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 24 of the 70-part series. 304 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).
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.
For further information, also see Part One (which contained eleven stories about prisoners from a variety of countries, mostly captured in Afghanistan, and including Yasser al-Zahrani, who died in Guantánamo in June 2006), and Part Two (which featured another eleven stories, mostly of prisoners who survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in northern Afghanistan in November 2001). Part Three featured another eleven stories, including some examples of prisoners who “returned to the battlefield” after their release, and the story of a Libyan prisoner whose fie is full of statements made by other Libyans, including Abdelhakim Belhaj, now active as a commander of the Libyan rebels, who were subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in secret CIA prisons, before they were returned to Libya and imprisoned by Colonel Gaddafi. This fourth part tells eleven more stories, of prisoners seized, for a variety of reasons, crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001. Also see Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten.
Mohammed Al Asadi (ISN 198, Yemen) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (5) – Escape to Pakistan (The Yemenis),” I explained how Mohammed al-Asadi, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, was seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and was one of six prisoners transferred to Yemeni custody in December 2006 (and the only one of the six who was cleared for immediate release by the US authorities).
At Guantánamo, he was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in March 2001 “to fight the jihad,” serving as a guard at a Taliban center, and fighting for a month and a half with a Taliban group consisting mainly of Pakistanis, but in response, having agreed to attend his tribunal hearing to make a statement, he proceeded to say, “I do not wish to make a statement because there’s no use in making a statement or defending myself.” He added, “I have many statements and evidence and information that I could present, but there is no use in presenting them because you have classified information that I cannot see or look at to defend myself against them. There is no point in me saying anything.”
After this succinct demolition of the tribunals’ inbuilt bias, he said, “I don’t have any response” to all the allegations in the Unclassified Summary, and it was left to his Personal Representative (the military official assigned to the prisoners in place of a lawyer) to state that he had been “very cooperative” and had “exhibited very good behavior” during his pre-CSRT interviews, that he had stated that he had never fought against the United States, and that he wished to point out that “he was with the Taliban before they fought against the US or the Northern Alliance.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Asadi was a “Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated September 17, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in July 1979, and had “a history of renalithasis,” but was otherwise “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after graduating from high school in 1999, he worked for four months as the assistant manager for a real estate company, then quit and drove a bus owned by his family for another six months, until that vehicle was sold. While unemployed, he attended a lecture at a mosque in which a man named Muktar spoke about “the living conditions of Muslims worldwide, specifically regarding the Palestinian situation,” and afterwards, when he “expressed his interest in helping Muslims,” Muktar told him “it was impossible to help the Palestinians,” and “instructed [him] to travel to Afghanistan, to fight in a jihad against [Ahmed Shah] Massoud’s [Northern Alliance] forces and to assist the Taliban government in the construction of an Islamic state.”
Having arranged his transport, Muktar sent al-Asadi on a well-worn route to Afghanistan, via Karachi and Quetta in Pakistan, despite his family’s objections, at the end of March 2001. After arriving at a guesthouse behind the front lines in Kabul, he said that he told the man in charge of the guesthouse, Abu al-Laith (possibly Abu Laith al-Libi, a veteran of the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet Union, who was reportedly killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in January 2008), that he had “handled weapons in Yemen, that he was experienced with the Kalashnikov rifle, and that he intended to stay in Afghanistan for about four months.” He added that the Taliban “used simple and unorganized tactics, which did not require him to have had prior training,” and that the center he was staying in “was never attacked and was basically used for support.”
In his six weeks at the center, he said that he was frequently given guard duty to perform, and, interestingly, added that a “group of Arabs performing charity missions would periodically visit the guesthouse” and “talk with [him] about the Taliban fighting against other Muslims.” After a number of these meetings, he said, “the group convinced [him] to leave the center and join their mission.” He said that he “was permitted to turn in his weapon, join the charity group, and move to an abandoned house, where he loaded trucks and moved supplies.” It was there, he said, that he heard about the 9/11 attacks, and he then traveled to Jalalabad, “where he was arrested by the Northern Alliance and taken to Kabul, AF, only to be released later.”
He then left for Pakistan with an unidentified “group,” traveling with a guide who “informed them that a group in the mountains of Tora Bora, AF, could provide safe passage to Islamabad,” and said that, despite heavy US bombing in the mountains, he and approximately 20 others “arrived in an unidentified Pakistani village, where they rested,” but were then “taken to a large mosque in the village, where the Pakistani police detained the group and transported them to a jail outside of Peshawar.” They were then supposed to be taken by bus to another prison, but “passengers of one of the buses rioted” and “some of the prisoners escaped,” so the buses returned to Peshawar. The prisoners were then taken to a Pakistani military prison, where al-Asadi stayed for 15 days, and was then handed over to US forces and taken to the US prison at Kandahar airport.
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 6, 2002, apparently because of his “ability to provide information on: A possible Al-Qaida or Taliban recruiter and travel facilitator named Muktar, A Taliban safehouse in Quetta, PK, The area of the front located north of Kabul, AF [and] Taliban and Al-Qaida activities in the Tora Bora Region in Afghanistan.”
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 Chris Mackey, a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan, explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences (The Interrogators), 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 assessing his story, the Task Force noted that, although he “participated in jihad, obtained false passports [for his travel to Afghanistan], and trained with the Taliban,” he had been “cooperative and consistent.” It was also noted that his “intelligence value ha[d] been substantially, if not fully, exploited,” and that JTF GTMO had assessed that there was “little or no additional relevant information to be gained” from him, and had determined that he was “of low intelligence value.”
It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “overall behaviour ha[d] been generally non-compliant and aggressive,” and he “only had a limited number of passive-aggressive incidents,” and, moreover, that “further confinement may only lead to greater disdain for the US and its allies.”
The Task Force concluded that he had been assessed as “not a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” adding that his “youth, unemployment, and uncertainty about his future goals allowed him to be easily influenced, making him a prime candidate for jihad.” It was also noted that he “apparently had high expectations of the Taliban, only to discover that it did not offer what he expected.” The Task Force also expressed some doubt about his claim that the Taliban allowed him to leave the front lines to do charitable work, noting that, according to other accounts, “individuals who fled the front lines were shot,” although it was also noted that “this was prior to 11 September 2001, and the detainee’s role in the Taliban was not of great importance.” As a result, he was determined to pose “a low risk, as he is not likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “released or transferred to the control of another country.”
On his release, two years and three months later, he was the only one of the six prisoners returned to be freed immediately, and he told Gulf News that “he was released because there was no charge against him and that his file was found ‘clear.'” He also said that, “[b]efore being released, he signed a paper here that he would not participate in any armed activity,” and explained, “Now, I’m going to start a normal life, to find a job, to get married, and generally settle down.”
In January 2007, he spoke to Gulf News again, explaining that a new hunger strike has started at Guantánamo just before his release, and that it had started “mainly because of harassment while praying or while reading the Quran.” Al-Asadi added, “The soldiers interrupt the brothers from time to time even while praying, they inspect the Quran, they inspect their private organs, only to create psychological pressure on them.” He also explained that “the treatment in general [had] become very bad in terms of food, clothes, medicines, blankets,” as Gulf News described it. “They take the blankets at dawn when it’s extremely cold,” he said.
Finally, when asked “why the Americans released him and the other five inmates,” he said, “They told us your release is a special favor to the six of you.” He added that “he refused to sign a US paper pledging he would not join Al-Qaida or the Taliban,” and explained, “They told me that I no longer pose a threat to them but they asked me to sign a paper, which says if you join Al-Qaida and or Taliban, then US has the right to arrest you once again. But I refused to sign that paper. I said I’m now like anyone outside the prison, I’m innocent.” He also said that “the US government had asked the Yemeni authorities to put them in prison,” noting, “There was an agreement between them and our government that we be sent to a prison not to our homes, but I don’t know about how long they agreed we should stay in prison before being released.” This was interesting, as it did not apply to him, but it was probable that the US authorities tried to putt pressure on the Yemeni government to keep the other five in prison, as had happened with the few men released previously.
In conclusion, he explained, in a version of the article in the Yemen Observer, that “he was exposed to less abuse than others during investigations in Guantánamo. “They used to interrogate me every month, but for the last year and a half I have had no more interviews at all,” he said. “The reason for that is that they collected information about me from other various sources and found I did nothing. I told them explicitly that I came to Afghanistan for Jihad. I did not kill Americans; I went there before Americans came. So they had nothing against me to say that I had killed Americans or any of their allies. They had no hard evidence to bring me to court.”
He added, “They care for the truth, yes, but they do not believe the man — any man – – was not fighting. They do not believe he entered for anything else. They have an idea that any Arab in Afghanistan or Pakistan is a terrorist.” He also explained that, before leaving Guantánamo, the prisoners “were allowed to call lawyers, but he “did not call any because he had never organized any lawyer before as he thought the issue was only political and could not be solved by courts.” “I told them the lawyer is American, the judge is American, the jailer is American, and the opponent is American,” he said.
Abdullah Al Yamani (ISN 206, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Yamani, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, was accused in his review board at Guantánamo of knowing both Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in 2006) and the torture victim and CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah. He denied the allegations, and spoke very little about his time in Afghanistan, much of which was apparently spent in a safehouse in Kabul.
It also transpired that he was a survivor of what has become known as the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, when, he said, he was shot in the leg. The massacre 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 in total were killed in the massacre.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Yamani was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated December 16, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abdullah Muhammed Abdel Aziz and Abdullah Mohammad Mohammad Yahia al-Edaini, and it was noted that he was born in 1976. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” although he had a “history of GSW [gunshot wound] to left foot prior to his detention,” had been “evaluated by orthopaedic surgery and podiatry,” had “a history of haemorrhoids,” and “went on hunger strike in July 2005.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had left secondary school without graduating, had worked for a while as a receptionist, and had then secured work with his father, and that, while obviously unsure about his future, he met a man named Ibrahim at a mosque in Medina who “explained verses of the Koran, which mandated that a Muslim’s duty was ‘to prepare himself to stand against anyone who is against Islam,'” and told him “he could get free training, specifically on the Kalashnikov, in Afghanistan.” He said that he left for Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, “with travel instructions from lbrahim,” but “no contact information,” because, he said, the “Arabs would provide him with the guidance he needed.”
Taking a land route via Iran, rather than flying to Karachi, he arrived in Kabul, via Herat and a guesthouse in Kandahar, and undertook training at a camp outside Kabul that was identified as the Malek Center, where he stayed between four and six weeks. He claimed he was taken to the front lines twice, “but was not issued a weapon, remained in the rear, and did not fight,” and also claimed that, after training, he stayed in the Kabul guesthouse until “he heard that Kabul was to be bombed by US forces,” when “he reportedly fled to Kunduz,” and stayed in another guesthouse, before surrendering to General Dostum’s forces at Mazar-e-Sharif.
Describing the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, and al-Yamani’s experience of it, the Task Force noted, “A riot erupted; detainee was shot in the leg and then escaped to the basement of the castle to hide. He denied taking an active role in the uprising. After several days [actually a week], the group was allowed to surrender and the Red Cross treated detainee. He was taken to a jail in Sheberghan, AF, and delivered to US custody on 01 January 2002” in Kandahar. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 21, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban safe house used for mission planning and rest in the city of Kunduz, AF [and] Taliban controlled farm on the outskirts of Kabul, AF, where small arms training was conducted.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he had “provided incomplete accounts of his activities,” which made it “difficult to assess his true role within the jihadist network.” It was assessed that he had probably attended a basic training camp before the Malek Center, but facts were elusive. He was, however, assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” even though it was acknowledged that there was “no evidence” to indicate that he “had direct access to leadership” (which perhaps helps to evaluate how generally insignificant “medium” is in this context) 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 “an Al-Qaida member who received militant training at an Al-Qaida supported training camp in Afghanistan and resided in several Taliban/Al-Qaida guesthouses.” He was also assessed as being “a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant, yet non-hostile to the guard force and staff.”
However, what probably counted most in his favor was that, “After the July 2002 Saudi delegation visit, detainee was identified by the Saudi Ministry of Interior, General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) as one of the seventy-seven Saudi nationals of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US Government but of whom [sic] the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from JTF GTMO.”
This, in turn, presumably led to the Task Force observing that, although Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for “Continued Detention Under DoD Control,” updating a similar recommendation on May 21, 2004, “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). A visiting Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution.”
Anwar Al Nurr (ISN 226, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Anwar al-Nurr, a teacher who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three humanitarian aid workers arrested in Pakistan, despite only traveling to Afghanistan for charitable purposes. After watching TV footage of refugees fleeing to the Iranian border after the US-led invasion began, he and school principal Rashid al-Qa’id (ISN 344, see Part Six of this series), and another teacher, Wasim al-Omar (ISN 338, also see Part Six), decided to travel to the border to provide humanitarian aid. After spending a few days in Afghanistan, when they distributed money in refugee camps, they were not allowed back into Iran “due to prejudice; we were Sunni and they were Shiite.” They then stayed for a month in a hotel on the border, “trying and failing multiple times” to re-enter Iran, before deciding that their only hope was to cross into Pakistan.
Al-Omar explained that when they reached the border, the police told them to “go in an unofficial way, by bribing them,” but they refused because they wanted their actions to be legal. As a result, when they passed through a checkpoint, “They took my passport and that’s when [we were] put in prison for no reason.” Describing his feelings about being sold, he said that he heard that the going rate was between $5,000 and $8,000 a head, and explained, “It’s a hard truth when human beings are sold and bought. That makes us go all the way back, when humans had no value. It’s a shame for all human beings in general, and all the people who believe in human rights.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Nurr was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated April 28, 2006, in which he was identified as Anwar al-Nur and Anwar al-Shammeri, and it was noted that he was born in November 1969, and, if this was correct, was therefore not 24 years old when he was seized, but 32 years old. It was also noted that, in common with many of the prisoners, he had latent TB,” and it was also noted that he had “a hernia repair and nose surgery, both prior to detainment,” and that, in Guantánamo, he was being “followed by psychiatry for adjustment disorder,” and he “went on a hunger strike in September 2005.” Elsewhere, it was stated that he “participated in the July and August to September total voluntary fasts,” and, on August 13, 2005, “turned in all of his comfort items declaring, ‘I want to live like my brothers,’ referring to the non-compliant detainees in Camps 2/3.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “graduated from the Islamic University of Medina, SA, in 1994 and taught religion in Al-Jawf, SA” until 1997, when he “left teaching and went to work in an administrative position at the AI-Jawf Board of Education,” until, in 2000, he “took a leave of absence to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to do charity work.”
Al-Nurr said that, in July 2001, after meeting Ziyad al-Harbi, a humanitarian aid worker in his hometown, who worked with the organization Al-Ighatha (“Aid,” in Arabic, and almost certainly Al-Wafa, the Saudi charity regarded as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved), he confided in this man that he had “decided to take a leave of absence from his job and travel abroad to do charity work in accordance with the mandates of the Koran.” This man told him about his work as an Al-Ighatha volunteer, and he decided to go to Khost, in Afghanistan, to volunteer on behalf of Al-Ighatha In October 2001, traveling with al-Harbi and two other friends, identified as Otaibi (not identified further) and Wasem (presumably Wasim al-Omar).
The men arrived in Herat, Afghanistan, via Iran, and al-Nurr then left Otaibi and Wasem in Herat to do charity work with Al-Ighatha, while he and al-Harbi traveled to Khost, where they met a man named Muhammed al-Harbi who was not identified further, but may have been a relative of Ziyad’s. Al-Nurr and Ziyad then stayed in a house rented by Muhammed and another man, Abdallah al-Juhani, “working with orphans for a little over a month,” until, sometime on November 2001, he “departed Khost because it had become too dangerous to work there any longer.”
He said that he and approximately eight other people then traveled to the border with Pakistan, where they “encountered a Pakistani Army Unit and gave themselves up.” He was then turned over to US forces in Kohat on January 2, 2002, and flown to Kandahar, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Activities in Ceuta, Spain [and] Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmd ISN US9SP-000267DP [aka Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmad or Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, ISN 267, released in February 2004, and profiled here].
This should have been a straightforward story, but as the reasons for transfer noted above indicate, al-Nurr’s story was regarded as deeply suspicious by the Task Force, which assessed him as “a probable member of Al- Qaida,” who used “a standard Al-Qaida cover story to explain his presence in an area highly populated with jihadists.” It was also claimed that his name “was found on Al-Qaida associated documents,” that “he was captured with a senior Al-Qaida operative and other Al-Qaida members,” and that he had “a history of support to violent jihad.”
To reach these conclusions, the Task Force claimed that “[a]ctual events” (whatever that means) “place[d]” al-Nurr as part of “a group of individuals who crossed in the Nangarhar region of the Afghani-Pakistani border in mid-December 2001,” which was “assessed to be the group of Al-Qaida affiliated fighters led out of Tora Bora by Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi [aka Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a CIA “ghost prisoner” who was eventually returned to Libya, where he died in May 2009, and who was given the ISN number 212, even though he was never officially held at Guantánamo].
According to the Task Force, this was the group welcomed by Pakistani villagers, but then told to congregate in a mosque, “where they were immediately surrounded by Pakistani forces and hauled away in large trucks,” although it is unclear how, in the chaos of capture, US forces could be clear that al-Nurr was in that particular group, as no one in Guantánamo could be persuaded to claim that they had been with him. In fact, the only person in Guantánamo who claimed to have seen him anywhere was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni renowned as the most prolific and unreliable informant in Guantánamo, responsible for providing false information about many dozens of his fellow prisoners, who identified al-Nurr as Anwar al-Joyfey (aka al-Jawf or al-Joufi) and claimed that he had been in Tora Bora (the site of a showdown between Al-Qaida and US forces in November and December 2001) with another prisoner, Khalid al-Barakat (ISN 322), who was released in September 2007.
As an example of how difficult it is to be sure of the truth when it comes to the capture of the prisoners sent to Guantánamo, al-Nurr’s file also noted that, from the mosque, a prisoner on one of the trucks “attacked a guard leading to a struggle in which six Pakistani guards were killed and some prisoners were able to escape,” but this was simply not true, as this incident took place on a bus, and also took place several days after the men’s initial capture, when the intention was to transfer them to another prison.
Primarily, the Task Force’s suspicions about al-Nurr were aroused because the Saudi authorities claimed that his statement that “he took a leave of absence from work to perform humanitarian work” was not true, and that “his leave of absence was denied and he simply left his job and the country.” Even if true, this does not prove that he left for jihad, but what also caused consternation to the Task Force were claims that his name was found on various documents associated with Al-Qaida, and that “his pocket litter contained numerous names and phone numbers that require further exploitation, although some are known to belong to Al-Qaida members.”
The reference to his name being found on documents (from computers seized in house raids) surfaces in many other prisoners’ files, and is problematical primarily because some of these involve lists of alleged fighters compiled after the prisoners’ capture, presumably based on information that was leaked by the Pakistani authorities, and that was then made available by pro-jihadi sites on the Internet, even though the decision to describe them as fighters may only have been propaganda by those seeking to use the captured men for their own ends.
As for the pocket litter, that was superficially more troubling, as it was alleged that al-Nurr had pieces of paper with the names of some of his fellow prisoners, who were identified by the Task Force as having connections to Al-Qaida. The prisoners were Abdullah al-Wafti (ISN 262, released in November 2007), Ziyad al-Bahuth (ISN 272, released in December 2007, who was misidentified as Ziad Il Bihawith), Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269, a former child prisoner released after winning his habeas corpus petition in 2009, and misidentified as Yousef al-Qarani), and, as noted above, Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmad, (ISN 267), the Spanish prisoner also identified as Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, who was released in 2004.
All of these men were described either as “assessed Al-Qaida operatives” (al-Wafti and al-Bahuth), “an assessed Islamic extremist with close ties to Al-Qaida (El-Gharani), and an Al-Qaida recruit who was “groomed to lead an Al-Qaida cell in Spain” (Ahmad), but all of the above is nonsense. The first two men claimed that they were in Afghanistan for humanitarian aid, Mohammed El-Gharani’s alleged Al-Qaida ties consisted of being involved in an Al-Qaeda cell in London when he was eleven years old and had never left Saudi Arabia, and Ahmad was cleared by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2006.
Nevertheless, despite having nothing resembling evidence to confirm that al-Nurr was a threat, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and sometimes hostile to the guard force and staff.”
The Task Force also noted that, although the Saudi Mabahith had “provided information on thirty-seven detainees whom they designated as high priority,” creating a list on which he “was twenty-second,” Saudi intelligence then revised their opinion, and it was noted, “After the 2002 Saudi delegation visit detainee was identified by Mabahith as one of the 77 Saudi nationals of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US Government but whom the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from Guantanamo Bay.” Crucially, however, an analyst noted that “JTF GTMO does not concur with the Saudi Government assessment of detainee’s threat and intelligence value.”
As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a previous assessment to retain him under DoD control, which was dated August 23, 2005, although it was 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).” Of significance was the Saudi delegation’s indication “that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution.”
Salah Al Balushi (ISN 227, Bahrain) Released October 2006
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Salah al-Balushi (also identified as Salah al-Blooshi), who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, went to Afghanistan on a humanitarian mission, although, in Guantánamo, he was obliged to fend off all manner of allegations about his purported associations with Al-Qaida. I also noted that he had not spoken since his release.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Balushi was a “Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated November 17, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in December 1981, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “played guitar for a Reggae band in Bahrain prior to his conversion to the strict Salafi sect of Islam in the second year of high school, aged 17,” and that, in 2001, he was a student at a religious college in Medina when he became interested in the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddha statutes in Bamiyan province, and decided to visit the country. Using money saved from his student allowance, and having informed his father of the trip, he set off for Balochistan province (via Karachi) in July 2001, staying with a friend for three weeks, and then traveling on to Kandahar, where he had been given a contact, and then Kabul, where he had been given another contact.
According to his account, he then “became very sick and required hospitalization for approximately 1.5 months.” When he was discharged, he “made the decision to leave because of the dangerous atmosphere in Kabul.” However, although he had left his passport for safekeeping at the house where he had been staying, another patient told him that he had heard that this man, Muhjin Al-Taifi, had left for Jalalabad. After traveling to Jalalabad, he said, “he became sick again,” and “spent another month in a hospital,” and then made his way with another man, Abu Yayha al-Masri, to the Pakistani border “without reacquiring his passport,” and was “captured in a village just inside Pakistan by the Pakistani army,” and “turned over to US custody on 2 January 2002 from Kohat, PK.” After being held in Afghanistan for five months, he was sent to Guantánamo on May 1, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “to provide information on the following: Various safe houses throughout Afghanistan and the persons who ran them [and] General information on routes of ingress and egress for Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “a probable member of Al-Qaida,” whose “[f]ew admitted associates ha[d] significant roles and responsibilities within Al-Qaida,” and it was also claimed that his name “was found on several documents recovered from Al-Qaida safe houses which list detainee among other Al-Qaida members.” I highlighted the problem with this latter claim in the profile of Anwar al-Nurr (above), and when it comes to the claim that al-Balushi was “a probable member of Al-Qaida,” the main grounds for this presumption were the alleged Al-Qaida connections of the people he stayed with in Balochistan, Kandahar and Kabul, which does not establish much about al-Balushi himself, especially as there are no claims that he undertook training or ever took up arms against US or coalition forces.
With nothing else to go on, the Task Force assessed al-Balushi 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.” He was also “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” as his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant, but rarely hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, after pointing out that he had previously been recommended to be retained under DoD control (on February 18, 2005), Maj. Gen. Hood noted that, based upon unspecified information obtained since his previous assessment, it was now recommended that he be “Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” but only “[i]f a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence.” It was also noted, “If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached for his continued detention, he should be Retained under DoD control (CD).”
Prior to his release, on July 23, 2006, one of his lawyers, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, described his “last interrogation” in an article in Gulf Daily News. After stating that “the camp authorities acknowledge[d] that 75% of the detainees [we]re no longer interrogated,” he “estimated that even fewer detainees [we]re currently being interrogated than US spokesmen acknowledged,” and explained that al-Balushi had “not been interrogated at all in 2006,” and that, during his last interrogation, he “was asked about his activities in the war in Bosnia in 1995. Salah responded that he had been aged 14 in 1995 and wasn’t anywhere near Bosnia. When Salah refused to get into a long discussion in response to such a silly question, his interrogator said that he didn’t want Salah to stay at Guantánamo until his hair turned white. Salah understood this statement as a threat.”
Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari (ISN 228, Kuwait) Released September 2006
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Kandari, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was an engineer for the ministry of water and electricity and a father of four, and was also a well-known figure in Kuwait, as he played volleyball for the national team.
In Guantánamo, he said that he was moved by the plight of refugees fleeing to Iran after the US-led invasion began. He took a ten-day vacation and traveled to the Afghan border, where he gave $15,000 to a humanitarian aid worker who bought food and blankets for the refugees, but when he tried to return to Iran he was told that the borders were closed to Arabs. His Afghan guide then took him to Jalalabad, to look for a way into Pakistan. Describing what happened next, al-Kandari said, “He put me in a home and he went back to the border. They told him, no, I couldn’t leave the country because I am Arabic. I was then moved from home to home. The problems got worse. The people there wanted to kill Arabs. I was told to be careful and don’t go anywhere. I was always stuck in a small room and never went out.
When his guide gave up on the legal approach, he found two men to take him to the border, who seem to have betrayed him for money. After keeping him in a house for a few days, they took him to the mosque where dozens of others were taken by local villagers, and it was here that he was handed over to the Pakistani army.
In an article based on an interview with al-Kandari for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, it was noted, by Tom Lasseter, that, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, he “listened to three pieces of evidence that, combined with classified information that he wasn’t allowed to see, formed the US government’s case that he was an enemy combatant who could be held indefinitely.” Lasseter noted that, although some prisoners were accused of “having ties to Al-Qaida leaders, working with charities that funded terrorist attacks, taking part in battles against American forces in Afghanistan, having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, training at terrorist camps,” al-Kandari “wasn’t one of them.”
He added, “It isn’t possible to be certain why he went to Afghanistan in September 2001 — he claims it was for charity — but the evidence against him that day was thinner than what was presented against men who were released months, sometimes years, before he was.”
He also explained that the first piece of evidence was that al-Kandari “traveled to Afghanistan, via Iran, in late September 2001 with $15,000 in cash,” which he acknowledged as true, but stated that he had traveled to Afghanistan “to fulfill his Islamic duty to charity and had given all but $2,000 of the money to Afghan families.”
The second and third allegations were even more ridiculous. One involved a claim — aired against many prisoners — that he “wore the same model Casio watch that Al-Qaida members used to detonate bombs,” and the third was that an alias of his “was found on a computer owned by a senior Al-Qaida leader.” In attempting to unravel this mystery, al-Kandari asked, “Can you tell me the name that was found in the computer?” but was told, “We don’t have that information in the unclassified evidence,” by the tribunal president, a US Air Force colonel.
As Tom Lasseter described it, al-Kandari “tried to guess what the alias might have been, but he got no response from the three officers, according to the transcript. ‘Why he put my name in the computer, I don’t know. They don’t know me; I swear they don’t know me … The problem is the secret information; I can’t defend myself,’ Kandari said.”
The tribunal, of course, duly ruled that al-Kandari was an enemy combatant, and, as Lasseter noted, in his review board hearing the year after, more unsubstantiated and irrefutable allegations were made: that “he attended basic training held by Libyans in Afghanistan in 2000, that he had connections to Al-Qaida members and that he knew someone in Kuwait who’d been described as a legal adviser and friend of Osama bin Laden.” As Lasseter also explained, it wasn’t clear where the additional charges came from, and Tom Wilner, his lawyer at the time, “said that when he saw the new allegations from the review board he went to review classified intelligence files that should have had information substantiating the charges. But, he said, there was nothing new in those files. Wilner said he was left to assume that the charges were the result of other detainees who were trying to gain favor with interrogators — and quicker release — fabricating stories about their cellmates.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Kandari was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated December 27, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abdullah Kamel Abdullah, and it was noted that he was born in September 1973. It was also noted that his “in processing BMI [body mass index] on 11 Feb 02 was 20%,” that he had an allergy to soybean oil, peanuts and corn,” and that he “went on hunger strike in October 2002 and September 2005.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “was employed at the Kuwaiti Electric and Water Institute, where he supervised employees conducting potable water line repair and monitoring the mineral composition of the water,” but that, after September 11, 2001, he decided that “he wanted to help the children and the poor in Afghanistan,” and visited a mosque where an Afghan man, Kulaam, provided him with a letter of introduction and an address in Herat. He then traveled to Afghanistan with the $15,000 mentioned above, flying to Iran, and then traveling by taxi to Herat, where, he said, he spent two weeks “purchasing and distributing 13,000 USD worth of humanitarian supplies to nearby refugees,” using “rented vehicles to distribute the supplies to refugees on the Afghanistan and Iran border.”
Al-Kandari said that “he tried returning home to Kuwait several times, but was repeatedly denied entrance at the Iranian border despite having entered Afghanistan legally.” He then gave up, travelling to Jalalabad,where he stayed for up to two months, and then “paid 100 USD to Afghani guides to smuggle him into Pakistan,” and was “arrested at a mosque on 17 December 2001,” with others caught fleeing Afghanistan. As the Task Force noted, he “was captured without documentation, which he claim[ed] was lost during his travels,” and he also “denied he was acquainted with the individuals with whom he was captured.”
The Pakistani authorities subsequently transferred him to US custody on January 2, 2002 at Kohat, and he was then flown to the US-run “Kandahar Detention Center.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Safe houses in Jalalabad and Herat [and] Additional information on his activities in Afghanistan between 1 September and 30 December 2001 in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Joint Task Force refused to accept the thinness of the allegations against him, claiming that his story of “performing charity work in Afghanistan [was] a common cover story for Arab fighters,” and also noting that he had “omitted details of places and individuals met during the approximately 100 days spent in Afghanistan, especially his time in Jalalabad.”
In attempting to defend this position, the Task Force claimed that Adel al-Zamel (ISN 568, released in November 2005) said that al-Kandari had traveled to Afghanistan previously, in 2000, allegedly for “training,” but there is no way of knowing how accurate this was. Certainly, the Task Force suggested, as they did with most of the Kuwaitis, that they had all “possibly brought funds to the Al-Wafa non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kabul,” which was regarded as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved. Probably the most troubling allegation against al-Kandari was an unattributed claim that he “was with his cousin Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari [ISN 552, still held] in Tora Bora in November 2001 when they requested to meet and possibly travel with UBL [Osama bin Laden],” although this also seems dubious, as does further information — an analyst’s note, for example, claiming that the al-Kandari cousins “were possibly being looked at as bodyguards of UBL’s entourage as they traveled through Tora Bora.”
In its assessment, the Task Force decided that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] often been compliant with occasional hostility to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a recommendation for him to be retained in DoD control, which was dated April 17, 2004, and his release became dependant on pressure exerted by the Kuwaiti government, a staunch US ally, of course, as a result of the first Gulf War in 1991.
Mohammed Laalami (ISN 237, Morocco) Released February 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (2) – Tora Bora,” I explained how Mohammed Laalami, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of training at the Al-Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan, but said in Guantánamo that this was something that he had admitted “when I was captured and being beaten and threatened with death.” He added, “I have spoken with a lawyer here and the Red Cross in Kandahar. I and others were being beaten and admitted to things that were not true.”
According to his version of events, he went to Afghanistan for two months “as a pilgrimage” with his family, although he later admitted that he was captured alone, and was not asked to explain what had happened to his family. Refuting an allegation that he was captured by Northern Alliance soldiers in Tora Bora, he said, “I was captured in a small village in Jalalabad by Afghans. I did not have a weapon.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Laalami was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control (CD),” dated December 27, 2003, in which he was identified as Suleiman M. al-Alami, born in January 1976, and it was noted that he apparently “claimed he was recruited in Morocco by Ahmed Rafiki, who was a leading member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (MIFG), to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to train and fight Jihad on behalf of the Taliban.” He apparently moved his family to Kabul, where he was apparently supposed to train with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (opponents of Colonel Gaddafi), but “his training was delayed,” so he allegedly “shifted his affiliations to Al-Qaida,” which sounds like an implausible shift of allegiance, and trained at Al-Farouq.
In late November 2001, as the Northern Alliance took Jalalabad, he and others apparently “fled towards the Tora Bora Mountains where they took refuge before fleeing over the Pakistan border.” Laalami “was captured by Pakistani Army units and turned over to US control,” and was sent to Guantánamo on February 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was “because of his knowledge of Taliban recruitment, training, and tactics as well as his possible affiliation with Al-Qaida.”
In assessing Laalami, the Task Force claimed that he was “a self-admitted member of the MIFG,” described as a Tier 2 terrorist organisation,” and also claimed that he was “a probable member of Al-Qaida” and had “a confirmed affiliation with the LIFB [presumably the LIFG],” described as “a Tier 3 terrorist organisation.” Noting that he had apparently “admitted to having trained at Al-Farouq on advanced courses such as tactics and explosives,” had been at Al- Farouq “when Osama Bin Laden visited twice to encourage and reinforce the trainee’s commitment to the cause of Jihad,” and had “also admitted to having had personal contact with senior extremist leaders,” the Task Force described him as “a dedicated Islamic extremist,” who “remains dedicated to Jihad.”
It was also noted that, although he had been “forthright,” he had “not disclosed any information that could be used as actionable intelligence.” It was also assessed that he would “remain loyal to his extremist organizations,” and, as a result, he was assessed as being “of moderate intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a high risk as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “[r]etain[ed] under DoD control.”
However, it was clear that the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed, although, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF [deferred] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a high risk,” and it took another two years and two months until he was released.
In November 2006, Laalami and the other two Moroccans released with him in February 2006 — Najib Lahcini (ISN 75, see Part One of this series), and Muhammad Hussein Ali Hassan (ISN 123, see Part Two 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 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.”
This appeared to justify the alarming file on Laalami that was compiled at Guantánamo, but in May 2007, Laalami (identified at the time 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.
Haji Hajaj Al Sulami (ISN 245, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (4) – Escape to Pakistan (The Saudis),” I explained how Haji Hajaj al-Sulami (whose name was extremely confusing to the US authorities, who referred to him as Al-Silm Haji Hajjaj Awwad al-Hajjaji) was 21 years old at the time of his capture, and was extremely uncooperative during his CSRT hearing. He was appalled at what he perceived to be the injustice of the proceedings, asking, “Is this court true or is it a lie?” Although he was accused of traveling to Afghanistan “to join the jihad and fight with the Taliban,” and acknowledged that he had attended the Al-Farouq training camp, he maintained that he had not engaged in any kind of hostilities (and he was not, in fact, accused of taking part in combat). “I did carry a weapon, but not in battle,” he said. “A lot of people went to the mountains. I was given a weapon to protect myself and five others. Each person had to guard the group of people for one hour. We were in a burrow approximately the size of this room.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Sulami was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated April 14, 2006, in which it was noted that there had been a fundamental confusion in Guantánamo between him and Salah al-Balushi (ISN 227, see above), whose name was on his file. It was also noted that he was born in 1980, and that he was “in good health,” although he had “a chronic skin condition which require[d] topical medications.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he graduated from high school in 1998 and subsequently worked as a general laborer, until he was recruited to travel to Afghanistan, and introduced to a facilitator who “supplied [him] with plane tickets and arranged for someone to meet [him] in Lahore, Pakistan,” which made a difference from the usual route via Karachi. In Lahore, he apparently took a room in a hotel, as instructed, and stayed for a week before an unidentified Pakistani gave him a plane ticket to Quetta, where he met another contact at the airport, who took him over the border to Kandahar.
He then attended the Al-Farouq training camp (but not in “late 2001,” as the file claimed, because the camp closed after 9/11), and said that, “After seven days he was asked to leave because he had fallen ill with an unspecified kidney disease, precluding him from participating in physical training.” He “was then reassigned to work in a guesthouse in Kandahar. His story then jumped to Tora Bora, where, apparently, on arrival, he “was issued a weapon and hid in the various cave complexes,” until, on or about December 17, 2001, Northern Alliance forces captured him while he was “hiding in a cave in Tora Bora with approximately five other fighters.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Training camps, camp leadership and training of Taliban fighters at Al-Farouq.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he “declined to confirm or deny engaging US forces in combat,” and clearly expressed frustration, noting that he had “provided limited information about his recruitment, travel, and activities.” It was noted that his name allegedly appeared on Al-Qaida documents, which was taken to “substantiate that he had associations with Al-Qaida members,” although I am wary of trusting references to names in documents for reasons outlined earlier in this article.
Of particular relevance, it seems to me, is the note that, “Barring the single possible identification of detainee by senior Al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah, no one else has provided information about [him],” which the Task Force regarded as “perplexing given [his] admission of working for a year in a key guesthouse for Arab mujahideen in Afghanistan” (the Al-Nebras guesthouse). The problems here are, firstly, that Abu Zubaydah was actually a torture victim and CIA “ghost prisoner,” who was only transferred to Guantánamo after four and a half years in secret prisons. As a result, his statements cannot be regarded as reliable, and as the sum of his statements about al-Sulami were that he “initially recognized a photo of [him], but could not remember where he had seen him,” and then, in a later interview, “stated that he believed he saw [him] at the Al-Zubayr guesthouse in Kandahar,” it is possible that he was lying to avoid further torture, and did not recognize him at all.
The second problem, as conceded by the Task Force, is that, even if Abu Zubaydah’s identification was correct, no one else recalled al-Sulami, which means either that he lied about the whole episode (which is, after all, possible, as confessions — whether true or not — were the sole purpose of the whole process of detention and interrogation), or that he was at the guesthouse but was thoroughly insignificant, perhaps playing a very lowly role as a servant.
Nevertheless, the Task Force concluded that he was “assessed to be a jihadist whose true activities in Afghanistan (AF) remain[ed] undetermined,” although it was noted that, in Tora Bora, he “probably participated in hostilities against coalition forces.” He 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.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” as his “overall behaviour, although “mainly compliant,” had been “occasionally hostile to the guard force and staff.” In fact, he was reported to be regularly provocative and manipulative.
As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated July 15, 2005), although it was 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),” and that, presumably, happened eight months later.
Ahmed Adil (ISN 260, China) Released May 2006 (in Albania)
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, of all the wrongfully detained men captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the most woeful group were the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province. There were 22 Uighurs in Guantánamo in total, mostly in their twenties, who had fled from Chinese oppression in their homeland, and 18 of them had made their way, between May and October 2001, to a small, isolated, rundown settlement in the Tora Bora mountains, where they spent their days reading the Koran and repairing its broken-down buildings (five simple houses and a mosque), and dreamed of hitting back at their oppressors — or finding a way to get to Turkey or Europe, or even the US — in search of work. Occasionally, they fired one or two bullets from the camp’s only gun, an aging AK-47.
The men arrived at the camp in varied ways. Some went there deliberately, while others ended up there while seeking a new start in life, but their isolated, subsistence-level existence came to an end in October 2001, when the camp was hit in a US bombing raid. Yusef Abbas (ISN 275, still held), who was injured in the raid, said that one man died and “we were covered in half a bucket of his body meat.” After the bombing, the men spent a month dodging bombing raids, staying, on one occasion, in a place that “even had monkeys that were also screaming at us,” according to another of the men, Dawut Abdurehim (ISN 289, released in Palau in October 2009). Finally, they saw a large group of Arabs making their way to the Pakistani border, and decided to follow them at a distance.
On arrival, they were among the many dozens of men who were welcomed and then betrayed by villagers. Yusef Abbas explained, “It was the third day of a Muslim holiday … the local people there welcomed us since it was a holiday. They gave us meat and good food.” Abu Bakker Qassim (ISN 283, see Part Five of this series) took up the story: “In the middle of the night, the villagers told us they would take us to another place. We walked two to three hours away to a mosque. The tribe people tricked us and turned us over to the Pakistani authorities.” Ahmed Adil, who was 28 years old at the time, concluded the story:
At the mosque there were a lot of people, Uighurs, Arabs and others as well. There weren’t any Pakistani soldiers or anyone with rifles or weapons to capture us. When we were in the mosque, they told us to get out. We went out in groups of ten and we were taken to a car. They drove us for a couple [of] hours and we ended up in the Pakistani prison.
In the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Adil was one of the 38 prisoners, out of 558 prisoners in total, to succeed in convincing their tribunals, and the authorities overseeing the tribunals, they they were not “enemy combatants” — or, as the administration insisted, that they were “no longer enemy combatants.” The Pentagon’s document listing the 38 (PDF) describes them as “Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of ‘Enemy Combatant’ during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantánamo.” 29 of these men were released in 2004 and 2005 (as I explained in “WikiLeaks and the Guantanamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005),” but Adil, four other Uighurs and three other men were not freed until 2006, when another country — Albania — was found that was prepared to take them (and the last of the 38 was repatriated to Saudi Arabia).
Cynically, the Bush administration waited until the last moment to free Adil and his compatriots. They were sent to Albania, where they were housed in a refugee center, on May 5, 2006, just three days before a habeas corpus petition filed by two of the men, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdul Hakim (ISN 293, also see Part Five), was due to be heard by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington D.C. For a report on how they were adapting to their new lives after their first 16 months, see “Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania.”
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, Matthew Schofield visited Tirana to speak to Adil and his companions. Adil explained that he was one of the Uighurs who had ended up in Afghanistan while seeking a new life for himself and his family. He said that he sold clothes for a living, but “had fled the Sinkiang region of northern China in 2000, hoping to find a new home where he’d be able to do business free of government harassment.” He told Matthew Schofield that his plan had been “to put together a nest egg of $10,000, enough to get his family — wife, son, daughter and mother — to Europe, but instead he ended up broke in Afghanistan.” As travel between countries was difficult, “friends in Pakistan had recommended in August 2001 that he travel to a small village where he’d find other Uighurs from his region.”
Describing the settlement, Adil confirmed how basic it was. “It was a simple life, but there was food and shelter, and company,” he said. “I’d only been there 45 days when the bombing started. At first I wasn’t worried, because it had nothing to do with me. But then it did. The bombs got close.” He confirmed that, for a month, he and his companions “lived in caves, or crevices, scars in the rock face that offered shelter from the wind but little else.” However, “they weren’t the only occupants: They’d displaced the monkeys who’d been living in the caves,” and, Adil said, while “bombs were still falling in the area,” and “[s]now was piling up around him, the wind was cutting through his winter wrappings and monkeys were throwing rocks at him from the ledge above,” he “figured that he’d seen the worst life had to offer.”
After a month, however, they all realized, Adil said, that “the bombing wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, so they moved on, hiking through deep snow at night to hide from the bombs.” Eventually, they moved south to Pakistan, where they were welcomed and betrayed, as he had explained at Guantánamo. “We came down from this hike into a Pakistani village,” he said, adding, “They welcomed us to their feast.” However, the next day, the villagers claimed that “Pakistani soldiers were coming and would arrest them if they stayed,” and “led them to a mosque in another village nearby, where they said it would be safe to hide.” As Adil explained, “Of course, we did not know they would collect a reward for turning people in. There were many people at the mosque, and the soldiers arrested us all.”
He then spent six months in the US prison at Kandahar airport, and was then flown to Guantánamo, where, he said, “he was chained to the floor during interrogations, locked alone for days, weeks, in a cage 6 feet deep and 3 feet wide.”
US officials had obligingly “designated the village in the Tora Bora mountains a terrorist training camp,” primarily to ensure that the Chinese government remained onside in the “War on Terror,” and did not specifically oppose the invasion of Iraq, but in his tribunal at Guantánamo, as Schofield noted, he was accused of “nothing more than learning to use and break down an AK-47 rifle” — an allegation which he denied. He added that officials at Guantánamo made a point of accusing the Uighurs of supporting Al-Qaida, but, as Schofield explained, “the accusations weren’t made in public documents.”
Looking back, Adil said, he “[couldn’t] help but wonder whether the monkeys — chattering, throwing rocks, trying to scare them back down to their village — had known that the path ahead was very difficult.” “Life is funny that way,” he said. “When troubles come, you think things cannot get worse. Then you learn they can.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Ahmed Adil was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated February 14, 2004, in which he was also identified as Ahman Adil, Oblekim Abdurasul or Oblekim Abdursal, born in 1973, and it was also noted that he was “in good health.”
The assessment preceded his success in his CSRT, but obviously made no sense, as the US government was not prepared to send any of the Uighurs back to China, and therefore could not expect another country to detain them on America’s behalf, but this was just another example of the illogical mess created at Guantánamo. This update was particularly nonsensical given that, in the previous assessment on January 25, 2003, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller had at least recommended that Adil be “considered for release or transfer to the control of another government” (emphasis added), based on an assessment that he “was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader.”
Nevertheless, this subtle upgrading of his supposed threat level was based on a slew of “New Information” regarded as significant by the Task Force, whose mission was evidently to find any reason not to allow prisoners to leave Guantánamo, even if it was not acknowledged as such. This “New Information” consisted of the alarmist rhetoric about the Uighurs’ settlement in Afghanistan that was designed to placate the Chinese government; namely, that Adil was “a probable member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM),” described as “a Uigher [sic] separatist organization dedicated to the creation of a Uigher [sic] Islamic homeland in China, through armed insurrection and terrorism.” These were high claims for an “organization” that barely existed, and was certainly not any kind of credible threat to the Chinese government.
However, what was also noticeable about the file was an additional claim, which I had not come across before, whereby it was stated, without a shred of evidence to back it up, that “[s]ensitive reporting” indicated that “ETIM and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have unified their efforts to form a larger and more capable terrorist organization, which is now directly affiliated and supported by Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.” It was also noted that further unspecified “[r]eporting” indicated that “both ETIM and the IMU ha[d] expanded and focused their efforts on the United States and ha[d] made attacking Americans their main priority,” which was another piece of startling propaganda, produced in Washington and/or Beijing, that bore no resemblance to the truth when it came to the purported activities of ETIM — although the IMU, it has been clearly established, was closely aligned with the Taliban.
Accompanying this were allied claims that Adil had “received training in an ETIM training camp in Afghanistan,” and that he “was captured in Pakistan along with other Uigher [sic] fighters and Al-Qaida members,” even though it is clear that the Uighurs only joined up with a group of Arabs leaving Afghanistan because they were lost.
In its assessment, the Task Force noted that he had been “fully exploited” as far as his intelligence value was concerned, and that, in Guantánamo, he had “shown very little signs of being non-compliant and no signs of aggressiveness.” He was, however, assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies,” because of the ETIM allegations, which led to an absurd declaration that he “had some level of terrorist training” (on the Uighurs’ one and only gun), which, it was claimed, was “confirmed by associations with known terrorist group(s),” and it was also claimed that he was therefore “highly vulnerable to future recruitment by terrorist groups targeting the US and its allies,” even though, like all the other Uighurs, it was clear that he only ever had one enemy — the Chinese government.
As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller made his recommendation about transferring Adil to detention in another country, although it was clear that the Joint Task Force was alone in its opinion, as the Criminal Investigative Task Force had “assessed [him] as a low risk on 19 May 2003.” However, “ln the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF [deferred] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a medium risk.”
Abdul Aziz Al Baddah (ISN 264, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Aziz al-Baddah, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, and was married with a two-year old daughter, traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001, with his cousins Ibrahim al-Nasir and Abdul Aziz al-Nasir (ISN 271 and 273, see Part Five of this series), to help Afghan refugees with donations of their own money. In Guantánamo, he admitted staying in Kabul at the office of the Saudi charity Al-Wafa (which was regarded in Guantánamo as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved), but insisted that he was not an employee, and knew nothing about its supposed connections to Al-Qaida.
When the bombing of Kabul began, he said that he and his cousins went to Logar, where they stayed in an Al-Wafa house for a week, but when they attempted to return to Kabul to retrieve their passports the city had fallen to the Northern Alliance, and they decided to return home via Pakistan, where they turned themselves over to the police.
In addition to his alleged connection with Al-Wafa, al-Baddah was also accused of being associated with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. Formerly one of the largest Islamic NGOs in the world, devoted to charitable deeds and education and with a turnover of $50 million, several of its offices worldwide were accused of being fronts for terrorist funding and were condemned by the US. Although US officials “privately conceded that only a small percentage of the total was diverted” and that few of those who worked for the organisation knew that money was being funnelled to Al-Qaida, the Saudi government was put under enormous pressure to shut down the entire organization, which it did in February 2004.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Baddah was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated March 2, 2006, in which he was also identified as Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Aziz al-Baddah, born in April 1982, and it was also noted that he had serious mental health problems. It was stated that he had “a history of self-mutilation,” and was “seen by Behavioral Health Science in September 2002,” that he had “a history of an unsuccessful suicide attempt” and “a history of anxiety and depression with transient psychotic symptoms,” and also that he had “a history of panic disorder.” In addition, he was diagnosed with a “history of latent TB,” in common with many of the prisoners, and it was also noted that he had “a history of musculoskeletal pain in the left knee, left shoulder & lower back,” and “a history of tinea pedis” (athlete’s foot).
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he “left high school early and worked for his father who owned several businesses including a car dealership, a furniture showroom, a restaurant, a consulting business, and a hardware store.” He also traveled widely as a tourist and on business, to countries including the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Turkey.
It was also noted that, “[i]nfluenced by televised reports of Afghan poverty and encouraged by Wael al-Jabri, an employee of [his] father, [he] decided to travel to Afghanistan to perform charity work.” Al-Jabri reportedly “told [him] that Al-Wafa had an office in Kabul, AF, and that it was safe to go because all the fighting was in the north,” and so, on October 14, 2001, he set off with his cousins for Afghanistan, via Syria and iran. On October 27, 2001, they “met up with Wael al-Jabri and crossed the lranian border with the assistance of an Afghan named Farial” (assessed to be Aminullah Tukhi, ISN 1012, released in December 2007, but here identified as Aminullah Baryalai Tukhiak), arriving in Kabul on November 2, 2001.
As he explained in Guantánamo, in Kabul they went to the Al-Wafa office where Abdul Aziz (identified as Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, ISN 5, released in December 2007) apparently “met and housed them.” Al-Matrafi was described as “the Kabul Al-Wafa office manager,” although he is generally identified as the founder and director of Al-Wafa. The Task Force noted that he then “took them on a tour of Al-Wafa facilities and explained the charitable objectives of Al-Wafa,” and, for approximately a week, the three relatives “distributed food supplies to surrounding villages,” until, in the hope of “escaping the bombing campaign,” as the Northern Alliance approached the capital, they were advised to travel to Logar, and then to “cross the border to the Saudi embassy in Pakistan.”
With another man named Abdullah (al-Wafti, ISN 262, released in November 2007, and identified here as Abdullah Abd al-Mu’in al-Waft), they set off for Logar on November 8, 2001, staying until November 13, when a man named Mohammed Agha “met the group and transported them to his house on the outskirts of Khost.” From there they were taken to Jalalabad (on November 30), where they stayed for another week, and in early December Mohammed Agha took the four men across the border near Peshawar. On December 14, al-Baddah “went to a Pakistani police station looking for assistance in contacting the Saudi Embassy,” but he “was subsequently detained and turned over to the Pakistani Army,” who transferred him to US custody on January 3, 2002. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Humanitarian aide [sic] in Afghanistan.”
Despite this, the humanitarian aid he was allegedly sent to Guantánamo to discuss was actually the furthest thing from the minds of the Task Force members assigned to his case. It was claimed that he had failed to mention his involvement with Al-Haramain, and, most alarmingly, it was claimed that Adel al-Zamel (ISN 568), a Kuwaiti released in November 2005, who was actually the manager of the Kabul office, “identified [him] as a major HIF financier involved in a large-scale Saudi-based money-laundering network.” Al-Zamel also apparently said that al-Baddah and his cousins “facilitated the collection and distribution of large amounts of Saudi raised money in efforts to support extremist activities in Afghanistan,” and that al-Baddah “collected and stored funds at his house in Saudi Arabia (upwards up to [sic] $1.2 million USD collected monthly),” which was then “distributed to Afghanistan extremists via an unknown Pakistani-based hawala.”
The problem with this is firstly that al-Zamel’s reliability is unknown, and my fear is that he was prevailed upon to make a number of false allegations against his fellow prisoners, as he also made an unsubstantiated allegation about Abdullah Kamel al-Kandari (ISN 228, see above). Moreover, if al-Baddah really was collecting up to $1.2 million a month to support extremism in Afghanistan, it was unusual that, although “in late June 2002, the Saudi Ministry of Interior General Information Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) provided information on thirty-seven detainees whom they designated as high priority,” and al-Baddah “was thirty-third on that list,” by July 2002, when “a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited JTF GTMO and interviewed [him, he] was identified as of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US, and unlikely to pose a terrorist threat to the US or its interests.” Instead, “the Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of [him] for possible prosecution as soon as the US determined it no longer wanted to hold him.”
In assessing him, the Task Force determined that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also assessed as “a low threat from a detention perspective,” as his “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile with the guard force and staff,” although an additional piece of interesting information was the observation that he “ha[d] no hostile actions on record against guards or JTF staff beyond telling an observer that he doesn’t have to listen to him, only the bloc NCO.” This took place on May 24, 2005, and he was then “placed in Camp 2/3” — isolation blocks — “where he made a token effort in the July Voluntary Total Fast by foregoing nine meals.”
As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (on January 7, 2005), although 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, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO),” based on the “visiting Saudi delegation indicat[ing] that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution.”
Tariq Al Harbi (ISN 265, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Sharon Curcio, a military intelligence analyst who read over 600 transcripts of interrogations conducted at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004, noted in a report, “Generational Differences in Waging Jihad,” published in Military Review in 2005, how many of the prisoners were persuaded to travel to Afghanistan for jihad by imams and sheikhs in their home countries who were “quick to position jihad as the panacea for lost, disenfranchised youth” — those who were unemployed, had failed in education or in business, or had family problems — and also noted that, for the educated, the call to jihad was used to play on their “desire for self-discovery and a challenge,” and, for the unskilled, was presented as “alternative employment.” She also explained that charitable organizations “frequently hired young men for warehouse and distribution work to provide relief materials such as foodstuffs or blankets to a local population, so the call to jihad appeared to be more of the same.”
I also noted how Curcio’s observations were reflected in some of the prisoners’ stories, and one of the stories I cited was that of Tariq al-Harbi, who was just 18 years old at the time of his capture, who said in Guantánamo that the sheikhs “told him that he had to go to Afghanistan to help the poor and needy or God would punish him.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Harbi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated December 8, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1983, and was “in good health,” although his “inprocessing BMI [body mass index] on 12 Feb 02 was 20%,” and he had “a history of latent TB,” in common with many of the prisoners, but was “noncompliant with treatment.” It was also noted elsewhere in his file that he “was a major participant in the Voluntary Total Fast (VTF),” which began in the summer of 2005, “missing up to 104 meals in the second half of the VTF.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “was a poor student,” who left school at the age of 18, and then “began to help on his father’s farm.” In “approximately July of 2001,” he was inspired by a fatwa which “stated every Muslim should wage jihad in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance troops.” His father then “helped to finance and arrange his travel,” and he traveled to Kandahar, via Karachi and Quetta, where he “reported to an Arab guesthouse” (assessed to be Al-Nebras). There, “[u]nidentified Arabs informed [him] that weapons training was a prerequisite to join the Taliban,” and “transported [him] to Al-Farouq training camp, where he spent approximately 20 days conducting prayer, manual labor, physical conditioning, and small arms training.” An analyst noted that he reported that “the full course of training would have taken 40 days, but he left early for various reasons,” described as “the arduous physical labor, poor food, insects, and presence of approximately 10 other Arabs.”
He then returned to the guesthouse,” and, a few weeks later, “met Taliban representatives and inquired if he could become a member, but was rejected due to his youth.” He then “traveled to Jalalabad, AF with the intent to join another Taliban unit,” staying at a guesthouse “operated by unidentified Arabs” for about two months, and then “decided to cross the Pakistani border in hopes that Pakistani authorities would take him to the Saudi embassy to arrange transportation back to Saudi Arabia,” but, instead, he was arrested and transferred to US custody. The Task Force also noted that, in another interrogation, he apparently conceded that he had traveled via the Tora Bora region, “but did not ascend the mountain as far as Tora Bora.” The Pakistani authorities transferred him to US custody in Kohat on January 3, 2002 and he was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban recruitment methods being used in Saudi Arabia [and] Al-Farouq training camp in Kandahar.”
Although he “claimed to have no knowledge of terrorist matters or have any association with Al-Qaida,” the Task Force noted that he had “failed to provide an accurate and complete picture of his actions and associates,” and, as well as listing references to documents seized in house raids, which apparently contained his name, claimed that he was related to “deceased Saudi Al-Qaida cell leader Salih Muhammad Awadhallah al-Alawi al-Awfi,” and to Mazin al-Awfi (ISN 154), who was described as an “assessed Al-Qaida member,” although that was essentially meaningless, as Arab Taliban recruits were routinely described as “Al-Qaida members.”
The source of these claims was Humoud al-Jadani (ISN 230, released in July 2007), who reported that al-Harbi was “either a cousin or a nephew” of Salih al-Awfi, who, he said, “provided false documents for individuals traveling to Chechnya and Afghanistan for jihad.” Al-Jadani also “reported that Mazin al-Awfi was his nephew, and the authorities at Guantánamo then performed a DNA test on al-Awfi and al-Harbi “to determine possible familial ties,” which “determined that the two possess mitochondrial DNA that is consistent with a shared maternal lineage.”
Quite what this proved was not explained, but another attempt to ramp up al-Harbi’s significance was attributed to Walid Haj (ISN 81, released in April 2008), who “reported that an individual listed as Tarique Al-Harbi was a member of the Bilal unit but was killed in fighting.” An analyst noted that Haj “did not specifically say that he saw al-Harbi killed; he may have just heard.” Obviously, this proves nothing, as it remains far more likely than not that al-Harbi was not fighting in northern Afghanistan when he was in the Jalalabad/Tora Bora area, but it (and the DNA test) were examples of how the authorities often resorted to clutching at straws.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed al-Harbi 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.” It was also noted that he had been “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant, yet non-hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated July 2, 2004), recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, a recommendation that only lasted for another six months until al-Harbi’s unexpected and unexplained release.
Abdullah Al Ghanimi (ISN 266, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, when three humanitarian aid workers Abdul Aziz al-Baddah (ISN 264, see above), and his cousins Ibrahim al-Nasir and Abdul Aziz al-Nasir (ISN 271 and 273, see Part Five of this series) left Afghanistan for Pakistan after traveling to Afghanistan to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees, they were accompanied by a man named Abdullah, who I thought was Abdullah al-Ghanimi, although in fact it was Abdullah al-Wafti (ISN 262), as noted above.
Al-Ghanimi, who was 27 years old at the time of his capture, had, however, been working for the Saudi charity Al-Wafa in Kabul (which was regarded in Guantánamo as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved), as had the three men mentioned above, but it transpired that he had made his own way out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, where he was seized.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Ghanimi was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated July 18, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abdullah al-Ghanami, Abdallah al-Ghanimi and Abdullah al-Ghanmi, and it was noted that he was born in 1974 and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, it was noted that he “spent four years working as a fisherman followed by five years working as a fireman at ARAMCO” (the Arabian American Oil Company, based in Saudi Arabia). It was also noted that he had traveled to other countries — to Syria for dental treatment and to Bahrain, circa 2000, “to visit nightclubs.”
Circa July 2001, he said he decided to travel to Afghanistan “for humanitarian reasons,” adding that he had “read various fatwas calling on Muslims to help the needy in Afghanistan and decided to go and distribute alms; however, there was no catalyst that solidified [his] decision (i.e. no event, no imam or fatwa).” “It was,” he said, “just what God ordained.”
ARAMCO gave him 30 days’ leave, and, taking 19,000 Saudi Riyals with him (about $4,500), he then set off for Afghanistan on July 1, 2001, via Karachi and Quetta, “where he obtained help from the Taliban to get to Kabul, AF,” and “became affiliated with Wafa Al-Igatha Al-Islami aka Al-Wafa to obtain names of orphans and other persons deserving charity,” working for a Saudi national, identified as Abu Faysal (aka Abdullah al-Utaybi, ISN 243, released in December 2007), who was described as “a known senior Al-Wafa official in Herat.”
With Abu Faysal, he “distribute[d] supplies and supervise[d] digging of wells in villages neighboring Kabul, AF, for approximately 15 days,” but as the fighting approached Kabul, he set off for Jalalabad on foot, which took him about three weeks, where he stayed for a month, and then, as the fighting neared Jalalabad, “traveled further to an unidentified village where he stayed for a month and then joined 12 unarmed Arabs who were traveling to Pakistan.” Having lost his passport and return ticket at some point, he reached the Pakistani border around December 12, 2001.
Now traveling with just an Afghan guide, as the group split up on the border, he said that he “was escorted to a house in an unidentified valley,” and that, after “[t]he Pakistani owner brought an Arab speaker to the house to interpret,” he said that he wanted to go to the Saudi Embassy. The owner apparently agreed and provided al-Ghanimi “with a bed for the evening,” but the following morning, “instead of being taken to the Saudi Embassy, the Pakistani police arrested him.”
Citing a newspaper report, the Task Force noted how numerous Arabs fleeing Afghanistan were rounded up in a mosque and handed over to the Pakistani authorities, and how later, when they were being moved by bus from one prison to another, there was a revolt, in which ten of the prisoners and six Pakistani soldiers were killed, and several of the prisoners escaped. Al-Ghanimi was apparently named as one of the passengers. He was “transferred from Kohat Prison, Pakistani control, to Kandahar Detention Facility, US custody, on 3 January 2002,” and was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on humanitarian organizations operating in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force attempted to link him to Al-Qaida through his name being found on documents recovered from computers seized in raids on houses with Al-Qaida connections, although, as I have mentioned previously, it cannot be confirmed that these references are rellable. It was also claimed that Fahd al-Jutayli (ISN 177, see Part Three of this series) “identified detainee’s alias, as serving on the Bagram, AF front lines and fleeing with him and others to Tora Bora, AF, when the front collapsed.” However, when al-Jutayli “was shown a picture of detainee he claimed he did not recognize him.” An analyst claimed that it was “possible that ISN 177 was attempting to hide the identity of detainee,” although a more logical suggestion would be that, under duress, al-Jutayli had made up the story about al-Ghanimi being with him in Bagram and Tora Bora.
Incomprehensibly, another claim was that there were “a number of documents concerning an individual named Abu al-Harith al-Ansari who apparently was associated with Camp Farouq and admission of individuals for training,” and it was assessed that al-Ghanimi was “possibly this same individual” — although how this was supposed to make sense was not explained.
In spite of all these claims, the Task Force decided that he was only “of low intelligence value,” although he was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-hostile [and] compliant in nature,” and, as a result, although he was recommended for ongoing detention in DoD control (on March 6, 2004), it was noted that, “[b]ased upon information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment,” Brig. Gen. Hood now recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia, although it was not explained how this conclusion had been reached, as, based on the information above, he was still “assessed as a member of Al-Qaida, who fought on the Bagram AF front lines during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,'” and whose “name was found on various documents recovered during raids on suspected Al-Qaida safe houses.”
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, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m Digging this now.
Thanks, George. Much appreciated. And thanks also to the 20 committed readers and supporters who have shared it to date. I really do appreciate your interest and appreciation — both of the importance of these stories and what they demonstrate cumulatively, and of the effort involved in putting this million-word series together.
[…] Andy Worthington: ongoing coverage of Guantánamo prisoners released in 2006: Worthington documents the stories of 11 more prisoners who were arrested while crossing the Afghanistan border into Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The 11 prisoners were all released sometime in 2006, and Worthington thoroughly outlines each individual’s story according to Detainee Assessment Briefs from Guantánamo leaked by WikiLeaks. A few of the detainees had claimed they went to Afghanistan for charity work via Iran, but could not re-enter and were subsequently arrested in Pakistan. Perhaps the most galling part of the 11 profiles and histories is the consistency with which the Joint Task Force sent detainees to Guantánamo – in spite of thin evidence of Al-Qaeda associations – simply on the grounds of providing further information. […]
[…] Military Commissions: Guantánamo: Military Commissions and the Illusion of Justice 2. WikiLeaks: The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Four of Ten) 3. Jose Padilla: It Could Be You: The Sad Story of Jose Padilla, Tortured and Denied Justice 4. […]
Andy, I will add here that Carol Rosenberg is reporting that Mohamed al Alami, presumably ISN 237, was recently killed in Syria, helping to fight against Assad’s forces.
I think there is a spectrum, within Islam, as to how much commitment an observant muslim is supposed to make that would require (1) military training; (2) volunteering to travel to other lands, to defend other muslims who were actively under attack; (3) volunteering to help launch first attacks on cultures or nations that some religious leaders claim are “enemies of Islam”.
From my reading I gather most observant muslims do not feel all observant muslims have an obligation to undergo military training. From my reading many moderate islamic scholars say a muslim’s obligation to struggle to help Islam can be fully discharged in charitable good works, or through cultural exchanges, like those run by the Talbligh Jamaat. What percentage of muslims fall in this group? Without claiming any real expertise I suspect this accounts for well over 90 percent of those who self identify as observant muslims.
Of the remaining small fraction, who do believe muslims have to have military training, from my reading many in this fraction seem to think their obligation to undergo this military training is for self-defence only — to defend themselves; their family; their tribe; their village, or their country. I think many, of those seeking military training had no intention of then traveling to a foreign land to fight beside other muslims.
Of the remaining even smaller fraction — those willing to travel to fight, from my reading, I gather, they were only interested in traveling to some region where non-muslims attacked muslims first.
US officials have claimed “20,000 jihadists” passed through al-Qaeda’s training camps. They specifically claim al Alami, ISN 237 passed through al Qaeda’s main camp, the al Farouq camp.
Al Alami denied attending al Farouq, and, given the imcompetence and lack of sanity checking with which counter-terrorism officials managed their files, it is quite possible he was telling the truth.
In my opinion that “20,000 jihadists” is highly misleading.
First, I bet they are including individuals who attended rival camps, like the Khaldan camp.
Second, I believe it is damaging to public safety to treat every individual who attended a camp as if he entered al Qaeda upon registration, or graduation.
From Abu Zubaydah’s testimony, and from what you have written here, it seems likely that the Khaldan camp’s intended trainee base, included (1) those who felt an obligation to undergo military training so when they went home they were equipped to defend themselves; (2) those prepared to undergo military training, and then fight beside oppressed muslims, who were already under attack. But from Abu Zubaydah’s testimony, the camp didn’t train trainees to attack civilians or to engage in attacks on cultures or nations that religious scholars characterized as enemies of Islam.
In my opinion US intelligence analysts seriously underestimate the difficult personnel issues in running an underground group like al Qaeda. Treating every individual who tried to go to Afghanistan for training as if he were a committed al Qaeda member is alarmist, and damaging to public safety, because, it seems to me, a large fraction of those seeking training either only wanted go home, prepared to defend themselves, their family, tribe, village; and another large fraction were ready, or had considered, traveling to volunteer to fight beside oppressed muslims somehere else. Unless these individuals were converted to al-Qaeda style, first strike jihadism, in the camp, they were not members of al Qaeda.
There is a term in marketing: “bait and switch”. Retailers will advertize an item at a really amazing price, to draw in customers. When the hapless customers arrived they would be told the retailer had already sold out of the amazingly priced item, and the salesman would then proceed with a hard sell on a related item. I strongly suspect that many of the trainees at the al Qaeda camps were similarly victims of a kind of “bait and switch”.
The “Buffalo Six” were tax-paying, mortgage-owing American dads, of Arab descent. From their accounts a convincing outsider convinced them he could send them to a camp where they could get the military training observant muslims should get, without mentioning anything about al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. From their accounts they were very distressed and very embarrassed to learn they were at an anti-American camp.
American officials described them as a “sleeper cell”. I believe they were victims of “bait and switch”.
And what about al Alami, ISN 237? Has any evidence been made public that would support that he was an al Qaeda sympathizer? Could he have never been anything more than a muslim willing to volunteer to fight beside other muslims who were being oppressed?
The US counter-terrorism establishment recently published a new set of recidivism claims. It contains claims that many of the “recidivists” are dead — far more then the number of former Guantanamo captives whose deaths are on the public record. Will we find one day practically all deceased former captives ended up being described as recidivists.
When I took that new look at the 2004 CSR Tribunal “Summary of Evidence” memo I noticed it claimed he was trained on the “RPG-BK pistol”. Of course there is no such thing as a “RPG-BK pistol”. RPG is “Rocket Propelled Grenade”. The “BK” is PK machine gun, called a “beka” in Afghanistan, maybe because Afghans have trouble with the consonant “P”. Neither is a pistol. This is the kind of mistake typical of the US intelligence effort that should preclude taking their claims seriously.
The other thing I noticed is that their is no record OARDEC convened an ARB hearing for him in 2005.
That public affairs officer, who weighed in here. Perhaps a good question for him would be to ask him to explain why there was no OARDEC hearing for him in 2005?
An excellent analysis, arcticredriver. Thanks. It’s very good to hear from you, as always.
I had a look at my analysis of ISN 237’s case earlier, when I read the news about his death in Syria, and I agree that the US presented an uncertain case. Your example of the “RPG-BK pistol” was particularly enlightening.
As for the “20,000 jihadists” and what kind of training they undertook – whether for self-defense, for example, or for genuine military purposes or even, in a few cases, terrorism – I draw on Noor Uthman Muhammed’s testimony about Khaldan, with input from Tyler Cabot, who wrote about him for Esquire two years ago. This is the quote I find particularly useful:
[At Khaldan] he disliked being a trainer and preferred instead to look after the supplies, and to cook, he was nothing but a minor player in a camp that was primarily associated with defensive jihad — or, as he stated at Guantánamo during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004, Khalden was “a place to get training” that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “People come over to that camp, train for about a month to a month and a half, then they go back to their hometown,” he said, adding that what the people did with the training they received was their own business.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: