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 17 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 16 parts now complete), I have turned my attention to the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released (see Part One, 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.
Mishal Al Harbi (ISN 207, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2005
In a footnote to Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how al-Harbi, described as Mishal al-Habiri, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, drove a food truck for the Taliban, and was released in 2005, two years after he tried to commit suicide and suffered serious brain damage.
This was the most basic outline of his story, but I had the opportunity to tell more in August 2007, in an article entitled, “Saudi who suffered brain damage in Guantánamo gets married in Medina,” in which I explained how he was a low-level Taliban recruit, who admitted during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantánamo — and his Administrative Review Board a year later — that he went to Afghanistan to fight Shiites and not to fight Jews and Christians, as alleged. This suggests — as with many other recruits — that someone misled him while recruiting him in his homeland, as, with the exception of the Shia militias, the majority of the Northern Alliance — the Tajiks and Uzbeks — were Sunni Muslims like himself.
Al-Harbi also admitted that he had received weapons training in Afghanistan, and had been on the Taliban front lines for three days, although he denied an allegation that he fought against US forces, and also denied an allegation that he drove a “rocket launcher mounted truck” in combat against the Northern Alliance, telling his tribunal that he drove a food supply vehicle instead.
After surrendering with several hundred other foreign fighters following the fall of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in November 2001, al-Harbi survived a massacre at the Qala-i-Janghi fort in Mazar-e-Sharif, which came about after a handful of men, out of a group of several hundred soldiers and stray civilians who had surrendered and had been taken to the fort, staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the survivors, like al-Harbi, 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.
What marked out his story above others was when, on January 16, 2003, during a time when, it was alleged, there was particular conflict between the prisoners and some of the guards, who were abusing the Koran, al-Harbi suffered permanent mental and physical damage after his brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes. According to the US authorities, he had attempted to hang himself, but according to a Washington Post report in March 2007 by Faiza Saleh Ambah, his brother claimed that his injuries were the result of a severe beating by some of the prison’s guards, and his family was “seeking not only financial compensation but also concrete answers from the US government — either an admission that Mishal was injured by guards or proof that he tried to kill himself.”
Quite what happened that night is unclear, but Faiza Saleh Ambah provided details which suggested that al-Harbi had indeed been set upon by guards. Hammad Ali (Gadallah, ISN 712, see Part Four of this series), a Sudanese prisoner released in July 2005, recalled that al-Harbi’s injuries took place shortly after he had been transferred to the isolation block India, and explained that one evening, after the guards had forcibly taken the Koran off another prisoner, prompting a half-hour protest by the detainees, who banged on their cell doors and shouted “Allah-u-Akbar” (God is great), riot guards entered the block, and, according to released Bahraini prisoner Abdullah al-Noaimi (ISN 159, see Part One of this series), “started beating prisoners in their individual cells.” A short while later, al-Noaimi added, one of the guards shouted, “Turn on the lights!” and al-Harbi was carried out of his cell. He then spent three months in a coma, kept alive on an artificial respirator, and after he regained consciousness, according to records released by the Department of Defense, his weight dropped from 116 pounds (his weight on arrival, after six weeks of malnutrition in various Afghan prisons) to just 98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg).
For his part, however, al-Harbi was unsure of what happened on the night of January 16, 2003. As Faiza Saleh Ambah described it, “Sitting cross-legged on the carpet in the family guest room, his frayed black leather wheelchair to his left, Mishal said he remembers that after the desecration of the Koran, a guard entered his cell. ‘He was carrying a shield. He pushed me with it. I don’t remember anything else,’ he said, speaking with a heavy tongue.”
Although he recovered sufficiently to write letters to his family, and was helped by physical therapists, al-Harbi was not released from Guantánamo until July 2005, and was still “partially paralyzed” and confined to a wheelchair in 2007. Taking up his story in August 2007, Turki al-Saheil, in a report for Asharq al-Awsat, focused on the rehabilitation program established by the Saudi government to “raise the [ex-prisoners’] spirits and reintegrate them back into society.” Al-Saheil noted that al-Harbi, who “until recently had been receiving treatment at a hospital in Medina … required more time by reason of the incapacity he suffered while inside the US detention facility,” but added that he had “managed to overcome his feelings of despair,” and, with the blessing of the Saudi Interior Ministry, married a Saudi woman last month, “whom he sees as the most beautiful thing in his life.”
In the files released by WikiLeaks in April, the document relating to al-Habri was an “Update Recommendation [for] Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention,” dated June 27, 2004, in which he was described as Mishal Awad Sayaf Alhabiri, born in 1980.
In acknowledging the severity of his injuries, the Joint Task Force stated that he was a “24-year old Saudi who approximately one year ago attempted suicide by hanging, [which] resulted in significant brain injury due to lack of oxygen.” It was also noted that he had been “hospitalized since that time and ha[d] unpredictable motions and behaviour.” The Task Force also explained that he had “a history of a head injury from a motor vehicle accident at age 18,” that he “had a traumatic amputation of his left index finger and ha[d] been treated [at Guantánamo] for depression,” and that he “had a thorough neuropsychological evaluation completed on 23 June 04.”
It was also stated that he was “currently getting care in the inpatient setting with physical therapy, and supervision and training in caring for himself,” and that “[h]is medications include[d] zyprexa and depakote (for brain function and to prevent seizures) and baclofen (an anti-spasmodic).” In addition, it was stated that he was “very mobile in his wheelchair,” that he was “still in training to learn to care for himself, but require[d] assistance,” and that his “likelihood for improvement of current impairments is low,” and “[h]e will need to be in some assisted-living situation, though he can follow simple, concrete directions.”
Even so, it was stated that he was subjected to the same assessment “as stated in JTF CG memo, dated 21 June 2003,” in which Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, “recommended that [his] release or transfer be revoked and [he] remain under continued detention.” Insensitively, it was also stated that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and aggressive,” and that, as of June 8, 2004, he was “still trying to commit self-harm,” that he “harasses, spits on and has hit members of the guard force,” and that he “has refused meals and medications.”
In conclusion, the Task Force determined that he was “currently of low intelligence value,” and that he posed “a low risk, due to his medical condition,” and as a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood of the US Army, the commander of Guantánamo at the time of the “Update Recommendation,” recommended that he be “released or transferred to the control of another country for continued detention,” based on his “medical status, intelligence value and risk level,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force had stated that they needed “more information to make a recommendation,” and that, “[d]ue to our recommendation that he be transferred to another country for continued detention, JTF GTMO and CITF [we]re in disagreement concerning [him].”
Maroof Salehove (ISN 208, Tajikistan) Released August 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Maroof Salehove is one of four 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 Salehove, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he had left his country during the civil war in 1997, and had stayed for four years in Pakistan, studying the Koran and working in a store, and had then been captured in Afghanistan on his way back to Tajikistan. He said that this shocked him, because “during the 25 years of fighting, the Afghanis were fighting each other and they would not bother travellers,” but the situation changed after 9/11, when “the Afghans were picking up all foreigners.”
Refuting an allegation that he fought with the Taliban, he pointed out that the Northern Alliance “are Farsi speakers; they are my own blood and why would I fight against my own people?’” and explained that he was arrested after a Tajik he met at a café near Kunduz told him that it was too dangerous to be near Kunduz — because “if people capture you or find you they will turn you over to the Americans” — and took him to a place where a number of people from Badakhshan (the largely Tajik province in the north east that was never conquered by the Taliban) were preparing to leave by car. He added:
We were riding in cars and we came to Mazar-e-Sharif. We were close to entering the city … and people of Jalalabad asked us to get out of the car and they handcuffed us. They made us sit on the ground. I don’t know what happened; maybe someone was trying to run away or something because I heard some shooting. When I open[ed] my eyes I found myself in the hospital. I did two petitions, one for the Red Cross and one for the United Nations, saying that I was just traveling and they captured me. They never answered. Some Americans came and questioned me. They told us don’t worry and don’t be upset, we are going to send you back to Tajikistan. They brought me to Kandahar and then here.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 27, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was identified as Marouf Saleem, born in March 1978, and it was noted that, as well as being diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, like many of the prisoners, he had also been diagnosed with costochondritis, an inflammation of the junctions where the upper ribs join with the cartilage that connects them to the breastbone.
Providing a variant on the story he told his tribunal, Salehove stated that he “left Tajikistan in 1998 after he met a man named Hamza, who convinced him to study the Koran in Karachi,” and that he and Hamza then traveled to Karachi, where he enrolled in a madrassa. Hamza then disappeared, but after six months, Salehove and and another Tajik student, Abdul Rhaheem, “opened a business selling dry fruits and nuts.” He then stated that, after “he heard on the radio that conditions were improving in Tajikistan,” and “since his business was unsuccessful during its first year, [he] decided to travel back to Tajikistan through Afghanistan around 14 November 2001 because he had heard it was safe.”
Via Jalalabad and Kabul, he arrived in Kunduz, where “he was told that the only way out of Afghanistan was to go through Kandahar.” He “got on a truck headed towards Kandahar,” but “was stopped in-route [sic] by General Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces” and “was shot in the stomach and leg during capture.” Taken first to Dostum’s prison at Sherberghan, and then to the US prison at Kandahar, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, allegedly “because of his knowledge of Hamza and possible knowledge of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or other terrorist organizations,” 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.
Although Salehove’s account persuaded his tribunal to declare that he was “no longer an enemy combatant” (in other words, not an “enemy combatant” at all), the Task Force was not convinced of his innocence. He was “assessed as being deceptive when describing his travel in Afghanistan,” and was “assessed as having trained at Camp Babu,” near Kunduz, which was “a popular recruiting and training area for IMU fighters.” He was also “assessed as withholding information regarding Hamza, who may have been a recruiter for the IMU or other terrorist organization,” and it was also noted that Salehove told a Tajik delegation that he was arrested at the madrassa in which he studied in Karachi, which, they noted, “contradict[ed his] previous statements,” although the Task Force did not acknowledge that he may have been terrified to have been interrogated by representatives of the Tajik intelligence services, based on his home country’s poor human rights record.
The Task Force therefore assessed him “as being a possible IMU recruit,” who was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and was “a medium risk as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests, or its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended his “[t]ransfer to the control of another government for continued detention,” and it was also stated that a Tajik delegation on May 9, 2003 requested his “expedient transfer to the Tajik authorities for prosecution.” However, in addition, the Criminal Investigative Task Force “indicated that more investigation was needed to complete a threat assessment at this time,” and that, [u]ntil further law enforcement investigation is conducted by CITF and an assessment is made, JTF GTMO and CITF cannot agree on this particular detainee.”
It is not known what happened to him after his release.
Abdul Aziz Al Shammeri (ISN 217, Kuwait) Released November 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Aziz al-Shammeri, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was a teacher and a father of two, and how, at Guantánamo, he had stated that he took a short vacation in October 2001 and traveled around Afghan villages teaching the Koran. He explained that he felt he would be safe in the villages, because life would be going on as normal and “would not be interrupted except on the battleground,” and added that he had no idea that the Taliban government “would fall in the blink of an eye.”
As the situation deteriorated, he left everything behind and fled. “You know they killed some of the women as well,” he explained. “And you know that women in Islam are not killed; they don’t fight or participate in the fighting. So, when I hear something like that, I don’t think of going back and getting my passport, I just think of my life.” After escaping across the mountains, he turned himself in to the Pakistani army, thinking they would question him and arrange for him to return home. “I didn’t think they would tell me, ‘Since you don’t have identification or a passport, that means you’re a follower of Osama bin Laden.'” he said. “I have never heard of this before.”
Noticeably, al-Shammeri was one of five Kuwaitis who crossed the border together on December 16, 2001, and whose arrival was well-documented, because Newsweek investigated their case and reported that the local villagers remembered them well. Although they were not the first Arabs to arrive via the precipitous snow-bound paths across the White Mountains, the villagers declared them “the softest.” An eyewitness said that “the Afghan guide who brought them was furious, swearing he’d never take Kuwaitis on that trail again.” Unlike other Arabs he’d guided before — fighters with experience of difficult terrain — he described the Kuwaitis as “weak, nervous, ill-clothed and inexperienced climbers,” and “grumbled that he and his friend practically had to carry them.”
In March 2002, as Newsweek also explained, al-Shammeri (described as Abdulaziz Sayer al-Shammari) joined a hunger strike at Guantánamo. As the article explained:
In a letter dated the 23rd of that month, but received through the Red Cross in Kuwait only on the 23rd of June, al-Shammari told his father he had not eaten for 27 days and not taken water for four days. “I cannot stand life in this place,” reads the letter. “Some persons in America want to achieve electoral gains on our account.” He asked his father to take care of his children and to “take this message to the Kuwaiti press so that they know the reality as it is.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 31, 2004, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” and in which he was described as Abd Al-Aziz Sayir al-Shamari, born in September 1973, a variation of the story he told in his tribunal was presented by the Joint Task Force, which noted that he served briefly in the Kuwaiti army, but was discharged after going AWOL for 70 days. It was also noted that he “had a degree in Islamic Studies,” and that he “worked in the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowments as a Koran instructor from 1994 until he left for Iran (IR) and Afghanistan in 2001,” stating that “an associate in Saudi Arabia invited him to Mashhad, IR.” From there, he said, he traveled to Afghanistan “to study and teach Islamic studies.”
“As US forces were arresting Arabs,” the Task Force continued, he “attempted to flee into Pakistan with a number of other individuals,” but “was arrested by Pakistani authorities due to a lack of identification documents.” The Task Force noted that he claimed “not to remember any details of his capture, although he describe[d] the day as one of the most traumatic events in his life.” First held in the Kohat prison in Pakistan, like many other prisoners who ended up in Guantánamo, he was transferred to US custody on December 31, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of religious groups in the region and his work in teaching the Koran” — a thin pair of allegations, which, although grafted on after his transfer, nevertheless revealed how the US authorities did not have any information at all to tie him to militant activity or terrorism.
Even so, the Task Force claimed that he had “not been forthright or cooperative and ha[d] shown deception when questioned about his associates and timeline,” and also that he had “a history of acknowledging information and denying it later.” Based on what was described as his “deception history,” it was “assessed that he ha[d] received training on advanced counter-interrogation techniques, as well as above average terrorist training typically taught by Al-Qaida,” even though there was nothing to indicate that this was the case.
It was also stated that one of al-Shammeri’s fellow prisoners at Guantánamo, Abd al-Rahim Abdul Rassak Janko (ISN 489), stated that he, al-Shammeri and another Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari (ISN 552, still held), “were fellow students at an Islamic university in the United Arab Emirates.” It was not noted why this was mentioned, although it was, presumably, to suggest that the university was a hotbed of extremism. However, it is a dubious allegation because al-Janko was tortured by al-Qaeda as a spy in Afghanistan and imprisoned by the Taliban before the Americans liberated him and took him to Guantánamo, and his statements are notoriously unreliable.
Following on, however, the Task Force continued to indulge in innuendo, claiming that al-Shammeri’s “story of traveling to Afghanistan to study and teach [was] a typical cover story used by many Arabs to hide the fact that they traveled to fight the Jihad or were associates or members of Al-Qaida,” and that, “[g]iven [his] high family stature in the Kuwaiti government (he has family in the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense), it [was] likely that he ha[d] close ties to senior leadership in that country and may have been a valuable Al-Qaida asset because of those ties.” He was, it was added, “assessed to have connections to high-ranking Al-Qaida members.”
In conclusion, al-Shammeri was “assessed as being a possible member of Al-Qaida,” although it was also noted that he was “of low intelligence value to the United States.” He was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller recommended him for “[t]ransfer to the control of another government for continued detention,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force did not agree with this assessment. “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders,” it was stated, “CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee poses a medium risk.” I cannot tell from this whether CITF regarded him as a lower or a higher risk, although I suspect the former, given that nothing resembling evidence was provided in his case.
Abdullah Al Ajmi (ISN 220, Kuwait) Released November 2005
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, in Guantánamo, Abdullah al-Ajmi, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was a lance corporal in the Kuwaiti army, but had specifically denied fighting with the Taliban, saying that he had taken a leave of absence from the army in order to study in Pakistan with the vast missionary organisation Jamaat-al-Tablighi, which is avowedly non-political. He insisted that he had only confessed to fighting with the Taliban because of the circumstances in which he was held and interrogated.
“These statements were all said under pressure and threats,” he said. “I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t bear the threats and the suffering so I started saying things. When every detainee is captured they tell him that he is either Taliban or al-Qaeda and that is it. I couldn’t bear the suffering and the threatening and the pressure so I had to say I was from [the] Taliban.”
After his release, he married and had a child, but on April 26, 2008, according to the US military, he was one of three suicide bombers responsible for killing seven members of the Iraqi security forces. As I explained in my article, “Identification of ex-Guantánamo suicide bomber unleashes Pentagon propaganda,” an article in the Washington Post explained how he had recorded a martyrdom tape before his mission, which was translated by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites. On the audiotape, al-Ajmi apparently condemned conditions at Guantánamo as “deplorable,” and stated, “Whoever can join them and execute a suicide operation, let him do so. By God, it will be a mortal blow. The Americans complain much about it. By God, in Guantánamo, all their talk was about explosives and whether you make explosives. It is as if explosives were hell to them.”
As I explained at the time, this is disturbing news, of course, although it did not follow that al-Ajmi’s release, and his subsequent actions, demonstrated that the administration’s post-9/11 anti-terror policies — abrogating from the Geneva Conventions and holding men without charge or trial in an offshore prison and interrogation center — were justified. If al-Ajmi was a threat to the United States, he should either have been held as a prisoner of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, or prosecuted in a recognized court of law as a criminal. Instead, his imprisonment at Guantánamo involved “evidence” compiled by unnamed interrogators and other military personnel that was so far from the standards demanded by any acceptable judicial process that, on his return to Kuwait, he was acquitted of the charges against him — primarily, that he fought with the Taliban against US forces in Afghanistan — and set free.
At his trial, his lawyer, Ayedh al-Azemi, told the court that transcripts of interrogations conducted in Guantánamo by US officers should not be admissible as evidence, because they “do not bear signatures of the US officers nor the defendants and thus should not be admissible as legal evidence by the court.” He added that the transcripts were “not a proper investigation” but “simple reports that included neither questions nor answers.”
Given what al-Ajmi had said about his activities, it needs to be asked whether he was lying in Guantánamo or whether the abuse he suffered for four years in US custody radicalized him and led to his final manifestation as a suicide bomber. As I explained in 2008, the clues provided mixed messages. In Guantánamo, the authorities certainly regarded him as a threat, noting that his behavior had been so “aggressive and non-compliant” that he had “resided in the disciplinary blocks throughout his detention,” but there appeared to be no way of knowing if he was “aggressive and non-compliant” because he was a sworn militant or because he was profoundly angered by his experiences in US custody.
Speaking to the Washington Post, US lawyer Tom Wilner, who represented al-Ajmi and several other former Kuwaiti prisoners, recalled al-Ajmi’s anger and despair. He explained that his client was ”young and not well educated, and that he appeared deeply affected by his incarceration” at Guantánamo. He said that during five meetings in 2005 al-Ajmi had told him that he had been “badly abused after his capture in Afghanistan and later at Guantánamo, at one point coming to a meeting with a broken arm [he] said he sustained in a scuffle with guards.” Wilner added that over the course of his visits, al-Ajmi became “more and more distraught … about the way he was treated and the fact that he couldn’t do anything about it.”
While he too was unable to know for certain what had provoked al-Ajmi to become a suicide bomber, he maintained that this “horrible tragedy” could have been avoided if the administration had not turned its back on the due process of the law. “All we sought for him was a fair hearing, a process, and he was released by the US government without that process,” he said, adding pertinently, “The lack of a process leads to problems. It leads to innocent people being held unfairly and not-so-innocent people going home without any hearing.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Ajmi was an “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated October 19, 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 al-Ajmi be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).”
In this document, it was noted that, at the time of his last assessment, on February 7, 2004, he was regarded as a medium-level threat, of low intelligence value, who was recommended for “[t]ransfer to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).” The Task Force assessed him as a medium threat because, although he “was a trained soldier in the Kuwaiti military, [who] went absent without leave to fight jihad in Afghanistan,” and although he “was initially deceptive and claimed Yemeni citizenship for fear of facing the Kuwaiti military court,” he “was an admitted mujahideen fighter,” and “ha[d] been forthright concerning his involvement as a fighter with the Taliban.”
The Task Force noted that he arrived in Afghanistan around March 2001 and “joined a Taliban fighting group” on the front line at Bagram for eight months, where “he acted as both a guard and a scout,” and “was issued an AK-47 and grenades and placed in a defensive position against the Northern Alliance.”
It was also noted that he “denie[d] receiving training in Afghanistan,”but that JTF GTMO assesse[d] this claim may be dishonest.” Al-Ajmi reportedly “state[d] he avoided training by telling the Taliban he had fired a Kalashnikov as a small boy in Kuwait,” although he” did not tell them of his prior military experience or demonstrate his marksmanship ability,” and an analyst claimed, “This does not seem plausible, since at the time [he] arrived in Afghanistan, circa March 2001, it [was] reported that everyone was required to attend a minimum of 7 to 8 weeks of basic training.” This may, however, not be true.
In addition, as with other prisoners, it was stated that he “was captured with a F91-W black Casio wristwatch,” and an analyst noted that this “was typically given to mujahideen who had received Al-Qaida training, and more specifically, who had received advanced explosives training at an Al-Qaida affiliated terrorist camp.” Again, it is unknown how true this was, or whether it proved anything in al-Ajmi’s case, and these claims were followed up with the oft-repeated claim that “[t]his specific model ha[d] been used in bombings linked to Al-Qaida and radical Islamic terrorist improvised explosive devices.”
Overall, it seems to me, the information about al-Ajmi that was made available indicates that he was nothing more than a foot soldier for the Taliban prior to his capture, but that his imprisonment in US custody, as a human being without rights in a brutal experimental prison, angered him so much that, after his release, he was drawn to terrorism.
Mohammed Fenaitel Al Daihani (ISN 229, Kuwait) Released November 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mohammed al-Daihani, who was 36 years old at the time of his capture, was an auditor for the Kuwaiti government and a father of six. As he described it in Guantánamo, his family had a history of funding aid projects, and he had funded the construction of a mosque in Benin, and, in 2001, the digging of wells in Afghanistan. With unfortunate timing, he took a week’s vacation to check on the progress of his project, arriving the day before 9/11. As the country slowly descended into chaos and the borders were closed, he was trapped, moved from house to house in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad by his contact in the charity to which he had made his donation (the London-based Sanabal Charitable Committee, which, the Americans alleged, was “a fund-raising front for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group”). Finally, he hired a guide to smuggle him into Pakistan with eight or nine other people, where he was handed over to the army by local villagers.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Daihani (described as being born in November 1965, and also identified as Muhammad al-Dayhani) was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated February 7, 2004, in which it was noted that he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting at Kuwait University in 1989, that he worked from 1991 onwards as an Accountant for the Department of Finance Ministry, and that, in 2000, he traveled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the hajj, where he met Faisal, a member of the Sanabal Charitable Committee, and, at his urging, “departed for Kandahar, AF, on 09 September 2001.”
Instead of presuming that this was a vacation from work (as it clearly was), the Joint Task Force drew on the testimony of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (ISN 760, still held), who had been tortured in Guantánamo prior to becoming what the authorities regarded as one of their most productive informants. Slahi told his interrogators that “individuals that were part of terrorist cells were urged to go to AF prior to 11 September 2001,” and as a result of this vague, catch-all comment, the Task Force stated that “GTMO feels this might be the reason for [al-Daihani’s] travel to AF,” as “[h]e has no records of previous travels to AF.”
Just as vague were claims that al-Daihani “may have direct ties with LIFG [the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] by his association with Abdel Hakeem,” who was not identified elsewhere, and that his name was “possibly found on the hard drive of a known Al-Qaida associate.” It was also noted that, according to the analysts, the Sanabal Charitable Committee “supposedly focuses on construction and development work, but is suspected of being a fund-raising front for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group,” which was a horribly all-encompassing allegation, contradicting the obvious evidence of the Committee’s charitable activities. It was also claimed that al-Daihani had “a history of making numerous contributions to non-government organisations with suspected and known links to terrorist organisations” — another vague allegation that means nothing, as, after 9/11, the US authorities tended to regard all Gulf charities involved in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area as fronts for terrorism, which, even if they were (which is a dubious claim at best), was not a reason for regarding anyone who had donated to them as a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.
Al-Daihani was sent to Guantánamo on May 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “may be able to provide general information on the money transfer and transactions of the Al-Qaida network using NGOs as fronts as well as funding for future Al-Qaida Terrorist Organizations.”
In its conclusions, the Task Force noted that it had been determined that al-Daihani was “of high intelligence value to the United States,” and that, even though he “ha[d] only limited amounts of non-compliant incidents,” and his overall behavior ha[d] been compliant and non-aggressive,” he “pose[d] a high risk, as he [was] likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and its allies,” because he was “assessed as being a member of NGOs supporting terrorist organisations,” and because, “[i]n addition, his degree in finance, position within the Kuwaiti government, questionable monetary contributions to NGOs with both suspected and known links to terrorist organizations, [made] his role as being a likely financial facilitator of terrorist actions.”
As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be [r]etained in DoD Control,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force did not agree with this assessment. “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders,” it was stated, “CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee poses a high risk,” which, of course, indicates that CITF thought that his value had been overstated.
Khaled Ben Mustafa (ISN 236, France) Released March 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Khaled Ben Mustafa (described as Khalid Bin Mustafa), from Lyons, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture, and married with children, had traveled in Afghanistan with Redouane Khalid (ISN 173, see Part One of this series), from Lyons, whom he had met at his wedding in Paris. Establishing connections between the various French prisoners, it was notable that Khalid 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 that a good friend of his, 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)“).
As I also explained, Ben Mustafa and Brahim Yadel and another Frenchman, Imad Kanouni (ISN 164, also see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Three of Ten)“), left Afghanistan for Pakistan with many dozens of other men who were later transferred to Guantánamo, because, although they were welcomed in one particular village by the locals, these villagers then betrayed them by sending them to a mosque where they were arrested by the army. As Ben Mustafa explained in a article for Le Parisien in April 2005, which was translated into English by Cageprisoners), and was the source of much of my information about him that I used in The Guantánamo Files, as so little was available in the documents from Guantánamo, “I was with some other French nationals. I produced my French passport and my driving licence to the Pakistani police officers but it wasn’t enough.”
Initially imprisoned in Peshawar, he, like other prisoners, explained how he was occasionally taken to a villa to be questioned by Americans. “They wore civilian clothes” he said. “FBI or CIA, I’ve no idea.”
In Chapter 8, I explained how Ben Mustafa described how, in the US prison at Kandahar airport, where he was held before his transfer to Guantánamo, his interrogators began, slowly, to inflict physical pain. “The aim,” he said, “was to make us confess that we were members or associates of Al-Qaida. It wasn’t true in my case and I refused to falsely confess. I got many beatings as a result of that. I was hit with wet towels, double-folded like a bag and containing small contusive objects such as toilet-soaps. As a result of that I suffered dizziness and aches behind the ear.”
In Chapter 15, I mentioned briefly how, at Guantánamo, he was interrogated over a hundred times. I did not have the space to include other information about his interrogations, but that information is now posted below because of its relevance to the overall picture of abuse at Guantánamo. Ben Mustafa said:
All the interrogations in Guantánamo took place in specially arranged rooms, where we were tied up on the ground. One day when I was not without doubt up to the waiting, I was left for nearly eight hours in the room with the air-conditioning switched on to the coldest temperature. I was literally refrigerated. I know that other detainees endured the same mistreatments. Some were so cold that they relieved themselves in their clothing. All these sessions were filmed by a small camera discreetly located in a corner of the room. In addition to the agents which conducted the interrogation, there was always a second team which listened behind a two-way mirror. Americans quickly understood that I was not a member of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, I was questioned 100 or 150 times.
In April 2011, Cageprisoners published a detailed interview with Ben Mustafa (described as Ben Mustapha) conducted by former British prisoner Moazzam Begg (which I cross-posted here), in which he stated, “I decided to go to Afghanistan in order to live under shari’ah. At that time, I judged that the Taliban represented an Islamic state. My approach was to see with my own eyes what an Islamic state was, bearing in mind that I am convinced that Muslims should live under the Muslim command, the Law of God.” Explaining that he arrived in August 2001 and “discovered a pleasant Muslim atmosphere,” he also explained that, after 9/11, he had to leave the country and was seized by the Pakistanis in December 2001, and tortured “by the Pakistanis under the American authority” for a week, prior to his transfer to Kandahar after being sold to US forces by his Pakistani captors. As he explained:
When I say “sold”, it literally means “sold”. There was a financial transaction. Many among us saw cash flowing from the Americans to the Pakistanis. Each time they would hand over a person, the counter part was money.
After six weeks of torture in Kandahar, he was flown to Guantánamo, where, he said, “The Americans dearly wanted us to say that we were terrorists, that we were Al-Qaeda members and that we knew Osama Bin Laden. ‘Where is Bin Laden?’ Questions were always the same … Each time our answers were not good to them, they would torture us …”
He also spoke critically about the involvement of the intelligence services of many countries in the interrogations at Guantánamo:
It needs to be known that the Americans called over the secret services from all over the world in order to interrogate the GITMO detainees. During the four years I spent over there, several secret services from different countries came to question pretty much everybody. We could be interrogated by anybody. For sure, I was interrogated by the Americans. I was also interrogated by the French. The French came several times in order to interrogate us under the American torture. They wanted us to denounce people in France. The British used to interrogate the British but they used to interrogate everybody. I was also questioned by people with an accent. They were neither English nor American. All the services could interrogate whomever they wanted. For sure, the Mossad was part of the delegation.
He also described the forms of torture used at Guantánamo:
If they were not satisfied, they would torture us in different ways. There was physical torture. There was psychological torture; they would not allow us to sleep, rooms would be highly refrigerated. It was very cold. They would fill the room with noise using very big speakers. The volume of the music was extremely high. We were deprived of many things. We had almost nothing. The only thing I had was a “short.” I was put in a room for months and all I had was a “short.” I had nothing. No blanket, no towel. There was no hygiene. Torture was very harsh.
At the end of the interview, when asked, “What message would you like to address to our readers?” Ben Mustafa said:
I request them not to forget those who are still over there. We went through it but we have started a normal life again. We should really worry for those who are still there. We must not forget them in our invocations. We must absolutely not stop the positive actions that will be successful, God willing, and will close Guantánamo camp. We must remember that Guantánamo is not only in Cuba. There are Guantánamo camps all around the world. In Iraq, there is Guantánamo. In Afghanistan, there are Guantánamo camps. In Pakistan, there are Guantánamo camps. Guantánamo is everywhere. There are American secret prisons. We all know that Muslims are in there. We must not forget them in our invocations nor in the actions we take to denounce this injustice. We have to do everything possible to free our brothers in Guantánamo. We do not want for them a “prison of substitution” as they try to suggest. They need to go back home. There are people who were freed three years ago but they still have not seen their families. They were sent thousands of kilometres away from their place and they still have not seen their children, mothers and fathers. Is that freedom? Everybody is innocent in Guantánamo, that is known. Guantánamo was created to make people believe that we were guilty. Eventually, praise be to God, we are all innocents.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Ben Mustafa (described as being born in January 1972, and identified as Khaled Ben Mustapha) was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated March 27, 2004, in which, although it was noted that he had stated that he “became dissatisfied with his life in France” and “wanted to live in a ‘pure’ Islamic state along with his family,” it was also claimed that “he did not tell his wife and family members his true purpose for traveling to London,” where, the Task Force alleged, he “was recruited by Islamic extremists (Al-Qaida members); after which [he] agreed to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to receive military/terrorist training.” According to this version of events, he “traveled to England in July 2001 where known Al-Qaida members helped facilitate his further travels to Afghanistan and his entry into Al-Qaida sponsored terrorist training camp along with Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi.”
In this account, on July 22, 2001, Ben Mustapha and an unidentified man named Riduane (evidently Redouane Khalid, although the Task Force seemed not to realize this) traveled from the UK to Pakistan, ending up in Jalalabad, at “The House of the Algerians,” where, allegedly, “[t]wo types of training were known to be given: use of electronic components for the creation of explosive devices and training on the Kalishnakov [sic].” In this version of events, Ben Mustafa was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of his “affiliation with Al-Qaida as a foreign fighter in Afghanistan.”
Describing him as “a probable Al-Qaida member,” who “likely was involved in combat against US and allied forces as well,” even though no evidence was provided for this latter claim, the Task Force also claimed that, “[a]ccording to sensitive information, a Spanish bank account with the detainee’s name, birthdate, and place of birth has been associated with terrorist organizations” (which sounds unlikely), and also that, “[a]ccording to sensitive reporting by other government agency [presumably the CIA], the detainee is tied to terrorist groups operating in London, UK, and throughout Europe” (which, again, seems unlikely). It was also claimed that he had “possible connections with another terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat (GSPC),” which is a transparently vague claim, but, as a result of all these allegations, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention,” although this did not happen for another year.
Since their release from Guantánamo, Ben Mustafa and four of the other ex-prisoners — Nizar Sassi, Brahim Yadel, and Redouane Khalid — have faced a long ordeal in the French courts, although they did not, of course, face “continued detention,” as envisaged by the Bush administration. 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 in Cageprisoners’ interview with Ben Mustafa (in which he spoke about the French government’s actions in length) that the men’s conviction had been upheld by the Court of Cassation.
Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa (ISN 246, Bahrain) Released November 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how al-Khalifa, who was a member of the Bahraini royal family, stated in Guantánamo that he had traveled to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid, and also to study his religion. He stated that he gave $5,000 to the Taliban to distribute to the poor and needy, after hearing about their plight on the news.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Khalifa (described as being born in July 1979, and identified as Suleiman al-Khalifa) was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 13, 2005, which was a change from his previous assessment, on November 11, 2003, when it was recommended that he be retained in DoD control.
In telling his story, “based on [his] statements,” the Task Force noted that he was indeed “a prince in the Bahraini royal family,” and was “related to the current ruler of Bahrain, through a shared great-grandfather.” It was also noted that, after graduating from high school in 1999, he studied religion at a college in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and then, in March 2001, traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he stayed until the end of May, when he traveled to Egypt. There, he said, he watched a television program that “encouraged Muslims to live in an Islamic state,” and his father then “wired him 5,000 USD so that he could travel to Afghanistan.”
On May 28, 2001, he apparently traveled to Islamabad, where he “met with Taliban officials at the embassy,” who assigned him a guide. The two men then travelled to Quetta, eight hours away, where they “stayed at the old Saudi ambassador’s house,” and then traveled to Kandahar, where a man named Muhammad Yuqub took over responsibility for him. After staying at “a Taliban guest house for one night,” they traveled on to Kabul, where “they stayed at another undisclosed Taliban guest house.”
He then apparently spent three weeks “touring the city and visiting most of the mosques,” and “purchased a new AK- 47 rifle.” He then “met Abu al-Walid, an Islamic scholar from Saudi Arabia” (described by the US authorities as “Taliban, and possibly Al-Qaida connected”), who “invited [him] to move in with him at his guest house in the Wazir Akbar Khan district in Kabul to study Islam.” He reportedly stayed there for five months, with one-week breaks with al-Walid and another student in Khost, Kandahar,and Jalalabad, and on one occasion visited the Islamic Institute for Religious Studies in Kandahar, where “he met Abu Hafs Al-Mauritania, the director of the school” (and an advisor to Osama bin Laden, albeit one who opposed the 9/11 attacks).
In November, as US-backed forces neared Kabul, al-Khalifa “decided he would return home,” and traveled to Khost with a man named Muhammad Abdullah, who he “believed was a member of Al-Qaida,” where Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban commander of Khost (and a famous Afghan warlord), “provided [him] a place to stay.” he reported that “Abdullah attempted to entice [him] to defend the Taliban,” but he evidently refused, and left Khost for Pakistan, where he was seized by Pakistani soldiers.
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “[t]o provide information on the following — Personalities: Muhammed Wali Razul — detainee’s tour guide, Muhammad Yaqoub — Taliban member detainee met in Kandahar, Sheikh Abu al-Walid, owner of a safe house [and] Taliban safe houses located in Quetta,PK, where detainee stayed for one day, Kabul, AF, where detainee stayed for two weeks [and] Wazir Akbar Khan area in Kabul, where detainee stayed for five months.”
The Task Force assessed al-Khalifa as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was “assessed as a possible jihadist,” and although it was “unknown if he was involved in any fighting,” it was noted that he “admitted ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Egyptian terrorist group, even though “he ha[d] not provided any details about his connection with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.” Further information came from a fellow prisoner, the Yemeni Yasim Basardah, who stated that he “told him that he was a fighter in Kandahar, AF, when the US bombing started,” but he is widely known, especially since the WikiLeaks documents were released, as the most prolific and unreliable informant in Guantánamo.
Elsewhere, it was noted that his behavior in Guantánamo had “occasionally been unruly,” which, in Guantánamo-speak, meant that, on one occasion, on March 12, 2005, he “verbally harassed the guards,” and on another occasion, in November 2004, he “failed to comply with camp rules by not relinquishing all his trash following his meals” — not quite, it seemed to me, the resistance that might have been expected from a determined opponent of the US.
Saleh Al Oshan (ISN 248, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Saleh al-Oshan is one of four 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 (4) – Escape to Pakistan (The Saudis),” I told, for the first time, the story of al-Oshan, who was apparently released on bail in May 2006 after his repatriation. His story had not been reported before because the documentation relating to him was not released by the Pentagon until September 2007.
According to the US military account released at that time, al-Oshan was an aid worker with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a vast Saudi-based international charity which was blacklisted by the US because of alleged terrorist connections, and closed down by the Saudi government as a result of US pressure in 2004. Whatever connections with terrorism some parts of the organization may have had, it was nothing to do with al-Oshan, who was working in a refugee camp in Spin Boldak, on the Afghan-Pakistani border. In the course of his work, he stood on a landmine and was taken to a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, where he was seized by the Americans as one of the so-called “Quetta Five.”
As I also explained, all that the US authorities could come up with as allegations against him were that one of his “name variants” was found on two lists associated with Al-Qaida, that he “was identified as having relationship [sic] to Al-Qaida in Afghanistan” (without any corroboration being provided for this allegation) and that he “was captured without proper identification.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Oshan (described as being born in January 1979, and also identified as Abdullah Abu Hussein) was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated October 15, 2004, in which it was noted that, along with the latent tuberculosis that afflicted many of the prisoners, he “had malnutrition with a low Body Mass Index of <17%,” and also “a left, below-the-knee amputation.”
In assessing his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he studied Islamic Law for approximately four years at the Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but did not finish his course. It was also noted that his uncle “traveled between Saudi Arabia and the Philippines frequently for missionary work, and financed [his] travel to Afghanistan.” This might have provided some background for understanding his interest in performing charitable work in Afghanistan, and it was also stated that, In October 2001, he traveled to Karachi, Pakistan, where he met people at a university, who told him, as he “was seeking to help refugees, that refugees could be found in the Spin Boldak, Afghanistan (AF) area,” where there was a large refugee camp.
Traveling there in November 2001, he “denie[d] ever going to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance because that was a Muslim against Muslim war,” and explained that, three weeks after arriving in Spin Boldak, in December 2001, he “was walking alone to a nearby refugee camp when he stepped on a landline,” and “[w]hen he awoke he was in the Red Crescent Hospital in Quetta, PK, without his passport,” and the Pakistanis “informed [him] he was not allowed to go free.”
On or about January 10, 2002, he was handed over to US custody and flown to Kandahar, and he was sent to Guantánamo on January 21, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “may provide information on the refugee camp outside Spin Boldak, AF, and Islamic presence in the Philippines.”
An analyst, or analysts expressed doubts about what al-Oshan had been doing in Pakistan prior to traveling to Afghanistan, and also cast doubt on his story about the landmine, claiming that locals would have known where the landmines were, and would not have rescued him had he wandered into a minefield, and that, therefore, “A more likely scenario is detainee was either attacked with explosives or during his attempt to flee Afghanistan, he wandered into a mined area with other Al-Qaida members who rescued him.”
The notes reveal the extent to which analysts thought about — or obsessed about — reasons why the men in their control might not have been innocent men seized by mistake, and there are further examples in al-Oshan’s file. After a self-fulfilling assessment of danger that involved a statement that his name was “on the CIA’s watch list as a suspected member of Al-Qaida,” assessments were made about his supposed deception. The CIA apparently analyzed al-Oshan’s claim that his uncle had three wives as an attempt to pretend that they were not his own wives (although that seemed unlikely at the age of 22), and this, according to the analysts, “suggest[ed] he is probably wealthier than the average Saudi,” and, in addition, because he was “deceptive about his wives,” it was assessed that he may also have been deceptive about traveling to the Philippines, where it was presumed that he had contact with al-Qaeda related groups, even though it seemed apparent that it was his uncle who traveled regularly to the Philippines.
It was also noted that he was the cousin of two brothers also imprisoned in Guantánamo, Yousef al-Shehri (ISN 114, released in November 2007) and Abdul Salam al-Shehri (ISN 132, released in June 2006), and, as a result, an analyst noted that al-Oshan knew of “extremist groups, personnel, and their activities through his familial ties and likely ha[d] first hand knowledge,” and it was also noted that “JTF GTMO assessed that the inclination for jihad is passed, in part, through indoctrination from family members, i.e. from father to son and so on.”
It was also noted, in what seemed to me to be a particularly paranoid manner, that he “sent mail to Abd al-Rahman Bin Saad al-Qassem at the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Justice,” and an analyst noted that this relationship needed to be “investigated for possible extremist links within the Saudi government.” In general, moreover, it was claimed that there were numerous holes in [al-Oshan’s] timeline and he ha[d] failed to detail his activities or associates,” and it was noted that he was “uncooperative and require[d] exploitation.”
As a result, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium to high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” The Task Force noted that it was “assessed that [he was] a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network and, if given the opportunity, [would] continue to support them.” The Task Force also claimed that, if released, he would “most likely support jihadist activities channels, which make it imperative [he] be retained in the custody of the US Government or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Government,” and it was also stated, “His continued detention will allow for fairer exploitation of his past affiliation with various terrorist groups and prevent him from engaging in further terrorist activity” — even though, of course, there had been no demonstration that he had ever engaged in “terrorist activity” in the first place.
Rather casting doubt on the Task Force’s assessment, it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force “assessed [al-Oshan] as a low risk on 22 March 2004.” However, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF will defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] poses a medium to high risk.”
Mosa Zi Zemmori (ISN 270, Belgium) Released April 2005
In a footnote to Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, a house outside Kabul that was allegedly used as a training camp (as mentioned in connection with the Moroccan prisoner Younis Chekhouri) was also mentioned in the tribunal of Mosa Zi Zemmori, a Belgian (also identified as Moussa Zemmouri), who was 23 years old at the time of his capture. According to the information collated for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he had apparently traveled to Afghanistan in October 2000, but was unable to attend a training camp because he contracted malaria.
In the Detainee Assessment Brief, dated December 13, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” in which he was identified as Moussa Zamouri Adris, a Moroccan national born in July 1978 (which seems to be a mistake, as I believe he is a Belgian citizen), it was noted that he had previously lived in Holland, Syria and Iran, and the Joint Task Force claimed that, in October 2000, he was “recruited by an individual” to travel to Afghanistan. He reportedly stayed in Kabul for two weeks with two men identified as having received military training, and then in Jalalabad with a man named Abu Yassir, identified as a mujahideen who “received subsidies” from a terrorist group operating out of London, and then attended the Derunta training camp, “where he received basic training and small arms training.”
It is unknown whether there is any truth to these allegations, or whether, as Zemmori said, he contracted malaria and was unable to undertake training, but even if that was not the case, the account tried hard to dress up as significant a story that involved a young man visiting Afghanistan and undertaking basic military training, which is not an account of terrorism.
According to the Task Force, when the US-led coalition began bombing Jalalabad, he and Abu Yassir “fled to a small Afghan village where an Afghan guide led them and a group of Moroccans to the Pakistani border,” where he “surrendered to local police” in Peshawar, and was then handed over to US forces and taken to Kandahar. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 15, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his general knowledge of the Derunta training camp and two trainers from that camp,” and elsewhere it was claimed he could provide information about Mustafah, described as “the Derunta camp leader.”
Despite the largely straightforward nature of this account, the Task Force nevertheless regarded him as having been “evasive and deceptive during questioning,” and claimed that “sensitive reporting” indicated that he was “a high-ranking member of the Theological Commission of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (MIFG),” although it is unclear whether this was simply because he was seized with two Moroccans whom he had met on the way to Pakistan, or if he had a longer-standing relationship with them. One (as mentioned above) was Younis Chekhouri (ISN 197), who is still held, and was described here as the head of the MIFG (although that has not, of course, been proved in any way), and the other, as I explained In “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Seven of Ten),” was Brahim Benchekroun (ISN 587), who was freed in July 2004 but received a ten-year prison sentence in September 2007 for allegedly “recruiting Moroccans to fight for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI).”
The rest of the Task Force’s suspicions involved Zemmouri’s family. It was noted that his brother was a member of the vast and apolitical missionary organisation Jamaat al-Tablighi (which was, nevertheless, “believed to be used as a cover for action by Islamic extremists” by the authorities in Guantánamo), and alleged connections were claimed between his father and brother and Essid Sami Bin Kemais, who was arrested in Italy in 2001 and imprisoned in 2002 on charges of trafficking in arms, explosives, and chemicals, although this information, which clearly came from Belgium and Italy, was not elaborated upon, and its reliability is unknown.
The Task Force assessed Zemmouri “as being a trained Al-Qaida combatant and a member of the MIFG,” adding that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and posed “a high risk as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DoD control.” Nevertheless, he was released 16 months later, presumably because of the involvement of the Belgian government.
Noticeably, in May 2009, Zemmori and Mesut Sen (ISN 296, see below) were cleared in court of belonging to a criminal conspiracy, as reported here (in French), and in August 2009 he was free to travel to the UK to take part in an event organized by Cageprisoners (follow the link for a video).
Sami El Leithi (ISN 287, Egypt) Released September 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Sami El-Leithi is one of four included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how El-Leithi, who was 45 years old at the time of his capture, left Egypt in 1986, disgusted that democracy was not practiced in his homeland, and traveled to Pakistan, where he took a master’s degree in economics and taught at various schools and universities for ten years. He then moved to Afghanistan, where he taught at Kabul University, and, despite various run-ins with the Taliban, managed to avoid serious problems until the US-led invasion in October 2001.
When the bombing raids began, he suffered a head injury and was transferred to a hospital in Kabul with several other injured Afghans. After hearing that the US was also targeting hospitals, he and the others decided to seek refuge in Khost, but when they were told that members of the Taliban had also fled to Khost and that US forces would soon be targeting the area, they decided to flee to Pakistan. Although he was still severely injured, El-Leithi made it to the border via car, but was then arrested with his Afghan driver.
In Chapter 15, I explained how, during a session of abuse in Guantánamo, he suffered irreparable physical damage. when “military personnel and interrogators stomped on his back, dropped him on the floor and repeatedly forced his neck forward,” which resulted in two broken vertebrae and his confinement to a wheelchair. He was then “denied the necessary treatment and operation that would have saved him from permanent paralysis,” as was explained in an article in October 2005 in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. Elements of his story were also available in the documents from the tribunals in Guantánamo.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to El-Leithi (described as being born in October 1956, and also identified as Al-Muntasir Billah Ahmad al-Kibr, Sami Abdul Aziz Salim Allaithy, and Samy al-Leithy) was an “Update Recommendation [for] Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TR),” dated June 27, 2004, in which the Joint Task Force did not agree with the tribunal’s decision in 2005 that he was not an “enemy combatant” and should be released.
In assessing his medical condition, the Task Force noted that he had a “history of depression, chronic low back pain (secondary to L2/L3 spondylolisthesis and pars fractures), schistosomiasis (a parasite for which he has been treated), tinnitus, and gastric reflux.” It was also noted that his “current treatments include ongoing physical therapy, mantic for reflux and metamucil for constipation,” and, crucially, that he “ha[d] been offered back surgery to prevent further deterioration from the fractures but he refused” — which was understandable if, as he maintained, his injuries had been caused by, essentially, the same people he would have had to entrust to operate on him. It was also noted that he was “transported about the camp via wheelchair, but [could] walk short distances and [was] independent with transfers from wheelchair,” and that he “will require ongoing physical therapy for his musculoskeletal pain,” and it was reiterated that “he ha[d] been offered back surgery as this could deteriorate over time, but he ha[d] refused surgical intervention.”
In this particular document, it was not noted what rationale the Task Force had used to consider El-Leithi a threat, although it was noted that a decision that he should be “retained under DoD control” had been recommended by Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood on April 7, 2004. Noting that he was “of medium intelligence value,” but only “pose[d] a low risk, due to his medical condition,” the assessment was revised, so that Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “released or transferred to the control of another country for continued detention,” although it was also noticeable that the Criminal Investigative Task Force did not agree that he was a medium risk. Under an agreement between CITF and JTF GTMO, CITF “deferred to JTF GTMO’s assessment that the detainee was a medium risk” on April 26, 2004, although their thinking was clearly more in line with what El-Leithi’s tribunal decided a year later.
However, although the Task Force glossed over the extent of his injuries, and what caused them, it was clear when he was finally released in November 2005 that, although his release had been approved in May 2005, his lawyers and the media had played a significant role is actually securing his freedom — and, presumably, that his visibility meant that the Mubarak regime would not be tempted to mistreat him on his return home.
El-Leithi was freed on September 30, 2005, just six weeks after the mainstream media had reported his injuries. In the Washington Post on August 13, 2005, for example, Carol D. Leonnig, drawing on “newly declassified records of statements to his attorney,” came up with the description of US personnel stomping on his back that I used above, and also noted that he “said he ha[d] been denied an operation that could save him from permanent paralysis and [was] being held at Camp V, a maximum-security wing of isolation cells reserved for the most uncooperative and high-value inmates, while he await[ed] transfer.”
The Washington Post also noted the fears of El-Leithi (described as Al-Laithi) about his return, noting that he believed he would be “imprisoned and tortured for his past criticism of rigged elections there,” and that he “would prefer to be sent elsewhere, including Pakistan or Afghanistan, where he lived for most of his adult life.”
Describing his injuries, the Post noted that his attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, “want[ed] him to get medical care for his spinal injuries, to be removed from Camp V and to have his prison medical records turned over.” He added that “he hop[ed] that the declassified statements [would] bolster Al-Laithi’s case.” In his statement, he said of his treatment, “This is barbarism. Why, even if I was guilty, would they do this? I am in constant pain. I would prefer to be buried alive than continue to receive the treatment I receive. At least I would suffer less and die.”
The US military gave the Post the official position — that the DoD “operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation” and “provides state-of-the-art medical care,” and, as Lt. Col. James Marshall, deputy director of public affairs, said, “Each detainee receives expert medical attention and treatment, if necessary, throughout detention. This medical care is often better than what detainees would receive in their home countries.”
According to Stafford Smith, when a prison spokesman was asked in July 2005 about El-Leithi’s back condition, he “expounded that the fractured vertebrae were the result of a degenerative disease.” However, El-Leithi clearly “trace[d] his disability to a day soon after his arrival at the prison when he was beaten by US military personnel while at the prison hospital.” In his exact words, “Once they stomped my back. An MP threw me on the floor, and they lifted me up and slammed me back down. A doctor said I have two broken vertebrae and I risk being paralyzed if the spinal cord is injured more.” He added that “his neck is also permanently damaged because Emergency Response Force teams at the prison [who punish prisoners with violence for the most minor infringement of the rules] repeatedly forced his neck toward his knees,” and also said the military “forced a large object into his anus on what his lawyer called the ‘pretext’ of doing a medical exam. “I know most prisoners had Americans put their fingers up their anuses, but with me it was far worse — they shoved some object up my rectum,” he wrote. “It was very painful.”
Sadly, another section of the Washington Post article did not come true, in which Leonnig wrote:
Al-Laithi’s account of his treatment comes as the Bush administration moves to downsize the military prison, negotiating agreements to transfer as many as 400 of the 510 Guantánamo detainees to other countries. A small number of those to be transferred are detainees whom the military has found not to be enemy combatants. Others were judged to be enemies who tried to harm the United States but are of little current danger — or intelligence value — to the military as it tries to combat terrorism.
In fact, by the time Bush left office over three years later, there were still 242 prisoners in Guantánamo, and, at the time of writing, 171 still remained, even though the Obama administration had stated its desire not to hold 89 of them.
In March 2010, Al-Ahram spoke to El-Leithi again, and discovered that he was still confined to a wheelchair, and that his “heavily wrinkled face bespeaks years of anguish. His eyes bear the look of someone who is lost, or of someone who feels that he has been deprived of any sort of justice. For El-Leithi, justice is something better sought in heaven. It definitely does not exist on earth.” The article also noted that his repatriation “was very far from being plain sailing, and upon his arrival in Egypt he was subjected to interrogation before being admitted to hospital,” where, although he was “granted free medical care,” his hospital room was “put under surveillance by state security agencies.” El-Leithi also said that “the security forces still follow his every footstep.”
Five years after his release from Guantánamo, he still “has no proper medical care, no source of income and no compensation for all the injustices he has suffered,” and “has to live on donations.” His brother explained that “he also lost his job when his employer found out that his brother was a former prisoner at Guantánamo.”
For further information about El-Laithi, see this interview with AFP conducted after his release, this interview with Daily News Egypt from 2008, and this Reuters article for assurances made by the Egyptian government guaranteeing his humane treatment on his return.
Mesut Sen (ISN 296, Belgium) Released April 2005
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, during the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo, an Algerian prisoner called Abdulli Feghoul (ISN 292, released in August 2008) had attempted to call Mesut Sen, a Belgian of Turkish origin, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, as a witness to confirm that he stayed at an Algerian guest house in Afghanistan and did not attend a training camp. Sen, however, refused to testify on Feghoul’s behalf, and when he was released from Guantánamo in April 2005, he left a trail of unanswered questions behind him.
Presumably released through an arrangement between the Belgian and US governments, he made no statement on his release, although it was alleged that he and his father were connected with Milli Görüş, a Turkish organization regarded as an extremist group by the Belgian government, and that, in September 2000, he traveled from Germany to Jalalabad, where he lived for nearly a year at a “Taliban transit house.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mesut Sen (described as being born in February 1980, and identified as Mesut Sin) was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated February 7, 2004, in which it was noted that he claimed that he traveled from Belgium (BE) to Afghanistan (AF) in October 2000 to study Islam at the urging of a man named Abduallah,” and that, en route, in Quetta, Pakistan, the Taliban office “directed [him] to a Koranic school in Kandahar,” where another man “suggested [he] go to a house in Jalalabad, AF, where he could study the Koran.”
He said that “he studied Islam for approximately seven months in Jalalabad,” and then traveled to Kabul because of difficulties returning home. In December 2001, he left Kabul “with several others” and traveled to Peshawar, PK, where he was captured by Pakistani authorities and handed over to US forces.” He was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that he “may be able to provide specific information on: Routes of Travel from Brussels, BE, to Afghanistan via Hamburg, GE, Holland, Dubai, Karachi, and Quetta, PK, Activities and personnel at the Youth Center, Brussels, BE, Activities and personnel on [sic] the Center El-Bukhari, Gare Du Midi in Brussels, BE [and] Activities and personnel at a safe house in Jalalabad, AF.”
Despite his statements, the Task Force noted that his story story had “changed a number of times,” that he “appear[ed] to have been recruited by Al-Qaida facilitators in Europe and sent to Afghanistan with the purpose of receiving training,” and that “[s]ensitive reporting indicate[d] [he] received weapons and explosives training while at the guest house in Jalalabad, AF, yet he refuse[d] to admit receiving anything other than religious training.” It was also claimed that other prisoners had stated that [he] was “with another Belgian receiving training in electronics components (explosives related),” who, it was noted, was “likely Nizar Tabelsi,” who was later tried and convicted in Belgium.
Regarded as generally “compliant and non-aggressive,” he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that the be “[r]etained in DoD control.”
Despite the allegations, it is noticeable that, in May 2009, Mesut Sen and Mosa Zi Zemmori (ISN 270, see above) were cleared in court of belonging to a criminal conspiracy, as reported here (in French).
Salih Uyar (ISN 298, Turkey) Released April 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Salih Uyar is one of four included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (6) – Escape to Pakistan (Uyghurs and others),” Uyar was 20 years old when he was seized, and in his tribunal at Guantánamo he confirmed allegations that he traveled to Afghanistan via Iran and Pakistan in 2000, and that he lived with someone in Kabul for two months before the US-led invasion began, although he denied that the person was associated with al-Qaeda, as was also alleged. When the tribunal asked for clarification of his friend’s business in Kabul — his occupation, for example — Uyar said, “When I was there with him, I didn’t see him do anything. I don’t think he had an occupation. He himself was actually a refugee from Iran and that’s how we became friends.”
In another allegation, the US authorities claimed that Uyar had “traveled in and out of Turkey multiple times, including multiple trips to Syria under the guise of Arabic language studies,” which he responded to by saying that he had indeed traveled to Syria numerous times for Arabic language studies. He added that his visit to Afghanistan was “mainly to see the place,” denied an allegation that he was associated with Turkish radical religious groups, saying, “It is just lies,” and fended off a ludicrous allegation — also leveled against numerous other prisoners — that his Casio watch could be used a timer for an Improvised Explosive Device by saying, “If it’s a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch. Does that mean that they’re terrorists as well?”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Salih Uyar (described as being born in April 1981, and identified as Salah Uyar) was an “Update Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated May 21, 2004, in which it was noted that, on September 27, 2002, Maj. Gen. Dunlavey 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.”
However, under “New Information,” it was claimed that he and his father were “known to have ties to radical Islamic groups in Turkey” (although, again, this was not substantiated), and there was also an extremely vague allegation that a man named Rustam Shavkatovich Baltabayev, described as a detained Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and suspected Al-Qaida supporter, “had an extensive list of phone numbers on him,” and that “[f]our of these phone numbers possibly belonged to [his] father in Turkey.” This was not only vague, but it was also troubling because it is not known who Baltabayev was, or where he was held, as he was not held in Guantánamo.
It was also claimed that there were “several inconsistencies” in his statements regarding his time in Afghanistan, and that he had been “uncooperative during interrogations,” and it was alleged that, in Kabul, where, he said, he stayed in a house “with six others, rarely outside and then mainly for walks, had no job, studied religion, did not interact with locals, [and] did not have firm relationships with other members of the house,” an analyst suggested that this was the same house in which four Syrian prisoners at Guantánamo stayed, who were alleged to have had “links to Osama Bin Laden’s religious advisor, Sheikh Issa, and to have attended military training.”
There were also claims from an analyst that, although he had denied traveling to Georgia, he “likely traveled to Georgia and then Chechnya where he received military training and participated in Jihad, returning through Iran to provide credibility to his cover story,” which seems unlikely, given his age at the time of his capture and the difficulty in actually traveling to Chechnya.
Nevertheless, the Task Force assessed him as “a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network with links to radical Islamic groups in Turkey and mujahideen in Chechnya where he received military training and engaged in Jihad” (again, not established), and determined that he was “of high intelligence value,” and posed “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.”
Despite all these claims, the members of his tribunal at Guantánamo evidently did not believe the kind of claims aired by the Task Force, and on his return to Turkey he was apparently questioned and released without charge.
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.
Thanks to everyone who’s shared this. It’s very much appreciated, as this has turned out to be an even bigger project than I thought, and it’s great to have it acknowledged.
On Facebook, Kevi Brannelly wrote:
Andy this didn’t have the share option?
It should have, Kevi. A few dozen people have shared it already.
Ann Alexander wrote:
I have no share option either.
I don’t get it, Ann. Doesn’t every post have “Like . Comment . Share” underneath it?
Kevi Brannelly wrote:
weird, now it is showing up!
Thanks, Kevi. Earlier today I noticed some of my previous posts temporarily went missing. I guess it’s quite a job keeping something as huge as Facebook functioning efficiently.
Kevi Brannelly wrote:
or THEY are messin with you ; }
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m digging this, Andy. I’ll try to hypothesise about the “share” issue as soon as I can. I read one thing about it that seemed reliable. For starters though, it might indeed be an issue concerning keeping something as large as Facebook functioning well.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Here is what I *read* about “share” and “like”. I cannot vouch for its truth, since I forget the source. FB is experimenting (the article said), with the use of one button that combines both functions. You click on it as a “like,” and your like gets automatically shared with all your friends. There will (if this is put in place) be room for an accompanying remark above, as there is now with “share.” But one need not use this.
Now for my hypothesis. Although one need not remark, there will be a temptation to say something about your liking. IMHO it is bad enough having your friends informed about your likes. This is unnecessary and might be unwanted in many cases. But a remark *with* one’s “like” will often reveal *why* one likes something. In this way FB will get extra data at no extra cost, that can then be used for direct advertising, or whatever. I don’t like this.
When I read this and formed my hypothesis, FB was purportedly experimenting with the new system. It is possible that FB is still doing this, and might be trying it out on some people at random, but not all users. (I seem to remember that this was the intention). This would account for the vagaries of the “share” function.
Thanks, George. I had hoped we were over problems with the “share” button after Facebook recently made some sort of coding change that resulted in the “share” totals disappearing from the whole of the Internet, so that suddenly a simple but quite powerful barometer of popularity was removed. I was relieved when the “share” totals were subsequently reinstated. I wrote about that whole episode in the comments here:
So maybe it is connected with that, and that Facebook is looking again at decommissioning the “share” button. I hope not, as it remains as objectively indicate of popularity as ever, but your comments about Facebook and advertising have the ring of lamentable truth about them.
Thanks for your had work. It’s hard to believe that a good portion of the public is ignorant to what is going on. I like Ron Paul’s recent analysis: http://www.thenorthwestreport.com/ron-paul-true-liberty-vs-perfect-safety-video-and-transcript/
Thanks again Andy. With regard to Mishal al Harbi, who was beaten into a coma, may I mention the similarities of his injury to that of GI Sean Baker?
His Lieutenant told him he was going to be participating in a training exercise for the riot squad. He was to don a captives’ uniform, and hide under the bed of a cell. He was told a “safe word” to utter, if the riot squad was too aggressive.
However, the Lieutenant did not tell the riot squad to stop if they heard a safe word. He did not tell them it was a drill. Rather, he told them that the captive in that cell had just assaulted a female GI.
Baker tried the safe word, without effect. The riot squad beat his head against the floor. It was only when they had torn his captive’s uniform that they saw he was wearing a GI’s uniform underneath.
Baker’s beating caused the same kind of permanent brain damage as Al Harbi’s. He received so much brain damage he received an involuntary medical discharge.
I am afraid that when added together Baker’s story and Al Harbi’s story suggest other captives received serious brain damage from beatings. Or from water boardings. Al Harbi probably only represents one extreme.
Something Tom Lasseter didn’t clue in to when he wrote up his 66 interviews was how many of those captives were severely depressed. I would bet that if a neurologist were to give those men a thorough battery of tests he or she would detect signs of beatings that had caused brain damage among many of them.
Thanks again Andy.
WRT to Sami Al Leithi, I am struck by his decision to risk torture in Egypt, rather than hold out longer for a transfer to a third country. If he had held out for another six months he probably would have been transferred to Albania with the first five Uyghurs and the other last remaining “no longer enemy combatant” men and boys.
Thanks, arcticredriver. The Sean Baker analogy is good, and I also think you’re onto something re: the depression of former prisoners, although clinical tests would be needed to ascertain what was the result of physical violence, and what was the result of the psychological pressures, isolation etc. And also, of course, being regarded as a pariah on release, and largely being unemployable doesn’t help. I also guess that whatever people suffered in particular they pretty much all ended up with some form of PTSD.
I am adding a followup in May 2013. The camp is in the middle of a hunger strike. A new guard force, and new Colonel, have tried to restore the same level of brutality and repression as when the camp was in its first years.
I re-read the OARDEC documents about Sami al-Lethi again today, and there is something remarkable there that I thought was worth repeating here.
We have two versions of the allegation memo for al-Lethi — the version read out loud during his Tribunal, published on March 3, 2006, and a copy of the allegation memo itself, published in September 2007.
They are almost completely different. How does that happen. I remember quite a few transcripts were the captives said the allegations being read out loud during their Tribunals were altered, or were completely different, from those their personal representative gave them a few days prior to the Tribunal.
From his transcript we have:
3.a The detainee is a member of al Qaida:
3.a.1 The detainee lived for approximately one year in a Khost, Afghanistan guesthouse.
3.a.2 The detainee moved to Kabul to teach in a Taliban madrassas.
3.a.3 The detainee admits to fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan, after being wounded by a bomb.
3.a.4 The detainee was fleeing Afghanistan with several other people who were all armed with automatic weapons.
3.a.5 The detainee was captured in Dec 2001, and when captured used an alias.
But the allegations in the published memo said:
3.a The detainee is associated with Al Qaeda and is a Taliban fighter.
3.a.1 Detainee was recruited to fight in Kashmir and Chechnya by a Jihadist recruiter in Saudi Arabia.
3.a.2 Detainee joined the Taliban after receiving a Fatwa from Sheik Ha Al-Uqla at the Iman Muhammad Bin Saud College in Burayda, Saudi Arabia.
3.a.3 Detainee trained at Al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan during September 2001.
3.a.4 Detainee was trained on the Kalashnikov rifle, Pakistan machine gun, and a Russian pistol at the Al Farouq training camp.
3.a.5 One of detainee’s known aliases was on a list of captured Al Qaeda member that was discovered on a computer hard drive associated with a senior Al Qaeda member.
3. b The detainee participated in military operations against the coalition.
3.b.1. Detainee was a fighter at Tora Bora.
Andy, forgive me for repeating myself, but I think this enormous discrepancy undermines any notion anyone should have that the Guantanamo analysts showed any professionalism. I think this is another sign that it is a mistake to trust that American intelligence analysts can be trusted with public safety.
What would keeping the secret details from Sami al Laithy’s dossier protect, when the analysts can put forward two contradictory narratives apparently unaware that they are contradictory.
Thank you, arcticredriver. This looks indeed like one of those examples where the so-called evidence from one prisoner’s files migrated to another – and perhaps also involved interrogations based on mistaken identity. What a disgrace.
You cannot, btw, repeat these kinds of discrepancies enough, in my opinion.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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