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 21 of the 70-part series. 271 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.
In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of 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. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners’ fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.
The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”
My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, 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. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” 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. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released.
This, as I explained, 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, a sham process designed to rubber-stamp their designation as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely.
With just 38 prisoners cleared for release after the CSRTs, another review process — the annual Administrative Review Boards — took over, reviewing whether prisoners still had ongoing intelligence value, and whether they still posed a threat to the US. These were essentially the decisions being taken by JTF GTMO and CITF, and they reveal how, in the “War on Terror,” prosecuting criminals (the few genuine terror suspects in Guantánamo) and holding soldiers off the battlefield until the end of hostilities had largely given way to the strange mixture of threat assessments and intelligence assessments that fill the Detainee Assessment Briefs.
With 260 prisoners profiled in the first 20 parts of this project, this latest series covers the stories of the 111 prisoners released in 2006 (and the three who died at the prison in June 2006) and readers will, I hope, realize that almost all of these prisoners were freed because of political maneuvering rather than anything to do with justice. The largest groups released by nationality in 2006 were Saudis (45 in total — 15 in May 2006, 14 in June and 16 in December) and Afghans (35 in total — 7 in February, 5 in August, 16 in October and 7 in December).
I also hope that readers will reflect on the problems of over-classification 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.
Zia Ul Shah (ISN 15, Pakistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Zia Ul Shah, from Karachi, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan to look for work, and was employed by the Taliban as a driver. Able to stipulate his own conditions, because the Taliban was in desperate need of drivers and he had his own truck, he refused to transport fighters to the war zone and mostly delivered food to a school in Kunduz that was used as a Taliban base.
Denying an allegation that he surrendered to the Northern Alliance in Kunduz, he explained, “I did not go to surrender. They asked me to take these [other] people to surrender and then they said I could go home. I took them to surrender and dropped them off, and then I left. There were a lot of other drivers that they let go, but they arrested me because I was the only Pakistani.” He said that this was only the beginning of his problems, and that his truck was then fought over by different factions of the Northern Alliance. Abandoned during the wrangling over the truck, he was taken in by an Afghan who offered him food, asked him where he was from, and kept him captive for five days before selling him to another Afghan, who promptly sold him to another Afghan who “was beating me up everyday.” This man then sold him to the Americans who “beat me up a little bit also [and] broke my nose. You can see that the bone is fractured. Then they took me to Kandahar.”
In 2008, he was interviewed by a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers for a major review of 66 released Guantánamo prisoners, when as was noted, there was little in his tribunal transcripts to suggest that he was anything but a truck driver for the Taliban.” Ul Shah (identified as Zia Khalid Najib) reiterated that he was seized “after he’d driven a load of Taliban fighters to surrender,” and explained that he’d “made the trip between his home on the outskirts of Karachi to Afghanistan on a regular basis since 1999, often doing jobs for the Taliban,” such as “transporting troops, food and blankets.” He added that he “did the work more for money than out of conviction.”
Although he “may or may not have come in contact occasionally with low- to mid-level Taliban leaders and ‘possible’ Pakistani intelligence agents inside the Taliban,” as the transcripts suggested, for that he was, as McClatchy pointed out, “imprisoned at Guantánamo for more than four years, longer than many top Taliban leaders and men accused of being Al-Qaida militants.”
McClatchy’s reporter concluded that “Najib and many more like him were detained for years not because of their actions on the battlefield or their links to terrorist groups, but because they tangled with guards at Guantánamo. There were exceptions, but some militants who behaved well in their cells were released relatively quickly while men at the bottom of the Taliban pecking order or those such as Najib who appeared not to be Taliban members were held far longer because they’d gotten into fights.”
Confirming this, Afghanistan’s attorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabit, said after visiting Guantánamo that “he was struck that detainees were classified into groups, marked in descending order from orange to white garb, by how well they behaved and not by whether they were suspected of terrorist or anti-American activities.” “This division did not have anything to do with the crimes attributed to them,” he said. “Only their behavior in the prison was taken into account.”
Najib said that, when guards “teased him by dropping a copy of the Quran or flipping through its pages,” or when they “got into confirmations” with other prisoners, he could not contain his anger. “I could not bear it, so I reacted violently,” he said, stating again, “I would react violently.”
As a result, he spent most of his time in solitary. “They would say they were taking me to isolation for three days, and then leave me there for three months,” he said. “Then they would bring me back to a cell, and three or four days later take me back to isolation … I would say, and this is a guess, I spent 15 days a month in isolation.”
Turning to his interrogations, he spoke about how he had been obliged to deny an allegation that he had been a driver for Osama bin Laden, and explained, in a succinct description of the pointlessness of these sessions, “The interrogators spent entire sessions asking me why I was staring at them and yelling at me that I should look at the floor.”
Speaking about a review board hearing before his release, he further highlighted the absurdity of his predicament, telling the board of military officers that “many of the reasons listed for keeping him at Guantánamo — that he knew various militants and their organizations — were the result of his telling interrogators that he knew of the men.” As he explained, “When they asked me if I know of them or did you hear about them I said yes,” he said. “[T]hese people have big banners hanging all over Karachi and in Pakistan. Of course I heard of them.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Zia Ul Shah was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated April 22, 2005, in which he was identified as Zia Ul Shah (not Zia Khalid Najib), born in January 1976, and it was noted that he was assessed as being eligible for “Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR)” on November 20, 2003, but that new information had led to the revision of this recommendation, so that it did not involve the possibility of release.
To reach this conclusion, the Task Force had reassessed him, and, perhaps because of his behavior, had gone to great lengths to dress up a driver — who, at most, “support[ed] the Taliban against Coalition forces on the front lines by transporting food, supplies, weapons and personnel” — as someone more significant. He was assessed as being a member of the Taliban with “ties to” or “institutional knowledge of” four Pakistani militant groups — Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HUM) and Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LET) — described as “Tier 1 Terrorist Target[s],” which “are defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.”
Due to what was described as his “extensive knowledge” of Taliban, HUJI, JEM and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) operations as well as his placement and access to key figures and front line positions,” it was claimed that it was “most likely [he] was an active participant against US and Coalition forces,” who was “concealing his true affiliations with Pakistani Islamic extremist organizations and his support of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” and that he was therefore “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
Seeking to justify this exaggerated analysis, the Task Force explained how, after Ul Shah left Karachi for Afghanistan, he met a Taliban member in Kabul, who “told him if he went to Kunduz, AF, he could start driving a truck immediately for the Taliban,” and who “wrote [his] name on a piece of paper allowing [him] authorization to board a plane to Kunduz.” In relating the work he did, the Task Force claimed that “he acquired knowledge of the JEM and HUJI terrorist organizations, Taliban communication security procedures such as code words and simple encryption techniques, as well as observed Taliban and Al-Qaida leadership to include Senior Al-Qaida Commander Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi [later captured and sent to Guantánamo], the leader of Osama Bin Laden’s (UBL) Arab Brigade in Kunduz, AF, region.”
To be honest, this doesn’t seem to constitute anything more than would be required of a driver doing his job, although it undoubtedly involved some information that would be useful as intelligence, as, presumably, was an additional claim that he “interacted with what he believe[d] to be Arab members of the Pakistani ISID that would spy against the Northern Alliance and report to Taliban/HUJI commander Sajjad and Taliban commander Ayubi.” However, if intelligence was what was being extracted, then it was somewhat dishonest to dress it up as information that contributed to the threat level he posed.
In addition, some of it was also of distinctly dubious provenance. An allegation that he was a member of HUJI, for example, was made under unknown circumstances by a fellow prisoner, Abdul Sattar Safeezi (ISN 11, identified as Abdul Sedar Nafeesi), and another implausible sounding claim — that he told Isa Khan (ISN 23, identified as Isaka K Bannu) that “he had four brothers, who were Taliban truck drivers as well” — was, according to an analyst, supposed to “add validity to the assumption [that his] family supports jihad and likely provides insight as to [his] true motives for going to Afghanistan.”
In detailing the circumstances of his capture, the Task Force noted that he “drove a truck full of Taliban soldiers to surrender to General Dostum’s forces,” and that a Northern Alliance soldier “boarded [his] truck and told him to drive to a prison near Mazar-e-Sharif,” from which he subsequently “escaped, but was recaptured by Northern Alliance soldiers.” Apparently handed over to US forces on November 26, 2001 (although the US had no general detention facilities at that time), he was sent to Guantánamo on May 13, 2002, allegedly to “provide information on the following: Punjab foreign fighters from the Punjab region who supported the Taliban operating north of Konduz, Punjabi leaders, Commander Qari Saleem and deputy, Bayee Moogheerah [and] Punjab recruiting practices, to include madrassas used as recruiting places in Pakistan.”
However, 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 (The Interrogators, mentioned above), 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 conclusion, Ul Shah was assessed as being of medium intelligence value (as well as a medium threat risk) and Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended his transfer for continued detention in Pakistan. He was not actually released for another 17 months, although there is no evidence that, on his return, he was subjected to further detention, as the US authorities wished.
Mohammed Al Zayla (ISN 55, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mohammed al-Zayla, who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, admitted, in Guantánamo, that he had received military training at the Al-Farouq training camp (the basic training camp for Arab recruits), but said that he didn’t fight the Northern Alliance because he wouldn’t fight other Muslims. He said that he went to Afghanistan because he wanted to fight in Chechnya, and an ex-Chechen fighter told him he should first receive some training in Afghanistan, and added that he was in Kabul, on the back lines, when the US-led invasion started, and that everyone in the house that he was staying in decided to leave for Pakistan via Khost.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Zayla was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated March 3, 2006, in which he was identified as Muhammad Yahya Muhsin Al-Zaylai, born in July 1977, and it was noted that he was “in good health,” although “Behavioral Health ha[d] seen him for personality disorder and outbursts,” and it was also noted that he had “a history of gastroenteritis,” and “a history of episodes of orthostatic hypotension due to dehydration from the hunger strike, which was resolved after hydration with IVF.” It was also noted that he “was on a hunger strike in March 2002 and August 2005,” and that he had scars “on his right bicep, mid abdomen, lower back and right knee.”
In assessing al-Zayla, the Task Force provided a detailed version of his story, noting that he said that, in February or March 2001, he bought and watched a video about the “atrocities being committed by the Russians against Muslims in Chechnya,” and “then made the decision to travel to Chechnya to join the jihad.” This was a reason given by many of the prisoners, and there was, to be honest, no reason to doubt it necessarily, especially as numerous sources confirm that, to have a chance of getting to Chechnya, volunteers needed first to undertake training in Afghanistan. This, al-Zayla said, is what friends told him, and he was then put onto a facilitator, who arranged his visit to Afghanistan.
After arriving in Kandahar via Pakistan, and the Taliban’s office in Quetta, al-Zayla said that he was taken to a guest house (Al-Nebras), where “he was asked his name, asked if he was anxious to begin his training, and offered a safe to store his personal belongings.” He said that he “stayed in the guest house for two days, accepting the offer of safe storage, before going to Al-Farouq in mid-April 2001,” where he “trained under Abu Saliman, a Filipino.” However, when he “became sick and another trainer took over, [he] decided to leave Al-Farouq.”
He and another recruit then stayed in the “Arab House” in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul “for two or three days before heading to the front lines,” where he was part of a group commanded by Abu Obeida. He said, however, that he “was never involved in any direct fighting, but did drill for an attack and was trained on the AK-47.” he also said that he “learned of the events of 11 September 2001 while on the front line.”
Al-Zayla also said that, in November 2001, he “and twenty others retreated from the front lines to Kabul,” where he “spoke with his family and decided to return home.” His personal belongings were in Kandahar, however, and when he tried to get them back, he was told that they had been sent to Khost for safekeeping. He then traveled to Khost, but was told that they had been sent on to a small village in Pakistan. He then traveled to Pakistan with approximately 28 others, split into two groups, each led by a guide. However, on arrival in Pakistan, the Pakistani authorities were waiting, and he was taken into custody, and was transferred to US custody in Peshawar on December 27, 2001.
He was sent to Guantánamo on January 11, 2002 (the day after the prison opened), on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Al-Farouq training camp [and] Guesthouse in Kandahar, AF.”
Of interest in his file are the statements made by his fellow prisoners, as they reveal the extent to which the authorities relied on the prisoners to incriminate each other, or to provide exculpatory information. In most cases, however, the reliability of these witnesses can, and should be called into question. In al-Zayla’s file, for example, after stating that he had been “photo-identified by known and assessed Al-Qaida members,” the Task Force revealed that those “known and assessed Al-Qaida members” included the Australian David Hicks (ISN 2), who was not an Al-Qaida member, and who is credited with having “photo-identified [al-Zayla] as someone he last saw in the Madafa in Kandahar” (which an analyst assessed as being a reference to the Al-Nebras guest house), and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (ISN 39, still held), identified as Ali Hamza A Ismail, who was an al-Qaeda member, and who “stated that [al-Zayla] was in his group upon capture.”
Other dubious claims were made by Abd Al-Malik Abd Al-Wahab (ISN 37, still held), a probable Taliban fighter identified as an “[a]ssessed Al-Qaida operative and UBL [Osama bin Laden] bodyguard,” who “identified [al-Zayla] as Mahmoud from Saudi Arabia,” and said that he “knew [him] from the road fleeing Afghanistan,” but “did not know why [he] was in Afghanistan” (which does not sound very convincing), the British prisoner Richard Belmar (ISN 817), described as an “[a]ssessed Al-Qaida member,” who “stated [al-Zayla] and many others looked familiar when asked to review the photos of suspected UBL bodyguards,” but who “provided no further information on where he may have seen [him] before” (which is a particularly weak claim), and Sami El-Leithi (ISN 287), identified as Al-Muntasir Billah Ahmad Al-Bibr, and described as an “[a]ssessed jihadist” (which is ridiculous, as he was a teacher), who “photo-identified [al-Zayla] as a Saudi named Mohammed Omar aka Grandfather, who [he] knew from JTF GTMO” (which is also a very weak claim, as he did not claim knowledge of al-Zayla from anywhere except at Guantánamo).
Further information, which played in al-Zayla’s favour, as it involved repeated claims that he was not a bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, also came from numerous other sources, revealing the extent to which prisoners were plugged for information about each other. Those who did not name al-Zayla as a bodyguard were: Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), who was tortured in Guantánamo, Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016, still held) and Walid bin Attash (ISN 10014, still held), who were tortured in secret CIA prisons, Abdu Ali Al-Haji Sharqawi (ISN 1457, still held) and Sanad Yislam Al-Kazimi (ISN 1453, still held), who were also tortured, Salim Hamdan (ISN 149, released in November 2008), a driver for Osama bin Laden, and Mohammad Hashim (ISN 850, released in December 2009), an Afghan fantasist who claimed to have escorted bin Laden out of Afghanistan (and was believed by the US authorities).
In analyzing his case, the Task Force assessed that he was “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] occasionally been both non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” In terms of the threat he reportedly posed to the US, he was assessed as “a jihadist who traveled to Afghanistan for training,” and as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention. However, it was also noted that, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, he can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).” Nine months later, he was indeed transferred out of Guantánamo, to take part in the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Salim Al Harbi (ISN 57, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – ‘Osama’s Bodyguards,’” I told the story of Salim al-Harbi, who was 33 years old at the time of his capture. His story was unknown while I was researching and writing The Guantánamo Files, and was not made available until the Pentagon released a batch of documents relating to the prisoners in September 2007.
As I explained in the online chapter, al-Harbi’s story provided a break from most other narratives with its bold statements that he “left Mecca to get away from debts he owed from his failing business,” sold his automobile and decided to go to Afghanistan “to make a profit from the drug trade,” or, as he put it elsewhere, because he wanted “to get away from everything and stay high,” as opium and hashish were “very cheap in Afghanistan.” He was apparently no stranger to drugs and jails, as it was stated in his Unclassified Summary of Evidence that he was jailed in Mecca “after some financial problems with Interpol in 1998-99,” that he was also jailed — both in Riyadh and the UAE — for defrauding a telephone company, and that he also “spent two years in prison for stealing and possession of a controlled substance.”
Al-Harbi claimed that he stayed with a drug dealer in Khost, and “had access to the drug trade,” and he also seems to have come into contact with the vast missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, who, he pointed out, were “known to pay off the debts of members willing to travel for the group,” and, it should be noted, were also more than likely to want to “save” a drug addict who came into contact with them. Although the US authorities doubted his story that he was taken to the Pakistani border and apprehended either after being injured in a motorbike accident or while traveling in a bus that was hit in a US bombing raid, they secured little in the way of allegations against him, other than a claim that his trip was facilitated by a man who later became a jihadist martyr, and, bizarrely, that his alias was found “in the pocket litter of a Mujahedin [sic] traveling from Bosnia to Croatia in 1996.” It is unknown whether his stated aim on his return to Saudi Arabia — to “build a house and open a restaurant” — came true.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the file relating to al-Harbi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated February 3, 2006, in which it was noted that he was born in November 1968, and also had an extensive medical history at Guantánamo, in which it was noted that he “was on a hunger strike in July 2003 and August 2005,” had a “history of latent TB but refused therapy,” had “a history of low Body Mass Index last recorded at 19.4%,” had “a history of chronic bilateral knee pain,” had “a documented episode of atrial fibrillation in 2002 that ha[d] now reportedly converted,” and had “a history of hypothyroidism but [had] refused all jabs and medications.”
Despite al-Harbi’s story about his drug history, and his intention in traveling to Afghanistan, the Task Force assessed him as “a probable jihadist,” who claim[ed] to have traveled to Afghanistan (AF), for a drug consumer holiday.” It was also noted that, while in Afghanistan, he “resided in several guesthouses and associated with members of a known Al-Qaida affiliated organisation, Jamaat al-Tablighi,” which was an outrageous distortion, as Jamaat al-Tablighi is a vast apolitical missionary organization, and that he “resided in known Al-Qaida and Taliban havens for extended periods of time,” although it was added, crucially, that he had “no documented attendance at training camps” — and, it should have been added, there was no evidence that he had engaged in combat against the US.
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he began using drugs at school, at the age of 15, dropped out of school, and was then imprisoned after “defrauding a satellite cellular phone company.” In prison, he met a man who suggested that he should go to Afghanistan “because the drugs were abundant and cheap,” which he did. Although he took a familiar recruitment route — from Karachi to Quetta, and then to Kandahar and Kabul, he denied ever participating in any armed conflict while in Afghanistan,” and said that he stayed in Khost (one of the “known Al-Qaida and Taliban havens” referred to above) for four months, where he decided to kick his drug addiction.
After the US-led invasion began, he traveled to Peshawar, via Miram Shah, with two Afghan members of Jamaat al-Tablighi, where he “and another six or seven Pakistanis and Arabs were stopped and then taken to jail.” He was transferred to US custody on December 27, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, although “no reasons for transfer” were documented.
The Task Force stated that his account “appears to be a cover story; however, there is limited additional information with which to counter his claims.” It was noted that he “fail[ed] to mention his previous participation in jihad and his association with Bosnian mujahideen,” but although it was difficult to be suspicious of the information from the Saudi Ministry of Interior General Dlrectorate of Investigations (Mabahith), which stated that he “went to Afghanistan in 1990 or 1991 for jihad,” there was no evidence that he had been in Bosnia, as it relied on a very thin claim that a “variation of [his] alias” was “found in the pocket litter” of a Saudi and a Pakistani who entered Croatia from Bosnia as mujahideen in January 1996. In addition, although at one point it was stated that the Mabahith “identified detainee as a high priority detainee,” in July 2002, “a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited JTF GTMO and interviewed detainee, [who] was identified as being of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US, and unlikely to pose a terrorist threat to the US or its interests.”
In conclusion, al-Harbi was assessed as “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been both non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff,” although, in terms of the threat he reportedly posed to the US, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence,” and as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he should continue to be held. However, it was also noted, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).” In addition, “A visiting Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution.”
Musa Al Wahab (ISN 58, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – ‘Osama’s Bodyguards,’” I described the thin set of allegations leveled against Musa al-Wahab, who was 24 years old at the time of his capture. By his own account, he “received a fatwa to conduct Dawa activity [providing religious guidance] in Afghanistan,” and “used his own money to pay for his trip,” but he was, typically, the brunt of other, unsubstantiated claims. Although he was not specifically accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden — it was noted, instead, that he was “captured with a group of 30 individuals that include some of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards and a weapons trainer” — he “was reported to have attended a known terrorist training camp,” and to have “been in Tora Bora,” where it was additionally “reported” that he was “an Emir of a group of fighters.”
Apparently jailed in Saudi Arabia for theft (with two Nigerians who were later deported), he was variously — and confusingly — described as being on a foreign government watch list for a supposed trip to Chechnya (not mentioned elsewhere), regarded as a “high priority” detainee by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, and regarded by a foreign government service (the Saudis again, I presume) as being of “low intelligence or law enforcement value to the United States and also unlikely to pose a terrorist threat to the US or its interests.” His release, of course, suggested that the latter was true.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Wahab was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated January 21, 2005, in which it was stated that he was born in July 1977, he was also identified as Musa A. Al-Hawsawi, and it was noted that he had “a history of a depressive disorder and a personality disorder not elsewhere specified.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted his own version of events, whereby he left Saudi Arabia on July 27, 2001, traveling to Afghanistan via Karachi, to meet an Afghan friend, and, unsuccessfully, to seek a wife. When his Afghan friend returned to Saudi Arabia, he then traveled to Khost, hoping to meet other Arabs, but ended up, as the US-led invasion had begun, traveling to Pakistan with about 30 other people, led by Afghan guides. Seized by the Pakistani military in Parachinar, on December 15, 2001, he was imprisoned in Peshawar, and then handed over to the US authorities on December 27, 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, although his “file [did] not indicate why he was sent to JTF GTMO.”
The Task Force assessed al-Wahab as part of “the Dirty 30″ — mostly regarded as bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, despite problems with these claims — although no one claimed that al-Wahab was actually a bodyguard. Instead, a variety of unreliable witnesses claimed that he trained at Al-Farouq: torture victim Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63), the notorious liar Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), and the British prisoner Richard Belmar (ISN 817), who was also subjected to abuse. Basardah additionally identified him as being in Tora Bora, and Mohammed Hashim (ISN 850, released in December 2009), a notorious Afghan fantasist, “identified [him] as an individual he had been seen with [at] the Abu Hasan Arab Military division in Kunduz, AF, while they were standing outside of their building.”
In conclusion, he was “assessed to be a low-level member of Al-Qaida and its terrorist network,” because of the unsubstantiated allegations outlined above, and it was also noted that, although he had been “erroneously tied to” Amran al-Hawsawi (ISN 368, released in September 2007), “there [was] a possibility that [he had] familial ties with ISN 368 and his brother,” who, it was stated, was “in Saudi custody.” It was also noted that the Saudi Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) had stated that al-Wahab had been in Chechnya, which was considered significant by the Task Force, although it was not corroborated elsewhere. As a result, although he had “not admitted to being in Tora Bora or attending an Al-Qaida run training camp,” he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Hood recommended him for transfer to continued dentition in Saudi Arabia.
Murat Kurnaz (ISN 61, Germany) Released August 2006
In the history of Guantánamo, only a handful of former prisoners have become prominent in the media after their release, helping to publicize both the injustices of Guantánamo and the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” and also the complicity of other governments. One of those is Murat Kurnaz, who wrote a book about his experiences, Fünf Jahre meines Lebens: Ein Bericht aus Guantánamo, which was published in 2007, and who has made frequent media appearances since his release. His book was then published in English in 2008, as Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo.
As I explained in Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, Kurnaz, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, was an apprentice shipbuilder who was born and raised in Bremen, Germany. The son of Turkish immigrants who had moved to Germany in the 1970s, he was accused of being “a member of Al-Qaida who had been trying to reach Afghanistan to fight against US forces.”
In fact, he went to Pakistan to study with the vast missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, and was captured on a bus in Pakistan in November 2001. Transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airport, he experienced many of the brutal methods of treatment described by other prisoners, as Amnesty International explained in a case sheet dealing with his predicament in May 2005. He said that “interrogators repeatedly forced his head into a bucket of cold water for long periods” and “gave electric shocks to his feet,” that he was “held for days shackled and handcuffed with his arms secured above his head,” and that on one occasion an officer loaded his gun and pointed it at his head, “screaming at him to admit to being an al-Qaeda associate.”
What I found disgraceful about Kurnaz’s case was that, initially, the German government washed its hands of him, even though it had been established early on in his detention that he had no connection to terrorism. As the Washington Post explained on his release, “By early 2002, US military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information linking Kurnaz to al-Qaida or terrorist activities, according to declassified records in his case.” These were made public in January 2005, when US District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green “criticized the military for ignoring evidence in Kurnaz’s favor and ruled that his detention was illegal,” as the Post explained, noting also that her ruling “was stayed while the government appealed.”
The German government ignored Kurnaz’s plight for four years because, although he was born in Germany, the status of his parents as gastarbeiter (guest workers) meant that, like all gastarbeiter, they were not allowed to claim German citizenship for themselves or their children, and his fate was left in the hands of the government of Turkey, where he had never lived. It was not until Angela Merkel became Chancellor in November 2005 that moves were made to secure his release, which took place nine months later.
In 2008, he was interviewed by a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers for a major review of 66 released Guantánamo prisoners, in which McClatchy confirmed that investigators had found “no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with al-Qaida or making any specific threat toward the US,” and Kurnaz explained — as he has so many times before and since — that when he was seized (in December 2001, in his account), “he was on his way to the airport after a month of studying in madrassas,” as part of “an effort to become a better Muslim man for his new, conservative, Muslim wife from Turkey.” He said that “his primary fear at first was that he’d miss his flight,” but that this changed when “Pakistani police handed him over to American forces for a $3,000 bounty” and he was sent to the US prison at Kandahar airport.
As he explained, “The closest I came to death, I believe, was when they hung me by my hands for five days. It may have been longer. It seemed an eternity.” This type of punishment is more commonly associated with the abusive regime at Bagram, the other prison used to process prisoners for Guantánamo, and it is clearly a form of torture. Describing it further, Kurnaz said that “his wrists were handcuffed together, a chain was connected to them and he was hoisted up with a pulley. The guards took him down only to check his vital signs.”
Kurnaz has also explained that, in Kandahar, another prisoner subjected to the same treatment died. He did not mention this to McClatchy’s reporter, but it is discussed in his book, and in an article published in the Washington Spectator in 2007, he said, “They were hanging me and pulled me up higher than the other times. I could see the man in the other room. He was hanging, too. Maybe they lifted him higher that time, too, I don’t know. I had heard him moaning and breathing; this is the first time I saw him. He was dead. The color of his body was changed and I could see he was dead.”
On another occasion, “he was questioned while he was being dunked in cold water,” and he explained that “when his American questioners kicked him in the stomach while his head was submerged, he began to fear that he’d inhale water and drown.” This story — again, one that Kurnaz has often repeated — was recently picked up on by the psychologist and reporter Jeff Kaye, for an article on the types of water torture used in the “War on Terror,” which I cross-posted here.
After he was moved to Guantánamo, Kurnaz has maintained, his ordeal continued. In his book, he wrote powerfully about the perils of surviving solitary confinement, where those who were regarded as uncooperative were held for at least a month, and often longer, in isolation cells with so little oxygen that it was an effort just to survive. Kurnaz also claimed, as McClatchy described it, that “he was beaten frequently, blasted with pepper spray, shackled to the floor for long periods and sexually molested by three female interrogators.” He added that his weight dropped from 220 pounds to 140.
In the article in the Washington Spectator, he “theorize[d] that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists.” As he explained in his own words, “They didn’t have any big fish. And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”
Speaking to McClatchy about his release, and his life since, he said that, although he learned that his grandfather and his favorite uncle had died and that his wife had divorced him, he thought he had “adapted well to normal life.” He was working as a city researcher in Bremen, had “bought a red sports car and a fast motorcycle, and he dream[ed] of finding a new wife.” As he explained, in conclusion, “Of course, I can never forget my life in prison. But I hold nothing against the people of America. What was done to me was done by their government. I understand most Americans had no idea what was happening to me, or the others, in that horrible place.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Kurnaz was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated May 19, 2006, in which he was identified as Murat Kunn, Murat Karnaz and Mourad Kournaz, born in March 1982, and, in defiance of a lack of evidence, was “assessed to be a member of Al-Qaida’s global terrorism network with membership in the Bremen Al-Qaida Cell and Jamaat al-Tablighi (JT) and probable associations with Lashkar-E-Tayiba (LET).” With the exception of Jamaat al-Tablighi, which is a vast apolitical missionary organization, despite the US authorities’ attempts to dress it up as an organized front for terrorism, Kurnaz had no involvement with the other organizations — Al-Qaida and LET, and the Bremen cell that didn’t even exist.
Despite a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing or planned wrongdoing on Kurnaz’s part, the Task Force persisted in claiming that he “traveled to Pakistan intent on receiving training and participating in hostilities against US and coalition forces operating in Afghanistan in preparation for the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom,” which, I believe, reveals primarily how, once in Guantánamo, and the longer prisoners were held, the more the supposed evidence against them was often little more than an accumulation of unsubstantiated allegations.
Repeating Kurnaz’s own story, the Task Force noted that, in the mosque in Bremen, he met two Jamaat al-Tablighi members, and, after speaking to them, “decided to travel to Pakistan to learn Arabic and increase his knowledge of Islam.” After he “stayed at a series of JT guesthouses and mosques before settling in Peshawar, PK, to teach the Koran,” he was then seized near Peshawar on a bus, after traveling to Miram Shah, on the Pakistan/Afghan border, with an associate, Mohammed, who was “helping him change his plane ticket for his return to Germany.” Transferred to US custody on December 27, 2001, he was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to provide information on the following: Jamaat al-Tablighi in Pakistan [and] Jamaat al-Tablighi at the Quba Mosque in Bremen, GM.”
After claiming that Kurnaz was “deceptive in answering questions and contradict[ed] himself on several occasions,” the Task Force also claimed that he was “standing by his cover story to avoid revealing his connections to extremists,” and assessed him as “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” drawing in particular on a claim by former CIA “ghost prisoner” Mohammad Haydar Zammar, described as “the Al-Qaida recruiter of 9/11 lead pilot Mohammad Atta,” who, it was conceded, was being held in a Syrian jail, where torture was rife. Zammar had apparently stated that he had “sent [Kurnaz] to Afghanistan in the days following 9/11,” and an analyst had added that “Zammar’s comment that detainee was sent by him to Afghanistan for terrorist training ‘just like Atta’s group before him’ suggest[ed] that [he] was to possibly be groomed as a suicide operative.”
This was a horrible example of what happens when people who are tortured are shown photos and obliged to identify the people in the photos, and there were other examples in Kurnaz’s file: a statement by Mohammed al-Qahtani, tortured at Guantánamo, who “photo-identified [him] as a German who was captured at Tora Bora,” even though he was not captured at Tora Bora at all.
Despite the lack of evidence against Kurnaz, and the creativity required to conjure up a case against him, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the commander of Guantánamo, recommended his continued detention.
For further information about Murat Kurnaz, see this article in Der Spiegel about Kurnaz’s initial claims that German operatives abused him in Afghanistan, this Al-Jazeera interview in 2008 (when I was also interviewed), this article featuring Kurnaz’s thoughts about the alleged triple suicide at Guantánamo in June 2006 (also see the story of Yasser al-Zahrani (ISN 93, below)), this article featuring his comments to interviewers from the United Nations, this article discussing a Human Rights Watch report about the complicity in torture of Germany and France, and this interview with Kurnaz on Russia Today in August 2011.
Abdel Hadi Sebaii (ISN 64, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdel Hadi al-Sebaii, a police officer who was 31 years old at the time of his capture, went to Pakistan “for charity purposes to build houses,” as he said in Guantánamo, but decided he would be able to do more in Afghanistan. He explained that he “didn’t only go to build houses but anything that would help the poor and needy,” and added that it would cost him up to $300,000 to build a mosque in Saudi Arabia, whereas in Afghanistan it would only cost about $2,000. Speaking of the circumstances of his arrest, he raised the issue of prisoners (himself included) being sold to the Americans. He said that when he entered Pakistan and asked to go to his embassy, having shown the border guards his passport and travel tickets, he was told he would first be required to fill out some forms:
We were getting along famously. They didn’t put me in prison or place any restrictions on me … Suddenly, I was turned over to the United States. I don’t know why I was turned over to the US … My only problem was with the Pakistani government. Why did they do that? Pakistan is the reason I am here. Pakistan was greedy and wanted money, so they sold me. This might have put the US in a very precarious position.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Sebaii was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 13, 2005, in which he was identified as Adl Al-Hadi M. Al-Subay and Abdel Hadi Mohammed Badan Al-Sebaii Sebaii, born in August 1971, and it was noted that he had “food allergies to include: wheat, peanut and potato-based products.”
In assessing his story, it was noted that he had been previously assessed as “Retain in DoD [Control]” on January 10, 2004, but his case had been reconsidered, and he was “assessed as a low-level member of Al-Qaida’s terrorist network,” who, in response to a fatwa, “traveled along a known jihadist route to Afghanistan for jihad,” but “used the cover story of traveling to Afghanistan to help build mosques.” Even so, despite his apparent repudiation of his story about traveling to build mosques, it was odd that he was not captured with any fighters, but with two Kuwaitis, Adel Kamel Haji (ISN 60, released in November 2005) and Omar Rajab Amin (ISN 65, see below), who “were traveling together.” He “spent five weeks in their company,” and was captured by Pakistani authorities on December 20, 2001, held in prison in Peshawar, and then transferred to US custody on December27, 2001.
He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, although no reason was provided. Instead, the Task Force noted that “Bagram processing documents indicate[d] detainee was transferred to JTF GTMO to provide information on the training and tactics of the Saudi Governmental Police Department; however, [he] may be able to provide information on facilitators that aided him in his travels to Afghanistan and Al-Qaida terrorist connections.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that a man he had stayed with in Afghanistan prior to meeting the Kuwaitis, Mohammed al-Afghani, “was actually Majid Bin Muhammad Bin Sulayman Abal Khayil aka Arsala Khan,” described as “a known Al-Qaida and Taliban facilitator that was captured and [was] being held in US custody,” although I have been unable to discover any information about him, and he was never held at Guantánamo. Nothing else of substance was put forward, and, as a result, Sebaii was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to Saudi Arabia for continued detention.
Omar Rajab Amin (ISN 65, Kuwait) Released September 2006
In Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Omar Rajab Amin, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, had studied at the University of Nebraska and then spent seven years heading a Kuwaiti charity in Croatia and Bosnia, which supported orphans from the war zone. In October 2001, as he explained in Guantánamo, he was inspired by the plight of the Afghan people, and set off for Afghanistan with 3,000 Kuwaiti Dinars (about $10,000) donated by himself and his brothers and sisters. After traveling to the Iranian border, he didn’t find any refugees, and then decided to enter Afghanistan, traveling to Kabul to find people who might need his help, secure in the knowledge that the Americans had stated that the war would be “a political war, an economical war, an information war and an intelligence war.” “The Americans were not stupid,” he added. “They were not going to commit all their troops to go into Afghanistan to die, like the Russians and the British.”
In Kabul, he found an interpreter, and said that they were “working every day from the morning until the sunset … meeting the poor people and the orphans,” until one day his interpreter advised him not to return to the city because it was about to fall to the Northern Alliance. He then began trying to escape from Afghanistan, eventually meeting up with a group of Afghans and other Arabs, who were heading to the border — and giving a lift to Adel Kamel Haji (see “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005 (Part One of Five)“), where they turned themselves in and were sold to the Americans. He added that he would never have entered Afghanistan in the first place if he had known that the Americans “were not going to apply the Geneva Convention, especially to people who worked in charity organisations.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Amin was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated January 6, 2006, in which it was noted that he was born in June 1967, and was “in good health,” although it was also noted that “[h]is inprocessing Body Mass Index on 12 Jan 02 was 21%,” that he had “a history of latent TB for which he ha[d] refused treatment,” that he “was diagnosed with GERD [Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease aka Acid Reflux or Heartburn] in May 2002,” and that he “had a hemorrhoidectomy performed in July 2004.”
In relating his story, the Task Force noted that he had traveled to the US on a family visit in 1981, when he was 14, and also that he had studied in Arizona and Colorado from 1985 to 1987, and had attended the University of Nebraska from 1987 to 1992, where he “received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.” These visits undoubtedly counted against him in detention, as anyone who had visited the US was regarded as a possible — or probable — member of an al-Qaida sleeper cell.
From 1994 to 1999, he worked for an NGO, the Kuwaiti Joint Relief Committee (KJRC), in Croatia and then in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing aid and humanitarian assistance to those affected by the war, and he then returned to Kuwait, where he was employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.
In 2001, “[i]nfluencedby the media, [he] decided to travel to Afghanistan for two months,” and, “[i]n light of his experience at an NGO, [he] stated he wanted to try and help the orphans and refugees.” After collecting money from his family and his local mosque, and traveling to Iran and taking a taxi to Afghanistan, Amin “stated he had only been in Afghanistan for two or three days before the coalition began bombing near Kabul,” and that, “after approximately a month, conditions become perilous and he was advised to leave the city.” He said that he left his passport and other documentation with “his government-provided translator,” who “promised [him] that he would forward it to him at a later date,” and that he then traveled to Pakistan with Adel Kamel Haji (ISN 60, described as Adil Kamil Abdullah) and Abdel Hadi Sebaii (ISN 64, see above, described as Abdel Hadi Mohammed). The three men, it was noted, “traveled on foot to the Pakistani border,” were arrested by Pakistani forces in mid-December, and transferred to US custody in Peshawar on December 27, 2001.
He was sent to Guantánamo on January 11, 2002 (the day the prison opened), on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The inner workings of the governmental ministries, which coordinated relief efforts with the KJRC [Kuwaiti Joint Relief Committee], in both Bosnia and Croatia [and] The refugee community in Bosnia and Croatia between 1993 and 1999, as well as specific information on the civil war in Afghanistan.”
Although there was no reason to doubt Amin’s explanation of his activities, the Task Force assessed him as “an Islamic extremist who used his management position with the KJRC for over six years in Bosnia and Croatia to help facilitate mujahideen activity.” This analysis was based on a claim that his “narrative of his time as Deputy Director of the KRJC is basically empty, devoid of his responsibilities and personalities he met while in Bosnia and Croatia,” which actually means nothing, as he may have been unwilling to name names, knowing that to do so would only endanger any innocent people he had ever met in his travels.
It was claimed that he was “associated with known Kuwaiti terrorism financier Jabir Jalamah,” although this claim came from “a source with direct access but undetermined reliability,” who alleged that Jalamah was “a sheik in Kuwait who collect[ed] money from lesser financiers and funnel[ed] it to the Al-Qaida terrorist network, as well as the Zarqawi and Ansar al-lslam groups.” This was a spectacularly unreliable claim, although there was also little weight that could genuinely be attached to other claims: that “Kuwaiti Intelligence link[ed] detainee to Sulayman Abu Ghayth,” who worked for the Saudi-based humanitarian aid charity Al-Wafa in Afghanistan, but was “listed as the ‘official spokesman for the Al-Qaida organisation’ by Kuwaiti State Security,” and that Amin “possibly assisted in delivering funds to the director of Al-Wafa.”
The Task Force alleged that Al-Wafa was a front for terrorist-related activities (although this was never proved), and that the organization’s director, Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi (ISN 5, released in December 2007) had stated that “a group of six Kuwaiti nationals visited him in Afghanistan during late September 2001.” This may be true, and it may also be true that Amin was one of them, but nothing proves that any of these men had any purpose in mind beyond providing donations to support Al-Wafa’s humanitarian work, or that any of them actually knew about Abu Ghayth’s purported connections to Al-Qaida.
What was most significant, in the list of “Reasons for Continued Detention,” even though it was indicative of the exact opposite was the following note:
During a Kuwaiti delegation visit in January 2004, the Kuwait State Security (KSS) interrogated detainee. The KSS believed Amin was not dangerous and would release him directly if he was returned to Kuwait. Amin admitted he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and does not blame the United States for arresting him.
Despite this assessment, which should have led to Amin’s immediate release (although he was not freed for another two years and eight months), the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention, even though it was also conceded that he was “a low threat from a detention perspective,” as he was “mostly well behaved while in Camp Delta and ha[d] not taken part in any voluntary total fasts, made any jihadist statements, and ha[d] only rarely conducted PT in his cell.”
Yusif Khalil Nur (ISN 73, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Yusif Khalil Nur, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan, where hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers (and some civilians swept up by mistake) were taken after surrendering as part of the fall of Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the survivors huddled underground in a basement, as the Northern Alliance and their US allies bombed them, attempted to set them on fire, and finally flooded the basement.
Nur, who was wounded in the uprising, said in Guantánamo, “I didn’t fight. I was just sitting there, and I got injured.” In his review board hearing, he insisted that he had not traveled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban, telling the board, “When I went to Afghanistan it wasn’t in my will to go and fight for the Taliban. I went there to visit my brother … The main reason was my brother, not the Taliban or the Northern Alliance … It doesn’t make any difference to me who is the Taliban and who is the Northern Alliance.” He did, however, admit that he traveled to Khawaja Ghar and received training in the use of hand grenades, and also admitted that he had traveled to Afghanistan previously, when he had been trained to use a Kalashnikov.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Nur was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated December 11, 2005, in which he was also identified as Yusef Khalil Abdullah, born in March 1982, who had “a history of malnutrition as a result of hunger striking and a gunshot wound to the abdomen upon detainment,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
Nur’s brother, according to the Task Force’s account, was Abdul Rahman Abdullah Nur, described as “a known Taliban member and assessed Al-Qaida recruiter,” and it was clear that Yusif was under his spell. Having traveled to Afghanistan in 2000, with his brother’s help and financial assistance, when he studied as the Malik Center in Kabul (described as “an Al-Qaida training facility”), he left to attend the Hajj, returning in March 2001, where he was reunited with his brother on the Taliban’s “secondary line” near Kabul. The two then stayed in a guest house while awaiting transportation to the front lines at Khawaja Ghar, which was where Nur’s brother trained him to use hand grenades, and then traveled to the front lines, where he stayed for six months.
The Task Force noted that, according to Nur, “When the coalition bombing campaign began, [t]hey decided to depart Afghanistan,” but were informed that the borders were closed. They then retreated to Kunduz, where they stayed in a guesthouse “until a deal was made between the Taliban and General Dostum, for safe passage to Kandahar.” Instead, however, “Dostum’s men told Taliban forces to surrender their weapons and took them to the fortress in Mazar-E-Sharif” (actually, Qala-i-Janghi, where the massacre took place that left only 86 survivors). In the file, the only mention of the massacre was that Nur “was wounded in the stomach during the uprising.”
From Qala-i-Janghi, he was taken to the brutal, overcrowded prison in Sheberghan, run by General Dostum, and then transferred to US custody. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Abd Al-Salam Al-Hadrami — a former senior ranking Arab fighter supporting the Taliban and senior Arab officer who commanded over 150 fighters, Gharib Al-Sunai — a senior ranking Arab fighter supporting the Taliban who assumed command of the Arab element after Al-Hadrami’s death, Abdul Rahman Khalil Abdullah Nur — A known recruiter and suspected trainer of Arab fighters supporting the Taliban [and] Combat operations involving his Arab element of the Taliban.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as “a member of Al-Qaida” who served in Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, and “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was, however, noted as being “of low intelligence value,” and “a medium threat from a detention perspective,” who had “recently been somewhat compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff,” but “did provide moderate support to the 2005 voluntary total fast by refusing 33 meals in August, as well as 9 meals in September.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention.
Najib Lahcini (ISN 75, Morocco) Released February 2006
in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I told the story of Najib Lahcini, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, and was, I thought, probably a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, although no mention of it was made in the available documentation. It was alleged that Lahcini, who, it was stated, had entered England illegally and had been persuaded to travel to Afghanistan “by a man he had met at the Baker Street mosque” in London, lived at a Taliban guest house in Jalalabad, “near the Taliban intelligence center,” attended a Taliban training camp for a month, and then spent another month in the mountains near Jalalabad, digging trenches with the Taliban. It was also stated that he was sent to Khawaja Ghar, but was forced to retreat by US bombing, and that he subsequently surrendered to General Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces near Mazar-e-Sharif. More vaguely, it was alleged that he “may have trained” at al-Farouq, and “was possibly in charge of a group of 20 fighters in Zormat,” in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan, although both these allegations, I thought, sounded suspiciously like confessions obtained from other prisoners under duress.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Lahcini was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which he was identified as Najeb Lahassini (or Lahassimi or Lahassihi), born in September 1978, and it was noted that he was “in good health with the exception of chronic traumatic orthopedic injuries,” and was “followed by Behavioral Health Service for Personality disorder.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he had repeatedly tried to leave Morocco from 1999 onwards, and had finally managed to reach the UK in January 2001, via Spain and France, where he sought asylum. In London, he met a Sudanese man, Hamed, “who offered him food and a place to stay,” and he then “became a devoted Muslim,” and, in May 2001, agreed to travel to Afghanistan with Hamed to live “as a true Muslim.” In Jalalabad, they stayed for five months with a man named Abu Mohammed Al-Jazeeri, who Hamed had fought with against the Russians, and who, in July and August 2001, apparently provided weapons training to Lahcini, Hamed and “others who stayed at his home.”
After September 11, 2001, Lahcini said, he “was “sent to the mountains outside of Jalalabad, AF, along with Hamed and approximately one hundred other Arab fighters,” where they reportedly “prepared defensive positions,” and in late November 2001, he “and the others in his fighting group were told to retreat to Mazar-e-Sharif, AF, where they would surrender their weapons to the Afghan Duston (aka Dostum) Army. Thereafter, they would travel to Kandahar, AF, and be allowed to return to their home country.” Instead, of course, he and “approximately three hundred fighters” (other reports suggested, convincingly, that there were at least 450 prisoners) were taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where the notorious massacre took place, which was described in his file as follows:
Sometime throughout the detention process, some of the prisoners broke free and overpowered several troops. These prisoners took over the prison’s weapons and engaged Dostum’s troops. Detainee was untied by one of the prisoners as the fighting broke out. Shortly after being untied detainee claims an RPG round severely damaged his left arm. After being hit by the RPG he laid in the courtyard while the gunfight continued between the prisoners and Dostum’s troops. Detainee advised the fighting continued for five days. Some time during the fighting all the injured prisoners were placed in the basement of courtyard house number two (Analyst note: this was done by the Arab fighters). Detainee claims on the seventh day Dostum’s troops began pumping water into basement and between one hundred to one hundred and thirty prisoners drowned, including his friend Hamed. On the eighth day of fighting, the surviving prisoners were taken out of the basement and placed on stretchers, then taken to a Red Cross shelter.
He was then “taken to a hospital in Sheberghan, AF, where he remained for thirty days,” and was then turned over to US forces and taken to Kandahar. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Arab foreign fighters.”
In the Task Force’s assessment, what was missing from Lahcini’s account was a confession that he had been part of Osama bin Laden’s Arab Brigade, and had fought in Kunduz, where he was reportedly identified as having been seen by other prisoners. However, as he had what was described as an “extreme uncooperative disposition,” he had not provided the information the Task Force desired, and had also not responded to allegations made by other prisoners, including extremely dubious claims made by torture victim and CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), who said that he “might possibly be a Yemeni national who may have trained at Al-Farouq camp” (he was a Saudi), and who was also responsible for the claim that he “was possibly in charge of a group of 20 fighters in Zormat.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as “a member of Al-Qaida,” who was “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour pattern” had been “one of hostility and aggression directed towards the guard force and staff.” He was also assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” As a result, it was perhaps surprising that Brig. Gen. Hood signed a memo that updated a recommendation to “Retain in DoD [Control],” dated November 11, 2003, and, instead, recommended his transfer to continued detention in Morocco.
In November 2006, Lahcini and the other two Moroccans released with him in February 2006 — Muhammad Hussein Ali Hassan (ISN 123, see Part Two of this series), and Mohammed Laalami (ISN 237, also identified as Suleiman al-Alami, see Part Four of this series) — were sentenced by a criminal court in Salé. As Jurist described it, Laalami (identified as Mohamed Slimani) was “sentenced to five years in prison for his alleged role in creating and participation in a ‘criminal gang, practice of activities in a non-recognized association and organization of un-authorized public meetings,'” and Lahcini (identified as Najib Houssani) and Hassan (identified as Mohamed Ouali) “each received three year sentences for falsifying administrative documents.” Jurist added that the charges were “related to the men’s connection with Salafia Jihadia [an offshoot of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group] and unrelated to their detention at Guantánamo Bay.”
However, in May 2007, Laalami (described as Mohamed Slimani Alami) had his sentence quashed, and was acquitted of all charges, and Lahcini and Hassan had their sentences reduced to one-year suspended sentences.
Ilkham Batayev (ISN 84, Kazakhstan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ilkham Batayev, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre. In Guantánamo, he said that, after traveling to Tajikistan to sell apples, he was kidnapped by thugs working for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and transported to Kunduz, where he was forced to work as an assistant to a Taliban cook. In the chaos surrounding the fall of Kunduz, he saw his chance to escape, and hopped in a car with some other men who were hoping to escape to Iran, but was captured by Northern Alliance soldiers and taken to Qala-i-Janghi. Sick with malaria, and in pain from a recent operation to remove his wisdom teeth, he decided to leave the basement behind everybody else on the Sunday morning, when the massacre began, but was injured by a grenade as soon as he emerged, and then crawled back underground, where he spent the next six days hallucinating because he had lost a large amount of blood.
Batayev was also subjected to one of the most risible claims in the whole of Guantánamo’s history, which is full of implausible allegations, as I explained in Chapter 15 of The Guantánamo Files, in a section dealing with false confessions, when I noted that he “was reportedly caught smuggling $600,000, which, if true, suggests that he managed to keep the money safe while trying not to drown in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fort.”
In 2008, he was interviewed by a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers for a major review of 66 released Guantánamo prisoners. Interviewed in Abay, a “small town on the Kazakh-Uzbek border, a 12-hour train ride and a three-hour car trip from the nearest large Kazakh town,” Batayev “refused to talk about how he — a coach at a sports clinic, the son of a supervisor at a state-run cotton business — got from his home in rural Kazakhstan to the badlands of Afghanistan,” telling the reporter, “This is ancient history … I don’t want to say anything about it.”
As a result, McClatchy’s team was left with what was regarded as Batayev’s implausible story about traveling to Tajikistan to sell apples, which, as was noted, would have involved him “hav[ing] to travel all the way through another country, Uzbekistan, to go sell apples in Tajikistan, a country that has plentiful apple orchards of its own.”
This doesn’t mean that the US authorities’ version of events was true — that he wasn’t kidnapped by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan whilst on a trip to sell apples, but was a willing volunteer — and it is not necessarily persuasive that, as was asserted in Guantánamo, representatives of a foreign government — presumably Kazakhstan, whose agents visited Batayev in Guantánamo — confirmed his membership in the IMU,” as the Kazakh authorities may have lied, and it was impossible to be sure what the truth was when that absurd claim about having $600,000 on him was contained in the allegations.
However, it was noted that, while he was imprisoned in Afghanistan in 2001, before his transfer to Guantánamo, he was interviewed by a Kazakh journalist, and, in that interview, “said he was hiking in the mountains in Tajikistan with some friends when a gang of men loyal to Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Juma Namangani kidnapped them.” It was also noted that he later told his American lawyer, Thomas R. Johnson Jr., that “he’d gone to Tajikistan to buy goods to bring back to Kazakhstan and sell,” but that, in the market in Dushanbe, “he met a trader who invited him to his orchards.” Once there, however, “a group of armed men kidnapped him” and took him to Afghanistan.
Although there are different points of view about whether or not the Taliban-linked IMU kidnapped people and took them to Afghanistan to fight, Johnson told McClatchy, “I never saw any credible information anywhere linking him” to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, adding, “I would feel completely confident going into a court of law in the United States and getting an acquittal based on the information in their files.” He also spoke about the absurd allegation regarding the $600,000 he reportedly had in his possession, calling it “ridiculous,” and explaining that “the first time that he was ever interrogated somebody said $600 … the amount has only grown.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Batayev was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated July 25, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in July 1973, and it was revealed that he had been initially identified as an Uzbek, and had previously been recommended for “Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD) on 23 February 2004.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he “graduated from a physical training college in Kazakhstan in 1992,” and then “worked as a youth sports instructor and a fruit vendor” prior to allegedly joining the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), supporters of the Taliban identified as “a Tier 1 target, which is defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.”
In explaining how he ended up with the IMU, the Task Force shed light on the earlier discrepancies between versions of Batayev’s story, stating that, although he initially claimed he was kidnapped by a man named Makhmudzhon Kirgizov, he “later changed his story under questioning from the Kazakhstan National Security Committee (KNB) in early October of 2002.” He was then flown to Kunduz in January 2001, “by civilian helicopter,” ending up in an IMU training facility near Mazar-e-Sharif, where, he said, he “declined to participate in the training and did not participate in any military activity.”
Instead, he said, he “worked as a cook’s assistant in a guesthouse” until July 2001, when he was hospitalized with malaria (until September 2001). He then reportedly contracted pneumonia in October 2001, and was then taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where he “was wounded during the battle at the prison.” He was then held for a month in Kandahar, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif.”
In assessing his story, which involved detailed claims about his involvement with the IMU, the $600,000 became $60,000 in counterfeit money, which was apparently discovered in 2000 in the possession of a group of men (of which Batayev was one) by the Tajik Ministry of Internal Affairs,” and which apparently led to the Task Force’s bold claim that he “was involved in money laundering and counterfeiting operations with the IMU,” even though this had not been proved. Other claims were that he had been involved with the IMU since 1998, and, as a result, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although it was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “overall behaviour pattern ha[d] been compliant and often respectful to the operations of the Camp and the guard force.”
Yasser Talal Al Zahrani (ISN 93, Saudi Arabia) Died in Guantánamo June 2006
As I explained in Chapter 19 of The Guantánamo Files, Yasser al-Zahrani was one of three prisoners who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006. having allegedly hanged themselves in a coordinated suicide pact. The other two were Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni, and Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi.
As I discussed in two articles, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo” and “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo,” al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when he was seized, and was, therefore one of at least 22 juveniles at Guantánamo who should have been rehabilitated rather than punished, according to America’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified on December 23, 2002. However, only three juveniles were ever treated differently from the adult prisoners (as described in “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Ten of Ten)”), whereas al-Zahrani and the others were treated as harshly as all the other prisoners — or, in al-Zahrani’s case, worse than most, as he was a long-term hunger striker, who had been force-fed on a daily basis for many months before his death.
The administration’s response to the deaths was extraordinarily callous. Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo, said, “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us,” and Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, described the suicides as a “good PR move to draw attention.” Stung by international criticism, the administration rapidly back-tracked, and Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, was put forward to say, “I wouldn’t characterize it as a good PR move. What I would say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own life, because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our country.”
In an attempt to stifle further dissent, and to bolster their view that the three men were hardened terrorists, the Pentagon released details of the allegations against them, which served only to highlight almost everything that was wrong with the system at Guantánamo. Al-Zahrani, who survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, was accused of being “a front line fighter for the Taliban who facilitated weapons purchases for offensives against US and coalition forces,” even though this scenario was highly unlikely (to say the least) for a 17-year old who had only recently arrived in Afghanistan. Similarly deluded and/or heartless allegations were also levelled against the other two prisoners.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Zahrani was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated March 20, 2006, in which it was confirmed that he was born on September 22, 1984, and was therefore, just 17 when he was seized. It was also noted that he had “a history of rheumatoid arthritis,” and that he “went on three hunger strikes in the past, most recently in July 2005,” although it was not noted that he maintained this hunger strike until his death (or shortly before his death), and that, although he weighed 118 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, his weight dropped to just 87 pounds in January 2006.
The Task Force also noted that he had “a history of dehydration due to hunger strike treated with intravenous fluids,” that he “had surgery to remove a cyst from his lower back while detained,” that he had “a history of recurrent Pilonidal cyst,” and that he “suffered a gunshot wound to his right calf prior to his detention.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that his father was a senior official in the Saudi Interior Ministry, and that, after completing the eleventh grade in June 2001, al-Zahrani stayed at home for two months until, after “hearing that sheikhs from neighboring towns were saying jihad in Afghanistan (AF) was a religious duty, [he] decided to travel to Afghanistan.” He reportedly “financed the trip himself with savings he had earned selling perfumes to hajj pilgrims,” and “intended on returning in approximately October/November 2001.”
On arrival in Karachi, Pakistan, after being met by a go-between, he was apparently taken to Kunduz, where he received weapons training in a place call the Talban Center, and “was then assigned a guard position at a second line post between Kunduz and Tallogan.” He and his group then retreated Kunduz which fell approximately nine days later, when “a deal was struck with General Dostum of the Northern Alliance allowing fighters to leave with their weapons and travel to Mazar-e-Sharif, AF, where they would surrender.” They were then taken to the Qala-i-Janghi prison,” where al-Zahrani was one of 86 survivors of the uprising and subsequent massacre. As was explained in his file:
The day after they arrived at the prison, detainee and others were taken to a square in the prison yard. Detainee heard gunfire and explosions coming from the prison and then a firefight ensued injuring detainee in the leg and foot. He fell to the ground and remained in the same position until nightfall, when other prisoners retrieved him and carried him back to the underground prison. They remained there for seven days before they were forced to surrender. Detainee was removed from the prison, taken to a prison/clinic in Sheberghan, AF.
After a month, he was transferred to US custody, and was initially screened on December 29, 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban training center in Kunduz [and] Taliban training center outside Kunduz used as a rear operating base.”
In assessing his story, it was noted that he had “provided a fairly consistent timeline that ha[d] been corroborated (for the most part) by other detainees,” and this was indeed the case, as he was identified by John Walker Lindh (the US citizen who was seized at Qala-i-Janghi, but was never held at Guantánamo), who said that he “was approximately 17 years old and was always joking and talking.” Lindh also said that he “was involved in food services,” along with Ghaleb al-Bihani (ISN 128, still held, who lost his habeas corpus petition for being a cook).
Al-Zahrani was also identified by Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, released January 2009), who was the source of unbelievable claims that he “trained at Al-Farouq, that he “purchased weapons for the Taliban,” and that he “was a money courier and a man with a suspicious nature.” Al-Tayeea was known as a notoriously unreliable witness in Guantánamo, and it was noticeable that an analyst had noted that his identification of al-Zahrani “as attending training at Al-Farouq [was] a contradiction to detainee’s story in which he indicate[d] he attended training outside Kunduz with seven others for one month,” and also noted that “[n]o other reporting identifies detainee as a money courier or weapons broker,” even though the latter claim was shamefully used by the Pentagon after al-Zahrani’s death.
It was also noted that, “When shown detainee’s picture, senior Al-Qaida detainees were unable to identify detainee,” and, as an analyst explained, “While not conclusive, this suggests that detainee lacked both experience and rank within the organization,” which was, of course, true as far as it went, although it stopped far short of recognizing that, in analyzing Al-Qaida, there was a big difference between the leadership interested in pursuing acts of international terrorism, and the much bigger military side of things, which was only concerned with supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed al-Zahrani as “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff,” and amongst the behavior noted was a description of him as “a major participant in the voluntary total fast of 2005-2006.” He was also “assessed to be a jihadist who traveled to Afghanistan (AF) to fulfill what he perceived to be a religious duty,” and was described as being “of low intelligence value,” and as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
It was also noted that, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).”
That, of course, never happened, as al-Zahrani died less than three months after this updated assessment was completed. However, the claim that the men committed suicide was doubted by the men’s fellow prisoners at the time, and also by other commentators, although it was not until December 2009 and January 2010 that serious doubts were expressed in a concerted and thoroughly researched manner.
In December 2009, the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey published a 136-page report, “Death in Camp Delta” (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the official investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and in January 2010, Harper’s Magazine published an extraordinary article by law professor Scott Horton (which I discussed here), revealing the story of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, and a number of other soldiers — the tower guards who “had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, [but] were not interviewed” by the NCIS — who suggested that, earlier in the evening on which the men allegedly committed suicide, they had been taken from the cell block in which they were held to a secret facility outside the main perimeter fence of Guantánamo — known to the soldiers as “Camp No” — where they had either been deliberately killed, or had a died as the result of particularly brutal torture sessions. “They didn’t die in their cells,” Sgt. Hickman explained to me in March 2010.
Despite these claims, the Justice Department shut the door on a proposed inquiry in November 2009, and an attempt by family members (including al-Zahrani’s father) to pursue accountability in the US courts was turned down in September 2010, and is currently being appealed.
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.
On Facebook, Robin Brookman wrote:
Wow – thanks and shared.
You’re welcome, Robin. Good to hear from you — and thanks for the support!
Dennis O’Neil wrote:
Thanks, Dennis. That’s very much appreciated!
Andy, I am recording now something I regret pointing out about Omar Rabin when you wrote this. I remembered one captive who got Bosnian citizenship explaining how corrupt Bosnian immigration clerks tricked applicants for Bosnia citizenship, when those applicants had Arab names.
Foreign volunteers had come to Bosnia to help fight for Bosnian independence, and, as a gesture to thank them, Bosnia waived the citizenship application fee. I wrote that corrupt clerks forged paperwork for applicants with Arabic names — falsely claiming the applicants were entitled to the fee waiver foreign volunteers were entitled to. When the fee waiver was authorized the corrupt clerk would put the fee in their own pocket.
I wrote that I thought a side effect of this crime was that the Bosnian government’s list of new Bosnia citizens, of Arabic descent who were listed as veteran of the “Bosnian Mujahedin Brigade” was much larger than the actual number veterans.
Well, re-reading some material today, I realized that Omar Rajab Amin was the man who figured out the crime. Checking the CSR Tribunal transcript he said something just slightly different than what I remembered:
Now, I had to obtain a Bosnian citizenship, and I had the right to do this because I was living in Bosnia, married to a Bosnian citizen. We got in contact with people who said they were able to finish the paperwork for us. The paperwork I requested, translated and notarized, I gave to this man. He asked for 1,500 Deutschmarks for fees or taxes and 500 Deutschmarks for his time and labor. So, I gave it to him so he could continue. At that time, thank God, I was able to get my wife and go to Kuwait. This should all be registered somewhere. The Kuwaitis brought this over to the interrogators. This paperwork said when I left and when I came back. I returned, once again, in 1996 and the police asked me to meet with them, after the war had ended. I went to them and they said I had the right to citizenship. At that time, I wasn’t really pleased or displeased; I just didn’t have any objections. I took the paper and registered, but unfortunately they gave me the citizenship through the Bosnian Army. You can verify this. If you look at everyone who came in after the war in 1998, 1999 and 2000, that’s how most got their citizenships, through the Bosnian Army. The person doing the paperwork tricked them, like he tricked me. He took the 1500 Deutschmarks that I gave him and if they do it through the Bosnian Army, he doesn’t need to pay a tax or a fee.
It sounds like he employed some kind of immigrations broker, and this broker is the one he accuses of forgery — he doesn’t directly accuse an immigration clerk. Is it possible a corrupt immigration broker could arrange these forgeries without the collusion of a corrupt clerk? Immigrants to Canada have to have a face to face interview with a clerk.
Anyhow, I think Bosnian officials should have been aware of how inflated this list was, and to have double, tripled warned US security officials when they handed the list over.
As I wrote before I think that when US security officials saw this list of “Bosnian mujahedin” they paniced, thinking it showed the existence of a massive “sleeper cell” in Bosnia.
I think this list explains why US security officials were so alarmed that the embassy was going to be bombed.
And I think we know that genuine jihadists, the dangerous ideological kind didn’t like living in Bosnia, they may have fought on behalf of Bosnian muslims, but they saw them as a bunch of apostates.
When the CIA thought Abdurahman Khadr’s usefulness in Guantanamo was at an end their next mission for him was to go the Bosnia, and try and use his background as the son of someone famous from Afghanistan to infiltrate the dangerous jihadist underground network in Bosnia.
I am extremely skeptical that there ever was a jihadist underground in Bosnia. I am extremely skeptical that Abdurahman could have withstood any serious questions from a serious jihadist.
I think his CIA handlers knew, if there was a genuine jihadi underground in Bosnia, they’d quickly penetrate Khadr’s cover story. They didn’t even bother to supply with a plausible explanation as to how he got from Afghanistan to Bosnia.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for your diligence in continuing to investigate aspects of the prisoners’ stories like the one above.
I do wonder, though, whether you attribute too much intelligence to US security officials. They may have alarmed by a list, but they may just have been reading existential threats into almost any situation they came across that looked even slightly dubious.
And as for Abdurahman Khadr, it seems possible, from what I’ve read of Muslims recruited to act as spies, that those employing them never treated them as equals, and weren’t unduly concerned about their protection – for example, by providing coherent stories.
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