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 18 of the 70-part series. 234 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.
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 17 parts now complete), I am turning my attention to the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released (see Part One, Part Two, 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.
Abid Raza (ISN 299, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, Abid Raza was briefly mentioned as being 20 years old at the time of his capture, and I also noted that he was probably seized with two other recruits from villages in Sindh province — 59-year old Mohammed Ilyas (ISN 144, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Three of Ten)“) and 21-year old Mohammed Anwar (ISN 524, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Six of Ten)“).
Abid Raza had spoken briefly at his tribunal in Guantánamo, in which he denied an allegation that he was “associated with Al-Qaida,” but accepted that he was recruited by members of the political party Jamaat-i-Islami and “went to Afghanistan for jihad.” He added, however, that, although he was in the Kunduz area for 15 days prior to his capture by an unidentified Uzbek, he did not actually engage in combat. He also told his tribunal that he believed that those who recruited him “tricked him,” because “[t]hey said he was going to fight Hindus and he went with them.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” he was identified as Abed Raza, born in February 1981, and the Joint Task Force essentially confirmed the story that was aired two years later at his tribunal. It was noted that, “[o]n or about October 2001, [he] was recruited at a mosque in Mirpur Khas [in Sindh province], Pakistan, to go fight alongside Taliban forces against ‘Hindus’ in Afghanistan,” and that, after ten days’ training (which involved “limited AK-47 familiarization,” as he “only fired five rounds with the rifle”), he “was sent to the front lines at Dasht-e-Qala [in Takhar province] where [he] stayed for fifteen days,” and where he was “armed with an AK-47rifle and one magazine.” It was also noted, “On the fifteenth day, the village began receiving incoming artillery fire and [he] was told to retreat to Kunduz,” although he was “apprehended by Uzbek forces” en route.
After being handed over to US forces, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 12, 2002, the day after the prison opened. In most cases, a reason for the transfer was given in the Detainee Assessment Briefs, 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.
However, in Abid Raza’s case, the Task Force could not even come up with a spurious reason to graft on afterwards, stating, bluntly, “There is no compelling reason indicated as to why detainee was transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility for interrogation.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention, though he has not been completely forthcoming concerning his association with individuals affiliated with the Taliban. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government.”
It was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [Raza] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
In light of the above, it is remarkable that it took another two years for Abid Raza to be released.
Khalil Rahman Hafez (ISN 301, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In a footnote to Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Hafez (also identified as Khalilur Rehman) was reportedly 16 years old at the time of his capture, near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, and I also mentioned him in my two articles about the juvenile prisoners at Guantánamo, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo” and “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo.”
Kunduz was the last stronghold of the Taliban, and the place where thousands of soldiers, including numerous Pakistanis like Hafez, surrendered to the Northern Alliance. In Guantánamo, he said that he made a mistake in traveling to Afghanistan to fight, and explained, “When I left home it was an emotional decision. I had no sense at the time.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 31, 2004, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” and in which he was identified as Hafez K. Rahman, born in February 1984, no mention was made of his age, but, if his date of birth was correct, then he would have been 17 years old at the time of his capture, and therefore, technically, a juvenile prisoner who should have been rehabilitated rather than punished.
Nevertheless, the Joint Task Force seemed determined to portray him as a threat. After noting that he “advised he was influenced by extremist Mullahs in Pakistan (PK) and decided he would go to Jihad in support of the Taliban,” it was stated that he “and several friends” traveled to Afghanistan in June 2001, although it was not clear from this account whether that was true, or whether that was the date that he attended a training camp in Pakistan run by the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), described as “a Tier 1 terrorist organization (which according to sensitive information as of Sep 03 is defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests).”
“After completing basic training,” the Task Force continued, he “traveled along with a larger group of JEM fighters to the area around Kunduz,” where he “participated in the fighting against US and Northern Alliance forces until the Taliban’s collapse on the battlefield and [he] was forced to retreat.” He was subsequently “captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over to US forces,” and was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Moaskar training camp in Balakot, PK, and his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter.”
In its assessment, the Task Force presented a host of reasons why it considered Hafez dangerous, all of which ignored the kind of statements he made at his tribunal, later in 2004, regarding his ignorance and emotional vulnerability when he was recruited. The Task Force noted he had “admitted to volunteering to fight Jihad against the US and its allies, remaining after the events of September 11th to continue to fight, and receiving training from the JEM.” The Task Force also noted that Balakot, where he received training, was “a location known to house a training camp that offers both basic and advanced terrorist training on explosives and artillery,” and also claimed that Hafez was “a probable member of the JEM and as such, if released would likely gravitate back to that Islamic extremist group,” because the JEM “espouses Jihad against the US and is directly supported by Al-Qaida.” It was also claimed that Hafez had “stated while in detention that he would return to Jihad if given an opportunity.”
While the above seems to me to be rather unnecessarily alarmist on the part of the Task Force, leading to an assessment that Hafez was “a probable member of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group,” who was only “of low intelligence value to the United States,” but posed “a medium risk, as he may possibly post a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” Maj. Gen. Miller nevetheless recommended his “[t]ransfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef (ISN 306, Afghanistan) Released September 2005
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef was the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, and was seized from his home in Islamabad in a night raid. Married with eight children, the 34-year old, who was reportedly a childhood friend of Mullah Omar but had a reputation as one of the Taliban’s more moderate leaders, issued daily press briefings after the US-led invasion began, condemning American aggression and defending Afghanistan’s “dignity,” until the Pakistani authorities closed down the embassy in November, officially severing all ties with the Taliban regime that they had done so much to support. Fearing for his family’s safety, Zaeef then applied for asylum, but his application was rejected, and from then on it was only a matter of time before the Americans got hold of him. One of a handful of prisoners interrogated on board the USS Bataan, he was then moved to Bagram, and then Kandahar, where he was held for seven months before being transported to Guantánamo.
I also noted, in Chapter 19, how, in the summer of 2005, in response to a prison-wide hunger strike, the authorities (at the urging of Guantánamo’s warden, Col. Mike Bumgarner), briefly allowed the prisoners to convene a “Prisoners’ Council,” and it looked, for a moment, as though Guantánamo might finally conform to the Geneva Conventions. After the British resident Shaker Aamer (ISN 239, still held) persuaded the majority of the hunger strikers to suspend their protests, and a calm descended on the prison, which Col. Bumgarner described as the “period of peace,” Shaker Aamer and Mullah Zaeef sat down with the warden and attempted to deal with some of the prisoners’ other complaints, and for a very short period of time six prisoners in total — Aamer, Zaeef, Sabir Lahmar, an Algerian scholar (ISN 10002, released in France in December 2009), Ghassan al-Sharbi, a self-confessed Al-Qaida member (ISN 682, still held), and two Egyptians, the scholar Ala Salim (ISN 716, released in Albania in December 2006), and the former army officer Adel Fatouh El-Gazzar (ISN 369, released in Slovakia in January 2010, but now imprisoned in Egypt after finally returning home) — met unchained and unsupervised to discuss their demands, until the whole project was suddenly closed down at a meeting in early August. According to Zaeef’s account in 2006, this came about because the prisoners began making notes, but when an officer told them this was prohibited, and moved to confiscate them, several of the prisoners put the notes in their mouths and began chewing them.
The government’s limited allegations against Mullah Zaeef, on a single page submitted for use in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, are here. More significant was the information in his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 5, 2004, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control.” In the file, after noting that he was born in 1967, the Task Force then ran through his history, in his own words, noting that, in 1992 or 1993, following the defeat of the Communists, he returned from Pakistan, and became an Imam at a mosque in Kandahar. In 1996, when the Taliban took control of Kandahar, he became “involved with individuals who had power within the new government.” In 1997 he “accepted a job as bank manager for Herat Central Bank,” in 1998 he “took the position of Deputy Minister of Mining and Industries,” in 1999 he “accepted the position of President of Transportation,” and in 2000 he “took the position of Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan.”
It was also noted that, after he was seized by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (generally referred to as the ISI, but referred to by the Task Force as ISID) at his home in Islamabad, on December 15, 2001, he was sent to Guantánamo on May 1, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he was “assessed to be able to provide information on: Relations between the Taliban and Al-Qaida/Osama Bin Laden, Specific biographical information on Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Relations between the Taliban and ISID [the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate] [and] Taliban management by the Ministry of Defense of Arab Mujahideen used in fighting against the Northern Alliance.”
In explaining the reasons for Mullah Zaeef’s continued detention, the Task Force expressed particular interest, amongst the “numerous contacts” he had in Pakistan (including high-level ISI officers and “various Taliban officials who were in Pakistan”), in his alleged contact with members of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN). Founded in June 2000 by the Pakistani nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood who resigned from Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission in 1999 in protest of the government’s willingness to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, UTN was banned by the US Department of the Treasury on December 20, 2001, because it was “suspected of supplying information about constructing nuclear weapons to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida.” This explains the US authorities’ interest in UTN, although it does not prove that Mullah Zaeef had any involvement with the organization.
Alarmingly, the Task Force also gave credence to a claim made by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (ISN 760), a Mauritanian mistakenly regarded as a facilitator of the 9/11 hijackers. Despite being subjected to a specific torture program in Guantánamo, Slahi is regarded by the US authorities as having become one of the most important informants in Guantánamo after he “broke” under torture in 2003, although personally I find that difficult to believe, as prisoners “broken” by torture are better known for telling their interrogators whatever they want to hear.
Slahi reportedly stated that Mullah Zaeef claimed “he was the one who granted entrance to Afghanistan to the individuals who assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance,” on September 9, 2001, just two days before the 9/11 attacks. Slahi apparently “also stated that [Mullah Zaeef], through his closeness to Mullah Omar should know about the nature of Taliban/Al-Qaida relationship,” but this completely overlooks Mullah Zaeef’s moderate reputation, and appears, very clearly, to be the worthless product of torture.
In its assessment, the Task Force described him as “a senior member of the Taliban with connections to Al-Qaida and NGOs that support terrorism,” claiming that although he “has never directly participated in hostile acts,” he “has connections with extremist groups that have either supported or participated in hostile activities against the US and its allies,” and that, as a result, “If released, [he] is still assessed to have the capability to support terrorist operations.” It was also noted that he had been determined to pose “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended that he be “retained under DoD control,” 13 months later, however, he was a free man.
In 2008, an interview with Mullah Zaeef was included in a major McClatchy Newspapers report on 66 former Guantánamo prisoners. Speaking to a McClatchy reporter in Kabul, Mullah Zaeef explained that he was “adopted by his uncle after he was orphaned at age 7,” and that “his family fled to Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but he returned to Kandahar as a teenager to fight the Soviets with the mujahideen,” when he was “known for taking textbooks to the trenches.”
After returning to Quetta, Pakistan, to finish his studies in a madrassa, where he “focused on Islamic banking and sharia,” he worked as a bookkeeper for a local trading company, but also explained that, in this period, “former mujahideen fighters enlisted his help to fight corrupt warlords in Kandahar, and he took part in the initial meetings of the Taliban,” becoming “a trusted counselor to senior Taliban leaders” after the Talban took control of Kandahar in 1994.
Wahid Mujdah, a former Taliban diplomat, said Mullah Zaeef was “very, very close” to Mullah Omar, “who had a lot of confidence in him,” and as Mullah Zaeef told a reporter, “I did not join the Taliban, I helped start it.”
After the Taliban took Kabul and then most of the rest of Afganistan in 1996, Zaeef “helped organize the country’s Islamic courts in Kandahar, then moved to Herat to oversee the banking system,” and was then “brought to Kabul for a succession of Cabinet jobs, such as deputy minister of mining and minister of transportation,” as was noted in his Detainee Assessment Brief.
Turning to his experiences in the “War on Terror,” he explained that, after Pakistani intelligence officers “dragged him out of his house in Islamabad,” and took him to Peshawar, one of them said to him, “Your Excellency, you are no longer Your Excellency.” He was then handed over to US soldiers, who “threw a sack over his head and pushed him into a helicopter.” The Americans “flew him to a warship [the USS Bataan], where he was held for about a week in a small cell that reminded him of a dog kennel.” He said, “I was afraid about what would happen to me. I didn’t know if it was a dream or not. I never imagined this would happen to me.”
In the US prison at Kandahar, Mullah Zaeef was made to empty the toilets. As McClatchy described it, “He’d get to a large metal drum, heft a bucket in the air and pour out the excrement and urine, trying not to let it splash him in the face.” Mohammed Omar (ISN 540, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Six of Ten)“), a teenage Pakistani who was held at Kandahar in early 2002, said, “Every time the buckets filled up with urine or feces, the guards told Mullah Zaeef to go empty it. They made him and another big Taliban guy do this.”
“To many of Zaeef’s fellow detainees, he looked old and tired,” McClatchy reported. Asadullah Jan (ISN 47, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part One of Ten)“), a Pakistani who was imprisoned at Kandahar in early 2002, said the guards “zeroed in on Zaeef.” He explained, “One time, Abdul Salam was leading prayers. A guard came over and started talking with him. Abdul Salam said, ‘Come back in 10 minutes; we’re praying.’ The guard called on his radio and said that Abdul Salam wouldn’t talk. A group of soldiers came down, and in the middle of prayers they came behind him, put their boots on his neck and beat him.”
Prior to being sent to Kandahar, Mullah Zaeef was sent to Bagram, where, he said, “The cursing, the punching, the kicking, it was continuous.” However, it was at Kandahar that, as McClatchy put it, he “began to learn how to run a prison from the inside.” When the prisoners secured the right to pray, he used the opportunity to give them advice abut how to conduct themselves in interrogations. Khalid Pashtun, who “served as a liaison between the local Afghan government and US forces at the camp.” told McClatchy, “The prayer leaders (such as Zaeef) would be saying, ‘Be careful in interrogation; keep to your story until the end.’”
After his transfer to Guantánamo, as McClatchy described it, he “became a leader again. He helped orchestrate hunger strikes and exploit the missteps of a US detention system that often captured the wrong men, mistreated them, then incarcerated them indefinitely without legal recourse.”
Former prisoners “spoke of him with reverence that bordered on hero worship,” Munir Naseer, a Pakistani (ISN 85, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part One of Ten)“), said, “People would scream when they saw him: They said, ‘We will send you our prayers.’” One Kuwaiti “bragged that he once lived in a cell next to Zaeef and touched his hand,” and an Afghan “said that men in his cellblock relied on Zaeef’s advice about everything from prayer to protest.” In addition, a Jordanian ex-prisoner “said that Zaeef often brokered deals between the American military and angry detainees,” and one of the Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province) called him the “president of Guantánamo.”
However, when Mullah Zaeef first arrived at Guantánamo, he was “exhausted.” Mohammed Saduq (aka Mahmud Sadik, ISN 512, see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Six of Ten)“), an Afghan who had been his commander at one point during the resistance to the Soviet occupation, explained, “He was very weak, physically, when I saw him at Guantánamo. It is very difficult to know the inside of a man, and it’s hard to say how it affected him — going from an ambassador to being in a cage — but he told me in Guantánamo that he was suffering badly.”
Mullah Zaeef explained that the rules at Guantánamo “reminded him of Bagram. The men “weren’t supposed to talk in their cells,” he said, but after a month he decided that they needed to change the rules. “So we began shouting to each other,” he said. “The soldiers came and asked if we were talking to each other. We said, ‘Yes, we are not dogs.’ We began throwing water at them, spitting at them; we said, ‘If you want to kill us, fine.’” The result, however, was that a high-ranking officer “came and spoke to the detainees. The rules were rescinded. It was a victory in a game of inches.”
As time passed, Zaeef “was encouraged by what he saw. Interrogators raised their voices from time to time, but they never hit him. Detainees were able to pass messages from one end of a cellblock to the other, and to call out greetings and reports of their last interrogations, none of which the guards could understand.”
“Slowly,” he said, he “realized that it was the sort of place where a man could wage a campaign.” He joined a small group of influential prisoners “who were issuing orders and gathering reports; because he spoke fluent Arabic, Pashto and Dari, he could serve as a conduit among Arab, Pakistani and Afghan detainees. His English gave him further power, allowing him to represent those groups in conversations with US military officers.”
“We chose the leaders of the blocks,” he said. “If the detainees had any problems, they had to speak with the block leader, who would talk with the block NCO, and if they could not resolve the issue, they would send a message to us, the leaders of the camp.”
As a result, “Cellblock leaders began spreading messages to the men around them: We must not tolerate these conditions; it’s time for a hunger strike.” The McClatchy report added that “[r]umors that guards had mistreated the Quran often accompanied the messages,” but it is clear that they were not always rumors, despite the fact that an Afghan former detainee “said the stories that Zaeef and others spread — such as soldiers stomping on a Quran — were lies.”
The prisoners’ campaigns were successful, of course, as reports of the hunger strikes spread around the world, and they did lead to small improvements in their living conditions. In June 2005, however, the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history began, when at least 100 prisoners (and possibly as many as 200) refused to eat. This was the time of the Prisoners’ Council, mentioned above, when, as Zaeef explained, he “represented Afghans and Pakistanis, and when, as McClatchy described it, “After consulting with detainees in the cellblocks, Zaeef and the other leaders produced a list of demands that included Geneva Convention rights, court trials, less time in isolation cells, [and] better treatment from the guards.”
Describing the end of the discussions, Zaeef explained that they “broke down before negotiations with US authorities could proceed,” because the prisoners “worried that the Americans were eavesdropping to find out who their cellblock leaders were,” which is more coherent explanation than the one he provided in 2006.
On his return from Guantánamo, as he told McClatchy, he was “held under house arrest by the Afghan government, which relaxe[d] and tighten[ed] its control according to his public remarks. Calling on a radio program for the Taliban to regain at least part of their ruling power, for instance, meant that he wasn’t permitted to receive visitors for several weeks.”
Nevertheless, he has been a frequent commentator since his release, and has also written a book about his experiences, My Life with the Taliban, which has been well received in the West. For an excerpt, see “Torture and Abuse on the USS Bataan and in Bagram and Kandahar: An Excerpt from “My Life with the Taliban” by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.”
Abdul Rahman (ISN 357, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Abdul Rahman 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 3 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Rahman, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, was originally from Zabul province, east of Kandahar, but had moved to Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, where he established a small general store, after rival tribesmen seized his family’s land. He was one of several thousand people (mostly Taliban soldiers) who surrendered to the Northern Alliance in November 2001 after the fall of Kunduz, which was the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan. Many of these prisoners — hundreds, or possibly thousands — subsequently died, primarily through suffocation, in containers that were used to transport them to a prison in Sheberghan that was run by the Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum. That terrible event has become known as “the convoy of death.”
In Guantánamo, Abdul Rahman explained that, when the American bombing campaign began, he was reassured that “they were also dropping leaflets and telling on the radio they were coming, saying their fight was not with the public; it was only against the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” but as he set off for home on the day of the Taliban surrender he found that Tajik soldiers of the Northern Alliance had blocked the roads, and were “pinpointing Pashtuns and taking them out of cars, taking their money and beating them up.” When some locals said that he and other merchants should seek US and Red Cross assistance at Yanghareq, they started making their way there, but were stopped by Dostum’s men. “They told us when we see you Pashtun people, we will tie you up and beat you up,” he said. “They did as promised, and a lot of Pashtun people in Afghanistan got beaten up.”
Abducted and taken to Yanghareq, Abdul Rahman watched in shock as several Taliban members bribed their captors to set them free, while he and the other captured shopkeepers were tied up for the night. He became even more fearful when he heard screams during the night. “I think they buried about 50 people alive in the ground,” he said. “They kept on shouting and screaming, and they kept putting dirt on them.” The following day, his nightmare began in earnest. He and his companions were taken to Qala Zeini, where container trucks were waiting to take them to Sheberghan. “About 200-300 people were thrown in these trucks, and they closed the doors,” he said. “We did not see any light, and there was no air in it. Due to lack of air, a lot of people died there; I fainted somehow.” When they finally arrived at Sheberghan, “We were in bad shape, and they left the dead behind.”
Three years later, having been transported from Sheberghan to Kandahar and then to Guantánamo, Abdul Rahman’s nightmare had still not come to an end. In his tribunal, repeating his story as he had so many times before, he was obliged to refute allegations that he had bought a car for the Taliban while wearing a Taliban-style turban, accompanied by his personal security force of four Taliban soldiers, explaining that this was a story that had been conjured up by the men who falsely imprisoned him in the first place. Finally, someone believed his story, and, after 40 months in detention, he was released.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 9, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was clear that the Joint Task Force had failed to reach the conclusion his tribunal at Guantánamo reached a year later, when they found that he was not an “enemy combatant.” Noting that he was born in 1976, the Task Force repeated his statement that he “maintained a general store in Kunduz,” and noted that he said that, “[w]hen the Taliban fell from power, he feared imprisonment and death from the Tajik people under the warlord Fahim” (actually the Northern Alliance commander Mohammed Fahim, who became Vice President of Afghanistan in November 2009). As a result, he said, he “voluntarily surrendered” to Uzbek forces under General Rashid Dostum, another Northern Alliance commander, in “hope of being protected,” but the Northern Alliance transported the detained persons to Mazar-e-Sharif [actually Qala Zeini] and placed them in shipping containers.” The Task Force continued, “They were then sent to Sheberghan prison,” omitting any details about “the convoy of death,” even though it was obvious that Abdul Rahman would have spoken about it to his interrogators.
After approximately 40 days, he was taken to Kandahar by US forces, where he was held for 60 days, and he was therefore probably sent to Guantánamo in early February 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “may have knowledge regarding mid- to senior-level Taliban members,” which “may be of value to the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA), a critical ally in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.”
The Task Force assessed him “as having mid-level status among the Taliban and having directed a small unit of fighters (35-40 men).” It was also stated that “it must be assessed that [he] is of low intelligence value to the United States at this time,” and that he “poses a medium threat risk to the US, its interests and allies because of his past affiliations with the Taliban regime.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government for continued detention” — and it was also noted that, “During detention and additional interrogation in AF, sources not available now may be available in the future to confirm, deny or change his intelligence value and threat assessment.”
Mohammad Gul (ISN 457, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Mohammad Gul 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 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mohammad Gul (described as Mohammed Gul), a 39-year old farmer and petrol station owner from a village near Khost, was seized by US forces in January 2002. He told his tribunal in Guantánamo that he had been working in Saudi Arabia as a driver, but had returned home to care for his sick wife. It appeared that he had been seized as randomly as three other men from the same village, including Gul Zaman (ISN 459, see below).
In the Documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Gul was a “Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country,” dated March 4, 2005, in which he was — ridiculously — identified as Ma Mad Gul, born in 1962, it was also stated that he “had an abdominal hernia repaired and continue[d] to have pain at the hernia site.”
In reporting his story, the Task Force noted that he grew up in Miram Shah, a refugee camp in Pakistan, for ten years, and then moved to Saudi Arabia, where he was a guest worker for seven years.” It was also noted that he was married with four children, and that he had “no military or weapons training,” and was “not a member of the Taliban.” It was also confirmed that he “was captured on 20 January 2002 by US forces in his village near a suspected Taliban facility,” and it was noted that “US forces were fired upon during arrest process from the suspected facility,” and that he “was captured with a modified ICOM/VHF (high frequency transceiver) unit and a Kalishnikov [sic] rifle in room.” It was also noted that he was seized with three other men, one of whom is listed below. He was sent to Guantánamo on July 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “may be able to provide general information on air strikes in his village during Ramadan.”
It was also noted that “JTF GTMO previously assessed [him for] Transfer or Release to the Control of Another Country (TR) on 21 May 2004,” and that the updated recommendation focused on the fact that it had been determined that the was “not a member of the Taliban or Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” and that the “[c]urrent review of [his] file and thorough researching of national-level counter-terrorist databases has revealed no new information to alter or reverse the conclusions of the previous assessment,” which had involved the discovery of “contradictory and incorrect information” in his folder.
It was also stated that a thorough review, involving CENTCOM and the folders of the three men seized with him confirmed that he “was indeed captured in his home and not out in the open,” and that he was “unaware of why he was detained.” Further investigation had, moreover, “provided no damaging evidence against [him}," as well as confirming that he had "no knowledge of the suspected Taliban facility."
As a result, it was determined that he posed "a low risk, as he [was] unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and it was also noted that JTF GTMO had determined that he was “of low intelligence value.” Even so, the Task Force continued to note that he “may be able to provide general information of the village and compound where Jalaluddin Haqqani may have taken refuge,” and that “US forces conducted an air strike against this village due to reports that Haqqani was being housed within a compound there.”
In 2008, an interview with Mohammed Gul was included in a major McClatchy Newspapers report on 66 former Guantánamo prisoners. As the McClatchy article explained, “Most of the evidence that the US government produced during Mohammed Gul’s military tribunal at Guantánamo wasn’t about him.” Afghan officials told McClatchy’s reporter that they’d never heard of him, and “[e]ven the head of the Khost office that tracks former Guantánamo detainees said that he had no idea who Gul was. The man who served as the local security commander when Gul was detained also drew a blank.”
As the article explained, “after the tribunal hearing at Guantánamo, the US military found that Gul was no longer an enemy combatant, a finding that was as close to ‘not guilty’ as the tribunal findings got.”
Explaining the circumstances of his detention, Gul said that when US soldiers, who were searching all the houses surrounding Sarajuddin’s, “found Gul’s passport with a stamp from Saudi Arabia, they decided that he must be a militant,” even though, “for the previous seven years he’d been a taxi driver in Saudi Arabia, where he emigrated after he fled to Pakistan when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan during the 1980s, and returned home to Khost every three years or so to visit his family.” It was also noted that, “Because US officials had confiscated his passport, it wasn’t possible to confirm that.”
Explaining what happened to him in US custody, Gul said that, in Kandahar, “he was interrogated once in 15 days.” He said, “They asked me where I was arrested, why I was arrested, and they didn’t ask a lot of other questions.” He was, however, beaten as he arrived at Kandahar. “When they took me off the helicopter, they put me on the ground and punched me on the face, on the nose, and they kicked me,” he said.
After he was sent to Guantánamo, where he was held for over three years, “little happened” to him, he said. He “went for months — more than six at one point — without being interrogated,” and when he was taken for questioning, he said, he often asked why he was being held. “I said please let me know my crime; I am not Taliban, I am not al-Qaida,” he said. “They had no answer. They just said they were writing down what I said.”
After a while, he said, “he began to lose control of his thoughts, which were racing around the idea that he would die in his cell, on an island on the other side of the world.” As he explained, “One day I beat my head against a bar in my cell until I was unconscious.” He was then “transferred to a cellblock for detainees with psychiatric problems, kept there for about two months and given medicine. Then back he went to his cell, to sit and wait for something to happen.”
He added that his neighbors “helped teach him to read the Quran, and he prayed often,” and he also said that he “had no trouble with the guards,” and also said that “the food wasn’t bad.” On his return, the US military gave him a card that read, “This individual has been determined to pose no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests in Afghanistan.”
Sadly, Gul said that, since leaving Guantánamo, he didn’t do very much. He didn’t have enough money for another Saudi visa, he said, adding that “a friend there apparently stole the car he’d been using.” He owned part of a gas station, but it paid very little, “even by Afghan standards.” Mostly, he said, he stayed at home and tried to “control the panic attacks that followed him home from the cellblocks.”
At the end of his interview, he asked whether the journalist “knew any American doctors in Kabul,” explaining that his mind “just keeps getting worse. Nothing, he said, has made any sense to him since he was taken to Guantánamo.”
Gul Zaman (ISN 459, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Gul Zaman 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 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, along with Mohammed Gul, above, three members of a family of farmers — 59-year old Abib Sarajuddin, his 30-year old son Gul Zaman and his 39-year old brother Khan Zaman — were captured by US soldiers in a village near Khost in January 2002, allegedly because someone had fired on them, although the men said that the soldiers, who arrived at night by helicopter, broke into their houses and arrested them for no reason.
It was not the first time they had heard from the Americans. Two months previously, twelve of Sarajuddin’s family members — and 16 other villagers — died when US forces bombed his family compound, believing, incorrectly, that he was harboring the pro-Taliban warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani. In his tribunal, he insisted that he had never met Haqqani, and Gul Zaman and his brother suggested that a rival provided false information to the Americans. On the night of their arrest, it seems they were betrayed again. Sarajuddin was accused of working as a recruiter for Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord who had been initially trusted by the Americans, but who had his own agenda, and seems to have been responsible for sending many of his rivals to Guantánamo. Gul Zaman and his brother explained that what had actually happened was that, when Zadran was working for the Americans, he approached the local commanders for support, and they in turn asked Sarajuddin to recruit other villagers to fight against the Taliban, indicating that there had been a serious failure of intelligence on the part of US forces.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Zaman was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 18, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in 1971 and was “in good health,” despite having “a history of Depressive Disorder and dyspepsia.”
It was also noted that, in a previous memo, dated November 20, 2003, Maj. Gen. Miller had recommended that he be “retained in DoD control,” even though it was also noted that “[t]his recommendation was based on the assessment that [he] was not a member of Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader.”
In telling his story, the Task Force began with a statement that Zaman’s father’s house “was bombed due to it being suspected of harboring Jalaluddin Haqqani, a high-level Taliban leader,” It was also noted that “Haqqani was reportedly involved in a Shura (meeting) in a building in Zani Khel village, Paktia province, AF, on the evening of 16 November 2001 when Coalition bombs struck. Haqqani suffered a severe left shoulder injury from shrapnel and was taken to a hospital in Miram Shah, Pakistan for treatment and to evade Coalition forces.”
Although it seems clear that Haqqani was not in Zaman’s father’s house, as the Task Force noted that “[d]uring the same bombing event, [his] family compound, also located in Zani Khel village, Paktia province, was bombed and destroyed,” it was also stated that there were reasons for believing that this was not true: because Zaman “stated that he was not aware of any other air strikes on other residences other than his in his village on 16 November 2001,” when 35-38 people were present, and 12 people were killed; and because Zaman “did not respond when questioned why his brother, Taj Maluk, told American reporters Jalaluddin Haqqani had come to their house.”
Despite this, the Task Force acknowledged that there was “no outside reporting to corroborate detainee being either a member of Al-Qaida or Taliban.” As a result, he was “assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader,” but was assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” primarily, it seems, because, “According to newspaper articles, [his] father did house Jalaluddin Haqqani,” although Zaman “denies any knowledge of this.” It was also noted that “JTF GTMO believes [he] has not been completely truthful during his interrogations and is hiding information concerning his father’s relationship with the Taliban.”
Crucially, when JTF GTMO recommended that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention,” it was noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force evidently did not agree with the Task Force’s assessment, having “assessed [him] as “a low risk” on July 18, 2003. 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 risk.” Eventually, however, Zaman’s tribunal evidently agreed with CITF.
On January 15, 2010, when the Pentagon responded to a FOIA request submitted by the ACLU in April 2009, and released the first ever list of prisoners held at Bagram, as of September 22, 2009, Gul Zaman, identified by his Guantánamo number, was included, although no further information has been provided to explain what he was supposed to have done to be recaptured, or whether he is still held.
Mohammed Rafiq (ISN 495, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mohammed Rafiq, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, had been recruited to fight in Afghanistan by representatives of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), which, as Syed Farooq Hasnat, a professor of Political Science at the University of the Punjab in Lahore, explained, was responsible for sending more than 8,000 young people to fight in Afghanistan. Hasnat reported that the organization admitted that more than 3,000 of their “young boys” were missing, and subsequently sent a delegation to Afghanistan, asking the Northern Alliance to consider that Pakistan had been a “place of refuge for over two decades,” and requesting that they “show the same magnanimity and large-heartedness.” It was unclear whether their entreaties impressed the Alliance leaders, although it’s probable that a large number of TNSM volunteers were sent home to Pakistan from Sheberghan between December 2001, when the prison’s population stood at 3,500, and September 2002, when only 800 prisoners remained. A handful were probably handed over to the Americans, but only Mohammed Rafiq spoke about his experiences.
Rafiq had attended one of the huge TNSM meetings at which thousands of impressionable men were recruited to fight with the Taliban, and said that he surrendered to the Northern Alliance with 500 other people, and was only taken from Sheberghan to Kandahar because he could speak English. What counted against him in Guantánamo, however, were the inconsistencies in his statements. Having first claimed that his desire to fight in Afghanistan was not motivated by anti-American sentiment — explaining that the oppression of the Pashtuns had been ongoing for 20 years, and that “the roots of this conflict have nothing to do with America and there was no mention of America” — he then contradicted himself, as the following exchange demonstrates (although what it reveals most of all is how ignorant and pliable foot soldiers like Rafiq actually were):
Q: Did you realize that when you were going to fight against the Northern Alliance that the United States was fighting on the same side as the Northern Alliance?
A: Yes, I knew that they were assisting the United States.
Q: Do you understand why that was?
A: No I don’t.
Q: You were not told anything by your leadership?
A: I never saw the leaders afterwards. We just had that meeting and we just left. That was it.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 9, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” and in which it was noted that he was born in 1980, the Task Force essentially reiterated his story, explaining that, after he attended what was described as “an ‘anti-West’ demonstration” in Bajawour, Pakistan, “a large group of individuals from the TNSM” asked him if he “wanted to participate in the jihad in support of the Taliban against Americans.” However, after he accepted, and traveled to Mazar-e-Sharif, where “they discovered that the Taliban had surrendered to the Northern Alliance,” and he “and his group then voluntarily surrendered to the NA.” It was also noted that he was sent to Guantánamo on the spurious basis that it was “because of his membership in an anti-American organization and for his support of the Taliban.”
In a detailed explanation of the supposed significance of these claims, it was also noted that the “[t]ransfer team” (the interrogators in Afghanistan, in other words) had “conclude[d] that [he was] a member of a banned militant Islamic organization that supports the armed overthrow of the present Pakistan government, a critical ally in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism,” which “is also a strong supporter of the formerTaliban government in Afghanistan, and produces staunchly anti-American propaganda for distribution to the Pakistani masses.”
However, despite the attempt to ramp up Rafiq’s significance, he was “assessed as not being a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda,” and the Task Force conceded that, although “during detention and additional interrogation in Pakistan, sources not available now may be available in the future to confirm, deny, or change his intelligence value and threat assessment,” it “must be assessed that [he] is of low intelligence value to the United States at this time.” It was also stated that he posed “a medium threat risk to the US, its interests and allies,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Mohamman Daoud (ISN 527, Afghanistan) Released September 2004
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (2) – Tora Bora,” I explained how Mohamman Douad, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, was nothing but a Taliban conscript, one of many whose capture and transfer to Guantánamo was both pointless and cruel. After being “conscripted into the Taliban in June 2001,” as was explained in the unclassified evidence for his tribunal, he “was trained for 25 days” at a Taliban camp, “where he was taught how to fire the Kalashnikov, was given lessons from the Koran and performed servant duties.” He then “performed guard duties at a Taliban training camp,” “served as a cook for the Taliban,” and was captured by the Northern Alliance — without any evidence that he had ever raised arms against anybody — “while hiding in a Taliban vehicle attempting to cross into Pakistan.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 13, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Mohamad Daowd, born in 1979, it was noted that, as well as being diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, he had also been diagnosed with “a Borderline Personality disorder and Mood disorder,” and he “ha[d] been given a poor prognosis since he [did] not fully cooperate with treatment.”
In its assessment, the Task Force told the story about his recruitment and training that was later repeated in the unclassified evidence for his tribunal, but noted an entire diversionary tale in which Daoud claimed that, after completing his training, he traveled in search of a job to Miram Shah in Pakistan where he stayed with his aunt, only to be summoned back to Afghanistan for his brother’s wedding. In this account, he was in a bus that encountered a Taliban roadblock while he was trying to return to Pakistan, but he “was determined to get to Pakistan, so he hid in a Taliban vehicle to flee the area,” but was then captured by the Northern Alliance.
Whether that version of events was true — or whether, as it seems to me, the more likely scenario is that, after recruitment, he was indeed obliged to serve as a guard and cook at a Taliban training camp — he was clearly an entirely insignificant figure, whose transfer to Guantánamo on June 11, 2002 was thoroughly pointless, and could not be disguised by the spurious reason grafted onto it: that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban recruitment.”
The Task Force assessed Daoud “as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader,” adding that he was “of low intelligence value to the United States,” and posed “a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Dawd Gul (ISN 530, Afghanistan) Released September 2004
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (8) – Captured in Afghanistan,” I explained how Dawd Gul was nothing more than an unwilling Taliban conscript, whose presence in Guantánamo was completely meaningless. In his tribunal, Gul said that he came from a small village, where he helped his father raise sheep, and that the Taliban drafted him into service while he was shopping, tying his hands with a sheet and taking him to fight. When they discovered that he did not know how to use a Kalashnikov, he said that they gave him a job as an assistant cook.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated April 26, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” it was noted that he was born in 1980, and the Joint Task Force largely told the story that he later told his tribunal, stating that he “was conscripted by the Taliban in August 2001,” from his village in Helmand province, taken to Kandahar for “in-processing,” and then to Kabul, where he and other conscripts “stayed the night in a Taliban guesthouse.” Revealing his unwillingness to be a conscript, it was also noted, “The conscripts were locked in one room and the Taliban stayed in a nearby room. Detainee did not try to escape because the Taliban soldiers instructed the conscripts to remain in the room.” They then traveled to Nahrin district, in Baghlan province, where Gul stayed for “nearly three months” in a Taliban facility that was “led by Haji Mullah Baji,” where he “performed menial tasks such as serving food and cleaning,” and, on one occasion, “unsuccessfully attempted to escape.”
As the Northern Alliance advanced, following the US-led invasion, Gul and his group fled towards Kabul, but he and eleven other conscripts were abandoned in the mountains, because the large truck the Taliban was using “was unable to traverse the mountainous area.” The 12 conscripts “walked a short distance before they were able to flag down a minibus that appeared to be traveling to Kabul.” On the outskirts of Kabul, Gul “surrendered to Warlord Hanif in Arghandi and was subsequently turned over to the United States.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban commander Haji Mullah Baji, who commanded troops out of a school in Nahrin.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government.”
Muhibullah (ISN 546, Afghanistan) Released July 2005
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Muhibullah, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, and was identified as Moheb Ullah Barekzai, was a Taliban conscript. In Guantánamo, he explained how he was taken prisoner by a local post-Taliban commander, he was handed over to Ismael Khan, the governor of Herat, who, he believed, sold him to the Americans. Somewhere in this story of local corruption and American gullibility, he was accused of being the acting governor of Sheberghan for the Taliban.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated November 15, 2003, which was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” and in which he was identified as Muhib Ullah, born in 1982, the story that emerged was a variation on the above. It was claimed that he was “a self-confessed Taliban volunteer,” who “was part of a tribal militia that supported the Taliban for three and a half years since 1998″ — when, it should be noted, he was 15 or 16 years old, and was therefore not responsible for his actions, which, presumably, were dictated by his family. Nevertheless, the Task Force noted that, “During that time, he served two two-month tours as a security watchman in Kabul,” and “two three-month tours as an assistant to the Taliban civil mediator in Sheberghan.”
It was also noted that, “When the fighting became intense near Sheberghan,” Muhibullah “and three unidentified individuals traveled towards Herat to surrender to Kamal Qomandan, an unidentified, and presumably anti-Taliban commander, who was known to Muhibullah. In interrogations, Muhibullah said that, as a result, he “thought he would be given better treatment,” although that clearly was not the case. From Muhibullah’s account in Guantánamo, it seems likely that it was Qomandan who handed him over to Ismael Khan, although it is unknown where the allegation surfaced that Muhibullah, just 19 at the time of his capture, had been “the acting governor of Sheberghan for the Taliban.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 4, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban Security Services and surveillance operations in Kabul, AF, Taliban methods of settling land and water disputes and of Taliban personalities.”
Despite the naked opportunism of this — and the frankly irrelevant reference to “Taliban methods of settling land and water disputes” — Muhibullah’s case demonstrated not only what a waste of resources it was to transport extremely minor figures in the Taliban halfway around the world, when they clearly had no involvement whatsoever with terrorism, but also how, once in Guantánamo, the pressure was on to justify their detention. In Muhibullah’s case, this consisted of an unexplained assessment that he “may have special skills that give him the capability to support terrorism,” and an assessment that he was “vulnerable to recruitment for terrorist or supportive groups.”
It was also claimed that he was “associated” with Sayed Shah Agha, described as being “associated with Taliban Intelligence” and “reportedly a HiG [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin] sub-commander,” Abdul Bari, described as being “reportedly a Taliban Intelligence Representative in Kabul,” and Abdul Khaleq, who was “reportedly” Muhibullah’s “uncle and father-in-law,” and, according to US analysis, “the Taliban Security Chief for Kabul,” a tribal leader in Kandahar, and “possibly” one of two key clerics serving Obaidullah, described as “the special assistant to Mullah Mohammed Omar,” the leader of the Taliban.
It is not known how much truth there is to these claims, but the Task Force decided that it was “likely” that Muhibullah was “associated with several detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba who may be able to provide additional information on detainee and his associations with the Taliban Intelligence and Security Services.” The Task Force considered that his travels and connections indicated that he was “more connected with the Taliban than he ha[d] stated in interrogations,” and also claimed that he was “evasive during interrogations” and had “changed elements of his story between interrogations.”
Although he was “assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida, nor Taliban leader,” the Task Force described him as being “still of intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “retained under DoD Control.” Noticeably, however, the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed with the assessment, although, pursuant to an agreement between the JTF GTMO and CITF commanders, “CITF defer[red] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a medium threat.” Even so, his release, 20 months later, suggests that CITF’s assessment, which was, presumably, that he was a low threat, eventually prevailed.
Moazzam Begg (ISN 558, UK) Released January 2005
One of the most celebrated former Guantánamo prisoners, Moazzam Begg wrote a book about his experiences after his release (Enemy Combatant, written with Victoria Brittain) and is the director of the NGO Cageprisoners.
Telling his story in Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing largely on his experiences as described in his book, I explained how he was 31 years old at the time of his capture, with dual British-Pakistani nationality, and was the father of four children, whose youngest was born after his capture.
After explaining that, since his release, he has become an articulate commentator on Guantánamo, I also stated that he was something of an idealist, supporting the rights of Muslims to defend themselves militarily — in Bosnia and Chechnya, for example — and described how he toyed with volunteering to fight himself, until he realized that he was not a warrior. He did, however, visit Bosnia to provide humanitarian aid, and also managed to arouse the interest of MI5 on three separate occasions: once in connection with a bookshop in Birmingham that he helped establish; once when he was stopped at the airport en route to Turkey, during a particularly ill-advised attempt to visit Chechnya; and another time in connection with a Tunisian he had met in Britain, who phoned him from Dubai and asked him to send him money, because he had no one else to turn to, and had just escaped from the custody of the security forces, who wanted to torture him.
In 2001, at the urging of a Palestinian friend who had moved to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid, Begg began funding well-digging projects in Afghanistan, and soon decided to move his entire family to Kabul. Settling in a large house, he continued his well-digging projects, gaining a particular satisfaction from seeing the effects first-hand, and was also involved in establishing a girls’ school, Sharing these experiences was a good friend from Britain, Shaker Aamer (ISN 239, still held in Guantánamo), who also brought his family.
9/11, of course, shattered their dreams. As the country descended into chaos, the two men’s families escaped safely, but Aamer, who made it as far as Jalalabad, where he was taken in by an Afghan family, was captured by bounty hunters, who sold him to the Northern Alliance, who, in turn, sold him to the Americans. Begg was initially more fortunate. After crossing the mountains into Pakistan, he was reunited with his family in Islamabad at the end of November 2001, but two months later he was abducted at gunpoint by American and Pakistani agents, who took him from his house at midnight on January 31, 2002. For the next few weeks, until he was transferred to Kandahar, he was held in a villa, where he was interrogated by Americans, and, on one occasion, by members of MI5, and where, on a toilet break, he managed to speak briefly to a number of Arab prisoners, including three Libyan students, who had been imprisoned for several months in squalid cells beneath the house.
In Chapter 15, I explained how, in Bagram, where Begg was held for ten months before his transfer to Guantánamo, he explained how he was threatened with being sent to Egypt for torture, enticed to become a CIA agent, and, at a particularly low point, convinced that a woman who was screaming in a cell next to him was his wife. He reported that a guard he knew from Kandahar told him about a murder at the prison in July 2002, which has never been officially acknowledged. In his book, Begg explained that the guard admitted that he “started hitting the detainee so hard that he felt he had fractured something,” and that another guard used “Thai-style elbow-and knee-techniques.” He added, “I didn’t know whether they knew that had killed him,” and pointed out that another guard confirmed the murder, but later tried to deny it, saying, “Oh no, he didn’t really die, the reason they covered his face was just to scare people.”
Also in Chapter 15, explaining how difficult it was for prisoners not to crack under the pressure of isolation, abuse and coercive interrogations (if not torture), and make false confessions, I noted how, as Begg explained, he made a false confession shortly after arriving in Guantánamo in February 2003. He wrote that he was appalled by the allegations that were presented to him — that he was a recruiter and financier for al-Qaeda, that he had received “extensive training” at al-Qaeda camps since 1993, and that he had been in Tora Bora — but stated that he was desperate to find a way out of his predicament and presumed that “there was no way that any competent court in the world was going to look past the first sentence of the confession.” Instead, he was rewarded with 600 days of solitary confinement in Camp Echo, with only his guards for company, while the Bush administration announced its intention to put him forward for a trial by Military Commission (not a “competent court” at all), which lasted until shortly before his release.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated November 11, 2003, which was a “recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” and in which it was noted that he was born in 1968, some of the unsubstantiated stories about Begg — and the fruits of his own false confessions — surfaced, as they later did in the thin set of allegations in the unclassified evidence for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal. After stating, without elaboration, that “Pakistani police and FBI agents arrested [him] in a raid on 1 February 2002,” transported him to Bagram and then sent him to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his affiliation with Al-Qaida,” the Joint Task Force claimed that he was “identified as being affiliated with three extremist organisations, including Al-Qaida,” that he had “admitted to attending training” at two military camps, and that he “was an instructor at Derunta training camp, another Al-Qaida supported terrorist camp.”
In addition, it was claimed that he had been “associated with a senior Al-Qaida financier, as well as other key suspects currently under investigation by US authorities,” and that he was “a confirmed member of Al-Qaida.” Also described as “an Al-Qaida facilitator,” he was regarded as being “of significant intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high threat to the US, its interest and its allies,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.”
The Task Force assessment did not mention that the Bush administration had put him forward for a trial by Military Commission, but this, like all the allegations against him, vanished on Begg’s release from Guantánamo, and his return to the UK, where he was freed without charge, 14 months after this assessment was made.
In 2008, an interview with Moazzam Begg was included in a major McClatchy Newspapers report on 66 former Guantánamo prisoners, and he has also conducted countless interviews in the six years since his release. He has also featured frequently on my website, and for a personal reflection on his experiences, I recommend “Moazzam Begg Visits Pakistan: My Return to the Scene of the Crime.” In November 2010, when the British government reached a financial settlement with the former British prisoners, to bring to an end a damaging court claim for savages, he publicly explained some of the circumstances of this settlement, which can be found in my articles, “Moazzam Begg Explains How Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners Offered to Forego Compensation for Return of Shaker Aamer” and “Moazzam Begg in The Independent: The UK Government “Would Not Have Paid Up If They Thought They Could Win”,” and in November 2010, as I explained in my article, “Guantánamo and the Wikileaks Documents, Including Yemeni and Uighur “Problems,” and Praise for Moazzam Begg,” it was noted, in the previously classified US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, that a US diplomat in Luxembourg described Begg as “doing our work for us” when it came to attempts to resettle former prisoners who could not be repatriated safely.
Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost (ISN 561, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 12 prisoners profiled in this article, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost 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 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how two Afghan brothers, 41-year old Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost (married with nine children), and 31-year old Bader Zaman Bader (married with three children, released in September 2004 and profiled in “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Six of Ten)“), were captured at Muslim Dost’s house in Peshawar on 17 November 2001, and also explained:
Both were talented and capable men: journalists and gemstone dealers, Bader was also a university professor and Muslim Dost operated eight non-Islamist schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Held in solitary confinement in Pakistan for three months, while the ISI cooked up charges against them and offered them the opportunity to bribe their way to freedom — which they refused on principle, as they had done nothing wrong — they were then sold to the US authorities, who accused Muslim Dost of serving as an al-Qaeda contact in Herat, which he had never even visited. Released in 2004 and 2005, they were, without doubt, picked up by the ISI and sold to the Americans because, although they had been living in Pakistan since their family fled Afghanistan in 1982, they had published several satirical magazines and had written newspaper articles in which they not only criticized the Taliban but also pointed out the role of the ISI in creating and supporting the regime.
As Muslim Dost said in his tribunal:
I am not an enemy of the United States of America. I am against the Pakistanis. I think the Pakistanis sold me to you and all of these wrong allegations were made by the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis trained all the people who are going to Afghanistan to fight. You can believe me or not. Pakistanis are training al-Qaeda and the Taliban and then sending them to Afghanistan. My guilt was to defend Afghanistan.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Muslim Dost was an “Update Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TR),” dated June 27, 2004, in which he was identified as Abdul Rahim Mannan, or Abdul Rahim Muslimdost, born in 1960. It was also stated that he had a “history of diabetes and multi-nodular goiter (enlarged thyroid gland),” and that he “required surgery on thyroid gland on 6/8/2004″ and had “currently been discharged to his cell.” Noting also that he “had prior surgery on his thyroid gland in1992,” the Task Force added that he also had a “history of chronic back pain, latent tuberculosis and anemia.”
There was little else in this particular memo, although Muslim Dost’s story was available through the sources described above, and also through his brother’s story. It was, instead, merely noted that, on April 14, 2004, “MG Mitchell R. LeClaire, Deputy Commander JTF Guantánamo, recommended that [he] be released or transferred to the control of another country for continued detention” (rather than recommending his outright release, which was the only appropriate course of action), that JTF GTMO had determined that he his intelligence value had been “fully exploited,” and that he had “some history of non-compliance” at Guantánamo, mostly involving “refusal of meals or cross-block talking.”
Summarizing its assessment, JTF GTMO noted that he was regarded as “posing a low risk, due to his medical condition,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended that he be “released or transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”
After his release, Muslim Dost wrote a book about Guantánamo, with his brother, which, predictably, was critical of the ISI, and, of course, of their American captors. Da Guantánamo Matay Zolanay (“The Broken Shackles of Guantánamo”) was published in July 2006, and two months later, on September 29, 2006, Muslim Dost was seized by Pakistani police as he left a mosque in Peshawar, his home since the 1970s. Ranking as one of Pakistan’s many “disappeared” for several months, he was eventually located in his adoptive country’s sprawling and unaccountable prison system, and, at the time of an article in August 2007, in which I discussed his case, had recently ben transferred to the Central Prison in Peshawar, where, farcically, he was charged with “violating visa rules and illegal stay in Pakistan.”
Speaking to the Pakistan Daily Times, Muslim Dost (identified as Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost) ran through his recent history, explaining that, after his arrest, “agency personnel drove him handcuffed and blindfolded to their office near the Army Stadium. ‘I was already familiar with the detention center, as I had spent some time there before I was shifted to Guantánamo Bay in 2001,’ he added. He said an intelligence official, in his mid-30s, questioned him about the book. ‘I explicitly told him that I had co-authored the book and would write another one once I was released.’”
Muslim Dost went on to explain that he was held for six months in a secret prison located somewhere between Gora Qabristan and Peshawar airport, which held between 35 and 40 people, and accused the authorities of running a prison that was even more vile than Guantánamo. “Detention cells at Guantánamo Bay are far better than those I witnessed in Peshawar, being run by the intelligence agencies,” he told the Daily Times, adding, “Most of the inmates were suffering from tuberculosis without any healthcare facilities available to them,” and explaining that he was not even allowed writing materials, as he had been in Guantánamo, where he wrote 25,000 lines of poetry, some of which appears in the book Poems From Guantánamo, even though it was almost all confiscated by the authorities and not returned to him on his release. He also explained that one of his fellow detainees had been “brutally tortured” at the prison.
While his transfer from this secret prison to Peshawar indicated that he was soon to be released, he clearly refused to be cowed by threats and intimidation from powerful people whom he regarded, implacably, as corrupt. “If the authorities consider publication of my book written on wrongdoings and injustices by the agencies with innocent detainees [to be a mistake],” he said, “then I will make this mistake time and again.”
For further information about Muslim Dost’s poetry in Guantánamo, see “Poetry and politics at Guantánamo: an interview with Marc Falkoff,” in which I interviewed Marc Falkoff, the lawyer for a number of Guantánamo prisoners, who had compiled and edited the book.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Hamza Ali wrote:
Always a pleasure to know the latest, hope you know the Muslims appreciate your works
Thanks, Hamza. That’s very much appreciated.
Thanks Andy. Can I add some additional information about Abdul Salem Zaeef?
In an account shortly after his release he said he was no longer going to use the honorific “mullah”
A year or two ago he was described as a techno-fan, a big user of twitter, or facebook — of social media.
He has been described as a protege of the Taliban’s Foreign Minister, Muttawakil — the leader of the Taliban’s moderate wing. I think it was a big mistake for the USA to treat the Taliban as a monolith. The moderate elements of the Taliban’s leadership should have been cultivated, encouraged to be seen to visibly split from the Taliban’s militant elements, and allowed to be seen living comfortably at large, or under a loose house arrest, as an example to other potential defectors.
I remember reading something connected to Herman Kahn, the cold war theorist. I can’t remember if he wrote it, or whether someone else wrote it, to mock him. Anyhow, it was two rules.
(1) Never negotiate when your position is weak — always negotiate from a position of strength;
(2) But heck, if you are in a position of strength — why negotiate?
There seems to be a strong meme in US culture to always insist on unconditional surrender. I’ve read that this was one of the reasons the Japanese planned to hold out to the last man, woman and child. They thought the US insistence on unconditional surrender meant the USA was going to abolish the position of Emperor. I’ve read that since the USA allowed the Japanese to retain the Emperor, they really wished the USA had signalled this, as then Japan might have surrended a couple of million casualties earlier.
Andy, some additional info on Gul Zaman, ISN 459 — on page 79 of http://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/natsec/bagram20110314/20110311_DoD_Release_DRB_Proceedings4.pdf#page=79 there is a one page memo that seems to indicate he was reapprehended and sent to Bagram in 2010.
Pacha Khan Zadran, the warlord who the USA characterized as a renegade in 2004 is worthy of a whole book. He was a firm US ally in January 2002. Sarajudin and Zaman Khan — Gul Zaman — may have served under PKZ when he seized the provincial capital from the Taliban in 2001. But it is not fair to assume they would have followed him when he went renegade.
As for the claim that newspaper reports indicated the Sarajudim had hosted Jalaluddin Haqqani — this is horrible circular reasoning. The newspaper reports were based on information provided by military press officers at the time of their capture. If there was any factual basis for the press officers reports it should have been in the men’s dossiers, and the allegation memos should have cited that info, not the press reports. The allegation memos prepared for the six Bosnians alleged to have plotted to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo also cited a press report. Time magazine in this case.
As to whether the Gul Zaman captured in late 2009 or January 2010 was the same individual as the Gul Zaman captured in January 2002 — I think it is quite possible this is another example of the US military intelligence establishment failing to distinguish between men with the same name.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Abdul Salam Zaeef has indeed engaged with the global technological revolution, and has also performed a great service in writing his book about his experiences — both in the Taliban and as a US prisoner. I do wonder why he was sent to Guantanamo, when Muttawakil wasn’t, and was freed from Bagram after about 18 months, but then logic is largely non-existent when it comes to detentions in the “war on terror.”
And thanks also for the thoughts about Gul Zaman. You reminded me that I hadn’t included the supposed recapture story, which I’ve now done. I have to say that I’m prepared to take it at face value, although that doesn’t prove that he was involved in any activities against the US, as so many of those in Bagram are obviously guilty of nothing, because the Americans’ intelligence is no better than it ever was.
It does also occur to me, however, that claiming that a prisoner called Gul Zaman was previously held in Guantanamo furthers the agenda of those who are engineering the recidivism stories.
With regard to Gul Zaman held in Bagram in 2010 — if he is the same individual as at Guantanamo — it may be that the only reason he was reapprehended was that he said something in his McClatchy interview that annoyed someone authorized to track the former captives. I continue to suspect those authorized to track the former captives think ignoring the warning not to talk about their experiences in Guantanamo constitutes “supporting terrorism”.
I meant to mention this in my earlier note — it was my impression from the CSR Tribunal allegations against these four men that the bombing of the family compound occurred some days after Jalaluddin Haqqani had been reported to have stayed there.
It is an internet meme that once someone brings up the Nazis the discussion is over. Nevertheless, the Nazis did retaliate against civilians who they suspected sympathized with underground resistance fighters. This is universally recognized as a war crime. If the USAF bombed the family compound after they had been informed Haqqani had been there in the past, |I think this was the same kind of retaliation against civilians we hate the Nazis for.
Further, bombing the compound in November, and only sending in ground troops to investigate in January was both an instance of “shoot first, ask questions later”, and “locking the barn door after the horse has escaped”.
That’s a powerful suggestion, arcticredriver, and you may well be right about those tracking the former captives, and their agenda. You also make a very good point indeed about the timing of the raid and the much later arrest. Excellent work, Thank you.
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