according to a Cageprisoners report. His brother Saif explained, “When he lost that job he became depressed as he did not know how to meet the daily expenses of his family.” He added that Majid then traveled to Afghanistan to do charity work and stayed there because it was cheaper to live than Kuwait, but was arrested after the US-led invasion and taken to Guantánamo.
According to a one-page Summary of Evidence for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, al-Shammari trained at two camps including al-Farouq, fought on the Taliban front lines, “carried an AK-47 on the battlefield,” and “participated in the battle of Tora Bora.” He did not take part in his tribunal, and his Personal Representative explained that, although he was “respectful and courteous,” he was also “distrustful of the tribunal process.” Responding to the allegations, he reported that he “stated that he did not carry an AK-47 on the battlefield and that he did not fight in Tora Bora, although he was there.”
When he was transferred from Guantánamo, the Saudi authorities stated that he would be interrogated by the authorities who would decide whether to hold him or release him. In the meantime, he was transferred to al-Hair prison in Riyadh and allowed to meet with his mother, brothers, sisters, wife and two daughters.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Shammari (who was identified as Maji Afas Radhi al-Shimri, born in May 1974), was dated July 25, 2005, and was an “Update Recommendation to Retain in DoD Control,” in which it was noted that he was “assessed as a high to mid level member of Al-Qaida,” and “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “of high intelligence value.”
Despite these dangerous-sounding claims, the supposed evidence was rather less alarming. Al-Shammari had served with the Saudi army at the time of the first Gulf War, although he was eventually dismissed for going AWOL for a week, and then trained in Bosnia for approximately 50 days in 1996 after hearing a sheikh “preach about the war in Bosnia and the call for Muslims to assist in the fight.” On his return, he joined the Kuwaiti army, but around May 2000, when he left Kuwait on a three-day pass, he was denied entry back into Kuwait when he tried to return, and was then “without steady employment” (although obviously not for four years, as the documents stated) until he was “motivated to go to Afghanistan” after hearing a fatwa issued by another sheikh, which “called for Muslims to join the Taliban.”
As a result, he traveled to Afghanistan via Iran, training at al-Farouq, and, reportedly, “fighting in Tora Bora, Afghanistan when the American bombing of the area forced [him] to flee towards the Pakistan border,” where he “surrendered to Pakistani authorities and was transferred to US custody 31 December 2001.”
When he was sent to Guantánamo, the spurious reasons given for his transfer were that it was because he “may be able to provide general to specific information on the leadership structure of the low level Al-Qaida fighters,” that he “can provide information on small unit tactics and training,” and that he “may be able to identify Al-Qaida and Taliban and locations on a map” and “may also provide information on the recruitment process.”
From what I can see, his possible ability “to provide general to specific information on the leadership structure of the low level Al-Qaida fighters” probably signified the extent of his significance, but the Task Force compiled a list of other information that obviously alarmed them, even though it does not necessarily hold up under scrutiny.
The Task Force assessed him as being “an operative for Al-Qaida’s international Terrorist network” with “numerous links to leading Al-Qaida members,” but those mentioned were not reliably connected to al-Shammari. One, for example, was Faysal al-Dir’an, described as “a Saudi Al-Qaida document facilitator who forged a number of passports,” and who apparently stated that “one of the individuals he forged passports for was Majid al-Shammari.” This may have been true, but there is no way of verifying it, as the circumstances of al-Dir’an’s detention were unknown (he was not at Guantánamo), and, in any case, the forging of passports to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban does not prove any kind of connection to terrorist activities.
One particularly unreliable witness was Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63), who apparently “identified [him] as a Kuwaiti Mujahid.” This may have been true, although, again, being a mujahid is not the same as being a terrorist, and, in any case, all of al-Qahtani’s statements are unreliable because he was the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, as Susan Crawford, a senior Pentagon figure, admitted just before George W. Bush left office.
Other claims were also difficult to verify — reports that he met Al-Qaeda operatives in Bosnia, and that an unidentified report stated that the authorities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain were all “on the lookout for a suspected Osama Bin Laden Al-Qaida operative by the name of Majid Tarrad Al-Shammari” (which was not quite his name), who “had escaped Kuwaiti authorities in mid-August 2001″ (which does not seem to be the case in relation to al-Shammari’s itinerary). Particularly unexplained was a claim that he was “an experienced jihadist,” who had “fought in the Chechnya and Afghanistan conflicts,” and who had “received vast terrorist training and ha[d] participated in multiple hostile acts against US and Coalition forces in the support of terrorism.”
If al-Shammari was what the Task Force claimed, it seems unusual to me that it was also noted that his “behavior pattern while in detention ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile in nature,” although that could have been a careful attempt to disguise who he was. One day, we may have an answer, but for now nothing else is known about him — not even what happened to him in Saudi Arabia after the report mentioned above, in which he was being held in the al-Hair prison in Riyadh.
Nasser Al Mutairi (ISN 205, Kuwait) Released January 2005
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, at Guantánamo, Nasser al-Mutairi, who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, admitted fighting with the Taliban, but insisted that he went to Afghanistan for rabat (preparation) rather than jihad. He also spoke briefly about the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which he survived after he, along with several hundred other prisoners who had surrendered in northern Afghanistan, were imprisoned in a mud fort run by the Northern Alliance warlord General Dostum. When the men, who had their hands tied, thought they were about to be killed, some of them started an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and al-Mutairi (like Lahcen Ikassrien, above) was one of only 86 men who survived by hiding in the basement for a week, until they were flooded out. Speaking of his experiences, al-Mutairi said that he and other prisoners were “outside in the courtyard with our hands bound” when the shooting started, and that he was shot as he tried to make his way back to the basement.
In May 2005, following the release of a largely disappointing report into claims of abuse at Guantánamo, conducted by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt of the Air Force, al-Mutairi spoke to the New York Times, which noted that he “said he had witnessed or learned from fellow inmates about many of the abusive practices that have been described in previous reports by nongovernmental groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
In what was described as “a series of interviews with the New York Times,” he also explained that the prisoners “sometimes prevailed over the authorities after protesting conditions with campwide hunger strikes,” explaining that there were three major hunger strikes during his time at the prison.
The first, he said, was “generally caused by the prisoners’ despondency over not knowing what would eventually happen to them,” and only “ended after the authorities released the first handful of detainees and transferred them back to Afghanistan.” He added that “guards and interrogators used that transfer as an example to give people hope.” “They said, ‘This could be you,’ and people started to eat again,” he explained via an interpreter.
After another hunger strike — “a protest of guards’ handling of copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into a pile and stepped on” — he said that “a senior officer delivered an apology over the camp’s loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop,” and that “interpreters, standing outside each prison block, translated the officer’s apology.”
He also “described the camp environment as one in which authorities sought to keep prisoners thoroughly obedient,” adding that the treatment of the prisoners “improved the most just before tribunals [the Combatant Status Review Tribunals] began in the summer of 2004. “In general,” he said, “everybody was behaving very good then, very professional. Maybe they got orders from the top, but I don’t know why.” The answer, of course, is that the Supreme Court had told the government that Guantánamo was not a legal black hole, and the Bush administration therefore knew that it would have to modify its behaviour.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 24, 2004, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was identified as Nasser N. Amtiri, born in 1977, and the Joint Task Force provided more information than was later made available, stating that he “left Kuwait in 1999 for Afghanistan to fight for Islam under the Taliban,” training for two months and then fighting “in many places, traveling from one location to another to include the front lines near Kabul, AF, and [Khawaja Ghar].” It was also noted that he claimed “to have received his directives from an individual known as Mullah Fadel,” identified as probably being Mullah Fazel (ISN 7), described as “a senior Taliban commander and alleged Taliban Chief of Staff.”
It was also noted that, in late 2001, he “sustained injuries that caused him to be hospitalized in Mazar-e-Sharif,” where he either “heard from the hospital that there was low-level fighting taking place at the Al-Jenke prison” (actually the Qala-i-Janghi massacre), or “witnessed the uprising and was taken to the hospital afterwards” (the Task Force evidently could not work out which version was true).
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban ground forces and specific information on Mullah Fadel [Fazel], a possible Taliban leader.”
In determining al-Mutairi’s status, the Task Force “assessed [him] as being a foreign fighter supporting the Taliban,” but one who was “of low intelligence value to the United States.” The Task Force also assessed him as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” noting, amongst other points, that he “willingly traveled to Afghanistan with the intent to receive paramilitary training and fight on behalf of the Taliban in support of the Jihad,” that he had “stated that he fought in Afghanistan to become a martyr,” and that he had “affirmed that he went to AF to kill the people who were fighting against the Taliban.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended him for “[t]ransfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
After his return, al-Mutairi was put on trial and sentenced to five years in prison for “joining a foreign military force without permission, harming Kuwait by serving the interest of a ‘foreign country,’ and undergoing illegal weapons training.” That sentence was thrown out by another court in June 2006, but an appeals court then reinstated the sentence. Another appeal led to Kuwait’s highest court of appeal — the Court of Cassation — overturning the conviction in December 2006. As the Associated Press explained at the time, of the eight Kuwaitis returned at that point, two were “currently in Kuwaiti detention,” but “the remainder [had] stood trial on terror charges but were acquitted.”
The decision was “final,” and his lawyer, Nawwaf al-Mutairi (no relation), said that “the court found his client did nothing criminal,” and stated that the decision was “a gift to all Guantánamo returnees.”
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, Kevi Brannelly wrote:
Congrats and thank you sooo much for your dogged principled pursuit of justice
Thanks, Kevi for those very encouraging words, and thanks also to the handful of dedicated readers who have shared this — not many, I’m sad to note. Perhaps this is too overwhelming a project — this part alone was 16,000 words, I noticed — and perhaps I also need to think about some additional publicity for it.
Kevi Brannelly wrote:
well 70-parts is a bit daunting ; } are you doing a book? wonder if we could get someone in congress to enter it into the record !
Gabriele Müller wrote:
Thanks again, Kevi, and thanks, Gabriele. This project is too big for a book, but it could be an e-book I suppose. Anyone have any thoughts and/or experience regarding the possibility of creating a 700,000-word e-book?
Gabriele Müller wrote:
How bout a DVD collection with booklet?
Sounds interesting …
Andy, with regard to turning your online articles into an e-book, or reasonable equivalent — I have a good friend and mentor who has decades of experience in publishing. My friend is a longtime volunteer at a cooperative press that has published hundreds of progressive book titles. If you wanted advice on good ways to reformat your online columns for alternate redistribution I think that would be the kind of thing that would interest him, although, of course, I can’t make commitments on his behalf.
It has been a long time since I worked in publishing. My limited experience with e-books, like those in Amazon’s “kindle” format, is that their formats are all proprietary, intended to lock purchasers up, and restrict sharing. I was quite surprised when I bought a couple of e-books through Amazon. They seemed to incorporate the worst elements of paper books with the worst elements of electronic documents. In particular, there was no facility for searching the text, or for making marginal notations.
PDF (portable document format) files may require the purchase of the paid-for version before the reader can add their marginal notations, but at least it lets one search, and it is widely available, across many platforms.
If you decide to rewrap and redistribute your online columns with the main goal of getting them as widely distributed as possible, let me volunteer to do some of the donkey work. Whatever means you plan to use to redistribute your work may require conversions to your manuscripts from one format to another, in ways that can not be done automatically. That kind of work can be very tedious, but there are ways to automate most of it.
Thanks for the offer. I would be very pleased indeed to be put in touch with your friend and mentor, and I will also bear in mind your very kind offer to help out, should these tentative plans come to anything!
I wanted to note something odd which I just noticed — Khalid al Hubayshi was one of the first Saudis to be repatriated — on July 19, 2006. Still, he should normally have had at least one Administrative Review Board hearing convened in 2005, and it wouldn’t have been odd if he had another in early 2006. There is no record that he ever had an ARB hearing.
He wouldn’t be the only captive who got skipped. And I noticed one captive who had an ARB convened to see if he should be retained two months after his repatriation.
But the skipping of his ARB may have been due to plans to charge him before a military commission. If I understand the rules, OARDEC didn’t have a mandate to convene ARB hearing for captives who currently faced charges. I think there were several captives who were denied ARB hearings in the year or two that preceded the formal laying of charges.
He was actually released in July 2005, not 2006, just to be pedantic (sorry), and once prisoners were cleared for release they were no longer supposed to be subjected to reviews. As a result, the lack of documentation is explicable, at least, although you are correct to point out other examples of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing as far as the authorities were concerned, and what also troubles me is that other cleared prisoners, who haven’t had reviews since 2004, are still held — some of the unfortunate Yemenis I wrote about here, whose ongoing detention troubles far too few people: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/06/06/exclusive-guantanamo-scandal-the-40-prisoners-still-held-but-cleared-for-release-at-least-five-years-ago/
Andy, I met with my buddy, about a month ago, and loaned him my copy of your book.
I met with him again today. He liked your book, and asked me about Pluto Press’s interest in publishing your online work. The name of his publishing company is Between the Lines, and they have collaborated with Pluto Press in the past.
Let me repeat my offer to volunteer to do some of the donkey work of changing the format, if you choose to re-publish this material in pdf, or some kind of e-book.
I’d love to put some writing out as an e-book (with a small print run as well, perhaps). Let’s chat by email. Your offer is very kind.
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