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 19 of the 70-part series. 247 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 18 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 Two, Part Three 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.
Adel Al Zamel (ISN 568, Kuwait) Released November 2005
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Adel al-Zamel, who was 38 years old at the time, was one of at least 15 prisoners seized in house raids in Karachi that led to the capture of Abdu Ali Sharqawi (ISN 1457, aka Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, and also known as Riyadh the Facilitator), who was regarded by the US authorities as a significant figure in Al-Qaida, although it was by no means clear that those seized in the raids had any connection with Sharqawi, or, indeed, whether his role was overplayed by the US authorities.
In Guantánamo, al-Zamel told his tribunal that, in 2001, he became the manager of the Kabul office of the Saudi humanitarian aid charity Al-Wafa, and took his wife and their eight children to Afghanistan, unaware that the humanitarian charity was under suspicion for activities related to terrorism (although noticeably, these were never proved, despite numerous Al-Wafa members, and the organization’s director, being held at Guantánamo).
Al-Zamel also said that he gave up his job in August 2001 after a disagreement with a more senior figure, who, he felt, was arrogant and was squandering money that had been given in good faith for charitable purposes. He then moved his family to Pakistan in September, but returned to help the family of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith move to Pakistan as well. He added that he had met Abu Ghaith on a few occasions in Kuwait, but insisted that he did not know, until after 9/11, “when he appeared on TV,” that he was a spokesman for Al-Qaida. Speaking of his capture, he denied all knowledge that he was staying in a safe house, as alleged, and said that he had been there for 16 weeks awaiting the opportunity to return to Kuwait.
In Chapter 14, I explained that, speaking of his time in Bagram, al-Zamel said, in an interview after his release (in which he was identified as Adil al-Zamil), “While walking to the place of interrogation, the guards would continuously hit me on my head with sticks, and every time I denied their accusations during interrogations (of being tied to Al-Qaida) the guards would hit me even more, hold me high up and then fling me to the floor.” He added that he was hooded and “stripped naked in front of women officers while they clicked photos, laughing all the time,” was intimidated by interrogators placing a gun on the table during interrogations, and was “suspend[ed] with one hand tied to the ceiling during interrogations, making it almost impossible to either sit or stand straight.”
Speaking of his transfer to Cuba, al-Zamel said, “I call the journey to Guantánamo ‘the journey of death.’ I discreetly wished that the plane would fall to end the pain I felt.” He also explained that, in Guantánamo, he was a victim of a monstrous policy whereby medical treatment was dependant on cooperation with the interrogators.
He said he was beaten on the head with handcuffs, but was refused medical treatment for several weeks until his wound became infected. He also said that the guards “used to give me pills which I didn’t know what they were, I think they were drugs because I was sleeping almost all the time.”
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, al-Zamel maintained that he had traveled to Afghanistan purely for humanitarian purposes. “A former employee of the Kuwaiti national housing authority,” he confirmed that he moved to Kabul in August 2000 to head a branch of what McClatchy described as the “the Wafa Humanitarian Works Organization,” left Afghanistan in January 2002, and was seized in Pakistan the next month. Refuting the US authorities’ unsubstantiated claims about Al-Wafa, he said that “his work was solely charitable, distributing food and overseeing small infrastructure projects,” and that he was “merely an employee.”
According to the US military, however, “he was a key organizer and co-founder of its offices in three Afghan cities,” and in his tribunal and review board the authorities claimed that he “had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and knew at least two members of bin Laden’s inner circle,” although this seems particularly suspect, as there are counter-arguments that Al-Wafa and bin Laden did not see eye to eye. Nevertheless, McClatchy noted that, in his interview, he failed to mention Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, although, to be fair, that could be simply because of the negative connotations attached to Abu Ghaith’s name, if al-Zamel’s version of events as explained at Guantánamo was true.
Whatever the truth, the connection haunted him in Guantánamo. He said that, on arrival, when “he was still sore from being punched in the face and kicked in the gut for two and a half months while in US military custody in Afghanistan,” and was being examined by a doctor, an interpreter “looked at him, grinned and whispered over and over: ‘Do you want to kill yourself? Do you want to kill yourself?'” He was then taken to interrogation, where a soldier “with a tattoo of a dragon stretching down his forearm shoved a piece of paper in Zamel’s face” which featured a simple diagram — the letters “UBL” (for Osama bin Laden, or Usama bin Laden as the US military called him), an arrow to Abu Ghaith, and another arrow to his own name.
A McClatchy reporter spoke to al-Zamel in Kuwait, describing him as “a small, thin man with dark rings under his eyes. When speaking with friends, he jokes often, flashing his teeth in wide grins, and he talks in energetic bursts. When he’s silent, when his face is still, he looks tired and old.” Speaking of Guantánamo, he stressed to the reporter, “You must understand, the psychological torture was much worse than physical torture,” and spoke about the solitary confinement (for a month) to which all new arrivals were subjected.
After the guards took him “to what looked like a small metal box,” he said, “The cell was hot. I couldn’t sleep at night. The pillow was soaked with my sweat. There was a small opening in the cell wall; I used to push my nose to it. I used the bathroom on the floor; there was nothing else to do.” He added, “I thought they were going to kill me, and then I thought they were going to leave me in there until I died. I was losing my mind. I started to think that one day they were going to open the door and let a lion in to eat me. The world was getting smaller and smaller.”
After his introductory month in solitary, he was taken to a regular cell, and “was interrogated every day after that for at least a month, pushed to confess his ties to Al-Qaida and to describe what he knew about bin Laden.” He told the reporter, “They asked me what I thought about the events of Sept. 11, and I did not reply. If I said I denounced those events, they would call me a liar. If I said I supported it, they would call me a terrorist.” When the interrogators “thought he wasn’t telling the truth,” he added, “he was sent back to solitary.”
He also said that, in his last year at Guantánamo, after the torture program had largely been brought to an end, following the arrival of lawyers after the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in June 2004, the interrogators nevertheless “began to threaten to send him to Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan or Morocco, where security agents would torture him in ways that he couldn’t imagine.” He said that he took the threats seriously, and that finally he cracked. “I told them, ‘I am Osama bin Laden. Please kill me,'” he said. “I just wanted it to end.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Zamel was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated April 17, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in August 1963, and the outline of his story — working for al-Wafa as an office manager, and then resigning and being caught in a house raid in Karachi — were repeated, along with a claim that he had been part of a group involved in an assault in Kuwait on a female student.
It was also stated that he was sent to Guantánamo on May 1, 2002, allegedly to “provide general-to-specific information on: Personalities and activities associated with upper echelons of the Al-Wafa organisation, Information about Al-Qaida and Taliban associated safe houses in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul,” described as “a known former diplomatic district taken over by the Taliban and Al-Qaida for quarters and training,” plus “information about the Takfir Al-Hijra movement, [a] Kuwaiti Islamist group who seeks a return to Islam as practiced at the time of Muhammad, [and who] have conducted vigilante activity against young Kuwaitis engaged in what they perceive as immoral behaviour.”
This was a seemingly impressive list of reasons for his transfer, although, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In seeking to justify his detention, the Joint Task Force claimed that details of his timeline had been “conflicting and vague,” and also cited the concerns of the Kuwaiti Security Service (KSS), which, it was alleged, had reported that al-Zamel was a member of Takfir Al-Hijra, described as “an anti-Kuwait government group”), had claimed that Abu Ghaith had “close relationships with members of this group, specifically naming the detainee,” and had also stated that al-Zamel “was convicted and sentenced (in absentia) to one year in prison by the Kuwaiti government,” and was “considered to be a ‘Most Dangerous Extremist.'” If all this was true, it was a wonder that al-Zamel was freed on his return to Kuwait, and, along with the four other Kuwaiti prisoners released in November 2005, was acquitted by a Kuwaiti court in May 2006 of “charges that they collected money for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaida network” and of fighting alongside the Taliban.
In Guantánamo, however, until diplomatic pressure was exerted on behalf of al-Zamel and the other four men, he would not have been released. He was assessed as being “of high intelligence value,” as a result of the claims against him, and it was also noted that JTF GTMO regarded him as “a member of the Al-Qaida support network, an Islamic Extremist, and to have traveled to Afghanistan with the intent to evade capture.” It was also suggested that he moved his family and Abu Ghaith’s family to Pakistan prior to 9/11, suggesting he “had knowledge of the attacks prior to their execution,” and it was also stated, with the addition of the information reportedly from the Kuwaiti Security Service, 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.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “retained under DoD control,” even though, in reporting his behavior, the Task Force failed to portray a man who was a threat.
After noting that his “overall behavior ha[d] been generally compliant and non-aggressive,” the Task Force stated that his “only aggressive incident occurred on December 31, 2003, when he kicked dirt and gravel at a military working dog and handler,” adding, “Every other action [he] has completed is minor passive aggressive.”
Sa’ad Al Azmi (ISN 571, Kuwait) Released November 2005
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Sa’ad al-Azmi, who was 22 years old at the time, was, like Adel al-Zamel (see above), one of at least 15 prisoners seized in house raids in Karachi that led to the capture of Abdu Ali Sharqawi (ISN 1457, aka Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, and also known as Riyadh the Facilitator), who was regarded by the US authorities as a significant figure in al-Qaeda (and was tortured, as a US judge explained in 2010), although it was by no means clear that those seized in the raids had any connection with Sharqawi, or, indeed, whether his role was overplayed by the US authorities.
In Guantánamo, al-Azmi said that he was a friend of Adel al-Zamel, and that he spent three weeks with him in Kabul, and then ended up with him in the Karachi house. “The people I was arrested with were civilians,” he said. “They were not wearing uniforms. I did not know anybody there except al-Zamel.”
In Chapter 15, drawing on an interview after his release (in which he was identified as Saad al-Anzi), he spoke about the abuse he suffered at Guantánamo. He stated that, during one interrogation, the guards beat him so hard that they broke his leg, and he also spoke about the abuse he suffered as part of the implementation of specific “enhanced interrogation techniques” between late 2002 and the summer of 2004, which included the exploitation of prisoners’ phobias, through the use of dogs in al-Azmi’s case, as he said he was bitten by dogs while being hooded.
He was also subjected to levels of treatment introduced under the watch of Maj. Gen. Miller, which were entirely dependent on the prisoners’ cooperation with the interrogators. The most compliant, in Level 1, kept all their “comfort items” and also received a bottle of water a week, and the levels were graded down to Level 4, which involved prolonged isolation, in which the supposedly uncooperative prisoners were held completely naked, or were allowed just a pair of shorts, and all other “comfort items” were removed. Sa’ad al-Azmi was one of those who experienced Level 4 deprivation when he was held naked for two months.
Al-Azmi also spoke about medical mistreatment at Guantánamo, saying that he was “sprayed by a mysterious ‘red solution’ causing a burning sensation to his skin,” and, in response to claims that female interrogators were “sexually provocative” as “a way to break down devout Muslims,” he “confirmed that those incidents occurred to him too during his interrogations at Guantánamo.”
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, al-Azmi maintained that he was an innocent man, detained for no apparent reason, although the McClatchy team was clearly alarmed by the many holes in his story. For example, he told the reporter that he’d never been to Afghanistan, contradicting what he said in Guantánamo, and failed to mentioned Al-Wafa or his connection with Adel al-Zamel, claiming instead to have been seized in a hotel room in Peshawar “during a routine police check of guests’ passports” in August 2001.
While this section of his story did not make sense, given what is known of the circumstances of his capture, it is probable that what he told the reporter about his experiences in Pakistani and US custody was more accurate. In Karachi, he said, “he was put into a dimly lit cell with about two dozen other men,” and “they were taken out one by one to an interrogation room where two American men — one tall and thin, one short and stocky with glasses — sat behind a table” and “introduced themselves as CIA officers.” They asked him about Al-Qaida, refusing to believe his story about being a businessman.
Al-Azmi added that “he spent about a month in that jail and was interrogated three or four more times,” and was then flown to Kandahar, where after two weeks, in which “American troops punched, kicked and humiliated him,” he was flown to Bagram, where he was held for a month and a half, and was then flown back to Kandahar for about three months before being sent to Guantánamo.
In the Documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Azml was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated April 17, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in May 1979, and the Task Force established a narrative based on a variety of “claims” he had apparently made: that “he worked for Al-Wafa in Kabul,” that “one month after the ‘9/11’ attacks (approximately October 2001), he moved to Peshawar,” and that, “in December 2001,he went to Karachi, PK, and stayed with Aziz from the Al-Wafa Organization,” and was captured in Karachi in February 2002.
It was also stated that he was sent to Guantánamo on May 1, 2002, allegedly to “provide general-to-specific information on: Personalities involved with Takfir Al-Hijra, The Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul,” described as “a known former diplomatic district taken over by the Taliban and Al-Qaida for quarters and training,” The Al-Wafa Organization stationed in the Wazir Akhbar Khan Area of Kabul, The Sanabel Association for Relief and Development NGO located in Wazir Akbar Khan Area of Kabul, [and] Aziz (LNU) who provided Arabs fleeing Pakistan with a means to leave the country.”
In seeking to justify his detention, the Task Force assessed him as “a member of Al-Qaida who has traveled extensively in the West, including travels to countries such as Switzerland, Germany and Bosnia,” although, with the exception of Bosnia, these claims seem more to mark him out as a Kuwaiti from a reasonably well-off family than as some sort of Al-Qaida scout, and Bosnia, of course, was a prime destination for the support of the Muslim population during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.
It was also reported that, like Adel al-Zamel, he was involved with Takfir Al-Hijra, an extremist group that had attacked a female student in Kuwait, and that he was “wanted by the Kuwaiti government for crimes he committed while affiliated with several terrorist groups,” which was very vague. It was also stated, again in a very vague manner, that he “likely ha[d] knowledge of the Sanabel Association for Relief and Development NGO,” which was regarded as a front for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an organization opposed to the rule of Col. Gaddafi in Libya. The LIFG was also regarded by US authorities as being intimately involved with Al-Qaida, although that remains largely disputed.
As a result of the claims against him, al-Azmi was assessed as being “of high intelligence value,” and as “a member of Al-Qaida and/or its worldwide network,” who had “numerous close associations with known members of Al-Qaida or Al-Qaida associated organizations,” and “may have connections with European-based Al-Qaida members,” including an alleged “Spanish Cell” that later came to nothing when subjected to scrutiny. It was also assessed that his “travels to Bosnia were likely to obtain military training and participate in Jihad,” and as it was also claimed that he was “part of a large Al-Qaida contingent in Pakistan at the time of his capture, where he was living in an Al-Qaida safehouse with a key Al-Qaida facilitator,” and that he was a convicted Islamic extremist with known terrorist associations in Kuwait and he remains committed to Jihad.” As he was also allegedly “still wanted by the Kuwaiti movement for crimes he committed under Kuwaiti law,” the Task Force assessed him as “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and its allies,” and Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.”
It was, however, noticeable that the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed, although, “in the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders,” CITF was obliged to “defer to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] poses a high risk.” Even so, on his return to Kuwait, he, along with the four other Kuwaiti prisoners released in November 2005, was acquitted by a Kuwaiti court in May 2006 of “charges that they collected money for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaida network” and of fighting alongside the Taliban.
Saeed Abdur Rahman (ISN 581, Pakistan) Released March 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Saeed Abdur Rahman is one of eight 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 (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One),” I explained how Saeed Abdur Rahman, who was 36 years old at the time of his capture, was, as I described it, an “unfortunate victim of Pakistani zeal (or opportunism).” In Guantánamo (where, absurdly, he was identified as Shed Abdur Rahman), he said that he was at home in his village, scraping a living as a poor chicken farmer, when the police raided his house in January 2002, arresting him and telling him that he could not bribe his way to freedom.
Delivered to the Americans, he was accused of being Abdur Rahman Zahid, one of the Taliban’s deputy ministers of foreign affairs, and was later accused of having been a Taliban military judge and a prison guard in Kandahar, who “tortured, maimed and murdered” Afghan prisoners, even though Rahman said that, after he was handed over to the US forces, “An American told me I was wrongfully taken and that in a couple of days I’d be freed.”
What made these allegations all the more incomprehensible was that, in December 2001, Mullah Khaksar, a former Taliban minister who had actually been working as a spy for the Northern Alliance since 1997, said that Abdur Rahman Zahid “had deliberately created the impression that he entered Pakistan, but had in fact returned to his home village in Logar province.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Mollah Shed Abdul Rehman, born in 1965, it was also noted that, as well as being diagnosed with latent tuberculosis (in common with many of the prisoners), he had also been diagnosed with “Chronic Acute Hepatitis B,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force first acknowledged that he had been identified as an Afghan, but that a request had been sent to the relevant department to change his nationality to Pakistani, and then ran through the sad account of his capture, noting that he was “arrested by Pakistani authorities while in his home in the fall of 2001,” when he “was arrested and charged with the theft of antiquities even though [he] state[d] that they had no proof.” After being imprisoned in Quetta for 36 days, he was, by his own account, then “sold” to the US authorities in Kandahar.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 17, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of his knowledge of the Sorkhab refugee camp, and information on fighting with the Mujahideen forces against the Russians.” These alleged reasons for his transfer expose clearly how desperate were the attempts to make sense of the process of sending prisoners to be the victims of an experimental offshore interrogation camp, when the very fact of detention — and some crazed ideas about creating a global “mosaic” of intelligence, no matter how small and seemingly irrelevant the components — was much more significant than whether there was any rational basis for the exploitation of the prisoners.
In his letters home, it was noted that he “wanted his family to keep up the chicken farm and to inquire about his ‘amanita’ which is translated as something precious or valuable that is given to someone else for safekeeping.” The confusion regarding his identity was also raised, with the Task Force noting that a name “very similar to the detainee’s” (Abdul Rehman, which is a very common name indeed) “was found in sensitive reporting identifying Taliban plans to send 39 individuals to Russia and countries of the Former Soviet Union to carry out unspecified terrorist acts.” Refusing to acknowledge that there was no reason to link this individual to the chicken farmer in their custody, the Task Force added, “There was a passport number associated with the document, however the US does not have a copy of detainee’s passport to match the passport numbers.”
In conclusion, the Task Force stated, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee is of low intelligence value to the United States. Based on the above, detainee pose a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” As a result, Brig. Gen. James E. Payne III, who signed the memo, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Karama Khamisan (ISN 586, Yemen) Released August 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Karama Khamisan is one of eight 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 told the extraordinary story of how Karama Khamisan (also identified as Karam Khamis Sayd Khamsan), a former Yemeni soldier who went to Afghanistan as part of a drug smuggling ring, and was held as a human guarantor until the deal was completed. was seized at the same time as two other men who also ended up at Guantánamo — Brahim Benchekroun, a Moroccan (see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Seven of Ten)“), who said after his release that he was “rounded up by the Pakistani security forces at the end of 2001” near Lahore, “at the time of the first round-ups of Arabs in the Koranic schools,” and Ahmed Errachidi (ISN 590, released in March 2007), a Moroccan chef, who had been living in the UK for 18 years, and who was seized in Islamabad, where he had been working in a jewelry store after visiting Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by the US-led invasion. Khamisan explained that, following the US-led invasion, the drug dealers fled, leaving him near the border with Pakistan, where he was captured by Pakistani villagers.
Benchekroun described what happened to the three men once they were in Pakistani custody. “We were looking through the makeshift blindfolds that the Pakistanis had put on us,” he said, adding that Errachidi spoke English and was following the negotiations, when “people showed up with black suitcases and started bargaining with the Pakistanis over the price for handing us over.” When they agreed on a price of $5,000 a head, Benchekroun explained, they all applauded. He also said that Khamisan was singled out for unusual treatment: “The Pakistanis made him grow a beard and learn to pray. I taught him the basics about washing myself. We didn’t understand that it was so that they could sell him to the Americans, too.”
In Chapter 14, drawing on an interview conducted after his release (in “Guantánamo: Lives Torn Apart — The Impact of indefinite detention on detainees and their families,” an Amnesty International report from February 2006), I explained how Khamisan had a tough time in the US prison at Bagram airbase. Kicked and beaten while hooded, stripped naked and beaten with batons, he was then transferred to Kandahar, where he was “threatened with electric shocks,” and where, in a sign that Abu Ghraib-style abuse was already being practiced, “he and a group of other detainees were stripped and piled on top of each other naked, whilst the US officials, in full military uniform, laughed at them and took photographs of the pile of naked bodies.”
In Chapter 15, I explained how Khamisan also suffered in Guantánamo, ending up in isolation after being sexually threatened. He explained that on one occasion he was “taken to the shower room where guards attempted to sexually abuse him. As he pushed them away, ten guards entered the room and beat him before transferring him to a solitary cell where he was held for 25 days, naked. He said that he was only taken to use the toilet and shower once in this entire period and that he ate no solid food in order to avoid having to defecate in his cell.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Khamisan was an “Update of Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated December 6, 2003, in which it was noted that he was born in 1970, and had been diagnosed with latent tuberculosis (along with many other prisoners), and had been “treated for Gum Disease,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
The information about the circumstances of his detention were not included with this document (they were “Same as previously stated” in an earlier assessment), but reasons for his continued detention were given, including a far-fetched sounding claim that he was “a criminal who was jailed in Yemen for attempting to kill the governor of his province, which he stated he did ‘just for the heck of it.'” He also claimed he “escaped prison while being transferred to a minimum-security facility, and he may still be wanted in Yemen for this crime.”
It was also claimed that he “was asked a series of questions concerning his attitude toward the US during which [he] stated that he speculated that Osama bin Laden attacked the US because the US was killing Palestinians,” which he further explained by stating that Israel and the US were “exactly the same,” and adding that “any Arab would say the same thing abut the relationship between Israel and the US.” The oppression of the Palestinian people was indeed a major motivation behind bin Laden’s jihad against the US (along with the presence of US military bases in Saudi Arabia), but it was inadvisable to say that in Guantánamo, or, I suspect, to criticise Israel either.
Nevertheless, although he was described, unconvincingly, as someone who “continues to express his commitment to Jihad during interrogations” (as he was not in Afghanistan for jihad), it was clear that, as he said, he was a member — whether willingly or not — of a drug-dealing group, which made the Task Force’s claim that his associate, “Mohammed,” had been “identified through reporting as being a supporter of the Taliban” rather dubious, despite the further information that “Mohammed and his criminal group ha[d] reportedly provided transportation, equipment and funding for the Taliban, who in turn protected him and supported his narcotics business.”
However, the most alarming part of the document relating to Khamisan was the reference to an allegation against him that was taken seriously by the authorities, even though, to skeptical eyes, it was nonsense, made by Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni known as the most notorious liar in Guantánamo, who told interrogators that Khamisan was “a trainee at the Al-Farouq training camp and part of an Arab group fighting the Northern Alliance where his alias was ‘The Murderer.'” As was conceded, however, “After further investigation it has been determined that this was a misidentification [a polite term for an outrageous lie] and in fact the detainee is known as ‘Karama the Hashish dealer,’ which substantiates other reporting concerning this detainee and some of [his] statements.”
In conclusion, he was “assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader,” although he was also assessed as being “of intelligence value to the United States, and of posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and, as a result of Basardah’s allegations being discredited, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
On his return from Guantánamo, as the human rights NGO Al-Karama for Human Rights explained in April 2009, Khamisan (identified as Karama Khamis Said Khamisan) was held incommunicado for several months before being acquitted by the State Security court, on March 13, 2006, “on charges of trafficking narcotic.” An appeal was dismissed on April 30, 2006, and he was freed on May 10.
Al-Karama noted that he suffered from “a serious stomach ulcer that he contracted as a result of the torture he had suffered at Guantánamo,” for which he received medical treatment, but also explained that, on March 16, 2009, almost three years to the day after his acquittal, he disappeared while making his usual visit to his doctor. As Al-Karama also stated, “His family remained without news of him for over a week. Finally they learned that he was arrested while leaving a mosque by an officer of political security services and taken to its headquarters at Al-Ghaida in Al-Mahra governorate. Having found out this information, his family was able to receive confirmation of his detention and was even allowed to visit him. They later learned that no case had been filed against him. Since this single visit and despite many attempts by his family, the security policy refuse give any further concerning his future, to the point that he is now completely cut off from the outside world.”
Al-Karama appealed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, asking it to urgently intervene with the Yemeni authorities, and Khamisan was finally freed August 16, 2009, after five months in secret detention. “Throughout this whole period,” as Al-Karama noted, “he was never brought before a judge nor were any charges brought against him.”
Khalid Al Asmar (ISN 589, Jordan) Released July 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Khalid al-Asmar is one of eight 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 told the story of Khalid al-Asmar, who was 38 yeas old at the time of his capture, drawing on statements he made in Guantánamo (where he was described as Khalid al-Asmr), and in “Abandoned to their fate in Guantánamo,” an article by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, for Index on Censorship in 2005, based on interviews with former Jordanian prisoners after their release. The section on al-Asmar is cross-posted here.
Al-Asmar explained how he had been captured by the Pakistani police. A former mujahideen fighter against the Soviet Union, he married an Afghan woman, Fatima, whose parents and sister had been killed in a Soviet bombing raid in 1984, and moved to Pakistan, where he supported Fatima and their seven children by selling herbs and honey. In 2000, they returned to Afghanistan, settling in Kabul, which, at the time, was relatively safe, but when the war came to the city in November 2001 and US bombers planes destroyed a warehouse behind their home, they bundled the children into their white Toyota Corolla and set off for Pakistan once more.
Unfortunately, the US military associated white Toyotas with the Taliban, and, on the way to Pakistan, they were targeted twice by US bombers, narrowly avoiding death on both occasions when the Americans’ rockets failed to hit their target. When they reached Islamabad, al-Asmar found work and also contacted a Libyan charity that arranged flights to Jordan, where his parents still lived, but the day before their proposed departure he called his wife to say that he had been detained by the Pakistani police, and told her to leave without him. “I wasn’t worried,” Fatima said, “because I knew Khalid had done nothing wrong,” but seven months later she heard that he was in Guantánamo. Acknowledging that her husband may have aroused suspicion because he fought with the mujahideen, she said that he saw the Taliban’s role as different to that of the mujahideen. “This was a war for power,” she said. “Khalid wanted nothing to do with it. He said it was not for God.”
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, in which he was identified as Khaled al-Asmr, he explained how, in the three and a half years he was held in US custody, he persistently “told American interrogators that he hadn’t known bin Laden in the 1980s, when both of them were in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet army.” In his tribunal, he said, “The interrogators, every time they ask me, ‘Have you met Osama bin Laden?’ my response is that I’ve never met Osama bin Laden. What I told them is that I have seen Osama bin Laden from a distance for a period of maybe a few minutes.”
In his interview with McClatchy, however, he explained that he had, in fact, met bin Laden in the 1980s, and had “spent many hours chatting” with him, although he “didn’t remain in contact” with him afterwards. Primarily, at that time, he had worked with the “Services Office” (Maktab al-Khadamat), headed by Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of bin Laden, who was assassinated in mysterious circumstances in November 1989. In some ways, Assam’s organisation was the precursor to al-Qaeda (literally, “the base”), but it was dedicated to tracking, recording and providing money for the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and was not, as Al-Qaida’s “base” of contacts later became, an organization dedicated to terrorist attacks on the US and its interests. Al-Asmar admitted knowing Abdullah Azzam, but “said his relationship with Azzam had been indirect, that he’d worked with Azzam’s wife in an offshoot group.”
In Guantánamo, he was also accused of working for the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, tarred as a front for terrorism, despite being a vast charity involved in important humanitarian operations around the world. He “denied that he was a member of Al-Haramain, but said that he dealt with the group occasionally through his food-trading business.”
In his interview with McClatchy, however, he reportedly “admitted to a long-standing relationship with Al-Hamarain and Azzam,” and told the reporter that, although he knew nothing about Al-Qaida’s operations, “he could have provided a thorough sketch of bin Laden and those around him,” which, McClatchy editorialized, was “possibly crucial information that might have helped the Americans better understand the terrorist mastermind in the early days of 2002.”
As it was, the Americans’ treatment of him meant that cooperation was out of the question. Describing his trip from Pakistan to Bagram he said that he and others picked up in Islamabad “sat on the ground of an airstrip, shackled, with hoods over their heads, and listened as someone walked passed them and counted out loud the number of prisoners. When the counting stopped, a man speaking English with an American accent said to the Pakistanis, ‘You’ve got seven of them here. We’ll give you $5,000 for each one.'”
He added, “Then they (US soldiers) started hitting and kicking me. They lifted me up to take me to the plane, still hitting me in the back and hitting me on my face, saying, ‘Taliban, huh?'” As a result, he said, “he decided to tell the Americans as little as possible,” although the reporter added, “It’s hard to know whether he’d have spoken more freely had he been treated better.”
After three weeks at Bagram, he was sent to the US prison at Kandahar airport, where he stayed for about three and a half months, and “faced harassment,” including “alleged fondling of his sex organs, which he said unsettled him more than rough treatment did.” As he explained, “Once they said, ‘We will conduct a medical checkup.’ They took me to a clinic, but instead of doing a checkup, a female soldier played with my sexual organs. When she was doing this, I prayed to God to help me, and my penis did not move.” He said the soldier in question “had brown hair and looked to be in her 40s,” and “didn’t do anything else during the exam but stroke his penis, wearing latex gloves.” He added, “There were male soldiers watching it happen. They were laughing and making jokes.” After this, he said, he was taken to interrogation. The interrogator “didn’t mention the episode in the clinic, Asmr said, but grinned, asked how his day was going and wondered aloud whether he might be ready to talk.” “No,” was his reply.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Asmar was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated March 6, 2004, in which he was identified as Khalid al-Asmr or Khalid al-Asmr Wahad, born in December 1963. In running through his story, the Task Force stated that in 1985 he traveled to Pakistan to work with the vast missionary organisation Jamaat al-Tablighi, which, outrageously, the authorities at Guantánamo claimed was a front for terrorism, and confirmed that he then worked with Sheikh Abdullah Azzam coordinating aid to various groups involved with the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (who was funded by the US in the 1980s, but is now an implacable enemy of the US). Despite his evasiveness, the Task Force also recognized that, “In late 1987/early 1988, [he] met UBL [bin Laden] in the company of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.”
Moving to the events preceding his capture, it was noted that, in June 2000, he traveled to Kabul, where he was “an ‘unofficial’ employee of Al-Haramayn Islamic Foundation” (aka Al-Haramain), which, despite being a huge charity with a global reach, was described as “a Tier 1 NGO; which is defined as having demonstrated sustained and active support for terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests, according to the Interagency Intelligence Committee on Terrorism CounterTerrorism Tiers, dated 10 December 2003.”
In late September 2001, he and his family fled to Peshawar, and “applied to the Qadafi Foundation [aka the Gaddafi Foundation] for assistance in returning home,” but “was arrested by Pakistani police in Islamabad, PK, and was subsequently turned over to US Forces.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that he “may be able to provide general or specific information on: Maktib Al-Kadmat [aka Maktab al-Khadamat, Abdullah Azzam’s “Services Office” for mujahideen in Afghanistan] and Al-Haramayn, [and the] Al-Khadafi Committee for Repatriation [aka the Gaddafi Foundation].”
In its assessment, the Task Force was deeply suspicious of his connections, noting that “he denie[d] having belonged to Al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization irrespective of the fact that JT [Jamaat al-Tablighi] and Al-Haramayn have been associated with Al-Qaida (which was not necessarily true, of course), and also drawing on a claim that he “spent a number of years associating with such individuals as Azzam and UBL,” which was true with reference to Azzam, but not bin Laden, and which, in addition, completely overlooks the fact that, in the 1980s in Afghanistan, he (and Azzam and bin Laden) were allies of the US (whether financially supported or not) and not enemies.
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of high intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its allies and interests,” in particular because his connections suggested to the US authorities that he had “more ties to Al-Qaida than he claim[ed],” even though he was extremely well-behaved in Guantánamo, and was described as being “on the best behaviour level and liv[ing] with detainees who [we]re equally cooperative and non-aggressive.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “retained in DoD control,” although it was noticeable that the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed with the Task Force’s assessment, because, “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 high risk.”
Padsha Wazir (ISN 631, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Padsha Wazir is one of eight 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 (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six “Ghost Prisoners”,” I told the story of Padsha Wazir, a shopkeeper from a village near Khost, Wazir, who was married with three children and was 29 years old at the time of his capture. In Guantánamo, he told his tribunal that the allegations against him — that he was involved with the renegade warlord Pacha Khan Zadran in a military capacity, and that he was responsible for “securing” a village for him — were a pack of lies. The baleful influence of Zadran (one of the most dubious US allies in the years following the US-led invasion) permeates many of the Afghan stories in Guantánamo, and Wazir was clearly another victim.
Wazir added that he had only ever seen Zadran “for five minutes and that was after the Taliban left and the Americans came. He was with the Americans.” He explained that he was actually working with the local commander, Mohammed Yousef, helping to secure the area for the Americans, and also stated that he was arrested at a checkpoint, with his brother and two friends, while traveling to Miram Shah in Pakistan to see members of his family. He pointed out that, although the other three were released on the spot, the commander at the checkpoint (one of Zadran’s men), told lies about him to an American soldier after he refused to hand over his gun, for which he had a permit, which led to his capture and transfer to Guantánamo.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Wazir was an “Updated Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated November 22, 2003, in which he was identified as Bacha Wazir, born in 1972. In this document, the circumstances of his capture were not discussed, but the Task Force was deeply suspicious abut him although not necessarily with any reason. It was claimed that he “ha[d] not been forthright in his interviews.” He “claims to be a ‘simple shopkeeper,'” the Task Force noted, but “[t]his claim remains unverified.” The Task Force also speculated that he “may have connections to various persons affiliated with the former Taliban regime,” and that he “may be a Mid to High-level Taliban supporter and may have facilitated hostile actions against US interests.” It was also stated that he “need[ed] to be fully exploited concerning his suspected involvement with the local HiG insurgent movement [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the organization headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar].”
As a result of these doubts, he was “assessed as being a probable Taliban leader however not a member of Al-Qaida,” and as being “of intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DoD control,” although it was noticeable that the Criminal Investigative Task Force did not agree with this assessment. On November 6, 2003, CITF “categorized [him] as a Low Threat,” but CITF’s Behavioral Sciences Consultation Team was asked to “reevaluate their threat assessment.” The result of this is not known, but 17 months later he was finally freed.
Mushtaq Ali Patel (ISN 649, France) Released March 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Mushtaq Ali Patel is one of eight included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I told the story of Mushtaq Ali Patel, born in India but a French national through his marriage to a Creole woman from Réunion, who was 39 years old at the time of his capture. Patel explained at Guantánamo (where he was identified as Mustaq Ali Patel), and after his release in an article in Libération (translated for Cageprisoners) that, although his wife and child were living in France, he had been working in Iran, where he taught at an Islamic school and traded in clothes and jewelry.
After setting out for Pakistan, via Afghanistan, in October 2001, he was abducted, in the countryside near Herat, by three Afghans, including a policeman, who stole his passport and his money, beat him with their fists and with electric cables, and took him to a police station in Ghazni, where he was forced to say that he was a Saudi, born in Medina, and that his name was Haji Mohammed. After several months, he was taken to Kabul to “some kind of a house that was like a prison,” where he was sold to the Americans for $5,000. He said that the Americans threatened him with death “and to cause problems to my family,” and then transferred him to Bagram, where they had “very hard attitudes,” and Kandahar, where he was “badly mistreated, interrogated in bad ways.”
Alarmingly, Patel’s weight in Guantánamo was disturbingly low throughout his detention, as was apparent from the weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, which I analysed for a short report for Cageprisoners in June 2009, entitled, “Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation” (introduction here, report here). In that report, I noted how he had been chronically underweight throughout his detention, weighing just 89 pounds on arrival, and dropping to 76 pounds in November 2002, which was more or less where his weight remained for an alarmingly long period of his imprisonment. In his Libération interview, it became apparent that he had been very ill at Guantánamo, as he explained:
I became sick at Guantánamo. They took me to the health clinic. I stayed in hospital for 4 to 5 months the first time. I had chest and throat problems, and headaches. They gave me medication. I don’t know what it was. I slept sometimes, but not all the time. I was in bed. I had one foot and one hand enchained. I never got out, ever. I wanted to leave, but they did not let me. I was anguished being restrained all the time. They forced me to take medication, pills. I said “no,” but they forced me. That was the hardest time at Guantánamo. Some of the medicines had an effect on my sleep, kept me from sleeping and created respiratory problems. I could have refused to take them, but it was difficult as they forced me to swallow them in front of them. Sometimes there was the same medication for everyone, and you had to swallow it immediately.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Patel was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated March 27, 2004, in which he was identified as Mustaq Ali Patel and Mohammed Ibn Ismael al-Akram (as well as Mohammed Haji and Haji Muhammed), born in January 1961, and his health issues were described in depth. The Task Force noted that he had “multiple psychiatric diagnoses, including depression and schizotlpal personality disorder, but [wa]s otherwise in good physical health.” It was also noted that his medications included “synthroid, celexa, zprexa, zantac, a multivitamin, and simethicone.” The Task Force added, “Schizotypal personality disorder is often characterized as having a belief in clairvoyance or telepathy, the use of metaphorical speech, paranoid ideations, and severe mood disorders. It is likely a genetic relation to schizophrenia, but the two should not be confused with each other.”
Because of his severe mental health problems, he told different stories about himself. In one version, he “claimed he was born in Medina, Saudi Arabia and claimed to be an ‘orphan,’ only to acknowledge later that his parents [we]re citizens of India and currently alive,” that they lived in India, and “were previously employed as foreign laborers in Saudi Arabia,” where, “[b]ecause they are not Saudi, the Saudi government will not grant citizenship to a non-Arab, regardless of birthplace.” In another version (the true one), he said that he was born in Shepura, India, and was a French citizen by marriage (on Réunion), which the French government confirmed.
Clearly bewildered by him, and unprepared for what to think when confronted by someone with such severe mental health issues, the Task Force noted that, during interrogation on March 23, 2004, he admitted that his stories about the orphanage, about living in Saudi Arabia, and about selling fruit were lies, and that he traveled to France when he was 22 or 23, sold radios for a living, “had $10,000 USD on his person when captured,” and had lived briefly in Germany and Turkey, but had been living in Mashad, Iran, for 15 years before his capture in Afghanistan.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide general-to-specific information on Taliban and Al-Qaida forces operating in Kunduz and Takhar provinces as well as various illegal activities taking place in Afghanistan.”
In assessing him, however, the Task Force described him, without mentioning any mitigating factors, as someone who had “never been cooperative or forthright during his detention” and had “not revealed his true name or any of his affiliations.” He was also described as “a possible Al-Qaida operative based on his circumstance of travels and his suspected affiliations.”
Assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” he was also assessed as being “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its allies, and interests until his true identity is known.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention until his true name and extremist affiliations have been determined,” although it was also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed with JTF GTMO on the assessment of Patel as “a high risk,” which, presumably, helped lead to his release a year later.
Mamdouh Habib (ISN 661, Australia) Released January 2005
In Chapter 16 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing mainly on an article published after his release (and not on the unsubstantiated allegations for his tribunal at Guantánamo), I explained how Mamdouh Habib, who was 47 years old at the time of his capture, was one of several dozen prisoners at Guantánamo who were subjected to “extraordinary rendition,” and were transferred to other prisons for torture, before their transfer to Guantánamo.
Habib, seized in November 2001, was traveling on a bus from Quetta to Karachi when it was stopped by Pakistani soldiers. Plucked from his seat as a suspected militant, he was moved from jail to jail for three weeks, interrogated by US agents and “repeatedly tortured” by the Pakistani authorities.
Born in Egypt, he left at the age of 18, drifted to Europe and settled in Australia in 1980, where he became a citizen, married a Lebanese woman, had four children, and ran a cleaning business. He later opened a coffee shop in a suburb of Sydney, but became “chronically depressed” and ended up on a disability benefit. In summer 2001, seeking “a purer Islamic lifestyle,” he set off for Pakistan to look for work so that he could bring his family over to join him, but when he was captured it became apparent to the Americans that they had caught someone with a radical history.
Habib admitted that one of his reasons for leaving Australia was because he was “caught between police who suspected him of terror links and an often hostile Muslim community that was sometimes suspicious of his activities,” and these suspicions were triggered after a visit to the US, when he met followers of the Egyptian-born cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Also known as the “Blind Sheikh,” Abdel-Rahman was a major source of inspiration for Osama bin Laden, and was serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to blow up several New York landmarks.
Habib’s troubles began when he stayed in touch with Abdul Rahman’s associates in New York on his return to Sydney, and spoke out in his defense, but although there was nothing in his activities to suggest that he was actually involved in any kind of terrorist activity, as soon as the Americans found out about his history they rendered him to Egypt. For six months, he was “suspended from hooks on the walls while his feet rested on a rotating metal drum that delivered electric shocks,” “kicked, punched, beaten with a stick and rammed with what can only be described as an electric cattle prod,” and handcuffed and left in a room that gradually filled with water until it was just beneath his chin. “Broken” by the Egyptians, he made a number of false confessions — in particular, that he “trained several of the September 11 hijackers in martial arts and had planned to hijack a plane himself” — which were then used against him after he was transferred to Guantánamo, via Afghanistan, in June 2002.
In Guantánamo, he continued to be treated brutally, and several prisoners reported his suffering. The British prisoners Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed (see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Two of Ten)“) said that he was “in catastrophic shape, mental and physical,” and that, as a result of his torture, “he used to bleed from his nose, mouth and ears when he was asleep.” Habib also made allegations about his treatment in Guantánamo — in particular that he was “smeared with the menstrual blood of a prostitute” during an interrogation — and complained vociferously about being kept in solitary confinement in Camp Echo: “They use every possible [way] to make me crazy. They put me in isolation all the time. I never see the sun. I never have shower like a human being. I never have soap. I never have cup to drink. I never treated like a human being.”
Habib was also one of the many prisoners for whom it was made clear that medical treatment was dependent on cooperation, as he was told by medics that he would only be given treatment for the internal bleeding he suffered in Egypt if he cooperated with his interrogators.
Given this catalogue of abuse, and the allegations against him, it came as a surprise to everyone — including the Australian authorities — when he was released from Guantánamo in January 2005, and returned to Australia as a free man, but for those watching closely, it was engineered by the Bush administration in the hope that his story would then disappear, as it had been acutely embarrassing when details of Habib’s rendition and torture were included in a US court filing and exposed in the Washington Post on January 6, 2005, just three weeks before his release.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Habib was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated August 6, 2004, in which Habib, described as being born in June 1955, was diagnosed as having “a history of depression and behavioral disorders, benign prostatic hypertrophy, hungerstriking, and had a knee surgery performed.” It was also noted that he “carries the Hepatitis B virus.”
In telling Habib’s story, the Task Force described how he had served in the Egyptian army from 1975 to 1978, and then moved to Australia in 1980, where he initially lived with his sister. Other key events mentioned were his visit to New York in December 1992, to visit another two of his sisters, a brief visit to Afghanistan in 1999, and the last fateful journey in 2001, which allegedly involved him attending “a military training base,” where he stayed for “only 3 to 4 days,” before returning to Kandahar, where “he was told to leave because the US had began [sic] its bombing campaign.”
It was then noted that, when Pakistani forces seized him on a bus from Quetta to Karachi in October 2001, it was reportedly “with two Germans who were suspected Al-Qaida members from Hamburg, Germany” (about whom, to the best of my knowledge, nothing further has been heard, although they were identified as “Tier III personalities in the Hamburg 9/11 cell”). He was then “held at a Pakistan military base in Quetta, PK, and was subsequently transferred to Egyptian control” — a careful reference to his rendition to torture, which was followed up with the breezy-sounding statement that he “spent six months with Egyptian interrogators” before being transferred back to US custody.
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 5, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “may be able to provide specific information on the students, staff, and curriculum of the Al-Qaida intelligence and operations course,” because “he may also be able to provide general information on key Al-Qaida support network figures with whom he had personal contact,” and because he “may be able to provide specific information on the support network of Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Kashmir.”
In seeking to justify his detention, the Task Force drew also on the details of his US visit in 192 and the lies about him training the 9/11 hijackers that were extracted under torture, claiming that he had been “linked to the 11 Sept 2001 hijackers, Al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Tayiba of Pakistan, Al Gamma Al Islamia [Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya] of Australia, German 9/11 cell and conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,” and noting that he was “suspected of being a money courier and a terrorist operations facilitator, due to his extensive international travels.”
Analyzing Habib’s purported connection with terrorists in the US, the Task Force claimed that, as well as visiting in 1992, when he “allegedly befriended” Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, who was later convicted for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he had made a previous visit (or perhaps more than one). It was claimed, for example, that he attended the trial of the Egyptian-born US citizen El-Sayyid Nosair, for the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane, but this took place in 1991.
El-Gabrowny was Nosair’s cousin, and the Task Force claimed that, in discussions with Habib, he told him “he desired to move away from the US,” and Habib suggested that he move to Australia “because it was a quiet place to live for Muslims.” An analyst also noted that “Immigration records and external investigations show that [Habib] was also in New York during 1988/89.”
These alleged connections may not prove anything more than that Habib moved in circles where he met Egyptian-born US citizens while in America, as might be expected, but the US authorities were desperate to tie him to terrorism, claiming that, because he had a cleaning business involving the Australian military, which collapsed, leaving him in debt after a court case, that was a reason for him to have possibly been a courier or “financial operator” for Al-Qaida.
The most shocking information in Habib’s file, however, concerns the false statements that he made while being tortured in Egypt. As the Task Force explained, coyly:
While in the custody of the Egyptian Government, under extreme duress, [he] alleged that he made the following admissions of guilt, which he now denies:
- He trained six of the 9/11 hijackers in the use of martial arts
- He also taught them how to use a knife disguised as a cigarette lighter He was en route to hijack a Qantas flight with his friend Jamal (LNU)
- His friend Rakim (LNU) was going to conduct a simultaneous operation from Thailand
- He had information on his home computer to be used to poison an unidentified river in the United States
- He fought in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan
Habib “retracted all the above statements during an interrogation in Jan 2003. He claimed he lied to Egyptian authorities when he admitted to the above statements.”
Despite this, the US authorities (obviously drawing heavily on the co-operation of the Australian government) followed up on the fact that a member of a mosque in the town where Habib lived in Australia was arrested in connection with a terrorist plot (and another was “implicated’ in it), to throw further innuendo his way, claiming that these two men were connected to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and that Habib was too. This was designed to appear significant, even though it was conceded that Habib had “a hostile relationship” with the mosque.
Another dubious claim came from one of Habib’s fellow prisoners at Guantánamo, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (ISN 760), who stated that he “ha[d] ‘strong knowledge’ of the Egyptian Islamic extremist group, Al-Gamma Al-Islamia [Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya] in Australia,” and an analyst noted, “Al-Gamma Al-Islamia has a strong following in Germany. This may explain why the detainee was captured with the two Germans, who also may be members of Al-Gamma Al-Islamia.” This was tenuous, to say the least, partly because it has not been established that Habib was with the two Germans whose whereabouts are unknown, other than being on the same bus as them, but also because Slahi is one of the most well-known torture victims at Guantánamo, whose testimony is therefore untrustworthy, and there is no evidence that he ever met Habib.
In conclusion, the Task Force described Habib as being “of high intelligence value,” and “a high risk,” and Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.” However, in a recap of reasons he was regarded as threat, in which it was noted that there were “serious intelligence gaps” regarding his activities, the most telling phrase concerned the results of his interrogation and torture in Egypt, which prompted the Task Force to ask, “Was any of the information that he provided to the Egyptians valid?”
Since his release, Habib has campaigned against both the US and Australian governments for their roles in his detention, rendition and torture. He has undertaken numerous interviews, and also, with Julia Collingwood, wrote a book, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, which was published in November 2008, and in February 2011, as the Mubarak regime fell in Egypt, and, briefly, it looked as if Omar Suleiman would take over, Habib told the Australian (as I reported here) that this would be unforgivable because, after he was rendered to Egypt, “Mr. Suleiman helped torture him.”
The Australian also explained that, in his book, Habib “wrote that Mr. Suleiman had often been present during his interrogations,” and also noted:
“I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English,” Mr. Habib writes. “He said, ‘Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands’.”
Mr. Habib writes that Mr. Suleiman had told him that he wanted him to die a slow death: “No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly. I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything if you want to be saved. What do you say?”
When Mr. Habib said he had nothing to tell him, he says Mr. Suleiman had said: “You think I can’t destroy you just like that?”
They had taken Mr. Habib to another room and then Mr. Suleiman had said: “Now you are going to tell me that you planned a terrorist attack. I give you my word you will be a rich man if you tell me you have been planning attacks. Don’t you trust me?” Mr. Habib had replied that he did not trust anyone. “Immediately he slapped me hard across the face and knocked off the blindfold; I clearly saw his face,” Mr. Habib writes.
Mr. Habib alleges Mr. Suleiman said: “That’s it. That’s it. I don’t want to see this man again until he co-operates and tells me he’s been planning a terrorist attack.”
Mohammed Anwarkurd (ISN 676, Iran) Released August 2005
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (11) – The Last of the Afghans (Part One) and Six “Ghost Prisoners”,” I explained how Mohammed Anwarkurd, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo (where he was identified as Mohamed Anwar Kurd) that he went to Afghanistan on a shopping expedition. He said that he had gone to buy electronic equipment for his brother, because it was cheaper than in Iran and could be sold for a profit, but was seized by the Taliban, who stole his money and conscripted him. He added that he “did not want to tell them that he was from Iran as he had heard that they killed Iranian diplomats.” Presumably captured by anti-Taliban forces at a later date, he was accused of traveling to Afghanistan to buy a pistol to kill three people who had destroyed his mosque, or, alternately, of planning to assassinate two key Shia leaders in Zahedan, his home city.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated April 8, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Mohammed Anwar Kurd, born in 1979, it was also stated that, as well as having latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, he had also been diagnosed with h. pylori (the bacteria responsible for most ulcers and many cases of stomach inflammation) and “adjustment disorder,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force drew on his own accounts of his activities, essentially covering the same ground that was later covered his tribunal: that he had traveled to Afghanistan, via Pakistan, to “purchase electronic devices for his brother’s electrical store in Zahedan, Iran,” ending up in Spin Boldak, where he traveled to “inspect some heavy machinery,” and that, as he tried to return, he was stopped by Taliban soldiers, who “asked for his identification card.” He said he “did not possess an identification card and claimed that he was from Nimroz, Afghanistan, because of an incident that occurred with ten Iranian diplomats who were accused of espionage and were summarily executed.”
The Taliban, he said, then conscripted him into service, “because they believed him to be an Afghan citizen.” As training, he reported that he “observed one Kalishnakov [sic] assault rifle and approximately six RPGs.” He was then taken, via a Taliban base in Kandahar, to Talogan, in Takhar province, where, he said, “the majority of the conscripts were taken to the frontlines to fight against Massoud’s forces” (the forces of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, assassinated on September 9, 2001), although Anwarkurd “convinced the Taliban leaders at the guesthouse that he was unfit for the frontlines.” He added that he “spent approximately two months at the guesthouse before the Taliban fled to Kunduz to regroup when Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the Northern Alliance,” when he “and the other inhabitants of the guesthouse traveled to a military base in Kunduz,” and, soon after, surrendered to General Dostum, a prominent Northern Alliance commander. As a result, he was probably part of “the convoy of death,” when many prisoners (probably numbering in the thousands) died en route to Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan while being transported in containers, although this was not mentioned by the Task Force.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 12, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban safe houses in Kabul and Takhar, Afghanistan.”
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be “considered for transfer to the control of another government.”
Hammad Gadallah (ISN 712, Sudan) Released July 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Hammad Gadallah is one of eight included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
In “WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files” (describing the 14 files missing from the documents released by WikiLeaks in April), Hammad Gadallah (whose full name is Hammad Ali Amno Gadallah and who was was 32 years old at the time of his capture) was one of five prisoners working for the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), a Kuwait-based NGO, with branches around the world, who were seized in 2002 after the Pakistani and Afghan branches of RHS were blacklisted by the US government.
In Chapter 13 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how he told the most complete story of the organization’s activities, and obviously managed to impress upon the Americans that not everyone who worked for the charity was siphoning off money for al-Qaeda. Arrested at his home on May 27, 2002, by two Americans and representatives of Pakistani intelligence and the police, he explained that he had been working for the Central Bank in Sudan, when his brother, who worked for a bank in Bangladesh, told him that the RIHS in Peshawar had a vacancy for an accountant. He took leave from his job to investigate the organization in January 2001, and, after seeing that they were “all good people, with high standards, [who] love their work, and … perform their work faithfully,” and that there were “no problems with the accountancy programme,” he handed in his notice at the bank and began working for the RIHS in March.
Refuting allegations about the organization’s inclusion in a US guide to terrorist organizations, he said, “I say that not every organization or person that is within that guide can be accused of being a terrorist. That requires a lot of evidence and proof … I’m sure that the year that I was working for the RIHS in 2001, it had nothing to do with any terrorist acts.” He added that the organization had an income of around two and a half million dollars in 2001, which came from mosques in Kuwait, and described it as a “huge organization” with one branch in Pakistan. He also explained the significance of his role and, crucially, how there were no underhand financial transactions during his time there:
Q: If your organization were transferring money to another organization, you would be aware of it?
A: That never happened.
Q: But if it had, you would know that?
A: Yes I would. Because I record everything that comes in and everything that goes out.
Ibrahim Fauzee (ISN 730, Maldives) Released March 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Ibrahim Fauzee is one of eight included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
In a footnote to Chapter 13 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ibrahim Fauzee, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was one of a number of prisoners seized in Pakistan, mostly in April and May 2002, and largely because they were working for Gulf-based charities that had come under suspicion for alleged links with terrorist funding, like Hammad Gadallah, above. Fauzee was a student of Islam, according to an account published by Cageprisoners, which explained more than the ludicrously thin set of allegations for Fauzee’s tribunal, in which it was mainly alleged that his telephone number was discovered in another suspect’s pocket, and was associated with “a Sudanese teacher who assisted Arabs traveling to training camps in Afghanistan.” According to the Cageprisoners account, Fauzee was living in a house in which one of the other occupants was reportedly the father of an Al-Qaida suspect. A witness reported that on May 19, 2002, US agents came to the house in Karachi, and arrested Fauzee and the other man, whose whereabouts are unknown.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April, the file relating to Ibrahim Fauzee was a “Reassessment of Recommendation to Retain in DoD Control,” dated November 11, 2003, in which he was identified as Ibrahim Fouwzy, born in November 1978, and it was stated that he had been diagnosed with asthma (and had been “given an albuterol inhaler”) and had also been “treated for strep throat,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force partly reiterated the Cageprisoners account, but failed to reach the conclusion of Fauzee’s tribunal, which recognized that he was not an “enemy combatant.” The Task Force noted that Fauzee had stated that he had first traveled to Pakistan to studying 1995 (in Karachi), and that, in March 2000 he had “traveled to Maldives to wed his fiancee, and then returned with her to Karachi.” However, it is not clear from this account if it is meant to indicate that he had been living in Pakistan from 1995 to 2000.
Prior to his capture, however, the Task Force stated that he “lived in several apartments, and last resided in a home owned by Mohammed Afzal,” where, he said, he lived “for approximately 11 days before being arrested by the Pakistani police,” who “told him that he was arrested because of his knowledge and association with his landlord (Afzal).” He was then “taken to a police station and questioned,” and was “later taken to a military facility, and then returned to jail.” Soon after, he was transferred to US custody, even though he “stated he never learned why Afzal was arrested but opined that it may have had something to do with his work.”
It is not known what happened to Mohammed Afzal, as he was never transferred to Guantánamo, but Fauzee was sent to Guantánamo on August 5, 2002. No reason was given for his transfer, but it was clear that his connection with Mohammed Afzal was the only significant thing about him, and it is therefore worth asking what happened to Afzal, and whether he was ever held in US custody. In providing reasons for Fauzee’s detention, the Task Force stated that he was “arrested by Pakistani authorities under suspicion of being an Al-Qaida member after a raid on his residence, that just missed a group of Al-Qaida members who had gathered at the home for a meeting.”
Without further information about Mohammed Afzai it is impossible to know whether there was any truth in this, or, indeed, if there was any truth in the additional claims that he was “a known Al-Qaida facilitator,” and was also “the person who sponsored the detainee at the madrassa [where he was studying, presumably] and whom [sic] was allowing the detainee to live in an apartment attached to his home.”
Ramping up his purported significance, the Task Force added that Fauzee had “traveled extensively in spite of his limited income and ha[d] failed to explain adequately the source(s) of the funds he used for travel.” The Task Force also claimed that the madrassa was “fundamentalist” and that it was “administered” by Mohammed Afzai, but this serves only to make me think that Afzai’s role may have been overplayed, and that Fauzee might have been nothing more than a student paying board and lodging in the apartment next to Afzai’s house, which he rented out.
Nevertheless, the Task Force noted that he was “suspected of being an Al-Qaida recruit and courier, however the complete extent of his association within the organization is not completely known because of his refusals to be forthright.” As a result, he was assessed as posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests, and its allies,” and it was noted that he “require[d] further exploitation … before being submitted for further transfer consideration.” Maj. Gen. Miller therefore recommended that he be “retained under DoD control,” although the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed, as it was noted that, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF deferred to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [Fauzee] pose[d] a medium threat.” However, it took another 16 months for a military tribunal to agree with CITF that he was not a threat, and for Fauzee to finally be freed.
In the classified US diplomatic cables secured by WikILeaks (and in the full version recently made available), Maldivian Permanent Secretary Ahmed Shaheed first asked the US to “share any intelligence it had gained from Fauzee” on November 5, 2002, as Minivan News reported. “Shaheed specifically asked for any information on ties Fauzee may have with other Maldivian nationals,” the cable read. “In this regard, Shaheed also requested that the Maldivian government be permitted to conduct its own intelligence interview of Fauzee.”
On November 23, 2002, Shaheed wrote to US officials requesting Fauzee’s release, but he was not, of course, freed for another 28 months. In August 2003, Maldivian government officials were allowed to visit Fauzee, although they found him to be “an unlikely threat,” and after “further investigation,” requested his release again, on November 5, 2003.
Another request was made on May 11, 2004, and in a cable dated July 20, 2004, as Haveeru Online stated, Maldivian Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Shihab assured the then US Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead that “a travel ban would be imposed on Ibrahim Fauzy” (as he was identified), because “the Maldives understood the need to clear up the detainee’s story.”
It was also stated that “Shihab told Lunstead, who ‘had concerns about some aspects of the detainee’s history,’ that the Maldives government would place Fauzy under close surveillance and would put him on a watch list to ensure that he could not leave the country. Shihab was quoted in the diplomatic memo … as saying that the measures would be ‘effective in preventing him [Fauzy] from traveling’ unless ‘he is very good at rowing.'”
By the end of 2004, the US government finally “agreed to return Fauzee to the Maldives under certain conditions,” as Minivan News explained. A cable dated December 13, 2004 “showed the Maldivian Foreign Ministry was interested in cooperating with these conditions, which included humane treatment upon release.”
Qalandar Shah (ISN 812, Afghanistan) Released April 2005
Of the 13 prisoners profiled in this article, Qalandar Shah is one of eight included in the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, between April and December 2002, at least 50 Afghans were sent to Guantánamo from Bagram, and how, in his book The Interrogators, Chris Mackey (the pseudonym of a former senior interrogator in Afghanistan) reported that the screening for Afghan prisoners was made more flexible in June 2002, when, instead of sending every single prisoner in their custody to Guantánamo (as stipulated by those directing operations from Camp Doha in Kuwait), the prison’s commanders finally worked out how to release “worthless prisoners back to their farms and families.” The process involved creating a new category of prisoner — “persons under US control” — who could be held for 14 days without being assigned a number that entered the system overseen by the overall commanders in Kuwait and the Pentagon, because once a prisoner was officially assigned a number, it was almost impossible for the interrogators to let them go.
One of the 50, whose story only demonstrates that, even with these changes, many Afghans were still pointlessly sent to Guantánamo, was Qalander Shah, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, when he was seized in a house raid in Bermel, in Paktika province, along with his uncle and a cousin. Accused of having a weapons cache and a false Pakistani ID card, he explained that the weapons were for protection and that he had the false ID because “the Taliban were running the government and we were in conflict with them.”
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated August 30, 2003, which was a “Transfer Recommendation,” in which he was identified as Khan Shah Qalandar, born in 1973, the Task Force provided a more detailed explanation of his story, in which the key elements remained the same. Shah, described as a veterinarian for the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan from 1993 to 1996, and a self-employed teacher from 1996 to 2000, teaching Pashtu, English, math and painting, stated that he also supported his family “through construction, tailoring, and farming his land.”
Speaking about the circumstances of his capture, he “stated that he was asleep when Americans raided the compound where he and his family lived.” He was seized with his uncle, Pacha Gul, and his cousin, Abdul Adin. Providing further information, he “stated that he was awoken by gunfire and he later learned that as the Americans approached they were shot at by unknown persons and those people fled the compound.” He added that “he had nothing to fear from the Americans so when he was told to surrender, he did so.” It was also noted that he admitted that the area he lived in was “known to have been an egress route for Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters fleeing into Pakistan,” but obviously had nothing to do with either the Taliban or Al-Qaida, and, although weapons were found in the compound, he said he knew nothing about them. He was sent to Guantánamo on October 28, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his suspected involvement with subversive elements.”
In conclusion, the Joint Task Force assessed him “as being neither affiliated with Al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee is of low intelligence value to the United States. Based on the above, detainee poses a low threat to the US, however because of his subversive activities and affiliations in Afghanistan, he is assessed to pose a medium threat to the Afghan government.” As a result, Brig. Gen. James E. Payne III, who signed the memo, recommended that he be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.” 20 months later, he was finally freed.
Richard Belmar (ISN 817, UK) Released January 2005
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained, drawing on information from Guantánamo, and in an article published after his release (“Beatings, sex abuse and torture: how MI5 left me to rot in US jail,” by David Rose, in the Observer), how Richard Belmar, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, was born and brought up in Marylebone, in central London. After training as a mechanic, he worked for the Post Office, and converted to Islam in 1999. In July 2001, after spending some time in Pakistan, he traveled to Afghanistan to study at a religious school in Kandahar.
Trapped in the city after the US-led invasion began, he made several unsuccessful attempts to leave the country — on one occasion wearing a burka, but still failing to escape because the driver of his car thought that it was too dangerous — before managing to cross the border in December 2001 by walking across the mountains. “I didn’t want to be part of any war,” he said. “I wanted to get out. I was seeing people who’d been bombed, pieces of them everywhere.” In Karachi, he stayed in a hotel for a while, but was running out of money and had lost his passport, and was afraid of contacting the British consulate because he knew that “anyone who had been in Afghanistan was at risk of arrest.” He then met an Arab who “promised to sort me out,” and arranged for him to stay in “a large house,” where he was captured.
He was then taken to the ISI headquarters in Karachi (the HQ of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan’s largest intelligence service), along with the other prisoners, where he was interviewed by American intelligence operatives, whose superiors, finding his story credible, recommended his repatriation to the UK and asked MI5 to send some agents to see if they wanted to recruit him. Turned down by MI5, for reasons that were never explained, he was sent to Bagram instead.
In Chapter 14, I explained how Belmar said that on the plane to Bagram he received a huge blow to the back of his head from a rifle butt, which gave him headaches “for a long, long time,” and how, in Bagram, where he spent more than six months and was interrogated repeatedly, he was sexually taunted by a woman interrogator, who fondled his genitals. “I told her she was ugly, cheap and I spat in her face,” he said. “There were two guys in the room and I was shackled. They got me on the floor and started kicking me up, in the back, in the stomach, they gave me a real beating.”
In another interrogation, a pistol was forced into his mouth: “It tasted cold, bitter. I thought, ‘Yeah, this is getting serious, there’s a good chance they will pull the trigger.'” Eventually, he said, he gave the interrogators the confession they wanted, even though it was all lies. He told them he had listened to Osama bin Laden making a speech, but pointed out after his release, “How could I have done that? I didn’t know a word of Arabic,” and added that the interrogators “tried to make me confess to being at a training camp in 1998 — when I never left Britain, and wasn’t even a Muslim.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to Belmar was a “Recommendation to Retain Under DoD Control,” dated November 15, 2003, in which his full name was given as Richard Dean Belmar, and it was noted that he was born in October 1979. The Joint Task Force claimed that Belmar and a friend had been arrested at Heathrow in June 2001 for “assaulting two individuals,” and then decided to go to Afghanistan rather than appear in court. A contact, Abu Mohammed, then apparently raised money for them to travel, and to attend the Al-Farouq training camp, where Belmar allegedly received basic training.
What happened to Belmar’s friend was not related, but after the 9/11 attacks, Belmar reportedly “traveled with Taliban forces throughout Afghanistan” and then, in November 2001, “fled Afghanistan after bribing a guard,” and traveling to Karachi, where he was seized three months later. He was sent to Guantánamo on October 28, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of the Al-Farouq training camp, Al-Qaida safehouses in Kandahar, AF, Kabul, AF and Karachi, PK, of Al-Qaida recruiter Abu Mohammed, Richard Reid, John Walker Lindh and other Al-Qaida members.”
In seeking to justify Belmar’s detention, the Task Force claimed that he had sworn bayat (a pledge of loyalty) to Osama bin Laden, which seems highly unlikely, and that, for some reason, he had “unexploited information” about Ghassan al-Sharbi (ISN 682), a Saudi and a self-confessed al-Qaida member who was seized in Faisalabad, Pakistan, two months after Belmar was seized in Karachi. It was also claimed that he had “knowledge of Jaish-e-Mohammed [a Pakistani militant group] and how they aided Arabs in Afghanistan,” and, in a particularly weak claim, it was alleged that an alias attributed to him, Abdul Rahim (an exceedingly common name), had been “referenced by several detainees possibly indicating that [Belmar] played a more important role in Al-Qaida while traveling around Afghanistan.”
Belmar was “assessed as being a member of Al-Qaida,” and it was also stated that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and posed “a high risk to the US, its interests, or its allies.” In addition, it was noted that he had been identified as a candidate for a trial by Military Commission, and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Miller recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.” However, 14 months later, and without being put forward for trial, he was freed, flown back to the UK, 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, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, 700,000-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see 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 for all your excellent work.
WRT Habib’s torture — I read a report where his Guantanamo medical records were analyzed by a doctor who was an expert in detecting the after effects of torture. Habib’s records showed multiple long term blood in his urine — a sign of long-term deep organ beatings. There were other indications that he was telling the truth about being tortured.
Well, thanks for the support, arcticredriver. And thanks also for the additional information. I’m glad to have that corroboration, but I think it was clear from the Tipton Three’s description of him how ill he was at Guantanamo, Their report was very powerful.
On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I Dugg this, Andy.
Thanks, George. Good to hear from you.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: