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 27 of the 70-part series. 337 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. Part Four told eleven more stories, of prisoners seized, for a variety of reasons, crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001, and Part Five featured more of those stories, including four accounts of the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, who persuaded the US they were held by mistake, but had to wait until 2006 to be freed, when they were resettled in Albania, and not in the US, which accepted that it could not return them to China, but refused to allow them to live in America. Part Six involved more stories of Saudis and Afghans, including the particularly unfortunate story of a Saudi-born Uighur, who was tortured by Al-Qaida for allegedly plotting to assassinate Osama bin Laden, liberated from a Taliban prison, and then sent to Guantánamo, and this seventh part features more Saudis, a Yemeni, two Kazakhs, an Iranian and some Afghans, including some prisoners with serious mental health issues (and one juvenile prisoner), and the sad — and unresolved — story of Mani al-Utaybi, another of the three prisoners who died in June 2006. Also see Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten.
Nawaf Al Otaibi (ISN 501, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (2) – Tora Bora,” I explained how Nawaf al-Otaibi, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in June 2001 and training at a Libyan camp. It was also alleged that he “was identified as being captured in Tora Bora,” although he stated that he did not receive any training and never possessed a weapon while he was in Afghanistan, and added that, if given the opportunity to return home, he would “seek employment as a school teacher.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Otaibi was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated September 7, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in November 1972, and had latent TB, in common with many of the prisoners, although he was described as being in “good health.” It was also noted that he had been “seen several times by the medical teams during routine and sick call rounds,” and had been “complaining of back, ear and head pains,” and also that he had been “treated in Kandahar for multiple wounds of an unidentified type,” and had “also been treated for abrasions on both ankles (resolved).”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, around June 2001, he met a man named Adil, who had apparently “trained at a Libyan training camp — described as “a Libyan terrorist training camp” — in Afghanistan. Having reportedly “decided to train there as well,” he traveled to Karachi, where “he met a man named Hassan” — presumably, therefore, some sort of facilitator — “who paid for his travel to Quetta.” He then traveled to Kandahar and on to Kabul “with a man named Abu Assam,” who was evidently another volunteer.
The two were then told that the training camp — in common with others, it should be noted — “was closed due to the events of 9/11,” and the fear of retaliation. They then stayed for a month in a safehouse, allegedly “hoping for the training camp to reopen, but it never did.” When Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance, he and twenty other Arabs “spent three weeks trying to make it to the Pakistan border,” although only “six or seven individuals” survived the US bombing campaign that accompanied their travel.
They then went to an Afghan village, where they surrendered. Imprisoned in Jalalabad for ten days, al-Otaibi was then transferred to a prison in Kabul for another month (probably a prison run by the Northern Alliance), and was then sent to the US prisons at Bagram airbase and Kandahar airport. He was sent to Guantánamo on May 4, 2002, allegedly because he “may be able to provide information on the following: A Libyan terrorist training camp in or near Kabul, AF [and] A safe house in Quetta, Pakistan, Kandahar and Kabul, AF.”
However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As 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 the man named Hassan, who paid for his travel to Quetta, may have been “the Al-Qaida facilitator Hassan Ghul,” who, according to the Task Force, “worked under the Al-Qaida Senior Operational Commander Khalid Shaykh Muhammad [aka Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, ISN 10024].” What the Task Force failed to mention was that Hassan Ghul was a CIA “ghost prisoner,” seized in Iraq but held in a variety of locations as part of the CIA’s network of secret torture prisons.
Beyond al-Otaibi’s own words, there was nothing to incriminate him directly in any activities directed at the United States. The Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk,” as “he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he was assessed as “a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” who had “shown deception by changing his story (when the Saudi delegation came to visit, he said that “he went to AF on a self-appointed religious mission, to investigate the Taliban’s unorthodox method of praying for the deceased and to see ‘The Cloth’ that purportedly belonged to the Prophet Mohammad”).
It was also claimed that he had “demonstrated a commitment to Jihad by paying for and traveling to Afghanistan on his own accord,” and that he “left college to take up arms against the US and its allies and, if released, he will probably attempt to aid the enemy once more” — which was an interesting way of describing an intention to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, before the 9/11 attacks, when the Northern Alliance were, to be honest, only nominally allies of the US, which had done little to help them in their long battle against the Taliban.
It was also noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been generally noncompliant and aggressive,” although “most [of] his behavior problems were failures to follow simple directions; such as not giving trash to guards.” Although Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia (on the basis of nothing more than intent), and although the Saudi government clearly had no suspicions about him (or they would have been mentioned), he was not released for another 20 months, when he was repatriated to be put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Saleh Al Zuba (ISN 503, Yemen) Released December 2006
In Chapter 4 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Saleh al-Zuba, who was 46 years old at the time of his capture, had a non-military explanation for being in Afghanistan. Accused of fighting in Tora Bora, he said that he had coronary artery disease and went to Pakistan for medical treatment, and was only in Afghanistan because he did not have enough money for an operation, and was told that a charitable organization in Afghanistan might provide extra funding.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Zuba was an “Update Recommendation [for] Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated June 27, 2004, in which the contradictions in the US military’s assessment of him were not reconciled. The file did not include any detention information, meaning that the claims aired in his CSRT are all that exists to evaluate what he was doing in Afghanistan. As a result, the claims that he admitted” to “being at Al-Farouq training camp” and to “being in Tora Bora while Osama bin Laden was present” and “participat[ing] in the battle for Tora Bora” must be weighed against his evident illness, which, I believe, can only lead to a conclusion that his confessions were lies, produced under unknown circumstances to appease his captors.
In the file released by WikiLeaks, the Task Force described a serious, and life-threatening medical history, which would make armed adventures in the Tora Bora mountains seem particularly unlikely. It was confirmed that al-Zuba had “known coronary artery disease with symptoms for 8-10 years,” that he had a catheterization in Yemen” that was “not successful,” according to al-Zuba, and that he “had stents place[d] in two vessels in March 2003,” when “he had an occluded, non-operable right coronary artery.” “Since then,” the report continued, he “had some episodes of chest pain, but no myocardial infarction.”
It was also noted that he had “a history of hypercholesterolemia and hypertension, also with H. pylori and history of epigastric pain,” but he “refused to finish medical regimen for eradication of H. pylori.” He also had a “history of shrapnel to left shoulder in 2001,” and a history of depression in Yemen in the 1990s, before his capture. It was also noted that his “medications include[d] Tricor, Atenolol, ECASA, Plavix, Lipitor and Isordil.”
Finally, it was noted that he reported that “he estimate[d] he walk[ed] 2 km twice per day,” presumably before his capture, as walking was severely restricted in Guantánamo, and that every couple of weeks he would have “an episode of chest tightness and mild dyspnea [shortness of breath] while walking that resolve[d] when he rest[ed].” It was also noted, “These symptoms have not worsened or become more frequent and do not occur at rest,” but in their prognosis, the medical professionals at Guantánamo advised that al-Zuba’s “coronary artery disease could reoccur,” and that he “require[d] regular surveillance, as the stents can fail.”
Although al-Zuba was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and it was noted that, on June 4, 2004, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “considered for transfer for continued detention,” his case was reassessed just three weeks later, and he was recommended for release or transfer, because JTF GTMO had determined that he posed “a low risk, due to his medical condition.” Without his serious health problems, it is not known how long he would have been held, as, when it came to his behaviour in Guantánamo, as opposed to anything he may have done before his capture (even though in al-Zuba’s case there was nothing), it was noted, with obvious disapproval, that he had “a history of noncompliance,” and that, although his “reported occurrences ha[d] typically been refusal of meds and meals,” he “also had incidents requiring physical restraint by guards and appear[ed] to be a leader on the blocks.”
Even with the recommendation for his release, on health grounds, he was, shockingly, not freed for another two and half years, although he was still one of the lucky Yemenis, as only 23 have been released from Guantánamo throughout the prison’s history, primarily because of institutional fears regarding security in Yemen, and as a result over half of the 171 prisoners who remain at Guantánamo at the time of writing are Yemenis.
Two and half years after his release, al-Zuba was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, one of three former prisoners to meet “for an afternoon at a hotel lounge.” The three men — who also included Walid al-Qadasi (ISN 10014, released in March 2004) and Mohsen al-Askari (ISN 221, released in June 2007, and also identified as Ali Mohsen Salih) — “said it was the first time they had been together since Guantánamo.”
According to the US authorities, he would have been 53 or 54 years old at the time, but he told Shephard he was 60, “maybe more,” and “his weathered face and occasional labored breathing [did] make him appear older.” He was working as a pipefitter and handyman, but he said that work was “hard to find.” Repeating his story, he said that “his only connection with Afghanistan was to ask for help from an Afghan charity to have an angioplasty in Pakistan,” and he also stated that, during interrogations at Guantánamo, “they spared no method of torture or humiliation in dealing with us.”
He also said that “he spent time with many of the Yemeni detainees still in Guantánamo,” and argued on behalf of those he believed were “wrongly imprisoned” — men he described as teachers, students and charity workers. “The longer these people stay in detention, the more complicated their mental state is and the state of their relatives,” he explained. “And this definitely will lead to negative consequences. So why don’t they address this issue in the proper way so that the person can return to his country safely and not be a threat?”
In March 2010, al-Zuba spoke to a reporter from NPR, explaining that, on his return to Yemen in December 2006, he had “spent a few more months in Yemeni custody, then was freed when a relative vouched for him.” He also explained that his employment prospects had taken a turn for the worse. According the reporter, he was spending “most days at home, watching TV.” He said he “tried to open a honey store, but the owner wouldn’t rent to him because he heard Zuba had been in Guantánamo.” Once a month, he explained, he had to “check in with local security officers.” The article was about a possible rehabilitation program for Yemenis in Guantánamo, but as al-Zuba said, “I don’t need a rehabilitation program. Right now, I just need a job.”
In another interview, for AFP in January 2010, al-Zuba was more talkative, warning that, “If the former detainees of Guantánamo, who were released after being unjustly imprisoned for a long time and tortured, do not receive help to quickly reintegrate into their society, they could be tempted by extremism and violence,” and adding, “If an innocent man who has been tortured does not get support from the authorities in his country in order to reintegrate … he could become extremist, explode himself (as a suicide bomber) and kill innocents.”
Noting that he had two wives and ten children, the author of the article, Taieb Mahjoub, wrote of his unemployment, noting also that he complained that the government had “done nothing to look after him or help him find a stable source of income.”
Describing himself as a “pacific Islamist” who wants to “apply (Islamic law) sharia … but not according to the model of those who launch attacks or kill innocents in the name of Islam,” al-Zuba ran through his story again, adding more detail. He said that “he was nabbed by chance in the Afghan region of Tora Bora” by Afghans “who “sold (him) for 5,000 dollars” to the Americans. After traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan for medical treatment, as advised by some Arabs he met, he said that he ended up in a training camp and then in Tora Bora, where he “saw Osama bin Laden getting out of a minibus accompanied by gunmen, following an air raid on the area.” He added, “They did not try to recruit me due to my age and frail health.”
Speaking of his treatment in Guantánamo, he said, “At the beginning, the Americans did not treat me for the heart problems I had, but after medical exams, they operated on me and hospitalized me for four months. After that, physical torture stopped, only to give way to psychological torture.” He added, “My memory has suffered, but I shall never forget how much I suffered at Guantánamo, where at the end of six years I was told that my detention was unjustified and that my presence was a mistake. Although I have never been to school, I learned a lot during this journey, much more than I could have learned at university. At Guantánamo, I learned a lot about Al-Qaida and radical groups, stuff that I had never known.” He also remembered “remarks made by a US investigator to prisoners as they were being released.” The investigator said, “You are not members of Al-Qaida, but from now on, you are well placed to become so.”
Khalid Al Muri (ISN 505, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (2) – Tora Bora,” I explained how, in the case of Khalid al-Muri, who was 26 years old at the time of his capture, all that was available until WikiLeaks released the Detainee Assessment Briefs in April 2011 was a one-page Summary of Evidence for his CSRT, in which it was alleged that he was “a member of al-Qaeda,” who traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001, and “received military training at an Al-Qaida camp near Kabul” until September 2001. It was also alleged that he “manned a fighting position in the Tora Bora mountain region from mid-November through mid-December 2001,” and that he surrendered to coalition forces near Jalalabad, which could indicate that he fled from Tora Bora.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Muri was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated September 24, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in September 1975, and had “a history of testicular pain.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he and a friend traveled to Zenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War, in 1995, where they “taught the Koran,” and “spent their summer vacation working on behalf of a charitable organization.” In 2000, he traveled to Mecca for the Al-Umra ceremonies with three friends, and “met a Yemeni named Abu Thabitt who owned a molasses business,” and who, after al-Muri confided in him that he wanted to travel to Afghanistan “to teach the Koran and learn military training as part of the jihad,” said he would assist him and provided him with a contact in Karachi.
After resuming his university studies, al-Muri “purchased a round trip ticket In the summer of 2001, and traveled with Nasir Maziyad Abdallah al-Qurayshi al-Subi’i (ISN 497, released in February 2007, and also identified as Nasir al-Subii). On arrival, their contact, Abu Omar, traveled with them to Quetta, where his “personal vehicle was waiting for them.” They then traveled to the Al-Nebras guesthouse in Kandahar. Soon after, al-Subi’i reportedly left the guesthouse to attend the Al-Farouq training camp (identified as “the Al-Farouq terrorist camp”), while al-Muri went to Kabul to “attend training at Camp 9, also known as Camp Malik.”
In November 2001, after two months at Camp Malik, al-Muri “and an unknown group” left “when the fighting began,” and fled to the Tora Bora mountains, where he “was assigned to an unidentified fighting position.” He said that he never saw the leaders, but only “heard them on the radio.” After leaving Tora Bora, he traveled with a group towards the Pakistani border, but they were captured by Northern Alliance forces on December 18, 2001. He was imprisoned in Jalalabad for eight days, and then in Kabul (probably in a prison run by the Northern Alliance) for another month, and was then taken to the US prison at Bagram airbase. He was sent to Guantánamo on April 30, 2002, on the spurious basis that he “could provide information on: Training Camp Number 9, Curriculum of mountain and plains warfare taught by Al-Qaida, Safehouse in Quetta, PK, and Kandahar, AF [and] Abu Thabitt, possible jihad recruiter in Saudi Arabia, and his counterpart in Pakistan.”
In assessing his story, an analyst first claimed that Zenica served as “a major stronghold for Al-Qaida and other extremist Islamic groups within Bosnia,” and that it was “unlikely [he] performed charity work in Bosnia.” There was actually no reason for believing the analyst’s point of view, but it was typical, as every analysis was geared towards establishing that prisoners were significant.
Regarding his time in Afghanistan, the Task Force tried to make out that he was suspicious, although they had little to go on, beyond an odd claim that “other US Intelligence Agencies” had identified him “as the subject of an attempt by extremist[s] to buy the freedom of a large number of foreign fighters captured in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan,” in which “[p]articular urgency was given to freeing a captive identified as detainee, Khalid Rashid al-Marri,” to which an analyst noted, “Due to the specific request for assistance to be rendered to detainee, he is possibly a high-level operative or has connections with some of the more influential members of Al-Qaida.”
Beyond this outlandish-sounding claim, there were only more general suspicions — that his credibility was low, that he was “believed to have been deceptive during interrogations,” and that he had a “changing cover story.” He was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and although no specific threat level was included, I imagine that he was assessed as “a medium risk.” It was noted that he was assessed as “a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” and that “his knowledge of weapons and commitment to jihad in Afghanistan as well as intentions of jihad in Chechnya make it imperative [he] be retained in the custody of the US Government or Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Government,” which “will allow for further exploitation of his past affiliation with various terrorist groups and prevent him from engaging in further terrorist activity.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be “transferred for continued detention to his country of origin (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) if a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence,” adding, “If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached for his continued detention in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he should be retained under DoD control,” and it evidently took a while for a “satisfactory agreement ” to be reached, as he was not released for another 20 months, when he was repatriated to be put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Sultan Al Anazi (ISN 507, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 4 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Sultan al-Anazi, who was 27 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he traveled to Pakistan before 9/11 to study with Jamaat al-Tablighi, the vast and apolitical missionary organization that, nevertheless, was regarded in Guantánamo as a front for terrorism, and then went to Jalalabad on a specific mission. After the collapse of the Taliban, he said that “Afghanis would look for Arabs to hold as hostages or kill so they could take our money and possessions,” and described how he fled with the other Jamaat al-Tablighi members to a village near Tora Bora, where they waited for an opportunity to escape that never came. “When I was in the village,” he said, “it was bombed by the United States and I decided to give up because I didn’t want to die. Many people were killed as a result of the bombing of the village and I didn’t want to be next. The people from Jamaat al-Tablighi that I fled with were killed by the air raids and I was injured.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Anazi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated June 15, 2006, in which he was identified as Sultan Sari Sayel al-Ja’afari al-Anzi, born in July 1976, and it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, in 1998, he began working as a personal driver for schoolteachers, and, in mid-2001, “decided to travel to Pakistan on vacation,” choosing Pakistan “because he had already traveled to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.” Later in the year (on an unspecified date), he flew to Karachi, where he met a man at a mosque, Abu Islam, a member of Jamaat al-Tablighi, who convinced him to travel with him to Kandahar.
In contrast to al-Anazi’s claim that he was a missionary, the Task Force picked up on one interrogation in which he allegedly stated that his “intent was to receive training in Afghanistan,” and claimed that, in Kandahar, he and Abu Islam “stayed in a guesthouse owned by an Arab,” but al-Anazi “was unable to attend a training camp,” because “they were all closed” — indicating that he arrived in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
Al-Anazi said he then met a friend, Abu Yahya, from Saudi Arabia, who invited him to stay at his house in Jalalabad. After two months at Yahya’s home, he said that, on or about November 17, 2001, he, Abu Yahya and five other Arabs “went to the Abu Zubayr (variant: Zubair) Center in the Tora Bora region to hide,” where he “worked as a cook” for “approximately one month,” and then left for Pakistan with a group of other men. One major problem with this particular scenario was that the Abu Zubayr guesthouse (aka Hajji Habash) was actually in Kandahar, many hundreds of miles from Tora Bora.
According to the Task Force, the “Senior Al-Qaida commander” in Tora Bora was Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi (aka Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi), the former emir of an independent training camp, Khaldan, and one of the most notorious of all the CIA’s “ghost prisoners,” as he was sent to Egypt to be tortured, where he came up with the false claim (used to justify the invasion of Iraq) that Al-Qaida operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons, and, after being sent around a number of secret prisons, was returned to Libya, where he died, in deeply suspicious circumstances, in May 2009. The Taliban had closed al-Libi’s camp in 2000, when he refused to allow it to be taken over by Osama bin Laden, so it is unlikely that al-Libi, if he was indeed commanding forces in Tora Bora, could adequately be described as a “Senior Al-Qaida commander.” However, while this story needs to be explored in further detail, what is clear from al-Anazi’s file is that it contains the first statement in the Detainee Assessment Briefs that I’ve so far come across that was attributed to al-Libi, who apparently “reported that an air strike hit the first group as they were led out of Tora Bora but only those capable of walking accompanied him.”
Afghan forces then took al-Anazi, “along with other wounded individuals, to a Jalalabad hospital.” He was then transferred to what was described as “the Ministry of Security prison in Kabul” (perhaps Pol-i-Charki), and was transferred to US custody on January 21, 2002, and taken to Bagram. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 12, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Recruitment for terrorist organizations or the Taliban.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he was “assessed to be an Islamic extremist affiliated with Jamaat [al-] Tablighi (JT) and a probable Al-Qaida member,” which only really reveals the extent to which Jamaat al-Tabighi was unjustly regarded as a front for terrorism. Facts, however, were elusive or non-existent, leading the authorities to note that he “probably received training at Al- Farouq and then stayed in a series of caves in Tora Bora with a possible Saudi Al-Qaida cell operative,” and that he was “probably part of a group of fighters sent out of Tora Bora by Al-Qaida commander Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi.”
That reference to “a possible Saudi Al-Qaida cell operative” involved a slightly desperate attempt to tie him to a man named Abu Zubayr al-Rimi, who he was apparently with in Tora Bora “during the entire month of Ramadan 2001.” The authorities noted that this was the alias of Sultan Jubran Sultan al-Qahtani (killed on September 23, 2003), who was “on Saudi Arabia’s 19 most wanted list from early May 2003 as well as an FBI Be On the Lookout (BOLO) Alert.” An analyst, clutching at straws, noted that, if this was “the same al-Rimi,” then al-Anazi “may have heard al-Rimi speak about future operations,” or he “possibly ha[d] knowledge of associates of al-Rimi, like Abu Bakr al-Azdi, who is in Saudi custody.”
More realistically, it is, of course, very possible that al-Anazi came up with a cover story that disguised both his intention to participate in jihad, and his arrival in Afghanistan in time to attend Al-Farouq, as the Task Force repeatedly insisted, and it may be, as also noted, that his story was very similar to that of two other prisoners, Abdullah T. al-Anzy (ISN 514, released September 2007, and also identified as Abdullah al-Anazi) and Ranam Abdul Rahman Ghanim al-Harbi (ISN 516, released July 2007, and also identified as Ghanim al-Harbi), who “reported that they spent the entire month of Ramadan at Tora Bora, departed Tora Bora on or about 17 December 2001, and were wounded during an air strike,” and who were also “treated at a Jalalabad hospital after being wounded,” and “transferred to the Ministry of Security prison in Kabul and then to the custody of US forces on 21 January 2002 at Bagram.”
However, there was nothing in his file to indicate that he was anything other than an insignificant foot soldier, and this appeared to have been recognized by the Task Force, which assessed him as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was assessed as “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff,” but as his behaviour included “exposing himself to guards,” it is, perhaps, worth considering that he had unaddressed mental health issues.
The most important assessments came from the Saudi intelligence service, and al-Anazi’s fellow prisoners throughout the “War on Terror” prison network. Significantly, it was noted that, “After the 2002 Saudi delegation visit, detainee was identified by the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) as one of the 77 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 its custody from US control.”
On the US end, it was also noted that “[m]ultiple Al-Qaida operatives and leaders in US custody were not able to identify the detainee,” to which an analyst added, “This gives some validity to detainee’s timeline — that he was not in Afghanistan for very long and/or did not participate within significant Al-Qaida circles of influence.” As a result, although it was recommended that he be retained in DoD control on October 1, 2004, and Rear Adm. Harry Harris recommended him for continued dentition, it was also noted that, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO)” — and this happened just six months later, when he was repatriated to be put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Abdul Rahman Khowlan (ISN 513, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 4 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Rahman Khowlan, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture, denied allegations that he received military training at the Al-Farouq training camp and was captured in Tora Bora. He said that he was captured in Jalalabad, and told what appeared to be a particularly fantastical story — that he went to Afghanistan to “retrieve the clothing of the Prophet Mohammed from a shrine in Kandahar with financial backing from a prominent Saudi businessman,” a mission which, if successful, would have made him “more popular than Michael Jackson,” in his own words.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Khowlan was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated March 31, 2006, in which he was also identified as Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Husayn al-Khawlan, born in 1974, and it was noted that he was “in good health,” although he had “chronic eczema,” was “a former hunger striker,” had “a history of chronic right shoulder pain,” and “had a left anterior cruciate ligament tear in August 2005.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that the story he told, as recounted above, of being “an artefact thief in search of the clothing of the Prophet Mohammed” only came about as an abrupt change in his story, after he had already admitted “several key associations” as part of “his claimed motive and purpose [of] traveling to Afghanistan [for] jihadist training to fulfil a religious obligation.”
In this version of events, he “dropped out of high school in 1990 and worked part-time at a family convenience store until 2001,” when he went to Afghanistan. How that came about was complicated. He apparently “decided he wanted to get married, but felt his excessive weight would pose a problem.” On a visit to Jeddah, with his older brother, he “saw a poster declaring a fatwa supporting training for jihad as a religious duty,” and then met a man named Abu Muith, “who sold dates near his brother’s house,” and who, in summer 2001, had a conversation with him “regarding his desire to marry, his weight concern, and the fatwa supporting jihadist training.” Abu Muath recommended that he visit Afghanistan “for two months of training to fulfill the religious obligation,” noting that “[t]he physical training regimen would also afford him an opportunity to lose weight.”
Abu Muath then bought his plane ticket and provided him with some spending money (3,000 Saudi riyals, or approximately $800), and set off for Karachi in July 2001. On arrival, he liaised with Abu Muath, and, after a week in a guesthouse, flew to Quetta with an unidentified man who had bought tickets for them. They were then met by a man named Muhammad Rahim (aka Rakhim Khan) and taken to a guesthouse, “where they stayed for less than a week,” and he “and five others then traveled to an unknown location near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border,” and “drove motorcycles over the border,” before taking a bus to the Al-Ansar guesthouse in Kandahar, where he stayed for up to two weeks “waiting for enough recruits to gather before being taken to Al-Farouq.” It was also noted that, at this time, Osama Bin Laden “visited the guesthouse and encouraged the trainees to continue the jihad.” He also apparently said he “shook UBL’s hand during this visit.”
He then “traveled to Al-Farouq with approximately fourteen other individuals,” where he stayed for approximately a month and a half, until, two days after the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden reportedly “came to the camp and gave a speech to the trainees.” Two days later, he “and approximately forty-nine others were ordered to leave the camp,” and traveled to Kabul, and then Jalalabad, where they “stayed in the Nejma Al-Jihad Guesthouse (variant: Najim Al-Jihad),” and, after approximately two weeks, went to a crop field or forest at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains, where they stayed for three weeks.
During Ramadan (presumably in late November 2001), he and others apparently “traveled to the top of the Tora Bora Mountains,” where “they were subjected to constant attack from coalition air strikes.” The leaders then “told the group that they could have the passports back and leave Afghanistan when the bombing ended,” and Khowlan said he left in a large group, “traveled back down the mountain and surrendered to unidentified Afghanis” on December 10, 2001. He was then transferred to a Northern Alliance prison in Kabul for a month, and was “initially screened” by US forces on January 28, 2002.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 5, 2002, to “provide information on the following: UBL [Osama bin Laden] visits to Al-Farouq and Al-Ansar Guesthouse, Al-Farouq and Al-Ansar Guesthouse, Al-Qaida/Taliban recruiter and travel facilitator Abu Muath [and] Abu Mahajin (Star the Jihad) Guesthouse in Jalalabad.”
In assessing his story, much was made of his relationship with Hani Hanjour, the pilot of the hijacked plane that hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. They had apparently been friends since they were teenagers, and Khowlan apparently “stated in a letter to his interrogator on 2 May 2005, that he had ‘a very strong relationship with the beloved brother and dear friend Hani Hanjour al-Tawirqi who used the name Arwa. He was the pilot of the plane that headed to the Pentagon and he was a skilled pilot.'”
Despite this, Khowlan’s relationship predated Hanjour’s drastic radicalization, and I find other claims improbable — primarily, the claim that “he knew about the mission to which had been assigned Hanjour [sic] prior to 11 September 2001,” which I’m 100 percent certain is completely untrue, as the 9/11 attacks depended for their success on as few people as possible knowing about them. I’m also suspicious of claims that he knew three other 9/11 hijackers, and I also found other inferences suspicious, such as the following passage, for example:
When asked whether he knew senior Al-Qaida operative Abu Faraj al-Libi [ISN 10017, still held], detainee responded, “Who did not know him?” The interrogator noted that this was stated with a tone that indicated, “of course he knew al-Libi;” however, despite attempts, detainee did not explicitly state a relationship.
A good reason for that would be that Khowlan did not know Abu Faraj al-Libi at all, and that this and other allegations were only extracted from him because of his relationship with Hanjour, and the presumption that he was therefore significant, even though there appears to be no reason for coming to that conclusion about an overweight young Saudi foot soldier in the Afghan jihad.
The Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” acknowledging that his connection with Hani Hanjour “appears to be that of a longtime friend rather than a co-conspirator in the 11 September 2001 attacks,” and that no reporting indicated that he “served in a leadership or operational planning capacity.” It was also noted that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he was “assessed to be a member of Al-Qaida.” He was also “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated July 25, 2005), recommended him for continued detention, although he was released nine months later, to be put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Yakub Abahanov (ISN 526, Kazakhstan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abahanov was one of three Kazakhs from the same village, who were captured in Kabul in December 2001. According to the US authorities, he was an assistant cook at a Taliban camp from August to October 2001, and this was apparently confirmed by one of the Kazakhs seized with him, 18-year old Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev (ISN 521, who was not released until November 2008), who “was a cook for the [Taliban] back-up forces.”
Abahanov did not take part in his tribunal or review board, but Kerimbakiev did, and he explained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 with ten family members, including his grandmother, his mother and his sisters and brothers, and also Abahanov. He denied allegations that he worked as a cook for the Taliban, saying that he lived a simple life in a house in Kabul, where he spent most of his time growing vegetables. This was difficult for his tribunal to accept, and prompted one of its members to say, “We’re trying to understand why you’re here. The United States wouldn’t detain someone for more than two years for simply growing vegetables. Can you help us understand?” Although it was quite possible to be imprisoned for growing vegetables, it was at this point that Kerimbakiev explained that Abahanov had been a cook for the Taliban.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Abahanov was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated January 7, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1977, and was listed by medical officials at the detention clinic as being in “good health,” although the psychiatric staff were “still treating him for psychosis and his prognosis [was] ‘fair’ with continued treatment.” It was also noted that he “often complain[ed] of chest pains,” which, he claimed, were “caused by his medication,” although he had been “evaluated for his chest pains and no special care ha[d] been directed.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he served in the Kazakh Army from 1995 to 1997, when he was discharged, and then returned home, where “he farmed and tended the neighbourhood sheep until 2000.” In August 2000, two Tajiks, Abdullah and Farhat, apparently recruited him “to travel to Afghanistan to study the Koran and truly learn Islam,” telling him that the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, “would provide a better life.”
On April 9, 2001, with Abdullah and Farhat, Abahanov, his sister and her children, and his great-grandmother flew to Karachi, and then took a train to Islamabad, and a bus to Kandahar. Abahanov apparently “had $10,000 in US currency from the sale of his home and personal savings,” although that seems unlikely. After a complicated story, which involved them all staying in a guesthouse for a month, while he regularly attended a mosque, he said he “began to run short on money and told Farhat and Abdullah he could no longer afford the hotel room,” and they suggested they should all go to Kabul “because the government (Taliban) would be able to house them and give [him] a job.” In Kabul, they reportedly “were provided a home,” but he “remained unemployed, studying the Koran full time and attending a mosque.” After a few months, Abdullah and Farhat left, and in August or September 2001, Abahanov said, he “began working as a cook in a restaurant that was somehow affiliated with the Taliban.”
In rather blunter terms, cutting through the largely unconvincing twists and turns of his story, the Task Force stated that he “worked as a cook for the Taliban,” and that “[a] provincial Taliban commander named Saif Rahman gave the house to [him],” and he lived there “with his mother, sister and two nephews.” He also apparently said that he attended a Taliban training camp, and also “admitted to fighting as a member of the Taliban in a mixed Uzbek/Afghan unit under the command of Gul Rahman,” although it is uncertain whether, as a cook, he would in fact have been made to fight.
What does seem certain is that, “[a]fter the US bombing began in Kabul, he had enough money to send his family back to Semeya,” although he was “unaware if they made it back.” and that, as he and his fellow countrymen stated, he was seized at the house in Kabul by Commander Zalmai Topan of the Northern Alliance, who “arrested him during Ramadan 2001 (17 November – 16 December 2001),” and held him in a jail in Kabul before handing him and his companions over to the US military, who held him at Bagram and Kandahar.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 19, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: General information on hostilities in Kandahar and Kabul obtained during his stay in those cities, Routes of ingress/egress for jihadists from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan, Jihadist recruitment practices within Kazakhstan [and] Islamic extremist recruiters in Kazakhstan.”
In assessing his story, beyond those aspects mentioned above, it was also noted that he was “assessed as “a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and affiliated with the Al-Qaida global terrorist network,” and Farhat was identified as Furkat Yusupov, a recruiter and a member of the IMU, who was arrested in Uzbekistan in March 2004, apparently in possession of ten home-made bombs, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. However, Abahanov himself was clearly insignificant. It was noted that he “advised he was unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States until he was questioned about them in Kandahar,” and “was saddened to hear so many innocent people were killed and the perpetrators were not true Muslims,” and “expressed an interest in cooperating with the United States in any manner he could.”
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” providing an example of how over-classification was built into the risk assessments. It was also noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been passive-aggressive and his conduct at times [was] non-compliant,” but Brig. Gen. Hood recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Kazakhstan, although he was not released for nearly two years.
On his return, with Ilkham Batayev (ISN 84, see Part One of this series) and Abdullah Magrupov, all three men “were met by relatives who took them home, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said,” as reported by the St. Petersburg Times. Omarov “said the three would not face investigation and charges ‘because their release means that they had been cleared of all suspicions of having terror links,'” which rather undermines the accumulation of colorful claims against them in Guantánamo.
Abdullah Magrupov (ISN 528, Kazakhstan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Magrupov, who was 18 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three Kazakhs from the same village, who were were captured in Kabul in December 2001 — Yakub Abahanov (ISN 526, see above), and Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev (ISN 521, released in November 2008). According to the US authorities, he was held because, although there was no evidence that he had done anything, he was captured in a Taliban house with two individuals who “worked as cooks for the Taliban.” In his tribunal, he explained that he had only been at the house for five days, after studying at a madrassa in Karachi, when he and the others were captured by a Northern Alliance commander, who held them in “some kind of huge container” and “a place like a barn,” before transferring them to US custody.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Magrupov was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 17, 2005, in which he was identified as Abdullah Makrubov and Shukrat Tokhtasunovich Arupov, born in May 1983, and it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that, after leaving school, he “worked as a farmer in an orchard,” and then, in August 2001, traveled to Pakistan, where he attended madrassas in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore for several months. With Yakub Abahanov and Abahanov’s two brothers, he then traveled to Kabul “to visit a state that practiced Islamic law.” However, within a week of their arrival, he said, the US bombing of Kabul began, and “[s]everal unidentified people came to the house and offered to help them.” Magrupov said that they “packed all of their belongings into a truck and fled,” but that he and his friends “were taken in a separate vehicle” to “an unknown location and kept in a basement for approximately 10 days.”
He added that, on December 10, 2001, “Afghan Military Forces commander Tufal [assessed to be Commander Zalmai Topan] “captured them in Kabul” and took them “to a container with 2 other Arabs (one of them named Abdullah),” where they were held for eight days until Tufal [Topan] turned them over to US forces on 2 February 2002.” He was sent to Guantánamo on June 19, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Recruitment practices in Semey, Kazakhstan, Madrassas he visited in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan [and] Traveling companions (current detainees at JTF GTMO).”
In assessing Magrupov’s story, which was very different from the one told by Abahanov, the Task Force noted that he was “assessed to be a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),” even though he had just turned 18 when he arrived in Afghanistan, and claimed that Commander Topan had captured the three Kazakhs “and five other suspected Al-Qaida members,” the inference being that they had been seized together, although this does not appear to have been the case. The other five were a Saudi, a Kuwaiti, and three Pakistanis. According to the Task Force, the Saudi was a 28-year old named Mohammad Abdullah, who “offered his captors USD $1,000,000 for his freedom and transport to Pakistan,” and told them “he could arrange for the money [to be sent] via a contact in Riyadh,” the Kuwaiti was a 27-year old named Abdullah Ali Abu-Salem, and the three Pakistanis were Patshah Douai Khan, a 30 year old, Mohammad Anwar and Israr al-Haq. To the best of my knowledge, only the last two ended up in Guantánamo — Mohammed Anwar (ISN 524) was released in September 2004, and Israr al-Haq (ISN 515, also identified as Israr Ul-Haq) was released in March 2004.
It was also claimed, as it had not been in Abahanov’s file, that the three Kazakhs were “part of an Islamic Jihadist Group terrorist cell originating from Kazakhstan,” and that “when the group split, one half stayed in Kazakhstan to continue their terrorist activities,” while “the other half” — allegedly Magrupov and his companions — “traveled to Afghanistan, joined the IMU and trained to be terrorists.” It is not known whether there was any truth to this claim or, indeed, whether there was any truth to a claim that Abahanov had stated that Magrupov was the nephew of Furkat Yusupov, a member of the IMU who reportedly recruited the three Kazakhs, and who was arrested in Uzbekistan in March 2004, apparently in possession of ten home-made bombs, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed Magrupov 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 his “overall behaviour pattern ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile in nature,” and that he had “a relatively low amount of reports with the majority being leading prayer or physical training and martial arts.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to another country for continued detention (dated August 9, 2003), recommended him — again — for transfer to continued detention in another country, noting that he was “assessed as a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is associated to [sic] Al-Qaida Associated Movements (AQAM),” although he was not released for another 18 months.
On his return, with Ilkham Batayev (ISN 84, see Part One of this series) and Yakub Abahanov, all three men “were met by relatives who took them home, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov said,” as reported by the St. Petersburg Times. Omarov “said the three would not face investigation and charges ‘because their release means that they had been cleared of all suspicions of having terror links.'” which rather undermines the accumulation of colorful claims against them in Guantánamo.
Abdul Majid Muhammed (ISN 555, Iran) Released October 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Majid Mohammed, a poor Iranian well-digger, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, occasionally dealt in opium and hashish, and said in Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan in December 2001 to make money out of drugs and to bribe the military so that he would not be punished for desertion. He denied an allegation that he served as a watchman for the Taliban, explaining that the Taliban had been known to kill Iranians, and that he was particularly at risk because he was a Catholic, and said that he was captured by Northern Alliance soldiers, who thought he was an Arab and handed him over to the Americans.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Muhammed was an “Update Recommendation [for] Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated June 3, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1979, and had been “diagnosed with severe Anti-social Personality Disorder,” for which the “long-term prognosis [was] poor with expected continued frequent use of psychiatric services for poor impulse control and maladaptive behavior pattern.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force assessed him as “not being affiliated with Al-Qaida or the Taliban,” because he “was involved in the sale and trafficking of drugs.” It was noted that, in 1997, he worked as a clerk at a florist’s that was “a cover for illegal drug sales of opium, hashish, and heroin,” and that, from 1998 to 2000, he “delivered opium and hashish for Aiduk Khan, a major Iranian drug trafficker.” He explained that he “owed Aiduk Khan a large debt,” and that, as collateral, Khan “held [his] two younger brothers,” and “stated he would kill them if [he] did not repay the debt within one year.” In order to repay the debt, he “traveled to Afghanistan in early February 2002 looking for construction work as part of the rebuilding effort after the war,” after paying $2,000 for a travel letter “issued by the Islamic Party of Afghanistan office” in Iran.
After noting that he “received no [military] training” in Afghanistan, the Task Force explained that he “spent three days traveling to Kabul, AF, looking for work,” but that, on the third day, “he stopped to wash his clothes at a river in the vicinity of Ghazni,” when “an Afghan soldier approached [him] and accused him of being an Al-Qaida member.” On capture, he had “11,000 Iranian Rials, 300,000 Afghanis and a notebook,” but he “possessed no other items and was not carrying a weapon.” Afghan forces turned him over to US forces on February 18, 2002, and he was then held in the US prison at Kandahar airport.
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Drug trade operations across the Afghan-Iranian border, The organisation and operation of a large heroin/hashish production ring operating across the Afghan-Iranian border, The transportation of poppy and hashish from Afghanistan to Iran [and] Drug production facilities run by Aiduk Khan” — all of which serves only to emphasize how everyone who ended up in US custody in Afghanistan was sent to Guantánamo, and how, if there were no allegations of militancy or terrorism-related activities, then any other excuse would do.
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he “claimed to have no knowledge of Taliban and Al-Qaida activities,” and that he “claimed he did not know why US forces were in Afghanistan,” and “had no interest in fighting and only wanted to find work.” It was also noted that he “denied knowledge of extremist groups in Iran and stated that because Iran is mostly Shi’ite, Iran would not tolerate any Al-Qaida in the country because Al-Qaida is predominantly Sunni.”
Even so, it was noted that, although he had been “cooperative,” his “veracity [was] questionable.” It was noted that he had “changed his story on at least three separate debriefings,” stating, on one occasion, that he “lied about selling drugs and he really deserted the Iranian army” (as noted above), and, on another occasion, claiming “he was trained as a SCUBA diver, paratrooper, in mountain climbing techniques, and was a member of the Revolutionary Guards Marines.”
Ignored in all this were Muhammed’s obvious mental health issues, which provided a perfect explanation for why anything he said might have been unreliable. As was noted elsewhere in the file, in a specific analysis of “Detainee’s Conduct”: his “behaviour is extremely maladaptive. [He] had several self-harm incidents and often exhibits extreme emotion. He threatened to harm himself on several occasions as an attempt to gain attention.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a treat to the US, its interests and allies,” and Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation to release him or to transfer him (dated September 27, 2002), recommended again that he be released or transferred. Even so, it took another 16 months for him to be freed, and that was four years and two months after he was first recommended for release.
Ehsanullah Peerzai (ISN 562, Afghanistan) Released August 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ehsanullah Peerzai, who was 24 years old and had been imprisoned in Iran for smuggling hashish, was accused of carrying lists of Taliban members and radio codes, when he was captured by US forces in Helmand province in February 2002. A clerk for the new government, he said that he was betrayed by two members of the Taliban in his home district, and his four and a half year imprisonment seemed to be based on the US authorities’ claim that he was “extremely evasive and use[d] multiple resistance techniques,” and their suspicion that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence to work in Afghanistan as a spy.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Peerzai was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated January 7, 2005, in which he was identified as Qari Hasan Ulla Peerzai, born in 1977, and it was also noted that medical officials at the detention clinic listed him as being “in good health,” although psychiatry staff “diagnosed him for Dissociative Disorder,” and, “since he refuse[d] treatment, his prognosis and condition [we]re both poor.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force admitted up front that he had been seized by mistake, noting that “[n]o capture data ha[d] been found” in his case, and that it appeared that “the initial reason for capturing [him] was due to suspicions by US Forces in Afghanistan [that he] was a trained Iranian agent” (as noted above), although, based on the information he had provided, it was assessed that he was “not a trained intelligence agent and ha[d] no discernible associations with terrorists or terrorist support.” It was also confirmed that he “had a low rank and position within the post-Taliban government,” and “never held a position of leadership within the Taliban.”
From Helmand province, Peerzai, who had three brothers and four sisters, and was married, but had no children, “fled to Iran for safety during the chaos in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation came to an end, and, from the age of 14, “began trafficking hashish,” and also “became a user of opportunity using ‘whatever he could get his hands on,’ to include hashish, marijuana, heroin, cigarettes and snuff,” but he was arrested with four others for trafficking hashish, and given a ten-year sentence. After nine years, In 1999, his sentence was commuted, and he was released.
After returning to Afghanistan with his father, he then spent 18 months doing “odd jobs such as selling medicine, picking poppies for a month, day labor, and selling, in Quetta, PK, prayer rugs he made in prison.” He said that he “wanted a job as a clerk and applied to the Taliban government in Kandahar, AF, but was rejected.” After the fall of the Taliban, two of his uncles apparently “helped him to get a clerk position” with the local post-Taliban government, where his responsibilities “included typing documents and complaints that came into the district, typing food vouchers for some of the local residents, and resupplying US personnel that were staying in a nearby building.”
Peerzai was seized on February 24, 2002, and said that, on the day of his capture, “he was trying to turn in two former Taliban members” who had been harassing him. As “he delivered food to the Americans, he attempted to tell them, without an interpreter, about the two men,” but, “because of the language barrier, they were unable to determine what [he] wanted.” However, after he returned to work, the Americans requested that the most senior figure in the area “come to their location to explain what [he] wanted.” Afterwards, he “was summoned back,” but when he arrived, “some of the men tackled him and took him into a room.”
He then spent approximately three months in US custody in Kandahar, and was sent to Guantánamo on June 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: general to specific information concerning prison facilities in or around Zahidon [Zahedan], IR [and] specific information about: Abdul Wahid, commander in Bagram, AF; Mullah Kabir, Mullah Mawd Yaqub, Taliban commander; Mir Gul, brother of Taliban Defense Minister; Haji Abdul Khaliq, brother of Taliban Defense Minister; Haji Baran; and Mullah Khan Mohammed, whom he claims was the Taliban Defense Minister.”
In assessing his story, although the Task Force effectively conceded that he had been seized by mistake, accepting that no further information had been “found since his incarceration that would support the supposition [that he was] an intelligence operative,” and that he did not “appear to have special skills, education, or the capability to organize, coordinate or participate in acts against the US,” it was still claimed that, despite having had “no involvement in hostilities” and having “not demonstrated a commitment to jihad or a propensity towards violence,” he nevertheless “may be susceptible to recruitment for terrorist organizations or support groups.”
This, I believe, was unforgivable, given his severe and debilitating mental health problems. It was noted that he “had a continuing history of psychiatric problems since his arrival at JTF GTMO,” and the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) explained that he was “being treated for Dissociative Disorder,” described as “the failure to integrate one’s memories, perceptions, identity or consciousness properly,” whereby he “cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy.” The BSCT representatives also noted that his condition “was probably caused by deep psychological trauma” and “appear[ed] to be worsening [as he was] refusing treatment,” and the Task Force added that, because of his Dissociative Disorder, his “overall behaviour varie[d] from aggressive to incoherent, from threatening to friendly.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk to the US, its interests and allies,” although it was noted that, “[d]ue to his psychiatric condition it [wa]s difficult to conduct a risk assessment.” It was “also strongly recommended [that he] be transferred to his country of citizenship and committed for further custodial psychiatric care,” and this was endorsed by Brig. Gen. Hood, although he was not freed for another 19 months, and it is not known whether, on his return, he received the psychiatric care that he so clearly needed.
Mani Al Utaybi (ISN 588, Saudi Arabia) Died in Guantánamo June 2006
As I explained in Chapter 19 of The Guantánamo Files, Mani al-Utaybi, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, was one of three prisoners who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006. having allegedly hanged themselves in a coordinated suicide pact. The other two were Yasser al-Zahrani, another Saudi (who was just 17 at the time of his capture), and Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni, and all three were long-term hunger strikers, who had been force-fed on a daily basis for many months before their deaths. As was revealed in weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, which I analysed for a report in 2009, “Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation,” al-Utaybi only weighed 114 pounds on his arrival at Guantánamo, but in September and October 2005, as a hunger striker, his weight dropped to just 89 pounds.
The administration’s response to the deaths was extraordinarily callous. Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo, said, “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us,” and Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, described the suicides as a “good PR move to draw attention.” Stung by international criticism, the administration rapidly back-tracked, and Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, was put forward to say, “I wouldn’t characterize it as a good PR move. What I would say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own life, because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our country.”
In an attempt to stifle further dissent, and to bolster their view that the three men were hardened terrorists, the Pentagon released details of the allegations against them, which served only to highlight almost everything that was wrong with the system at Guantánamo. In al-Utaybi’s case, all the Pentagon had to go on was his involvement with Jamaat al-Tablighi, the vast and apolitical worldwide missionary organization, with millions of members worldwide, which, nevertheless, was inappropriately regarded as a front for terrorism by the US authorities, and was duly described by the Pentagon as “an al-Qaeda 2nd tier recruitment organization” in a statement following his death.
Heartless to the last, the administration also admitted that he had actually been approved for release — “transfer to the custody of another country” — in November 2005, although Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said he “did not know whether al-Utaybi had been informed about the transfer recommendation before he killed himself.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Peerzai was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which he was identified as Mana Shaman Allabardi al-Tabi and Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi, born in 1976, and it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he had served in the Saudi army for three months at the age of 20, and after that “worked as an office gopher” for “an agricultural company selling dates and oranges.” He also became interested in the work of Jamaat al-Tablighi, and in early 2001 “attended a three-day bonding session with JT members.” Afterwards, the organization “directed and financed [his] travel to a JT missionary school in Qatar,” where he performed 40 days of missionary work,” and met a man named Hamid al-Ali, who convinced him to travel to Pakistan with him in September 2001 “to complete a five-month mission there.”
On or around September 3, 2001, al-Utaybi flew from Bahrain to the United Arab Emirates, where he met al-Ali, and they flew to Karachi to then took a bus to the Jamaat al-Tablighi center in Lahore. There, he “was assigned to a preaching group that traveled to various villages in the area,” and that “spent the whole month of Ramadan (17 November to 16 December 2001) in Faisalabad.” They then traveled to Bannu, near the Afghan border, where “they set up operations at a mosque on the outskirts of the city.”
At this point his story became complicated, because, in trying to leave Bannu — for reasons that were not explained, but were, I presume, because he wanted to return home to resume work, and/or because it was getting dangerous for Arabs in Pakistan — he said that he left the Bannu mosque on 17 January 2002, wearing a burka and in the company of four other individuals fleeing in a car. One of the four was Ibrahim al-Umar (ISN 585, released in May 2003, a juvenile — aged 16 or 17 — who had been studying at a religious school, and had left after “the school director requested that [he] leave Pakistan for his own safety, and so that the Pakistani authorities would not close the school.” The others were Adel Noori (ISN 584, a Uighur released in Palau in October 2009), Brahim Benchekroun (ISN 587, a Moroccan released in July 2004, but later imprisoned in his home country), and Ahmed Errachidi, (ISN 590, a Moroccan chef who had lived and worked in London for 18 years, and who had no involvement with terrorism whatsoever, who was released in Morocco in March 2007).
As al-Utaybi described it, the Pakistani driver “failed to yield the right-of-way at a stop light and accidentally struck a woman crossing the street.” However, to “avoid confrontation with the authorities, the driver continued without stopping,” although the car was “stopped at the next checkpoint,” where al-Utaybi was arrested with a Yemeni passport containing a photo of someone similar looking to him, having apparently had his own passport stolen from his luggage. Pakistani officials then took the passengers to a Pakistani prison, and, on March 8, 2002, he was transferred to the US authorities in Afghanistan. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the Jama’at Tabligh [Jamaat al-Tablighi] and its operations in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Pakistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force was anxious to establish that he had connections with militants or alleged terrorists, but there was little to go on. It was claimed that he had made “several inconsistent statements to his debriefers,” who assessed that he was “hiding information from the debriefers to avoid supplying them with incriminating evidence about his true purpose for traveling to Pakistan,” but this was nothing more than supposition. In addition, the Saudi intelligence service did not designate him as a significant detainee, noting only that he had been involved in criminal activities as a teenager, had gone AWOL from the army during military service, and, allegedly, “met with a number of suspicious individuals” prior to setting off for Pakistan.
He was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and it was also assessed that, overall, his behaviour had been “belligerent, argumentative, harassing, and very aggressive,” and that he had “a number of cases where he ha[d] failed to comply with the rules of the cellblock and the guard force,” and had “assaulted the guards, incited disturbances, and used sign language to communicate with detainees in other cells.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, following up on a recommendation that he be released or transferred (dated September 27, 2002), but drawing on information obtained since that assessment (which was not specified, as such), recommended his transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia.
It is, of course, a depressing irony that al-Utaybi could have been freed three years and nine months before his death, and could have been freed (with conditions) a year before he died, but it was not to be, and he went to his death without an apology from the government, which had omitted to mention his force-feeding in his Detainee Assessment Brief, and which, as mentioned above, unforgivably slandered him after his death.
Even so, and despite the government’s official account of the men’s deaths, the claim that they committed suicide was doubted by their fellow prisoners at the time, and also by other commentators, although it was not until December 2009 and January 2010 that serious doubts were expressed in a concerted and thoroughly researched manner.
In December 2009, the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey published a 136-page report, “Death in Camp Delta” (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the official investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and in January 2010, Harper’s Magazine published an extraordinary article by law professor Scott Horton (which I discussed here), revealing the story of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, and a number of other soldiers — the tower guards who “had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, [but] were not interviewed” by the NCIS — who suggested that, earlier in the evening on which the men allegedly committed suicide, they had been taken from the cell block in which they were held to a secret facility outside the main perimeter fence of Guantánamo — known to the soldiers as “Camp No” — where they had either been deliberately killed, or had a died as the result of particularly brutal torture sessions. “They didn’t die in their cells,” Sgt. Hickman explained to me in March 2010.
Despite these claims, the Justice Department shut the door on a proposed inquiry in November 2009, and an attempt by family members (including al-Zahrani’s father) to pursue accountability in the US courts was turned down in September 2010, and is currently being appealed.
Qari Esmhatulla (ISN 591, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In a footnote to Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Qari Esmhatulla was the only prisoner captured after “Operation Anaconda,” a mission to oust remnants of Al-Qaida from the Shah-i-Kot valley in Paktia province in March 2002, which involved 2,700 US and Afghan troops and was hailed as a major victory by the US, even though there was never any evidence of the bodies of the 500 al-Qaeda soldiers that the US military claimed to have killed.
At the time, I was not sure of his age at the time of his capture, and cannot be certain even now, but in my article, “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo,” I explained how he was possibly a juvenile, as he was born in 1984, and seized on March 10, 2002 (when he was 17, or possibly 18). If under 18, he — like the other juveniles at Guantánamo — should have been rehabilitated rather than punished, according to America’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified on December 23, 2002. However, only three juveniles were ever treated differently from the adult prisoners (as described in “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Ten of Ten)”).
In Guantánamo, he told a story in which he claimed to have been set up by Afghan soldiers while returning from a shrine. He stated that he “admitted the things that were not true only to make them stop beating me,” and added, “I heard my captors talk about receiving a bounty from American forces for people they captured. They placed a grenade near me so they could have an explanation for arresting me.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Esmhatulla was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated November 19, 2004, in which he was also identified as Hesmatullah, and it was confirmed that he was born in 1984. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” although, as with many of the prisoners, he had latent TB, although he “completed treatment with INH in March 2004.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was born in a refugee camp in Miram Shah, Pakistan, and that, when his family returned to Afghanistan, he stayed on to finish his schooling, returning to his family in Gardez sometime in 2000. In February 2002, he attended the funeral of a Taliban member (reportedly a friend of his), where “two Taliban recruiters approached [him] and convinced him to join the jihad against the Northern Alliance and US forces,” and told him to go to Shah-i-Kot “and to wait for further instructions.” He said that he traveled to the town of Zormat, near the valley, and met a Taliban commander named Ali Ghul, who directed him to a madrassa in the town, which, in one interrogation, Esmhatulla apparently described as “a mustering point for Taliban and Al-Qaida forces preparing to return to the front.”
After staying a night at the madrassa, he set off towards Shah-i-Kot, but, “[a]fter several days of traveling, sleeping in abandoned houses and cars, encountering several corpses, and being hit by mortar shrapnel in the head,” he decided to return to his village, but was captured on the way. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the movement of supplies and weapons from Gardez to the area of Tamir.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force repeated the claim by the capturing forces that he “was captured with two grenades and a hand-held radio,” and noted that he agreed “to join the jihad against the Northern Alliance and US forces,” and that he reportedly “consider[ed] himself a member of the Taliban,” and “admit[ted] to wanting to martyr himself.”
Despite this, no information was provided to justify regarding him as anything more than a lowly Afghan recruit, who almost certainly never raised arms against anyone, and an example of the lengths the US authorities went to in an attempt to portray him as more significant that he was can be found in a passage dealing with a fatwa that was “signed by 113 Afghan Mullahs,” and was “found in poster format in a mosque in the town of Zormat in April of 2002.” An analyst suggested that this was “possibly a place detainee entered during his travels through Zormat,” which was a rather desperate claim, and the Task Force proceeded to explain how the poster “explained the Afghan public how the war against terrorism started; that the authors blame the president of the US for not resolving the Osama Bin Laden (UBL) issue peacefully; that the Taliban government conveyed to the US that they asked UBL to leave the country on his own, but this proposal was not acceptable to the US; and despite all efforts to the contrary by the Taliban government, the US attacked the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,the only pure Islamic system in the world.” Apart from the final sentence, this was a pretty accurate summary of what actually happened, but what made it relevant to Qari Esmhatulla’s case was an analyst’s note that, because he had been given the title “Qari” (bestowed on those who memorize the Quran), it had been assessed that he may have had “knowledge of who issued this edict,” which is a ridiculous claim.
Another ludicrous claim, but one which was specifically noted, was a mention of the fact that, on October 19, 2003, he “commented to the guard force that he [wa]s a Taliban commander of 150 men earning $2,000 a month and he was on leave during his time of capture,” which ought to have been obviously a lie, as it was inconceivable that a 17-year old would have been commanding 150 men.
Despite these feeble attempts to incriminate him in any kind of significant anti-coalition activities, even though he was nothing more than a wandering youth picked up randomly, the Task Force conceded that he was “of low intelligence value,” but also claimed that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” which, yet again, demonstrated how over-classification was built into the assessment system. It was also noted that his behaviour ha[d] been passively aggressive,” and he had “repeatedly harassed the guards and failed to comply with the rules of the cellblock,” but in the end Brig. Gen. Hood recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, even though he was not released for another 23 months.
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:
Thanks, George. I’m grateful for the support, as ever. Trying to make headway with Part Eight right now (Part 28 overall), but running a few days late because of “Occupy London” this weekend. Hope all is well with you.
Willy Bach wrote:
Hope this all gets read at The Hague one day, though I know there is little chance. Good on ya, Andy.
Thanks, Willy. Very good to hear from you, and thanks for recognizing the nature of the “evidence.” The chances are indeed slim that it will ever be entered into the record in the Hague, but fortunately that’s no reason not to try to keep shining a light on the crimes and injustice of Guantanamo, as the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening gets ever nearer.
Andy, thanks again for your important work.
With regards to Khalid Al Muri and his Bosnian connection you quoted from his DAB
“In assessing his story, an analyst first claimed that Zenica served as ‘a major stronghold for Al-Qaida and other extremist Islamic groups within Bosnia,’ and that it was ‘unlikely [he] performed charity work in Bosnia.’ There was actually no reason for believing the analyst’s point of view, but it was typical, as every analysis was geared towards establishing that prisoners were significant.”
As I read through the CSR Tribunal transcripts I kept coming across the occassional captive whose detention was justified because his name, or “known alias ™” was found “on a list of Bosnian Mujahideen”. My recollection is that all but one of the captives who were asked to testify about the presence of their name on this list were mystified. They acknowledged traveling to Bosnia, but did so after the war, or as charity workers, not fighters.
As I recall, one captive thought he could provide an explanation for how his name got on this list. Sorry, I can’t recall his name. My recollection is that he told the officers that, while working in Bosnia as a charity worker, after the war, he met, fell in love with, and married a Bosnian woman. They decided that they would have more choices as to where to live, etc, if he became a Bosnian citizen.
I remember him describing paying his citizenship application fee to a Bosnian immigration clerk, and later learning that the clerk was corrupt, and had tried to take advantage of a loophole in the newly minted Bosnian state’s immigration laws. As a gesture of gratitude Bosnia waived the citizenship application fee for any foreigner who had come to Bosnia and volunteered to fight during the civil war with Yugoslavia that lead to Bosnian independence. What this one captive had learned was that during wartime, there were no reliable lists of the names of those volunteers. So when corrupt immigration clerks processed the applications of military age men with Arabic names they would routinely forge a request for a fee waiver in the applicant’s name, claiming the applicant had come to Bosnia as a fighter, and then quietly pocket the applicant’s fees. And this one applicant found out about this scam.
Fast forward a few years, to 1998, to the al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Africa. American security officials started to re-examine how secure their embassy buildings were. Some were not offset, with decorative posts that prevented bomb-laden vehicles from parking nearby.
Presumably, as part of this review, American security officials discussed with local security officials whether there was a community of jihadists living near their embassy. And presumably, in Bosnia, they were given a list of every person living in Bosnia who had applied for a citizenship application fee waiver, because they had fought for Bosnia in the civil war.
The result was that American security officials have this fear that Bosnia is full of “sleeper cells”, full of thousands of newly minted Bosnian citizens who are waiting to spread terror across Europe, and, using their European passports, across the USA.
I did a little reading, trying to determine how many genuine jihadists, guys who might have been affiliated with al-Qaeda took advantage of this citizenship offer.
Bosnia has three main ethnic groups, people of Croatian ethnic background, people of Serbian ethnic background, and Yugoslavian muslims. Some of the Balkan states, like Albania, continue to be largely muslim, dating back several hundred years to when Greece and Yugoslavia were still occupied by the Turks. In Bosnia muslims were a minority, but a sizable one.
From my limited reading it seemed to me that the foreign volunteers who came to fight on behalf of the Bosnian muslims largely didn’t get along with the Bosnian muslims — who they saw as far too liberal and westernized. From my reading it didn’t seem likely that many genuine jihadist types, the kind of volunteer security officials would want to take advantage of that fee waiver, because they wouldn’t want to live among Bosnian muslims they considered almost apostates.
Did some genuine jihadists take advantage of the fee waiver? If they did I would speculate that it was dozens, not thousands. I did find one or two press reports, from the late 1990s, about deportations of guys who may have been genuine jihadists.
If someone who has access to the secret list that US security officials refer to as the “list of Bosnian mujahideen”, or if someone with the Bosnian ministry of immigration has access to the list of applicants who, apparently, asked for a fee waiver, the rest of the world should be really grateful to them if they would leak that list to wikileaks.
When Bosnian officials gave the list to US security officials, were they aware how tainted and unreliable it was? Did they warn US security officials that most of the individuals named on the list probably did not fight in the civil war? Maybe they warned them, and the warnings were ignored? Maybe the transmission of this list was unofficial, and US security officials covertly BOUGHT the list from a corrupt Bosnian official? They may have bought the list from an official who had been one of those corrupt clerks who had pocketed the fees paid by legitimate immigrants with Arab names.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Very interesting analysis, and something that hasn’t been looked at enough. I do recall that, even just a few years ago, the US was putting pressure on Bosnia-Herzegovina to strip foreign nationals of the citizenship they had been granted, and deport them, which struck me as very unjust and politically motivated, as part of the “war on terror.”
I also love “known alias™” — it seems to me we could add ™ to the entire set-up of the “war on terror” ™ to expose it as a giant lie and a cynical manipulation of domestic and international laws — with its enemy combatants ™ and its enhanced interrogation techniques ™ etc.
Andy, thanks for this additional excellent article. Can I share some of my thoughts about “Abdul Majid Muhammed”?
I think many readers would be very surprised to learn that one of the captives in Guantanamo was a Christian.
When I read the comments and questions of the officers who reviewed his status it struck me that his desertion from the Iranian military concerned them just as much as any possible ties to al Qaeda. I guess some American officers just really hate desertees, no matter who they desert from.
My own assessment of his testimony was that he was very seriously addicted, and that he was employed as a street level dealer almost 100 percent of the time. As I recall his testimony, his boss, his high level connection, told him he owed him a huge debt for drugs he had consumed, but hadn’t paid for. He testified that shortly after the fall of the Taliban, his boss employed him, for the first time, as a drug courier.
I think the obvious explanation for this change of employment is that his boss considered him expendable. His boss would have had more experienced drug couriers, men who knew personally the corrupt officials they would have had to pay off, to get the shipments through. But all the corrupt officials on the Taliban side would have been out of a job, and the Iranian drug lord would have to start to scout out new corrupt officials. So, I believe, hapless Abdul Majid Mohammed was sent as an expendable scout — and a poorly prepared one, at that.
He testified that his boss would strike his huge debt, upon his successful return. And, at his annual status in 2005 he testified that he had received a letter from his boss, saying he was going to start killing off his children, one at a time, to show Abdul Majid Mohammed he was serious about not striking that debt with his drug excursion incomplete.
I found Abdul Majid Mohammed’s account of how he acquired identity documents from the local storefront office of the Hezbi Islami Gulbuddin quite informative. It seems to me it illustrates how easy it was to acquire identity documents from the HiG, and, by implication, how common they were. He is not the only captive who testified they used identity documents issued by the HiG when they were in Iran. The Guantanamo documents justify the detention of quite a few captives based on the allegation they were members of HiG, who may instead have been using documents they received from an HiG storefront, for a simple cash payment, as their identity documents when they were refugees.
It sounds like the Iranian police would not let Afghan refugees leave the refugee camps, to shop, or hold a job, unless they had some kind of identity documents. It sounds to me as if, through long practice, if not officially, Iranian police would accept documents issued from an HiG storefront that certified the carrier was a citizen of Afghanistan as equivalent to a genuine official Afghan identity document. I think we can assume that these storefront offices operated by HiG, and probably also rival storefronts operated by the Northern Alliance, and some of the better organized groups, operated almost like unofficial consulates.
I think there were something like well over a million Afghan refugees. I think we can assume a large fraction of those refugees had to acquire identity documents of some kind, and that these identity documents should not be considered to be equivalent to membership cards in the HiG party, and should not be considered to have branded the carrier as an HiG fighter.
Some of the captives who had been refugees in Pakistan offered similar accounts as to how they acquired identity documents. Abib Sarajudin’s son or nephew described how a Pashtun could go to an official who sounded like the Pakistani equivalent of a justice of the peace, with someone who was prepared to swear that they were related to them, and in return they would be issued an identity document. Just as with the identity documents issued at the storefront offices of groups like the HiG American security officials considered these documents as suspicious, but, given the breakdown in infrastructure in Afghanistan, I think that was a mistake.
I’ve wondered what happened to him upon his return. I wondered whether his connection really did carry out his threat to kill his children. I think it is highly likely he quickly reacquired his addiction.
The life of a seriously addicted street-level dealer can be very short, due to accidental overdoses, disease spread through dirty needles, robbery by other seriously addicted individuals, or punishment by higher ups in the drug chain who suspect they have been short-changed. So he may no longer even be alive. If he is alive I wish someone would seek him out, and write his story.
Thanks again, arcticredriver. You’ve certainly spent time studying Abdul Majid Muhammed’s case, and I’m grateful for that. Very interesting points about the identity documents, and who was providing them, and also your theory about Muhammed’s status an an expendable drug courier, which would make sense.
I too wonder what happened to him on his return. I do recall that one of the Iranians was handed over to Red Cross representatives in Afghanistan — and wonder if it was him. Otherwise, I don’t expect he would have been greeted warmly in Iran — either by the drug boss, or the government.
Thanks Andy, I think another term that could be marked with a trademark is “near Tora Bora ™”.
I wanted to figure out exactly where Tora Bora was, in relation to other significant locations within Afghanistan. Eventually I found a latitude and longitude for it, and used that to generate a map using a cool online map-making tool. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kabul,_Peshawar,_and_some_cities_in_Nangarhar,_Afghanistan_6.png
Nangarhar is a long thin, mountainous province, about 300 kilometers long. It butts right up against Pakistan’s Federally Administrered Tribal Areas in the east. And it comes close to Kabul in the west. In 2001 the road from Peshawar to Kabul, that crossed the border at Torkham, and the road from Kandahar to Quetta that crossed the border at Spin Boldak were the only two paved border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, is one of the largest cities in Afghanistan. The latitude and longitude I found for Tora Bora put it about 50 to 60 kilometres south-east of Jalalabad. 50 to 60 kilometres might seem close enough to describe as “near Tora Bora ™” to someone who commutes 20 to 30 kilometres each way to work on a nice modern American freeway. But, in mountainous Nangarhar 50 to 60 kilometers on primitive Afghan dirt roads, or on foot would be the equivalent of more like hundreds of kilometres of freeway travel. Here are some photos of the Jalalabad — Kabul road showing how mountainous that region can be. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Kabul-Jalalabad_Highway
What I suspect is that some analysts who were not familiar with Nangarhar would routinely conflate any location in Nangarhar with “near Tora Bora ™”.
I don’t know if the longrunning CBS show 60 minutes is broadcast in the UK. A few years ago they broadcast a segment profiling an author who had commanded a team of special forces soldiers tasked with killing Bin Laden in Tora Bora. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/02/60minutes/main4494937.shtml
In the segment he described a plan, for which he could not get approval, to surprise bin Laden by attacking him from the South, after sneaking over the mountains from Pakistan on foot. In the segment he said the mountains were so high his men, who presumably were in peak physical condition, would have needed oxygen tanks.
If US special forces soldiers, in peak physical condition, require oxygen tanks to cross the border near Tora Bora I think it is extremely unlikely than anyone who wasn’t already in Tora Bora would travel to Tora Bora to cross the border. So I dismiss all the assertions of GTMO analysts that captives proceeded to Tora Bora to cross the border. On my map I labelled the border crossing “Torkham”. But an alternate translisteration is “Tora Kham”. If I were a betting man I would bet that lots of the GTMO references to captives proceeding to cross the border at “Tora Bora ™” were instances that had originally said they were going to cross the border at the (busy) border crossing at “Tora Kham”. Tora Kham and Spin Boldak were Afghanistan’s Tijuana and Juarez.
I am curious as to the exact location of the Uyghur camp. Some of the documents say it was “near Tora Bora ™”. Others say it was near Jalalabad. One of the captives described himself as the camp’s caterer. He used to drive from Jalalabad to the Uyghur camp to deliver food. Maybe I should go look for his testimony again, but my recollection was that the journey only took hours. Given how mountainous the area around Tora Bora was I really doubt whether a trip from Jalalabad to Tora Bora could be made in hours.
Really, from what has been made public so far, all we know is that the Uyghur camp was within a couple of hours drive of Jalalabad. For all we know the Uyghur camp was north, up the Korengal valley, in Kunar.
Excellent, arcticredriver. That’s fantastic research. Thanks very much. It’s something I’d wondered about but had never looked into. I think this will be very useful to me as my research continues.
Andy, I don’t know if your readers can cope with even more depressing details of the life and death of Mani Al Utaybi while in US custody.
His death was less than two months after the DoD had complied with a court order to publish the names and ID numbers of all the captives. The DoD’s actual deadline was 6pm, Friday March 3rd, 2006. But they didn’t publish their first two official lists until April 20th and May 15th 2006.
The first list was of the 558 men whose status was reviewed by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. The second list contained 759 names which the DoD claimed was all the captives who had been held in Guantanamo.
So, on June 10th, or June 11th, as soon as I read about the men’s deaths, I tried to reconcile the transliterations of the men’s names as published by Saudi authorities, and in the press, with the names on the official lists.
Initially, the DoD didn’t publish the men’s names. They did however claim that none of the three men had been assisted by attorneys working to gain their freedom through habeas corpus petitions. This turned out to be completely untrue.
About a day after Saudi authorities published their transliterations of the men’s names the DoD published alternate transliterations of the men’s names. Disturbingly, the alternate name the DoD offered for Mani Al Utaybi did not match any of the names on their official lists of captives, even though the second list, the list that was supposed to name every captive, had been published just three weeks prior to his death.
The lawyers who had been working on his habeas corpus petition came forward, and what they had to say was even more disturbing. They described their repeated attempts to get permission to visit Mani Al Utaybi, and how those attempts were thwarted.
At that time, before a lawyer could visit a captive in Guantanamo the captive had to write them a letter saying that they had their permission to represent them. Habeas corpus petitions are usually commissioned by a captive’s “next friend”. The “next friend” is often a family member. And, in Mani Al Utaybi’s case, it was his father. The extra step imposed upon the lawyers by the DoD was that they were supposed to write a letter to the captive, informing them that a “next friend” had hired them (almost all the attorneys worked pro bono), and then requesting their permission.
What Mani Al Utaybi’s lawyers described was that they made repeated attempts to get letters delivered to Mani Al Utaybi, requesting that permission, and, that after long delays, the DoD would return the letters to them, telling them that they didn’t have any captives in Guantanamo with that name.
If you think this looks like it was an incredibly cruel charade, then you agree with me. Various naive and vengeful Guantanamo staff hated the habeas attorneys, regarded them as renegades and traitors to the USA. I am afraid that the name change between the publication of the official lists, and the reports of his death suggest to me is that whoever made the decision as to whether the lawyer’s letter should be delivered was playing a shell game with Mani Al Utaybi’s official name on the prison roster. I think we have to entertain the possibility that when a letter from a lawyer, requesting permission to visit arrived, if the name was not an exact match to the name that was currently the name that GTMO staff considered the official reference name, they let the letter wander back to the lawyer as undeliverable, and that, if the addressee of the letter was the official reference name someone at Guantanamo would change the official reference name, so that they could send the letter back as undeliverable.
So, not only was Mani Al Utaybi cleared for release, for over a year, a team of lawyers had made repeated attempts to travel to Guantanamo to tell him he had been cleared for release, only to have their attempts inexplicably thwarted on the very flimsy excuse that his lawyers weren’t transliterating his name quite the way they would like.
Woops, I made a couple of typos, above. Of course Mani Al Utaybi’s lawyers tried to visit him in Guantanamo, not Afghanistan. And the second official list of captives included 759 names, not 758.
If I were an American citizen I would want to know why it didn’t include Abu Zubaydah and the other men who had been held at Camp Strawberry Fields.
I picked those typos up, arcticredriver, but they failed to detract from a commentary that was both informative and emotionally, morally very powerful. Thank you very much for reminding me — and telling readers who didn’t know — about the way in which the authorities kept Mani al-Utaybi isolated from any outside contact.
I wonder what the representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross who visited Guantanamo made of the men who died — but I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out.
Andy, back in October 2011 you allowed me to share my concern that “near Tora Boratm” was poorly defined, and that I was concerned some analysts were prepared to call any location in Nangarhar or Kunar province “near Tora Boratm”.
Well, I noticed a reference to a UN document from 2001 I had looked at before that said: “The Turkham crossing point is only 12 km from the embattled Tora Bora area.” http://web.archive.org/web/20020112230624/http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusnews.asp?NewsID=102&sID=4
But an online great circle calculator says the distance between Torkham and Tora Bora is 73 kilometers.
So, the UN didn’t really know where Tora Bora was either.
Ha! Thanks, arcticredriver. When you write “near Tora Boratm,” however, do you not mean, “near Tora Bora”?
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: