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 22 of the 70-part series. 282 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 themselves, and also on the testimony of their 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 in the hope of securing 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 ten-part 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). For further information, also see Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten.
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.
Ibrahim Al Sehli (ISN 94, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ibrahim al-Sehli, who was 36 years old at the time of his capture, worked as a guard for the Taliban, and was later diagnosed with dementia and released. He was one of nine prisoners in this article (out of eleven in total), along with four profiled in Part One (and others in earlier articles), who survived what has become known as the Qala-i-Janghi massacre. This took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan, where hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers (and some civilians swept up by mistake) were taken by General Rashid Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces after surrendering as part of the fall of Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north, at the end of November 2001. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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. 100 to 130 prisoners died in the flooding, and, in total, it is estimated that at least 360 prisoners were killed in the massacre.
In Guantánamo, speaking about his recollections of the massacre, al-Sehli said, “They handcuffed us and put us in a court, a big open space, and there were explosions behind us. Shrapnel from that explosion hit me.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Sehli was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated October 15, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in October 1965, and in which he was also identified as Ibrahim al-Suhali, and it was stated that he had “a previously fractured right forearm, had an appendectomy performed, and [was] carrying the Hepatitis B virus,” but was otherwise “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he “worked at the Ministry of Health in Medina, SA, from 1992 to 2001 as a clerical worker,” and was persuaded to travel to Afghanistan “to assist the Taliban in its fight to protect Muslims in Afghanistan” by a sheikh at a mosque he began attending in 2000, who also told him that “the Taliban was building a purely Islamic society in Afghanistan.” Al-Sehli said he “wished to see this himself,” and so he traveled to Afghanistan via Iran in late September 2001, ending up in Kunduz, where he spent 22 days “working as a security guard at a Taliban supply warehouse near Khawaja Ghar,” and where, he said, he “was given an AK-47 with five rounds of ammunition, but insist[ed] he was never given any training on how to use a weapon.”
He then “fled” from Khawaja Ghar back to Kunduz, but “Northern Alliance forces captured [him] when he was en route to Mazar-e-Sharif.” He was then “present at the Qala-i-Janghi prison riot,” and was then transferred to Sheberghan “until he was turned over to US forces in Kandahar.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, allegedly because he “was assessed to be able to provide information on the Taliban camp that stored food and supplies near Kunduz, AF, and the Qala-i-Janghi prison riot at Mazar-e-Sharif, AF.”
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.
There was, to be honest, little more about al-Sehli that was extracted by the authorities. One of his fellow prisoners, Abdul Aziz al-Baddah (ISN 264, released in June 2006), apparently described him as a “Religious Thinker” on the cellblock, and said “‘Religious Thinkers’ tell other detainees to remain strong and faithful and to use their religion to help them withstand the interrogations and not answer any more questions,” and the Task Force also noted that, for some reason, “Prior to February 2004, [his] overall behaviour had been compliant and generally non-aggressive,” but that, “Since February 2004, [he] has had numerous non-compliant behavior incidents.”
In conclusion, he was assessed as “a committed jihadist that traveled to Afghanistan following September 11, 2001, answering a fatwa … encouraging Muslims to assist the Taliban in its fight to protect Muslims in Afghanistan.” He was also assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although it is not clear where this came from, as this same assessment involved an assertion that he “was likely a low-level fighter serving with Al-Qaida’s Arab Brigade.”
To ramp up his significance, the Task Force drew on al-Baddah’s unsubstantiated comments, describing al-Sehli as “a religious zealot,” who “would use his religion to justify his means to conduct hostile actions against the US,” and who, if released, “would pose a significant threat directly supporting or participating in a terrorist attack against US interests.” This appeared to be major scaremongering, although Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “retained under DoD control,” even though the Criminal Investigative Task Force “assessed [him] as a medium risk on 14 June 2004.” However, “In the interests of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF [deferred] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a high risk.”
Abdul Rahman Al Ghamdi (ISN 95, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Abdul Rahman al-Ghamdi (also identified as Abdul Rahman Uthman Ahmed), who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
In Guantánamo, al-Ghamdi admitted being an “Arab fighter,” but complained, “I was fighting with some of the Pakistanis and Afghans who were here and they have been released and sent home. I don’t understand what the difference is between them and me.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Ghamdi was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated April 1, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1975, and was “in good health,” although it was also noted that he had “a history of resolved adjustment disorder with anxiety.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he “worked as an accountant for the port authority in Riyadh,” and was encouraged to travel to Afghanistan through a fatwa. Traveling in July 2001 with a friend, they were taken to the front lines in Kunduz, where they joined Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, “assigned to a 16-man Arab position, which was a part of the 150-man Arab unit.” According to al-Ghamdi, they “stayed in this defensive position approximately two and a half months,” and then the Taliban “withdrew without telling the Arabs,” although they “finally called the rear units and told them the Northern Alliance was headed directly for them and they should retreat.”
“The withdrawal,” he said, “led to an agreement between [Northern Alliance commander General Rashid] Dostum and the Taliban,” which “was for the Taliban to turn in their weapons to the Northern Alliance,” who “would let them retreat to Kandahar, AF, unmolested.” However, the Northern Alliance “put the Taliban in trucks, approximately 50-70 people in each truck, and started to transport them to Kandahar,” but then they “drove to the Qala-i-Janghi prison in the Mazar-e-Sharif area instead of Kandahar,” where there were “approximately 450 prisoners.”
Although they were told, falsely, that “they would proceed to Kandahar the next morning,” the uprising occurred when the prisoners feared they had been tricked and would be executed, and, as al-Ghamdi’s file stated, “those prisoners surviving surrendered on the eighth day,” and “were loaded into trucks to be transported to the Sheberghan prison,” where he was held “for approximately one and a half months, then handed over to US forces.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the events at Mazar-e-Sharif and types of hand-held radios used by the Taliban Forces.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force was clearly delighted to have been given clear information regarding the various military commanders in northern Afghanistan, although it was difficult not to notice that few of them — if any — were in Guantánamo. As for al-Ghamdi’s role, one untrustworthy witness, the Iraqi Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, identified as Ali Badul Motalib Awayd Hassan, and released in January 2009), claimed that he “attended training at Al-Qaida’s Al-Farouq training camp,” but there was no reason to believe this, especially as trainees tended to hand over their passports for safekeeping, whereas al-Ghamdi stated that “he had his passport with him the whole time he was in Afghanistan,” and it was only “taken at his time of capture.”
It was also noted that, during the transfer of prisoners to Qala-i-Janghi, “mujahideen did not hand over all their weapons.” This was true, although it is unknown how the Task Force came up with its assessment that al-Ghamdi “was one of the individuals still carrying a small pistol and/or two hand grenades,” and how, “After reviewing documentation from open sourcing, it [was] assessed [he] was more involved with the fighting than he ha[d] admitted.”
In conclusion, it was assessed that al-Ghamdi was only “of low intelligence value,” and had also been generally well-behaved in Guantánamo, where his behaviour had only been “slightly aggressive and non- compliant.” In addition, he was regarded as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia. What was particularly noticeable was that he had been previously assessed, on September 27, 2003, as a prisoner to be retained in DoD control, but that was because he “was previously thought to be suspected terrorist Samir Al- Hada; however, that connection has since been disproved.”
Mohammed Al Utaybi (ISN 96, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Mohammed al-Utaybi (also identified as Muhammad al-Utaybi), who was 18 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
In Guantánamo, al-Utaybi, who was one of several Saudis who claimed that he had gone to Afghanistan to rescue a brother, told his tribunal, “When the shooting happened, I hid underground. I stayed there for days. There were people dying and starving to death during that time. After that, we were told to get out and no one would be killed. Me and the other people hiding underground got out. A lot of them were injured.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Utaybi was a “Recommendation to Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated March 8, 2006, in which it was stated that he was born in July 1977, and he was additionally identified as Mohammed S. Ataby and Muhammad al-Utaybi. It was also noted that he had “a history of latent TB with a normal chest x-ray but refused treatment,” that he had “a history of dental caries, which were evaluated and treated,” that he had “a history of lumbago in August 2004,” and that he “was on hunger strike in October 2004 and July 2005.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he had studied, from 1997 onwards, at the University of Fine Arts in King Saud University, but, in 2000, was persuaded by his “elders” that it was “his duty to go to Afghanistan during his summer vacations and fight against the Northern Alliance.” Instead, he “met Abu Omar, a Pakistani, at a furniture store in his neighbourhood,” who “talked to [him] about training in Pakistan and the Kashmir Region,” and provided him with contact details. “Using money he saved from his University stipends and charitable collections,” he traveled to Lahore, via Karachi, located the office of Lashkar-e-Tayiba (the militant group particularly concerned with the conflict in Kashmir) and then traveled to “the mountain training camp at Al-Aqsa,” where he undertook basic training for eight weeks.
After training, he said, he was planing to return home, but his visa had expired. He traveled to Islamabad to renew it, but there he met two individuals from the camp who discussed traveling to Afghanistan,” and he “decided to accompany them.” He ended up in Kabul, on the Taliban lines, for three and half months, where he “was told they were fighting the Massoud [Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader, assassinated on September 9, 2001]; however, he claimed he did not fight.”
He then returned to Saudi Arabia, and stated that “he restarted his academic program,” but was then contacted by “a distant relative,” Abdallah Abu Utaybi (a cousin), who was trying to discover information about his brother, Fayhan al-Utaybi, who was in Afghanistan. “[N]oting his relative’s concern,” Mohammed al-Utaybi “offered to return to Afghanistan to look for Fayhan.”
Via Quetta, Kandahar, Kabul and Kunduz, al-Utaybi located his relative in a guest house in Taloqan, on the front lines in the north, where, he said, He “was asked to hand over his passport and money for safekeeping,” which he did, although he said that he “attempted multiple times to regain possession of his property and return to Saudi Arabia.”
Caught up in the Taliban’s retreat, he and a group of other men “were attacked by Dostum’s forces and taken to Qala-i-Janghi prison where they were bound and taken to an underground room.” The rest of his experiences of the massacre was described as follows: “The next day, they were taken from the room to a square where an uprising occurred. Detainee was taken back to the underground room where he remained for approximately five days. He was subsequently turned over to US forces.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on January 17, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Training and recruitment of Arab fighters in Kashmir, PK.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force concluded that he was “of low intelligence value,” and it was also noted that he was “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.” It was also noted that he was assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was “assessed to be a jihadist who traveled to Afghanistan (AF) and possibly participated in hostilities against coalition forces as a member of Osama Bin Laden’s (UBL) former 55th Arab Brigade,” and it was also regarded as noteworthy that he trained with Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Pakistan, and that he was reportedly “related to deceased Al-Qaida operative and Arab Brigade leader Abu Turab al- Nejdi,” who reportedly died in Qala-i-Janghi.
The Task Force claimed that al-Nejdi was Mohammed al-Utaybi’s cousin, Fayhan al-Utaybi, the one he had traveled to Afghanistan to rescue, but little information was available to corroborate this, and although eight prisoners reportedly identified al-Utaybi, from various locations on his journeys, only one, an unreliable Iraqi witness named Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, released January 2009), mentioned al-Nejdi, claiming that al-Utaybi was “a Saudi who is associated with many of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi’s associates, including Abu Turab al-Nejdi, who is well connected and knows all the people in charge,” and that he “came to the Sheberghan prison with a group of Saudis. and that [he] was the nephew of Abu Turab.” The only other suspicious allegation came from torture victim and CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), who, when shown al-Utaybi’s photo, said he “recognized detainee, but was unable to recall details,” which, of course, means nothing at all.
In approving the change in his designation from “Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention(TRCD),” on June 10, 2005, to “Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” which Maj. Gen. Hood approved in this assessment, the major contributing factor was probably the following:
In July 2002, a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited JTF GTMO and interviewed detainee. He was identified to be of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US, and unlikely to pose a terrorist threat to the US or its interests. Furthermore, the Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution as soon as the US determined it no longer wanted to hold him.
Adnan Al Saigh (ISN 105, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Adnan al-Saigh (also identified as Adnan Mohammed Ali), who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
In Guantánamo, al-Saigh did not mention being injured. He said that he had looked after the Taliban’s horses, and explained that he went to Afghanistan to help fight the Russians, whom he regarded as interchangeable with the Northern Alliance, an understandable misconception, largely based on the shifting allegiances of one of the Northern Alliance leaders, General Dostum, who had been a Russian ally. The following is an exchange from al-Saigh’s CSRT:
Detainee: “The Massoud” [a reference to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, who was assassinated two days before 9/11], is he one of your allies?
Tribunal President: Yes.
Detainee: When did he become your ally or coalition partner?
Tribunal President: I think officially after September 11, 2001.
Detainee: I never fought after [September 11,] 2001.
In a cheeky coda, al-Saigh asked the Tribunal President, “I was wondering how ‘The Massoud’ became one of your allies?” which prompted the reply, “I don’t have that information. That is above my pay grade and not available to me.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Saigh was a “Recommendation to Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated March 18, 2005, in which he had numerous alternative names listed, and it was noted that he was born in January 1978, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he was a librarian, who had traveled to Afghanistan in January 2001 after hearing a fatwa. It was noted that he had “not accounted for his travels during his first two months,” when, it was assessed, he had “received military training” at the Al-Farouq camp. He then went to Kabul, where he “traveled to the Office of the Ministry of Defense [and] turned over his passport for safekeeping.” In Kabul, he “received training on horseback riding and the care and maintenance of horses,” and then “spent the next six months in the Khawaja Ghar area working with horses,” and “was assigned with the Arab fighters on the front lines.”
As the Northern Alliance drew nearer, those on the Taliban front lines were ordered pull back to Kunduz, where “a surrender was agreed upon by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.” In al-Saigh’s account, “The Taliban fighters were loaded onto trucks and taken towards Mazar-e-Sharif,” but “[s]omewhere on the way, General Dostum’s forces intercepted the convoy, and the Taliban fighters were disarmed and detained,” and taken to Qala-i-Janghi,where “an uprising took place and a number of prisoners were killed” (an understatement for a massacre in which approximately 360 out of 450 prisoners died).
As al-Saigh described it, the survivors “were transferred to containers and moved to Sheberghan on 2 December 2001,” and he was “turned over to US forces on 28 December 2001.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the Taliban and Taliban personnel located at the front lines near Khawaja Ghar, AF.”
In assessing al-Saigh, it was noted that, although it was recommended that he be retained in DoD control on January 10, 2004, it was now recommended that he be “Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” which Brig. Gen. Hood approved. This decision was apparently “[b]ased upon information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment,” but it was unknown what that information was.
What was clear was that al-Saigh was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” primarily because he was “assessed as a low-level Al-Qaida fighter and a member of Osama Bin Laden’s (UBL) 55th Arab Brigade.” Very little information about him came from other prisoners, and the most seemingly significant were actually untrustworthy, as they came from the Iraqi prisoner Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111), who was well-known in Guantánamo for his false stories about his fellow prisoners, and from the American torture victim John Walker Lindh.
Al-Tayeea, who was himself assessed as “possibly being affiliated with the former Iraqi regime and may be an Iraqi Intelligence Officer,” identified al-Saigh as “going by the alias Abu Malik,” adding that he “was acquainted with Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a senior Al-Qaida member [ISN 10025, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, held at Guantánamo and a former CIA “ghost prisoner”] and Al Salaam [probably Abu Salam al-Hadrami, a secondary troop commander in the Kunduz area]” and Lindh apparently identified him “as going by the alias Ibn Ul Mubarak,” adding that he “worked with the LeT [the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba], giving a briefing about Kashmir, and being responsible for issuing and controlling weapons at the front lines.”
While these allegations (and Lindh’s in particular) are unconvincing, other information was more difficult to evaluate. It was noted, for example, that al-Saigh had “admitted that should he be called upon to perform jihad, he would do so without hesitation.” That means little, as many Arabs would regard it as unthinkable to turn down a fatwa issued by a religious leader, but more troubling, from the US point of view, was al-Saigh’s general lack of cooperation. It was noted that he had “remained unresponsive to questions posed during investigations,” and that “[n]inety percent of [his] debriefings ha[d] resulted in no intelligence gathered.” Even so, although it was also noted that he had “many discipline reports for failing to comply with guards and possession of contraband,” he did not “exhibit aggressive acts,” and had not been seriously disruptive. In four years of detention, the Task Force noted that he had only been “forcefully extracted from his cell on four different occasions,” that “he spit on a guard on 18 March 2004,” and that he had “a number of instances of banging on his cell.”
After his release, al-Saigh was processed through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program, but in February 2009 he was included as one of eleven former Guantánamo prisoners in a list of the Saudi government’s 85 most wanted militants, all of whom had allegedly left Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Gazette reported that, after completing the rehabilitation program, al-Saigh (described as Adnan al-Sayegh) “left Taif for Bahah with his wife and his five-month-old son to visit relatives and friends there Jan. 25, his brother Ramadan said. He stayed three days in Bahah after which he disappeared.” The Gazette added, “His brothers-in-law tried to contact him, but he never answered their calls. Last Sunday, Adnan called his brother Ramadan saying that he was enjoying the weather in Bahah and would arrive in Taif the same night. But he never made it. The suspect shocked the family when he appeared on the most wanted list, his brother said.” It was also noted that al-Sayegh was “married to the sister of a Guantánamo returnee, Othman al-Ghamdi [ISN 184, released in June 2006] who is believed to have run away with al-Sayegh.”
Nothing more has been heard about him since this report on February 7, 2009.
Yusef Al Rabiesh (ISN 109, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Yusef al-Rabiesh, who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan to rescue his brother. He was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
Speaking of his recollections of the massacre, he said, “We were taken out two by two. We were handcuffed and seated in a big field … We sat there for about two to three hours. There was a demonstration and then the Northern Alliance started shooting at us … We were handcuffed when the shooting started. The only people who had weapons were the Northern Alliance, and they were shooting at the detainees.” He added, “I got shot and lost consciousness and my brother was killed. He was handcuffed when he was killed.”
In Chapter 8, I also mentioned how al-Rabiesh claimed that he was tortured in the Northern Alliance prison in Sheberghan, prior to his transfer to US custody, where he was made to adopt his brother’s story of jihad, instead of sticking to his own story about traveling to rescue him:
I had to use the fake story to stop the torture and the pain they were forcing on me. My health was getting worse and worse. I was later given to the American forces and was transferred, in a very bad way, to the prison in Kandahar. The treatment was the same as before. The torture remained the same. I am ready to tell you, but I feel bad telling you, the treatment by the Americans was not as good as it was with the Northern Alliance.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Rabiesh was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated January 6, 2006, in which he was also identified as Yusef A. Salah and it was noted that he was born in 1981. It was also noted that he had an extensive medical history at Guantánamo.
The Task Force stated that he had “a history of GSW [gunshot wound] to mid-back at axillary line causing chronic right thorax pain,” and that he “was given a back brace for additional back support.” It was also noted that an orthopaedic surgeon “diagnosed [him] with rib malunion secondary to GSW,” and that al-Rabiesh “preferred conservative therapy to nerve block.” It was also noted that he had “a history of GERD [Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease aka Acid Reflux or Heartburn], hemorrhoids, otitis extemae [otitis externa, aka “Swimmer’s ear,” an inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal], and nonbacterial prostatitis [a urinary infection],” and that he had been seen by ENT (probably ear, nose and throat specialists), who “performed laryngoscopy confirming diagnosis of GERD,” and that urology had also “evaluated [him] and diagnosed prostatadynia [aka prostatitis] and treated with flomax and naproxen.” It was also noted that he had “a history of panic attacks,” and that he “went on hunger strike in July 2005,” and at the time of the assessment it was noted that he was on aciphex, multivitamin, Ensure, lidoderm, flomax and ultram.
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he “did not complete his high school education,” and had “worked at an automotive repair garage” in 1999. In March 2001, after his brother, Abdul Malik, traveled to Afghanistan, he called home, telling Yusef that he “would assist in his travel to Afghanistan,” and providing him with instructions “during a subsequent phone call.” In May, Yusuf set out for Afghanistan, via Pakistan, to join his brother, although he maintained that “his purpose in traveling to Afghanistan was to convince his brother to return to Saudi Arabia because both his mother and father had medical problems.”
After meeting his brother in Quetta, the two traveled to Kabul, and, after approximately two weeks, took a flight to Kunduz, and then a taxi to a Taliban guesthouse in Taloqan, where they “received four weeks of training,” which “consisted of assembly and disassembly of the weapons, as well as live firing.” They then traveled back to Kunduz and then on to Khawaja Ghar, and a location identified as “Jabal 4 (Mountain Four),” where, with four other men and a Pakistani leader, their mission “was to guard the two valleys on either side of their position.”
As the Northern Alliance advanced, they were told to return to Kunduz, where “the Taliban agreed to surrender to the Northern Alliance and the Taliban fighters were loaded onto trucks.” However, as Adnan al-Saigh also noted (and I had not known previously, despite extensive research), “During the trip to Mazar-e-Sharif, Dostum’s forces intercepted the convoy and the fighters were relieved of their weapons.” As the Task Force explained, the convoy then “resumed its journey” to Qala-i-Janghi, and provided the following explanation of al-Rabiesh’s experiences of the massacre:
At the prison, detainee and the others were searched and placed in an underground holding area. The following morning, detainee and others were led out of the basement into the yard and were seated on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. A short time later, detainee stated he heard gunfire and quickly laid down to avoid being hit. However a, bullet or shrapnel injured him on his back that caused significant bleeding and resulted in detainee lapsing in and out of consciousness for the next several days. After the shooting had subsided, detainee and others were again led out into the yard and then transferred to Sheberghan prison.
After being transferred to US custody at Kandahar, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban organization, strength, equipment, and procedures [and] Taliban training camp located in the vicinity of Taloqan, AF.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that al-Rabiesh had “provided two very diverse accounts of his activities in Afghanistan” — one outlined above, and the other, provided to a Saudi delegation in 2002, and only repeated in US custody in 2004, in which he “denied any type of military training, denied staying in Taliban guesthouses, ands denied ever picking up a weapon in Afghanistan.” The Task Force noted, “To explain the change in accounts, [he] claimed that he had lied during his initial interrogations,” and, as he stated in Guantanamo, “claimed that while in the custody of Afghani forces after the prison uprising, he observed others being beaten for denying a role in jihad,” and, “[t]o avoid harm to himself, he reportedly offered scraps of information from the account his deceased brother allegedly told him while in Qala-i-Janghi prison.” He added that he “continued this account while in US custody to avoid being labeled a liar.”
To the Task Force, the previous version of his story was “deemed more credible,” and it was noted that al-Rabiesh had “admitted to providing false information during his debriefings.” Nevertheless, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and as being “of moderate value from a detention perspective,” as his “overall behaviour” had been “non-compliant,” but “rarely hostile.” He was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and was identified as “an assessed Al-Qaida member who fought in support of the Taliban,” and “was probably a member of Osama Bin Laden’s (UBL’s) former 55th Arab Brigade that was operating in the vicinity of Kunduz.”
Although Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention, it was 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).” It was also noted, “A visiting Saudi delegation indicated that the Government’ of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of [him] for possible prosecution.”
Abdul Rahman Juma Kahm (ISN 118, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Rahman Juma Kahm was a Taliban conscript. He said in Guantánamo, “I joined the Taliban by force not by choice. Everyone in Afghanistan knows if the Taliban asks you to go with them you cannot say no … Our area was under Taliban control, so we could not fight them. We were so poor I could not move my family, that’s why I stayed in the area.” Held in a compound in Kunduz, he said that he was not obliged to fight, but added that he expected he would have been shot if he tried to escape.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Juma Kahm was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1969, and it was stated that he was “followed by Behavioral Health for the following mental health diagnoses: Schizoaffective disorder, Depressive Disorder, [and] Major Depressive Disorder with Psychotic features.” It was also noted that he was “currently on Effexor SR daily, Haldol Decanoate injections every month and Cogentin twice a day.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he was a father of six children, who lived in Sangin city, in Helmand province, where he had “owned a shop in a grocery store for 15-20 years prior to his capture.” He stated that “[t]wo men forced their way into [his] home and took [him] at gunpoint to fight for the Taliban,” and the Task Force acknowledged that the Taliban “would conscript men in this manner for one to six months,” and that he “had no prior military training prior to conscription into the Taliban.”
In October 2001, he said, he and 24 other conscripts were taken to an official building in Sangin, where there were approximately 300 conscripts altogether, and where he was taught how to use an AK-47. Three or four days later, all the conscripts left in a caravan, traveling via Kandahar and Kabul to Khenjan, in Baghlan province. From there, half the men, including Juma Kahm, “continued north to the city of Kunduz, AF, to fight coalition forces while the other half of the group remained to fight coalition forces in Khenjan.”
As was also explained (essentially repeating what Juma Kahm said in his tribunal), he “stayed at the same house for approximately six weeks waiting to be called to fight,” when the leader of the conscripts informed them that “they were not needed for fighting yet, but when they were needed they would be called.” It was also noted that all the men “carried an AK-47 but they did not have ammunition.”
Turning to the circumstances of his capture, it was noted that, in December 2001, he “and all the conscripted men surrendered to General Rashid Dostam and the Northern Alliance forces,” and were taken to Yanghareq, near Kunduz. From there they were taken to Sheberghan, on what is known as “the convoy of death,” because hundreds, or probably thousands of those being transported died, mainly through suffocating en route, although that was not mentioned in his file.
He was then transferred to US custody, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban organization in and around Sarvan Kolah [probably Sarwan Qala], AF, Taliban training site located in Sangin, AF [and] Taliban camp in Kunduz, AF.”
In assessing his story, leading to Brig. Gen. Hood’s recommendation for his transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, the Task Force described him as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” This was because he was “assessed as a probable member of the Taliban,” who “may have been involved in military action against coalition forces” (although he always denied that), and also because “[f]ormer high-level ministers of the Taliban regime identif[ied] detainee as a Talib.”
This latter claim was particularly dubious, as the alleged witnesses were Mullah Mutawakil, the “former Foreign Minister for the Taliban,” who was identified as ISN 548, even though he was only held in Afghanistan, and was never sent to Guantánamo. Mutawakil allegedly “identified.detainee from a picture as a man who worked for the Ministry of Defense,” even though that was patently untrue. The other witness was Abdul-Haq Wasiq (ISN 4, still held), the “former Deputy Intelligence Chief for the Kabul area,” who apparently “identified detainee as a bodyguard for Qari Ahmadullah and accompanying [sic] Ahmadullah to a Taliban safe haven in December 2001” (even though Ahmadullah was killed in a bombing raid on December 27, 2001 in Paktia province), which also seems highly unlikely.
The saddest comment about Juma Kahm came in a passage describing his conduct, in which it was noted that he “had committed self-harm by banging his head against the cell wall and crying very loudly.”
Salman Mohammed (ISN 121, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Salman Mohammed (also identified as Sulaiman al-Oshan), who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
Mohammed, who did not take part in his tribunal or the following review board, was accused of arriving in Afghanistan in June 2000, and fighting with the Taliban near Kabul and Khawaja Ghar until his capture, and was also described as being “present at the prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif where Northern Alliance forces wounded him.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohammed was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated April 21, 2006, in which he was also identified as Sulayman Sa’d Muhammad Awshan al-Khalidi, born in January 1982, and it was noted that he was “in good health,” even though he “sustained a gunshot wound to his right thigh prior to detainment,” had “a history of myopia and astigmatism” and “of intermittent abdominal pain,” and even though he “went on a hunger strike once in July 2005.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that, in 2000, after Mohammed “graduated high school and then helped his brother (a teacher at the high school) with data entry for five to six months,” he traveled to Afghanistan, inspired by a friend who had spent six months there, in response to a fatwa “dictating that Muslims should fight with the Taliban against the Massoud [Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance] and Russians.”
In Afghanistan, Mohammed said, he was flown from Kandahar to Kabul, and, specifically, to “a small house in the rear of the front line,” where he “received three days of Kalashnikov training,” and was then assigned to the front line, where, although his unit “received mortar fire approximately every two weeks, he claimed he never fired a weapon.” After eight months, he and the other Arabs in the unit were transferred to Khawaja Ghar on the front lines in northern Afghanistan, where, he said, his squad was “moved to a bunker located at the second line of defense on the front lines,” which was “a small house that stored food.” There, he said, his unit “was responsible for guarding food and supplies for front line troops.”
He reportedly stayed in this position for seven months, until, in early November 2001, his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Oshan (ISN 112, released in September 2007, and identified as Abd al-Aziz Sad Muhammad Awshan al-Khalidi) arrived, apparently seeking to secure his return to Saudi Arabia (although this was not mentioned). Soon after, he “was in the city center when he witnessed Taliban forces retreating by car and on foot,” who told him that the Northern Alliance “had broken through the front line.” He then awaited orders in a Taliban house in Kunduz, until he was told to regroup at the house of Mullah Thaker, the senior military commander, where “there were approximately 400 to 500 Taliban waiting.”
They then traveled to Mazar-e-Sharif, where they were told to surrender to General Dostum’s forces, and to hand over their weapons. This was the Task Force’s description of his account of the uprising and the massacre:
On approximately 25 November 2001, detainee’s group was searched, their hands bound, and the prisoners moved to the Qala-i-Janghi courtyard and into the basement. The next day, they were led from the basement back out into the courtyard. Shortly thereafter, detainee heard an explosion and the prisoners scattered. Gunfire erupted and detainee was struck in the leg. He lay on the courtyard ground for sometime before another prisoner helped him to the basement. Detainee remained in the basement for seven days before the Red Cross took control of the prison.
On December 2, 2001, he was transferred to Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, with most of the other survivors, and was then transferred to Kandahar. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Training and tactics of frontline Taliban fighters.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force admitted that, although he “readily admitted fighting for the Taliban,” he “denied any involvement with Al-Qaida,” which was not inexplicable, of course. The Task Force added that he had “adopted an attitude of non-compliance since initial interrogations, making it difficult to identify his true affiliation with the Al-Qaida network,” even though there may have been none, although the authorities were concerned that, “Prior to the Saudi delegation visit in 2002, the Mabahith [Saudi Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Investigation] provided information on thirty-seven detainees whom they designated as high priority. Detainee was thirty-sixth on that list, and identified as using the alias Hussam Akida.”
Without the list for reference it is unclear whether it actually referred to Salman Mohammed, and, similarly, there were also problems with claims that he had “strong familial ties to Al-Qaida.” As reference, the Task Force cited his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Oshan (aka Abd al-Aziz Sad Muhammad Awshan al-Khalidi, see above), who, as noted, was only in Afghanistan for a short time, and said he came to rescue his brother. The Task Force also mentioned his cousin, Saleh al-Oshan (ISN 248, released in July 2005), as discussed here, who was found not to be an “enemy combatant” by a military tribunal at Guantánamo and released.
To be fair, there were other more troubling allegations about his family: primarily, that another brother, Isa Awshan [aka Eissa al-Aushan], “killed in a July 2004 gunfight with Saudi security forces,” was “the leader of the Riyadh Al-Qaida cell responsible for the kidnapping and execution of American citizen Paul Johnson.”
If true, this is deeply troubling, but, again, the information may not be reliable. Nor is there any greater reliability to allegations made by other prisoners: a claim by Saad al-Zahrani (ISN 204, described as Sadi Ibrahim Ramzi al-Zahrani, and released in July 2007), who “commented on detainee’s photo stating he believed [he] might be a Saudi named Husam who worked in the center where they kept the horses,” although he “was not completely sure of this because Husam wore glasses and detainee was not wearing any in the photo.”
This was a very vague state of affairs, and, even if true, seemed to demonstrate Mohamed’s insignificance rather than anything else. In addition, another strikingly vague, and seemingly unreliable statement was extracted under unknown circumstances from torture victim and former CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016, still held), who “stated that he may have seen detainee at the Al-Zubayr Guesthouse, but he was unable to provide any further information.” It was also noted that Mohammed “provided mixed responses when confronted with this recognition,” and “later (contradicting his earlier interview) denied knowing who Abu Zubaydah was,” and “claimed not to have recognized a picture of Abu Zubaydah,” even though this was entirely understandable, as Abu Zubaydah was the Pakistan-based gatekeeper for a training camp that no one alleged Mohammed had even visited.
In assessing Mohammed, the Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and noted that his “most recent interrogation session occurred on 11 February 2006,” and also that he was “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interest and allies,” and was “a member of Al-Qaida who traveled to Afghanistan to participate in jihad.” He was also “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behavior has been mostly compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for continued detention, although he was freed just eight months later.
Muhammad Hussein Ali Hassan (ISN 123, Morocco) Released February 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how, in Guantánamo, the allegations against Hassan, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, consisted of just four statements: that he went to Afghanistan in 2000 “to fight jihad,” that he was trained to use a Kalashnikov “for 1-2 weeks” and was then moved to a Taliban fighting position, that he “was in the rear in Kabul and advanced as Taliban forces advanced,” and that he surrendered to coalition forces at Mazar-e-Sharif. He did not take part in his tribunal, and there was no mention of him being a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, but it is probable that he was.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Hassan was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated November 29, 2003, in which it was noted that he was born in November 1971. In telling his story, the Task Force claimed that he “stated he became interested in Jihad in the early 1990s while traveling in various countries in Europe, including Spain, France and Germany,” where, he said, he lived “for ten years and spent almost four years in a German prison because of various crimes, including drug possession.” After he was freed in 1997, he reportedly was encouraged to become involved in Jihad, “specifically Jihad in Kashmir, Pakistan,” at a mosque in Frankfurt.”
He also apparently claimed that in 1999, after he traveled to Pakistan with a false French passport, intending to fight in Kashmir, he “changed his mind and decided to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan,” which he did “until his capture by Northern Alliance forces in late December 2001.” If this date is correct, then he was not held in Qala-i-Janghi, but the dates in the files are often unreliable. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter and possible membership in Al-Qaida.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he had “not been cooperative or forthright while in detention,” and had been “a defiant leader in his cellblock.” Despite this, it was claimed that “sensitive reporting” identified him as “a confirmed member of Al-Qaida,” who was “assessed to have a great deal of information concerning Al-Qaida’s operations in Europe,” whose “affiliations and contacts,” moreover, were “thought to extend to several European countries including France, Spain and Germany.” It was also noted that he had “several relatives still living in these countries,” although it was conceded that “little information ha[d] surfaced concerning their involvement or activities.”
Two suspicious claims were unsubstantiated — firstly, that he had been “identified as running a guesthouse in the Kandahar, AF area,” and secondly that he was “a close associate of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi” (ISN 10025, still held), who was described as “a senior al-Qaeda operative,” and who was evidently a senior commander of Arab forces in northern Afghanistan — but even though both had the ring of false confessions extracted from other prisoners, they clearly contributed to the Task Force’s assessment of Hassan as “a member of Al-Qaida,” who was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and posed “a high threat to the US, its interest or its allies.” As a result of this assessment, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for continued detention. No further files were made available that covered the next two years and three months until his release, so it is unknown how the decision was reached to release him, although it is clear that Morocco had been a close ally in the “War on Terror,” having hosted a secret prison for “high-value detainees,” as part of the CIA’s program of torture and extraordinary rendition.
In November 2006, Hassan and the other two Moroccans released with him in February 2006 — Najib Lahcini (ISN 75, see Part One 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 unauthorized public meetings,'” and Hassan (identified as Mohamed Ouali) and Lahcini (identified as Najib Houssani) “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 Hassan and Lahcini had their sentences reduced to one-year suspended sentences, casting doubt on the jihadist narrative conjured up by the authorities at Guantánamo.
Toufiq Al Marwa’i (ISN 129, Yemen) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Toufiq al-Marwa’i (aka Toufig al-Marwai), who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
In Guantánamo, al-Marwa’i said that he answered a fatwa and served the Taliban as a cook, although he regretted it. Asked about his experiences of the massacre — and if he “had an opportunity to leave the prison” after a few days — he said, “No, I could not. When the problems start[ed] on the first day I went down [to the basement]. I did not want to go outside because I did not want to die. I stayed down [in the basement]. I did not know what happened up there.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Marwa’i was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated January 7, 2005, in which it was noted that Marwa’i, born in 1976, had been diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, and also had “a history of malaria,” but was “otherwise in good health.”
Al-Marwa’i was one of six Yemenis released in December 2006, and, it should be noted, was therefore one of the lucky Yemenis, as only 23 have been released throughout the prison’s history, primarily because of institutional fears regarding security in Yemen, and as a result over half of the 171 prisoners who remain at Guantánamo at the time of writing are Yemenis.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after high school, he “worked odd jobs, such as selling clothes from a cart on the streets of Hadida, YM,” but “wanted to leave Yemen to get out of Hadida and find work,” settling on Afghanistan, even though, he said, a sheikh “encouraged [him] to not get involved in the fighting taking place in Afghanistan.” Flying around September 11, 2001, he arrived in Pakistan, traveled to Quetta by taxi, and then “took a taxi to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where he changed into traditional Afghan dress and walked across the border, no questions asked.” He then traveled to a guesthouse in Kabul, via Kandahar, where he “was asked if he wanted to fight jihad and he agreed.” He then stayed at this guesthouse, which was also known as the Taliban Center, for four months, and “became the house cook in return for room and board.”
He then moved north, claiming that this was either “to avoid the fighting,” or because he was “sick with malaria,” with five other men, known to him only as Aziz, Omat, Yaser, Safwan and Muthana, who, he said, all died in the Qala-i-Janghi massacre. They stayed at an unidentified house in Kunduz for three weeks, where he “remained in charge of the cooking,” and then moved on to Khawaja Ghar, where they stayed in the Omar Saif guesthouse, which, he said, was “a deserted house” by that time, where “he cooked for the front lines, but never took part in any fighting.”
He then apparently decided that he wanted to return to Yemen, and traveled back to Kunduz, where he was stuck for a month and a half, until the city fell to the Northern Alliance and he “and hundreds of others surrendered to General Dostum’s troops.” None of his experiences of the uprising and the massacre were reported in his file, and, instead, it was noted only that he was eventually transferred to US control and held at Kandahar, and was then sent to Guantánamo on June 12, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban leadership in northern Afghanistan, Taliban guesthouses [and] Qala-i-Janghi and Sheberghan Prison Facilities.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force concluded that he was “in direct support of the Taliban and affiliated with Al-Qaida’s global terrorist network,” adding that, even though he “[did] not admit to training or participating in hostilities against the US or allies,” nevertheless “directly provided logistical support by functioning as a cook at numerous Taliban safehouses as part of a jihad.” It was noted that he “does not appear to be a senior leader or have direct ties to senior leadership,” but it was assessed that, through being recruited in Yemen, he “may be vulnerable to recruitment for terrorist groups in the future,” although it probably helped that he stated that he regretted his decision.
The Task Force also noted that it believed that al-Marwa’i had been “truthful in his claims,” but that there was “still intelligence left to exploit.” He was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and it was also noted that, “While formerly aggressive, [he] has a recent history of passive behaviour,” and “[h]is only disciplinary problem in the past year has been failing to comply with guards.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommend him for transfer to continued detention, updating a previous recommendation whose date was unknown. It still took nearly two years for him to be released, but that, again, meant that he was one of the more fortunate Yemenis, as others cleared for release in 2004 are still held in Guantánamo.
Abdul Salam Al Shehri (ISN 132, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Abdul Salam al-Shehri was another survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, after hundreds of prisoners surrendered as part of the fall of the city of Kunduz. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 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.
As I also explained, in my articles, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” and “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo,” al-Shehri was only 17 years old when he went to Afghanistan in search of his cousin, who, he said, was killed by a mine on the way from the front lines at Khawaja Ghar to Kunduz. As such, he was a juvenile at the time of his capture, and should have been rehabilitated rather than punished, and held separately from the adult prisoners, according to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US did not ratify until December 23, 2002, but which should then have dictated its policy regarding juvenile prisoners, although it didn’t, except in the case of three Afghan boys profiled here.
In Guantánamo, when al-Shehri was asked if he took part in the Qala-i-Janghi uprising, he said, “When at the castle, they sent us downstairs. How am I going to fight? With my fingers? I didn’t have [a] weapon. When they took us to the court the second time, when the conflict started, they took us down to the cave … Everybody that was upstairs stayed upstairs. To prove that I wasn’t fighting [you can see that] I don’t have any scars. I wasn’t hurt because I was downstairs.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Shehri was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 26, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abd al-Salam Ghaytan Murayyi al-Shihri and And al-Salam Bin Ghaythan al-Shahri, and it was confirmed that he was born on December 14, 1984, and was, therefore, just 16 when he was seized, weeks before his 17th birthday.
It was also noted that he had “several chronic medical conditions,” and had been “diagnosed with depressive disorder and an eating disorder,” as well as having “chronic abdominal pain,” and was “being followed for low weight.” Whether he had been a hunger striker or not was not mentioned, although elsewhere it was noted that he was “willing to hurt himself through forcing himself to vomit after meals, not eating or drinking water,” and in “Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation,” a report I compiled in 2009, based on weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, I noted that he weighed 141 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, but that his weight then plummeted, and on two occasions, in July 2005 and January 2006, he weighed just 97 pounds.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he failed to graduate from high school “due to his dislike of school and poor grades,” and decided instead to work with his father, a retired Saudi Arabian Army officer, who was a mechanic and owned a business. He “worked in his father’s photography shop until it was sold around July 1999,” and then, in November 2000, his father “helped him get a produce stand where he sold fruit and vegetables.” He then agreed to accompany a cousin to Pakistan, so that he could have laser eye surgery, and got his father’s permission, as he was only 16. This cousin was identified as Marif (or Zaydan Muhsin Murif al-Zaydan al-Shehri), and was not the same cousin that he later claimed he had traveled to Afghanistan to rescue.
In telling this revised story, al-Shehri said that his cousin’s surgery was delayed for two weeks, but that, while the two were in a market shopping for Pakistani clothes, they were recruited to travel to Afghanistan for jihad. They then followed a well-worn route to Quetta and on to Kandahar, via Spin Boldak. In Kandahar, they stayed in a guesthouse for two weeks, where they were “required to turn over their passports, money, and personal belongings,” and were then taken to Kunduz, via Kabul, where, according to al-Shehri, they stayed for two weeks and then returned to Pakistan.
Four days after arriving in Quetta, the 9/11 attacks took place, and al-Shehri said that he and his cousin “heard that the Pakistani Army would kill any Arab that they captured,” and claimed that “he and Marif were advised to return to Afghanistan.” After returning the way they came, they were sent from Kunduz to Khawaja Ghar, described as “a small deserted village,” where they ended up at a Taliban center, and where “an unidentified Arab told them that this was the second line in the war with the Northern Alliance,” and “[t]he two were trained and sent to the front lines to fight.”
Al-Shehri proceeded to explain that, “[w]hen the Northern Alliance broke through the lines approximately one month later, [he] and Marif fled with the other fighters,” but that, ‘[d]uring the escape, the fleeing fighters were ambushed and Marif was killed.” The Taliban then instructed al-Shehri and others to travel to Mazar-e-Sharif, although he “was again ambushed and surrendered to Dostum’s forces.” He was then taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where all that was reported in the file about his experiences was a brief but harrowing statement that he “went to an underground room where fellow prisoners were dying from being burned or drowned.”
He added that, “[o]n the seventh day, the remaining prisoners were told to come out and were then taken to Sheberghan prison where they were checked over by the Red Cross,” and that he was “one of several transferred to the Kandahar Detention Facility and placed in the custody of the US.” He arrived at Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, although it was noted that his file “does not indicate why he was sent to JTF GTMO.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force described him as being only “of low intelligence value,” although he was also assessed as being “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” The “Update Recommendation” for his transfer updated a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control, dated January 24, 2004, although the reasons Brig. Gen. Hood approved his transfer were not explicitly spelled out, as he was “assessed as a low-level fighter for Al-Qaida,” or, elsewhere, as “a jihadist and member of the Al-Qaida associated network,” who “fought for the Taliban, and is a possible member of Al-Qaida.”
In truth, there was nothing to mark out al-Shehri as anything more than an insignificant foot soldier. His story about the reasons for his travel to Afghanistan may have been a cover, but his experiences in Afghanistan seem clear, and there is no reason to trust a claim made by Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, an Iraqi released in January 2009, who was known as an unreliable informant in Guantánamo), that he “attended the Al-Qaida-run Al-Farouq training camp,” when it seems apparent that he did not.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of his detention was its effect on his young mind, as a sharp example of why juveniles in detention should be rehabilitated rather than punished. Al-Shehri was clearly susceptible to the direction of others when he traveled to Afghanistan and was trained and sent to the front lines, and it is difficult to fathom how traumatic his experiences of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre must have been. In Guantanamo, he was clearly damaged by his experiences, as the Task Force noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant, disruptive, and self injurious in nature.” His records showed “only two infractions in which he was hostile towards the guards,” but many other reports showing not only that he was “willing to hurt himself through forcing himself to vomit after meals, not eating or drinking water,” as noted above, but also through “trying to physically hurt himself.”
Mubarak Hashem (ISN 151, Bangladesh) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One),” I explained how many of the stories of the prisoners seized in Pakistan demonstrated that both the Pakistani and the American authorities were adept at inventing or otherwise eliciting stories of militancy from the prisoners they captured at this time, as there was, for the most part, very little raw material with which to work. The story of Mubarak Hashem, the only Bangladeshi held in Guantánamo, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was particularly illuminating in this regard.
The only allegations that surfaced against him were that he traveled from Karachi to Kabul via Quetta, Spin Boldak and Kandahar in December 2001, that he was arrested in Peshawar by the Pakistani authorities “for not having any identification,” and that he “provided a false identity to Pakistani authorities.” These allegations were so thin that it must have taken considerable effort to fill in the gaps that were required to construe him as a militant: that, because he had been in Afghanistan, he must have been fighting, and that, because he had no passport, he must have attended a military training camp.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Hashem was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated March 25, 2005, which updated a previous transfer recommendation dated September 13, 2003. In this document, it was noted that he was born in 1978, and that he was “in good physical health,” and had “no psychiatric history,” although it was also noted that he “went on a hunger strike one time.” It is unclear when this was, although, in “Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation,” a report I compiled in 2009, based on weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, I noted that he weighed only 97 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, but that, although he then gained weight, he weighed just 100 pounds at one point in December 2004.
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that, in 1999, he left Bangladesh to study at a Koranic school in Karachi, Pakistan, and was then employed as an Imam at a mosque. Hashem also said that, in November 2001, a fellow student invited him to travel to Kabul “to pay homage to the graves of the disciples of the Prophet Mohammed,” and that, after visiting Kabul via Quetta, Spin Boldak and Kandahar, and staying for four days, he was robbed of his belongings en route to Jalalabad. However, in another version of this story, he apparently “hired a taxi driver to drive him from Kabul to Peshawar,” and traveled with three other people he did not know, but, after safely crossing into Pakistan, was seized in a mosque in Peshawar, while praying, “by plain clothes Pakistan Police Officers who arrested [him], since he looked like a foreigner and did not have any identification.” He was later “turned over to the Pakistan Military who transferred him into US custody,” and he was sent to Guantánamo on January 17, 2002, although his file “does not indicate why he was sent to JTF GTMO.”
There were obviously holes in Hashem’s story — not least the improbability of traveling to Kabul on a religious pilgrimage as the Taliban regime was falling, and Afghanistan was consumed by war — but it was rather excessive of the Task Force to assess him as “a probable Islamic extremist with possible ties to Al Qaida and it’s [sic] global terrorist network,” drawing on a claim that all his debriefers and analysts had concurred that his cover story was “not plausible” and that the he was “extremely deceptive during interviews,” and had been “uncooperative, aloof and his responses ha[d] been devoid of any mention of Al-Qaida, the Taliban, training camps, safe houses and confiscated documents.”
It was also noted that his “religious training and the circumstances surrounding his entry and exit from Afghanistan ha[d] not been properly exploited at this time, due to [his] uncooperative nature,” but while these holes may well have been problematic, filling them with unsubstantiated allegations was not a satisfactory response. The Task Force claimed that “[t]he fact that a senior Al-Qaida lieutenant was familiar with the detainee indicates that, at a minimum, [he] probably utilized Al-Qaida safehouses while entering/exiting Afghanistan.” This may have looked good on paper, but the fact was that the “senior Al-Qaida lieutenant” was actually torture victim and former CIA “ghost prisoners” Abu Zubaydah (still held), who only “stated that detainee looked familiar to him, [but] was unable to recall his name or nationality.” An analyst then attempted to claim that Zubaydah knew Hashem because, “[d]uring the months of November and December 2001, Zubaydah was chiefly occupied with moving mujahideen who were fleeing Afghanistan due to the US offensive from safehouses in Afghanistan to safehouses in Pakistan.”
What made the above appear particularly alarmist was the fact that Hashem was regarded as being “of low intelligence value,” and the Task Force had also determined that he posed “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a future threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and had also not been a major problem in Guantánamo, where he had “a history of passive aggressive behaviour and minor failures to comply with regulations.” As a result, it was actually rather dispiriting to note that it took three years and three months for him to be released, after his transfer was first recommended, and one year and nine months after Brig. Gen. Hood signed the memo approving his transfer.
However, what I found most alarming about Hashem’s file was an analyst’s note regarding the spur for Hashem’s travel to Afghanistan, when it was noted, “His parents probably contacted him and encouraged [him] to jihad in Afghanistan. This is quite probable since his father has been an Imam in Bangladesh for years and conducting jihad in perceived defense of Islam is mandatory.” If it were mandatory, as the analyst noted, a few billion Muslim men would, at any time, be engaged in the armed defense of Muslim lands, which is clearly ridiculous, but it reflects the “clash of civilizations” mentality that was pushed at Guantánamo.
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, million-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, Monique D’hooghe wrote:
done…. btw, andy… what are the advantages of being dugg (i know… showing popularity… but beyond that?) how often does one have to be dugg to be considered what?
lol… hope ya know what i mean… doesn’t sound all that clear to me when i reread my way of phrasing my question
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Shared, thanks, Andy.
Thanks, Monique and Dejanka — and everyone else out there keeping track of this mammoth project. It really is very much appreciated.
And Monique, Digg’s just one of the many ways of sharing and making work available, along with Facebook, Twitter and others. I like Facebook best, because there’s a community, and the easy exchange of comments, and I appreciate Twitter when my stories occasionally take off there, but mostly they don’t. Similarly, with Digg, I think it works best when stories take off, but I have a small community of followers, so I guess it’s worth it. If I was more technie-minded I’d work put how to link to other sites — StumbleUpon etc. — because all of them probably help spread the word, but I don’t seem to have the time right now, funnily enough.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I am Digging this now, Andy. BTW. On Twitter I am georgeberger. I used it a lot during the Egyptian uprising, since I wanted to have instant information. I’ve only returned to it recently.
Thanks, George. I found you on Twitter, and am following you.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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