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 29 of the 70-part series. 359 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. Part Seven featured 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, and Part Eight featured more mental health issues, another juvenile, three men sent to live in Albania because it was not safe for them to be returned to their home countries, and the last of the three prisoners who died in June 2006. This part features the stories of eleven more Afghans. Also see Part Ten.
Mohammed Akitar (ISN 845, Afghanistan) Released August 2006
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, according to the account he gave in Guantánamo, Haji Mohammed Akitar (identified as Akhtar Mohammed), who was 31 years old at the time of his capture, ended up at Guantánamo because a rival of his had told a false story to the Americans. A businessman who worked in the logging business after returning from Pakistan, where he lived with his family as a refugee during the Soviet occupation, he said that he was working for the Karzai government in Jalalabad, and had just returned to visit his family when he was arrested by US and Afghan forces after a rocket attack on a US base in Asadabad in September 2002. He said that he was betrayed by a long-standing enemy, who was with the Americans when he was arrested, as was his enemy’s son-in-law, who was the commander of a local Afghan military division. In his tribunal, he explained that he was never told why he was arrested, and had only been interrogated “two or three times” in Guantánamo.
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, in which he was also identified as Akhtar Mohammed, he largely reiterated this account while speaking to a McClatchy reporter in Kabul, saying that he “worked for the Afghan security forces, guarding a bridge near the city of Jalalabad,” and “also had a small company of his own, selling timber and, from time to time, used cars.”
The reporter noted that the US authorities did not disagree with this, but whereas Akitar described himself as “a father and a hard worker who loved his country and devoted his life to his family,” the Americans were intent on establishing him as “the operations sub-commander for an insurgent group,” responsible for the rocket attack in Asadabad. The truth was elusive. Mateullah Khan, described as a former security commander in Akitar’s home province of Kunar, said “he didn’t know for certain whether [he] had been involved with the Taliban or other militant groups.” Khan told McClatchy’s reporter, “Akhtar Mohammed had some personal feuds in his village; I can’t say if he was wrongly arrested or if he was involved with these (insurgency) things. I didn’t have any specific reports of him being involved with anything.”
Akitar’s meeting with McClatchy’s reporter took place at a friend’s house in Kabul, where, with other men, he had been meeting Abdul Salam Zaeef (ISN 306, released in September 2005), who was the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan at the time of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Akitar insisted that the reporter was “welcome to ask about Guantánamo,” but “there could be no discussion about the gathering at Zaeef’s house,” although this was almost certainly not as suspicious as it sounds, given the nuances of business, politics and tribal allegiances in Afghanistan.
Akitar “denied having anything to do with the insurgency,” and was dismissive of any purported significance regarding the eight or nine “rusty rocket/artillery shells” that US and Afghan soldiers in his house, stating only that “his brother had brought them from a government building.” In Guantánamo, however, he had made a point of arguing for his innocence, telling his tribunal, “If I were a bad guy, Gul Karim” — the commander of Afghan forces in Jalalabad — “would not hire me and let me work for him,” and also pointing out that the rocket attack took place in Kunar province “while he was working and living in Nangarhar.”
Speaking of his treatment after he was captured in February 2003, he said that, in the US prison at Bagram airbase, where he was sent after his capture, the treatment was harsh. He explained that “he wasn’t allowed to sleep” during his first five days at Bagram, and he also said, “They threw me off the helicopter and then dragged me to a room where they threw me on the ground. There were dogs in the room, snarling and barking at me. The interrogators shouted, ‘You have links to the Taliban. You have links to Al-Qaida. We found missiles in your house that you were going to fire at the Americans.’ They said I knew bin Laden and [insurgent leader Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar. I told them I have heard of these men, but I never met them.”
After he was sent to Guantánamo, he said that “the questioning was far milder.” He explained that, “[w]hen he denied being an insurgent leader,” the interrogator “just wrote down his response and moved along.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Akitar was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 20, 2005, in which he was identified as Ahktar Mohammed, born in 1970, and it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, for nine months prior to his capture (on October 10, 2002, apparently, rather than in February 2003), he had been a security guard, assigned to guard a security facility, working as a member of a paramilitary force controlled by the Mayor of Jalalabad. It was also noted that he was seized while he was on leave, attending his brother’s wedding. The Task Force noted that Afghan and US forces had reportedly been looking for his brother, although no explanation was provided as to why his brother was under suspicion. After seizing Akitar instead, at his home in Kunar province, the capturing forces also found the Soviet-era rockets used to incriminate him, although they noted that they “were all old, rusted and not in working order,” adding that they “did not have a head on them and therefore could not be fired in a conventional manner.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 2, 2003, allegedly to “provide information on the following: Members of the Hezb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin (HIG) in the Konar province [because] Detainee will be able to name members of the current government who were members of the HIG, Members of the govemment who were past HIG members [and] Ingress and egress between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As 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 reached desperately unsound conclusions, given that he was essentially seized in a random manner. It was claimed that his boss, Gulam Karim, the Security Chief of Laghman Province, who controlled almost 1,500 security guards, had “not overtly attacked coalition forces,” although he “may sympathize with Al-Qaida and Taliban ideologies. What this had to do with Akitar was unknown, however, unless the US authorities proposed rounding up Karim and all 1,500 of his men.
It was also noted that the only reason he was suspected of having been “a sub-commander of a rocket attack on 21 September 2002, in which four rockets were fired at US forces in Asadabad” was not because of anything resembling evidence, but was “[d]ue to name and geographical similarities.” In addition, the only source of the claim that he was “a machine gunner for the Taliban” was Mohammed Hashim (ISN 850, released in December 2009), a well-known fantasist, responsible for numerous false stories about his fellow prisoners.
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value” (and it was also noted that he was “nearly fully exploited,” and had been “very cooperative during interviews and ha[d] not been deceptive.” He was also assessed as posing a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US,its interests and allies,” which, as my research has regularly indicated, only serves to demonstrate how over-classification was built into the assessments, as he clearly was either no risk or a low risk. It was also noted that his “behavior ha[d] been compliant and cooperative,” and he “ha[d] no major violation of camp regulations,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updated a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated October 28, 2003), recommending instead that he be transferred for continued detention in Afghanistan, ‘[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” which was not specifically mentioned. Even so, he was not released for another 15 months.
Mohammed Nasim (ISN 849, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Mohammed Nasim, who described himself as a laborer, was 25 years old at the time of his capture. In Guantánamo, he was accused of taking part in a rocket attack on Kandahar airport in August 2002, but he refuted the allegation, and he also scoffed at an allegation that he was the governor of Zabul province under the Taliban. He claimed that he had been betrayed, as part of the rivalry between two local commanders. Having agreed to work for one, he said that the other told him, “I will kill you and destroy your family,” and arranged for his capture.
In an interview in Jalalabad in June 2007, which was undertaken for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Nasim was identified as Mohammed Nassim, and McClatchy’s reporter tried to work out who he really was — whether, as he said, “he was a brick maker and a day labourer,” and “a simple man who was framed by men in his village in southwest Nangarhar province because of a feud that began when he joined a local police force,” or whether, as the US authorities claimed, he was “a Taliban member trained in machine guns and missiles who was part of a special 40-man unit,” and who “was found with rockets buried in his garden and a Russian artillery officer’s compass, which could be used to site the rockets.”
The US authorities also alleged that, as well as helping to fire rockets at Jalalabad airport, Nasim was also involved in firing rockets “at the home of an Afghan police official,” and, at the review board that followed his tribunal, also added the ludicrous charge, provided without any explanation, that “he’d been the governor of Zabul province under the Taliban, although he’d been in his early 20s at the time.”
McClatchy picked up on Nasim’s fierce defense of his innocence in Guantánamo, explaining that, when he told his tribunal that all their charges against him were false, he exclaimed, “If I lied, I will excuse you even if you kill me. I can’t say more than that.” Significantly, it was also noted that US officials had, as in all the Guantánamo cases, failed to make even the most cursory investigation of Nasim’s story in Afghanistan, and had “never called the Afghan government’s security commander for the area where Nassim was arrested.” The McClatchy article added, “If they had, Gul Jan might have told them what he told a McClatchy reporter.”
What Gul Jan said was significant. “I was suspicious when they found those rockets in front of his house,” he said. “I don’t think he had any connections with anti-government groups.” In the most critical passage, which explains why so many mistakes were made in rounding up prisoners, he also explained, “The Americans had just come to Afghanistan, and everything depended on the agents they were working with. If their agent gave a report that was correct, then they arrested the right man. If the report was not correct, they arrested the wrong man.”
Nasim’s tribal leader, Mateullah, also told McClatchy what the Americans had never asked — that, “[w]hile there certainly were insurgents in the area,” Nasim “wasn’t one of them.” As he proceeded to explain, “When someone in our village is involved with this sort of thing, we make an announcement in the mosque that if his activities bring a reaction from the government and the village is harmed, he is responsible and we will kill him.” He added that “[n]o such message was ever necessary” for Mohammed Nasim.
Nasim himself explained that, every time interrogators “pressed him to tell the truth about his affiliation with the Taliban,” he “begged them to send someone to his village to gather information about him,” although they never did. He also reiterated to McClatchy’s reporter that rivals had been responsible for his capture. He explained that, “after joining the police, he was visited by several Afghans who said they worked for a man who was the tribal rival of [his] police commander,” and who warned him that, if he “continued to work for the officer in charge of his unit,” he would be “punished.” He was seized just a few days later, with the “pile of rockets buried outside,” which, he said, had been “put there to frame him.”
Describing his treatment in US custody, Nasim explained that, after a week in Afghan custody — where, he said, he had his toenails pulled out — he was sent to Bagram, where he was held for four months, and endured the torture technique — often described as “Palestinian hanging” — which partly contributed to the deaths of at least two prisoners at Bagram in 2002. “When they wanted to punish me in the cell, they would put a cloth sack on my head, and then two soldiers would lift me in the air and put my wrists in handcuffs hanging from the ceiling,” he said. “Only the tips of my toes touched the ground. They left me like this many times.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Nasim was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated April 22, 2005, in which no date of birth was provided for him, although it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, from 1987 to 1995 (in other words, from when he was ten to when he was 18), he had worked on his family’s sheep farm, but that, after his father died in 1995, he “started doing general labor for other people.” It was also noted that, in December 2001, he began working as a policeman under the command of a man named Lashkar Khan. According to his account, however, explaining what he later told McClatchy, in August 2002 he “was awakened in the middle of the night by Shir Jan and Ghulam Ali, two former Taliban members,” who “entered his home armed and told [him] that if he ever worked, talked, or associated with Lashkar Khan again they would kill him.”
After this, he said, “they forced him to go with them to retrieve two hidden rockets,” which they set up and fired “in the direction of Khan’s house.” He also said that he “was told he was going to retrieve more rockets and fire them,” but on October 16, 2002, this mission (if such it was) was stopped in its tracks when the police came to his house and found rockets in his garden, and, also in his possession, a Russian artillery officer’s compass, blasting circuit tester, and three rocket motors.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Shir Jan’s operation and his anti-American/anti-Interim government activist operations including recruitment, Involvement in the 28 August 2002 rocket attacks on Jalalabad, AF [and] Rocket systems and capabilities.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force decided that he was “a possible member of the Taliban,” claiming that he had “confessed to being responsible for the 28 August 2002 BM-12 rocket attack at Jalalabad airport that struck nearby a team of US Army soldiers,” and that he had “named his co-conspirators as Qari Noor Wali, Ghulam Ali, and Qari Sheera Jan [aka Shir Jan], all suspected Taliban members,” who were not captured. It was also claimed that Nasim had “tried to downplay his ties with Jan,” who was described as “a known anti-American activist and probable Taliban commander,” who was “responsible for recruitment of operatives involved in actions against US and coalition forces.”
Anyone analyzing the Guantánamo stories will have to make up their own minds about whether Nasim was lying or not, although I would say that the witnesses who spoke to McClatchy on his behalf tend to tip the conclusion in his favor. Even if this were not the case, however, it ought to remain extraordinary that, until the end of 2003, minor insurgents were being sent to Guantánamo, instead of being held in Afghanistan as prisoners of war.
In assessing Nasim’s story, it is also important to note that all the additional allegations against him are discredited on close investigation, as Mohammed Hashim (ISN 850, released in December 2009), who I described above as a well-known fantasist, responsible for numerous false stories about his fellow prisoners, was single-handedly responsible for the other unsubstantiated claims that he “trained on light weapons, machine-guns, and missiles” (an analyst even noted that this “contradicts detainee’s claims”), that he “fought against US forces in Jalalabad,” and “had been with the Taliban for 5-6 years prior to his capture,” and that he was “a member of a 40-man team who worked for Taliban commander Ameenullah aka Ullah Amin” (ISN 848, released in August 2007, and also identified as Amin Ullah). Hashim also claimed that he saw Nasim “at a training camp south of Kandahar,” and heard [he] was going to attend missile training.”
Despite this, the Task Force determined that Nasim was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that, regarding his behavior in Guantánamo, on one occasion “he had verbally harassed guards,” and, on another occasion, had “threatened to commit hostile acts,” and had also been “reported for failures to comply as well [as] requesting special meals, then turning them down on arrival.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be transferred for continued detention in Afghanistan, updating a similar recommendation that was made on March 29, 2004, although he was not released for another 18 months (and two years and seven months after he was first recommended for release).
Taj Mohammed (ISN 902, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Taj Mohammed, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he was a goat herder from Kunar province, who had been betrayed by a relative. He explained that this relative was a cousin, and that after he had beaten him, because he was working for the Americans, and had installed water pipes for all the houses in the village except his, his cousin retaliated by telling the Americans that he was working with the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (whose militia was a significant part of the opposition to the US presence in Afghanistan) and was planning an attack on an American base. As a result, he was captured and taken to Bagram, but in Guantánamo he insisted, “These are all lies about me. I was a shepherd, and I never can even go out very much, and I was always with my goats on the mountain.”
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Mohammed reiterated his story. A “self-described sheep herder from Kunar province,” he explained that, although he “had been accused of taking part in an attack on a US Army base and working with an al-Qaida cell leader,” the allegations were untrue. According to the US authorities, he had “admitted to firing rocket-propelled grenades at the base,” but confessions in the “War on Terror” need independent corroboration before they can be taken seriously, and Mohammed also said that “two cousins had set him up” and also that “he’d made the confession only because interpreters working with US forces guaranteed he’d be released if he did so.”
Again making the kind of inquiries that, shamefully, the US authorities failed to do, McClatchy’s reporter spoke to Mohammed Roze, an official with the Afghan government’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission in Mohammed’s area, who stated unequivocally that Mohammed “was detained on false information.” Roze confirmed that his cousin “was working with the American troops in the area,” and “settled a score against him by saying that he was a militant.” It was noted, “Because of the feud they had, his cousins led the Americans to him. We are in the provinces; there are problems between cousins here.”
While this, yet again, was a thorough indictment of the Americans’ chronic intelligence failures when it came to rounding up prisoners and sending them to Guantánamo, Mohammed then ran into further problems because he refused to passively accept his unjust detention, and the insults and humiliations heaped on him by guards and interrogators. He explained that, in Bagram, he “could barely stand the humiliation” of being asked by an American woman in civilian clothes “how many times he’d had sex,” and “whether he’d ever had sex with a donkey.” He said he sat in his chair, “shackled and furious,” and also explained that, earlier that same day, another interrogator, “a black man in uniform,” had called him “a stupid bitch.”
By the time he got to Guantánamo, after two months at Bagram, he “was ready to fight,” and the flight there “settled the matter.” Recalling the flight, he said, “They took us like animals to the plane. Our hands and feet were bound; we were blindfolded.” After deciding that the Americans “weren’t people who could be reasoned with,” he also decided that “Guantánamo would be a place of resistance.”
He said that he “began meeting Arabs who took him under their wing,” and who “were impressed with the young man who’d taught himself Arabic and who spoke with enthusiasm of the cause of spreading Islam,” although he conceded that, at the beginning, “he was more of a prison tough than anything else.” He explained, “I got into fights [with guards] because of bad meals, because of them abusing the Quran, because they didn’t give us enough time in the shower. When they searched our cells the soldiers would flip through our Qurans. The detainees did not like this. We would throw water and shit on the soldiers; we would spit at them. If we could reach the soldiers we would punch them.”
He added that, “as his relationships with the Arabs grew,” he began to see that there were “more important things” than fighting the soldiers. A Yemeni, Ali Abdullah Ahmed (ISN 693, also known as Salah al-Salami, who died in Guantánamo in June 2006), “became his teacher, lecturing him about the Quran from one cell to the other, and sometimes across the cellblock, depending on where they’d been moved.” He urged him to memorize the Quran “so that he always could review its words in his mind, so that he could recall chapters at a time when he was feeling weak or alone.”
Mohammed said that he “set a daily schedule to keep himself disciplined, written on a piece of paper that he looked at every morning: morning prayers, nap, Quranic studies, lunch, exercise, studying Arabic and English by chatting with Arab prisoners and American guards, resting and read the Quran, then to sleep by 9 pm.” He added that the more he learned, the more he “saw it as his responsibility to enforce Islamic morals,” and so, when his fellow prisoners “failed to pray or chatted with female soldiers,” they were punished. We “stopped speaking with these men,” he said, adding, “Sometimes we beat them.” He cited the example of an Afghan who “repeatedly spoke with female soldiers,” stating, “We beat him because he made jokes with the female soldiers. He was always laughing with them … But he wasn’t beaten too badly, because the soldiers arrived. We just punched and kicked him.”
Despite his resistance, Mohammed said that in 2005 he was moved to Camp Four, where cooperative and/or well-behaved prisoners were allowed to live communally, although he explained that he only lasted nine months before he was sent back to the isolation of the regular cell blocks. ”A friend of mine was sick,” he explained. “There was a female doctor there, but she wouldn’t give him medicine. So I slapped her.”
Four months before his release, in June 2006, Mohammed said that he was woken by a guard, and he and his fellow prisoners were informed that “three detainees had hanged themselves,” and that one of them was Ali Abdullah Ahmed. Mohammed said, “They hanged themselves because they wanted to protest being detained innocently; they were hoping to help the other detainees.”
McClatchy’s reporter noted that, after saying this, Mohammed “got quiet and checked his watch, saying nothing for several moments,” and also noted that one of his fellow prisoners, Zia Khalid Najib (ISN 15, a Pakistani released in October 2006, and also identified as Zia Ul-Shah), said that Mohammed “took the death harder than he liked to admit.” He told a McClatchy reporter, “Taj was very upset. At one point he tried to kill himself.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohammed was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 6, 2005, in which he was also identified as Taj Gul, and it was noted that he was born in 1981. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” even though he had “a history of anxiety disorder and a non-specific depressive disorder that has caused him to have hallucinations” (although, at the time, he was “not on any psychiatric medications”).
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “was part of a nomadic culture that would travel between the mountains bordering Kunar, AF, and Yargul Village,” and that, for most of his life, he had been a goat farmer, although he had “also worked as a brick maker and wall builder.” It was also noted that, in the winter of 2000, he and five companions had traveled to Kashmir where they worked as woodcutters, although he made a point of stating that he “and his party did not engage in any jihad/insurgent activities and were never encouraged by anyone to do so.”
The Task Force reiterated his story about the circumstances of his capture, noting that he said he “was in an altercation with his cousin, Ismail, over water pumps that were to be distributed to the entire tribe,” but that “Ismail neglected to distribute one to the detainee’s family,” and “[i]nsults were exchanged and [he] hit Ismail with a pipe.” He also said that he believed that “Ismail, out of anger, lied to US Forces about his involvement in rocket attacks against the US firebase,” leading to his capture, on December 10, 2002, by Afghan military forces, who seized him with a man named Diam Khan “for attacking a US firebase with rockets.”
He was held at a US firebase in Asadabad, and, after his subsequent imprisonment at Bagram (which was not even mentioned), he was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Knowledge of rocket attacks against US Firebase in Asadabad, AF.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that, for the attack on the Asadabad firebase, he was “a reconnaissance scout, coordinating attacks for the insurgency,” and “was seen near a stream, in a vehicle, talking on a radio, approximately one half kilometer south of the firebase around the time of the rocket attack.” No source was provided for this allegation, and although the Task Force provided a list of anti-coalition figures with whom he was supposed to have met, or was supposed to have been hired by to take part in the attack, there was nothing resembling proof.
In addition, a claim that, after his capture, he “admitted he attacked the Asadabad, AF, US firebase with three RPG’s” and “said he received initial payment” from a man named Mullah Sher is not necessarily trustworthy, not just because he subsequently “denied his involvement,” but also because, on capture, it seems to have been almost routine for prisoners held in forward operating bases to be horribly abused. Related to this is Mohammed’s statement, also mentioned above, that “he only admitted to firing the rockets because his interrogators, Waheed and Hajji, promised he would be released.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him of 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, despite what he told McClatchy abut his “resistance,” his “behavior for the most part ha[d] been compliant with guards’ instructions,” although he “had a few outbursts of anger regarding missing letters,” and “had arguments with other detainees,” and had “harassed the guards because he could not get something he felt he needed.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan, updating a similar recommendation that was made on March 29, 2004, although he was not released for another 17 months (and two years and seven months after he was first recommended for release).
After his release, and after speaking to McClatchy’s reporter, he was photographed for Time, when he said, “I used to buy and sell cows, how can I be arrested for being a terrorist?” and added, “I tried to commit suicide three times by hanging myself because of my own depression and mental trauma being tortured inside of this horrible prison. It was not in my destiny to die I guess … I only talk [about it] because I want everyone to know I am not guilty.”
By February 2010, however, his situation had improved, as, by then, he was actually working for US forces, as ABC News reported. “That man over there, he speaks Spanish,” a soldier told reporter Karen Russo, pointing to Taj Mohammed. “Guess where he learned to speak it?” the soldier asked. Not waiting for an answer, he added, “Guantánamo.”
Mohammed said he didn’t “harbor hard feelings” about his imprisonment, pointing out that he used the time praying and learning about the Koran,” and “also worked on his English and learned Spanish, he said, from members of the Puerto Rican National Guard.”
ABC News added, “He now speaks English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto,” and “has a great appreciation for pizza, brought to him by his legal team along with vegetarian subs, ice cream and nuts to make their meetings feel ‘less like a prison environment,’” according to his attorney, Paul Rashkind, who told ABC News, “He never did anything to deserve the detention to which he was subjected. When I was appointed to represent him, after years of his detention, we demonstrated to the government that he was simply a goat herder. Shortly after, he was released without explanation.”
After returning to his life as a farmer, Mohammed told ABC News that he was also calling himself a “business agent,” involved in “buying and selling cows and sheep for villagers,” and, because his village is near a US base, he “attended a veterinarian clinic held by Agribusiness Development Team from California National Guard 40th ID.” Lt. Col. Max Velte, the mission commander for the ADT, explained, “He came up and talked to me in perfect English and I didn’t recognize him as a translator.” Then, he said, he “explained how he knew English.”
Velte added, “I, of course, didn’t believe him,” but he then researched his story and found out it was true, although he also said that he “knew that Mohammed’s livestock skills were essential for the work his Agribusiness Development Team,” which was “helping to improve the local economy by providing agricultural support, including free veterinarian clinics which offer vaccinations and medicine for farm animals.”
He was hired to work at the team’s clinics and “was allowed on the American base to meet with US officials,” but after two weeks he “was refused clearance” to visit the base, although he was still allowed to work at clinics off the base “several times a month.” He was also working “as a translator when needed,” and was “prized for his good humor, animal skills and understanding of American culture,” although his bluntness was still in evidence. When asked if he supported the Taliban, he said, “The PRT guy [American Provincial Reconstruction Team] makes the building, the school, everything. The Taliban doesn’t make anything for us. Stupid guy, the Taliban.”
Habib Rahman (ISN 907, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I told the story of a group of 30 prisoners rounded up after a raid by US Special Forces, on December 11, 2002, on a compound in Musawal village, near Zormat, in Paktia province in Afghanistan, which was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan. Eight of the 30 were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo, even though they appeared to have had nothing to do with the supposed anti-coalition activities of their boss, and, as I also explained, four of them were children at the time of their capture — the youngest was only twelve years old, and others were only 13, 15 and 16. Five of the eight were released in 2004 (see here and here), but Habib Rahman, who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, was one of the last three, who, for some reason, had to wait until October 2006 until they were freed — the others being Mohabet Khan (ISN 909) and Shardar Khan (ISN 914), discussed below.
Rahman, who was a cook, denied the US authorities’ combat allegation — that he and the others were captured after allegedly firing on US forces — explaining, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, that he thought it probable that, if Samoud was attacking anyone, those attacks would not have been directed against the Americans but against his many enemies. Moreover, when it came to another, more outrageous allegation — that the prisoners were “instructed to fight to the death” when US forces raided the compound — he said that this statement was obtained under duress by US forces in Gardez:
When we were in Gardez, they had taken all our clothes off. I was naked with eight other people … when I made that statement at that time. Americans were beating us really hard, and they had dogs behind us and they said if we didn’t say this, they would release the dogs. After that, an American grabbed me by the throat and said, “Has this happened to you?” and then I said “yes,” and that is why I made the statement, “Samoud told me to fight.”
Rahman also explained that he had heard that, although Samoud had escaped on the day that he and the others were seized, he had later been captured by US forces and was being held in Bagram.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Rahman was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 13, 2005, in which it was noted that was born in 1982, and it was also noted that he was “in good health,” although he had latent tuberculosis (in common with many of the prisoners), for which he “refuse[d] medication,” and also had “a chronic skin condition that does not pose a health risk.” It was also noted that he “was evaluated by behavioral health and ha[d] no psychiatric conditions,” which suggests that something about his behavior had prompted officials to undertake a psychiatric assessment in the first place.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “never attended school,” and “worked from a very young age to earn money for his family, including one year as a general laborer in Kashmir.” It was also noted that he “was hired as a cook and guard for Samoud Khan’s compound,” where he lived with 19 others, because Khan was a friend of his father, and “came to [his] home and hired [him] to help provide protection against his enemies.”
It was also confirmed that Samoud Khan was in US custody at Bagram (he was identified as ISN 1850), although doubts remained about his allegiances. The Task Force described him as “a well known warlord in Afghanistan who has links to both Al-Qaida and the Taliban,” even though those captured with him emphasized his independence. In addition, it was noted that Habib Rahman “knew ISN 1850 was in Kashmir, PK, during the Taliban era,” and, as the Task Force also noted, he “returned to Afghanistan when the Americans invaded,” all of which is behavior that ought to have encouraged an assessment that he was not actually inked to Al-Qaida and the Taliban at all, as he went into exile when they were in power or had influence, and only returned when they had fallen or fled.
In further descriptions of Habib Rahman’s role, and Samoud Khan’s activities, the Task Force noted that Rahman’s duties “included cooking and security,” although he apparently also “admitted to participating in rocket attacks with [Samoud Khan's] group against coalition forces,” and claimed that these attacks were aimed at the coalition base at Gardez. Given what Rahman said about the false confession he produced while being abused by US forces in Gardez, it is reasonable to assume that this additional confession — also dubious — was produced at the same time.
Bearing in mind that Rahman himself had stated that Samoud Khan had many enemies, but not the Americans, there was no reason to presume that he had attacked US forces, especially as, to quote from Rahman’s file, he said that Samoud Khan “was hired by the local community to decide the punishment of criminals within the district,” and that he (Rahman) “obtained an identification card, which he wore around his neck, to show he had a positive relationship with the Americans in his district.” It also seemed significant that Rahman said that, while he worked for Samoud Khan, everyone at the compound “wore green battle dress uniforms similar to the ones worn by US soldiers,” which the General Atik, an Afghan “who was working for the US,” had provided for Khan’s men.
Writing of his capture, on December 11, 2002, the Task Force noted that Samoud Khan “was at the compound, but was warned of the attack and escaped by motorcycle,” and also noted that two of the boys seized with him — Asadullah (ISN 912), Naqibullah (ISN 913) — plus a third boy, Mohammed Ismail Agha (ISN 930), who was mistakenly described as having been seized in Khan’s compound, had been classified as “Juvenile Enemy Combatants (JEC),” an official classification that I did not know existed.
Habib Rahman was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Terrorism operations, Key personnel biographies, Sociological factors and biographies [and] Hostile installations in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force focused in particular on the claim that Rahman had “admitted to participating in a rocket attack conducted by [Samoud Khan's] group against US forces located at Firebase Salarno [Salerno] in the Gardez-Zormat area,” although an analyst noted that he had “recanted his admission to participating in the rocket attack and provided three different accounts of this event; each distancing himself further from incriminating activity.”
Most of the rest of the case against him revolved around Khan’s alleged activities, and also a claim that he was “reported to possess direct ties to former Taliban commander and ACM [anti-coalition militia] leader Saifullah Rahman Mansour.” According to the US authorities, Khan was an associate of Mansour, who was “the Taliban 8th Division Commander,” and was allegedly given “the responsibility to attack coalition forces” in Khost province by Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, although this sounds deeply suspicious, not least because of the doubts about Khan’s alleged ties to Al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Equally dubious, therefore, may be claims by Shardar Khan (identified by the juvenile prisoner Asadullah as Rahman’s cousin) about Habib Rahman’s “direct ties” to Mansour, including an array of claims about being in regular touch with him, and delivering letters to him. Asadullah was also responsible for a claim that Rahman’s father was “a Minister of ‘Islamic Virtue’ during the war against the Russians,” who “went from village to village to enforce Taliban law.” Despite the fact that the Taliban did not exist until five years after the war against the Russians, an analyst took this baseless allegation as an indication that it “probably means detainee’s father held a leadership position in his village and also with the Taliban,” and, “additionally, it is likely that familial ties of this extent would breed a strong commitment to extremist militant Islam in the detainee.”
Another almost certainly baseless allegation came from Faisal Saha Al-Naser (ISN 437, released in February 2007, and also identified as Faisal al-Nasir), who identified Rahman as “a facilitator,” and claimed that he met him in Quetta, where he “was looking for people who wanted to fight the jihad in Afghanistan.” Although this allegation sounds remarkably like a random false confession, an analyst interpreted it as indicating that Rahman presumably helped al-Naser “with travel arrangements for his trip to the Al-Qaida-operated Al-Farouq training camp in Kandahar.”
In conclusion, the Task Force described Rahman 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 behaviour had been “assessed as mostly compliant.” He had, it was noted, “assaulted the guards three times, including spitting on the commanding officer,” and “[t]he other two assaults were against the guards and involved [him] throwing Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) wrappers at the guards.” It was also noted that he “had two failures to comply with orders given by guards.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated November 20, 2003), recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, although he was not released for another 17 months.
Mohabet Khan (ISN 909, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I told the story of a group of 30 prisoners rounded up after a raid by US Special Forces, on December 11, 2002, on a compound in Musawal village, near Zormat, in Paktia province in Afghanistan, which was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan. Eight of the 30 were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo, even though they appeared to have had nothing to do with the supposed anti-coalition activities of their boss, and, as I also explained, four of them were children at the time of their capture — the youngest was only twelve years old, and others were only 13, 15 and 16. Five of the eight were released in 2004 (see here and here), but Mohabet Khan was one of the last three, who, for some reason, had to wait until October 2006 until they were freed — the others being Habib Rahman (ISN 907, see above) and Shardar Khan (ISN 914, see below).
In his tribunal, Mohabet Khan said that he had been forced into service, and insisted that the circumstances that led to his capture could not be described as “a raid.” He explained that “they opened the doors to let the Americans come in and it really wasn’t forceful or an impressive action.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohabet Khan was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 7, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1972, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was “single and lived with his sister,” and “worked as a farm hand” and a stream digger. Despite his abject poverty, it was also claimed that he had stated that Samoud Khan was his uncle, and that, after Khan “sent for him,” he went to his compound, where he “cut wood and cooked for the group.”
After describing his capture, and noting that Samoud Khan “left his compound because he knew US/Coalition Forces were going to raid the location,” the Task Force noted that he was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The Mousawal compound Samoud Khan and his associates who may have an anti-American agenda [and] Second compound operated by Samoud Khan in Shirwa Kalai, AF.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that Samoud Khan worked for another Guantánamo prisoner, Dr. Hafizullah Shabaz Khaul (ISN 1001, released in December 2007, and also identified as Dr. Hafizullah Shabaz Khail), who was allegedly “a subordinate to Saifullah Rahman Mansour,” a local Taliban leader — although it is not known how much truth there is to any of these allegations, as those captured with him emphasized his independence, and Habib Rahman (see above) stated that he doubted Khan was involved in any anti-coalition activities because of his many other enemies. One of these was discussed in Mohabet Khan’s file, when it was noted that Samoud Khan “was in conflict with a rival warlord named Abdul Ali because Samoud killed Abdul Ali’s son,” after he “had captured and maimed three of Samoud’s friends.”
In conclusion, the Task Force described Mohabet Khan 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,” because, as was claimed elsewhere in the file, he had been “indoctrinated into Islamic extremist ideology.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan, updating a similar recommendation that was made on November 18, 2003, although he was not released for another 16 months (and two years and eleven months after he was first recommended for release).
Shardar Khan (ISN 914, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I told the story of a group of 30 prisoners rounded up after a raid by US Special Forces, on December 11, 2002, on a compound in Musawal village, near Zormat, in Paktia province in Afghanistan, which was owned by a warlord called Samoud Khan. Eight of the 30 were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo, even though they appeared to have had nothing to do with the supposed anti-coalition activities of their boss, and, as I also explained, four of them were children at the time of their capture — the youngest was only twelve years old, and others were only 13, 15 and 16. Five of the eight were released in 2004 (see here and here), but Shardar Khan, who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, was one of the last three, who, for some reason, had to wait until October 2006 until they were freed — the others being Habib Rahman (ISN 907) and Mohabet Khan (ISN 909), discussed above. As I explained in Website Extras 12, Shardar Khan said in Guantánamo that he had served Samoud as a cook, and denied taking part in the alleged attack.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Shardar Khan was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated April 22, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1982, and was “in fair health.” Largely refuting this claim, it was noted that he had “spent most of his detention time in treatment for bipolar disorder, a non-specific personality disorder, along with Cluster B traits.” It was also noted that he was “on anti-anxiety and anti-convulsant medications,” that an “appropriate updated history from mental health [was] required prior to travel,” and that he “may require medical attendants for behavioral intervention.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had “no formal education” except for five months at a madrassa when he was 14, and that he had “worked as a shepherd since [the] age of seven.” He had been “imprisoned in the past for using hashish but was released when his friend Feda Mohammed [ISN 908, also identified as Peta Mohammed, released in March 2004] paid 9,000 Pakistani Rupees for his bail, in approximately July of 2002.”
Shortly after, he and Mohammed went to see Samoud Khan, who “was in conflict with a rival warlord named Abdul Ali after Samoud killed Abdul Ali’s son because he captured and maimed three of Samoud’s friends.” He said that they were recruited on November 20, 2002, to act as bodyguards for Samoud “in case of retaliation by Abdul Ali,” and it was also claimed that he “fought with Samoud during a battle between Samoud and Abdul Ali.” As in Mohabet Khan’s file, it was also claimed that Samoud’s supervisor was another Guantánamo prisoner, Dr. Hafizullah Shabaz Khaul (ISN 1001, released in December 2007, and also identified as Dr. Hafizullah Shabaz Khail).
After describing his capture, and noting that Shardar Khan said that “Samoud left his compound because he was fearful of being arrested for the murder of Ali’s son,” the Task Force noted that he was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, to “provide information on the following: The Mousawal compound, Samoud Khan and his associates who may have an anti-American agenda [and] Second compound operated by Samoud Khan in Shirwa Kalai, AF.”
Most of the rest of the case against him revolved around Khan’s alleged activities, rather than his own, and, in conclusion, the Task Force 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, without there being any evidence that the guards had been told about his mental health issues, that he had “a past history of aggressive behaviour,” and “many instances of inciting a disturbance,” and also “expose[d] himself to guards on a regular basis.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he should be retained in DoD control (dated November 22, 2003) recommended his transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan,”[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” which was not specified. Even so, he was not released for another 18 months.
Faiz Ullah (ISN 919, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how the capture of Faiz Ullah, who was 46 years old at the time of his capture, appeared to be the most outrageous ineptitude on the part of the Americans, because he was a Shiite from Bamiyan province, and therefore a Hazara (one of Afghanistan’s four main ethnic groups, along with Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks), and the Hazara, and Shiites in general, were massacred by the Taliban, who were Sunni and Pashtun.
In Guantánamo, he was accused of supporting the Taliban and being a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (the militia of the anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), although he stated that he had been betrayed by a local leader who was frustrated in his efforts to marry his sister, and decided to get rid of him by telling lies about him to the Americans. These allegations would have been insensitive enough in the case of any Afghan Shiite, but in Faiz Ullah’s case, as he pointed out, the Taliban killed hundreds of Shiites in Bamiyan, including his uncle and his brother-in-law, and HIG members killed his mother and took his land, forcing him to become a refugee.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Faiz Ullah was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which he was also identified as Faizullah, and it was noted that he was born in 1956, and that he had “completed therapy for latent TB,” and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, during the Soviet occupation, as the eldest son in his family, he “became a farmer growing wheat and potatoes to supply food for his family upon the death of his father.” Later, when the Taliban took control of Bamiyan, he moved elsewhere in Afghanistan, and only returned to his home and farms” in spring 2002, after “the removal of the Taliban by US forces.” It was also noted that he had “worked as a farmer, shoe repairer, and woodcutter.”
Around December 2001, according to his account (although this was a typo, and it should have read December 2002), Adel Khan, the Deputy Director of the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Bamiyan province, who was “a former schoolmate” of Faiz Ullah’s, apparently recruited him “to act as a spy for the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly)” following the fall of the Taliban. It was noted that he “was to work on behalf of the local government in efforts to assist in cleaning up the region.” After he “accepted the position,” Adel Khan “wrote a letter to HIG commander, Mullah Nasim, asking him how many and what type of weapons he had,” and “then asked him to deliver the letter.”
In response to the letter, Mullah Nasim apparently provided Faiz Ullah “with four letters and asked him to deliver them to various individuals throughout Bamiyan, AF, during the latter part of December of 2002.” He said that he “brought the letters home, read through them with his family, and kept them for four days pondering what to do with them,” and then “sought advice from his neighbor, Sher Agha,” asking him to “help him deliver the letters that night” (December 24, 2002), but Sher Agha “talked [him] into staying for dinner, and he later told [him] to go and stay at [his] uncle’s house for the night.”
He added that, the following day, “Sher Agha and his family were going to deliver the letters” with him, but instead he was seized by Afghan military forces at his cousin’s house in the early morning on December 25, 2002. He said he believed Sher Afgha “provided false information to the US linking him to the Taliban and terrorist organizations,” the explanation being that he “was taken into custody after an inter-tribal dispute over a request to marry his sister.”
He was handed over to US forces a short time later, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 6, 2003, to “provide information on Mullah Nasim, HIG Commander; Mullah Zoi, an Al-Qaida leader in Khamard; Madr; and Commander Rahmatullah, Afghan Military commander.”
In assessing his story, the fact that he left Bamiyan when the Taliban were in power, and only returned after they fell, plus the fact that he was recruited to “assist in cleaning up the region” as a spy by the Deputy Director of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, was not considered. Instead, the Task Force believed he was “Mullah Nasim’s most trusted man and was believed to be involved in an assassination plot against Afghan Military Forces (AMF) General Toufon,” with unspecified “reporting” indicating that “HIG commanders Mullah Nasim and Mullah Zoi sent [him] to Bamiyan” to kill General Toufon, and offered him “between $5,000 and $10,000 USD and a pick-up truck as a bonus to assassinate the general.”
Perhaps these claims were true, even though it seems extremely unlikely. For the Task Force, the conclusion was that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour pattern ha[d] been of compliance.” It was also noted that he was “in Camp 4 and at a Low Risk Level [O]ne, which indicate[d] a passive and compliant behavior pattern.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he should be retained in DoD control (dated November 15, 2003) recommended his transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” which was not specified. Even so, he was not released for another 16 months.
Swar Khan (ISN 933, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 18 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Swar Khan, who was 32 years old at the time of his capture, was a police officer who had specifically provided his tribunal at Guantánamo with the phone numbers of witnesses who would have been able to establish his innocence — just one of the many examples of an institutional inability to contact outside witnesses, which demonstrated that the US authorities had no intention of finding out whether prisoners had been seized by mistake.
As I explained in Website Extras 12, Khan was captured by US forces in Khost and accused of being a Taliban intelligence officer and selling weapons to anti-coalition forces. In response, he explained that a long-standing rival, Habib Noor (not the man of that name who was held at Guantánamo), had taken a job with the Americans and had then used that position to lie about him. He pointed out that two Afghan military leaders — “trusted commanders of the Americans” — that he worked for had also been betrayed, although they were released from Bagram after a few months.
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Khan, who explained that his name was actually Swatkhan Bahar, repeated his story, and included his complaints about the Americans’ apparent inability to track down his witnesses. The McClatchy article noted that, at his tribunal, he had listened as the US Marine colonel presiding over his hearing told him that he “had bad news: The witnesses that Bahar requested were unavailable.” In response, Bahar “pointed out that he’d provided the phone number of one of them,” but the colonel replied that “it wasn’t possible for tribunal members to make such phone calls.” However, he assured Bahar that “a request had been made with the State Department and the relevant embassy,” although, as he explained, “They were unable to provide that information or contact. They were not able to give word back to us.”
Accurately analyzing the significance of this exchange and others that are readily apparent from a review of the transcripts, the McClatchy article pointed out that “this wasn’t an unusual turn of events during the tribunals at Guantánamo,” and that the tribunals and review boards “told one detainee after the next that witnesses outside Guantanamo weren’t ‘reasonably available,’ a standard that wasn’t defined during the proceedings” — or, for that matter, afterwards.
After also noting that, during his review board at Guantánamo, “an officer asked Bahar whether he’d thought about sending a letter to his commander in the Afghan Interior Ministry to obtain a note describing his service in the police — something the US military could have easily done itself,” McClatchy’s reporter proceeded to demonstrate how easy it was to track down witnesses, confirming, as I noted above (and as was emphatically demonstrated in 2007 in an affidavit by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who worked on the tribunals) that they were more concerned with establishing the prisoners as “enemy combatants” than they were with discovering the truth. As the article explained:
[A] McClatchy reporter had little trouble finding Bahar’s Interior Ministry boss, one of the witnesses discussed during his tribunal. All it took was a couple of telephone calls, through a translator, to local Khost officials to find Mohammed Mustafa, who was the Interior Ministry’s security chief for Khost from late 2001 to mid-2003.
Mustafa confirmed much of Bahar’s story: that a rival in the Afghan security services who was working for American troops in the area framed him. “There was no proof against him, nothing indicating he was involved with these sorts of activities,” Mustafa said. “I went to the Americans’ base and asked them to release him, but they wouldn’t.”
In attempting to refute the claims against him, Bahir was required to counter allegations that he was “a former Taliban intelligence officer who’d attacked or participated in military operations against the US military and its partners,” that he had “about six truckloads of weapons and ammunition — including mortars and artillery — stored in his house,” that he had “weapons that later were used to attack American-led coalition forces,” and that he had sworn allegiance to the Union of Mujahideen, described as “a coalition of local warlords who’d fought against the Soviet occupation, some of whom allegedly were directing their men to fight against US soldiers.”
In response, Bahar “denied being a member of the Taliban,” explained that the weapons “were at a warehouse that he helped guard, not at his house, and that he’d never sold any of them,” and also explained that US forces were actually working with the Union of Mujahideen “to form a local security force.” Instead of these outlandish claims, the truth, he said, was that he was seized “because a local Afghan security officer with whom he was feuding, and whose two sons worked as translators for the US military in the area, made false allegations about him.”
In his review board hearing, the fact that he received three months of police training was used against him, as was his association with two men described as “local warlords,” although he explained that “both were aligned with US commanders when he knew them,” and that one of them had since become a member of the Afghan parliament.
During his four and a half years in US custody, Bahar was not only subjected to ludicrous allegations; he was also, he said, subjected to violence as well. He said that “guards punched him and suspended him from the ceiling of an isolation cell by his wrists at Bagram Air Base, and a soldier kicked him in the back of a head on a bus that took him from the plane at Guantánamo.” He added that some of the Arab prisoners had “ridiculed him” for having worked with the Karzai government.
He also explained that he had “tried to commit suicide at Guantánamo by hanging himself with a pair of pants,” and, on another occasion, “beat his head against a metal pole in the corner of his cell until he passed out,” and, in conclusion, he lamented that his entire bitter and pointless experience could have been avoided if the Americans had, as McClatchy described it, “done the simplest of things before detaining someone mired in the complexities of Afghan tribal and political rivalries: spoken with more witnesses.” He added that, since his return to Khost, the local governor “asked him to rejoin the police,” but he refused. “When I was at my [police] checkpoint the American soldiers would stop and have lunch with me,” he said. “I still have the pictures at home. But these disloyal people sent me to Guantánamo.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Swar Khan was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 20, 2005, in which he was also identified as Swat Khan, Naswar Khan and Sawat Khan, and it was noted that he was born in 1969, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted, based on his account, that he “worked as a police officer, farmer, taxi driver, and construction worker,” who “had three months of security and police training and an additional five days of training with US Forces during July 2002,” and was then “in charge of a checkpoint in the Takhta Bega Mountains” near Khost, where he “searched each vehicle, wrote down the serial numbers of any weapons confiscated and turned them over to the Americans.” It was also noted that he “had written permission from the Governor of Khost, AF, to charge vehicles a fee to pass through his checkpoint.”
He also explained, as he did at his tribunal, and after his release, that, on January 12, 2003, he was arrested by Habib Noor, who he claimed was “his personal enemy,” and said that it was “because he had a vendetta against him because [he] once arrested one of Noor’s aides,” adding that Noor arrested him “for having an illegal checkpoint.” It was also noted that he “possessed no weapons, passport, or equipment at the time of his capture.” He was transferred to US custody on January 12, 2003, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 28, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Corrupt government officials in Khost [and] Route of egress from Afghanistan.”
Although the Task Force noted, crucially, that a report from Bagram “infer[red] Habib Noor may have set the detainee up,” this was completely ignored, as the US authorities set about proving that he was not a pro-Karzai, pro-US checkpoint official. In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “a high-ranking member of [the] Union of the Mujahideen,” and that a document had been found listing him as a commander, just below the “Commander in Charge,” Malem Jan, who was described as “a commander directly under Jalaluddin Haqqani,” a significant warlord opposed to the US presence in Afghanistan. In this version of events, Malem Jan worked for Haqqani, and Khan traveled to Pakistan every day to meet Jan and Pacha Khan Zadran (a US ally who was later discovered to have been using the Americans for his own ends), and then returned to Afghanistan. Ignored in all this was Khan’s insistence that the Union of Mujahideen was actually working with the Americans, as McClatchy later pointed out.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” claiming that he was “deceptive” during interviews, but picking up on information he provided about Habib Noor, described as “a former general who fought against the Russians and [was] working in the Afghan government,” but who “was corrupt and was using his position … for his own personal gain.” He was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that his “behaviour ha[d] been mostly compliant and cooperative in the cellblocks,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated May 20, 2005), recommended that he be transferred for continued detention in Afghanistan, “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment” (which was not specified), although he was not released for another 17 months.
Anwar Khan (ISN 948, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Website Extras 12, I explained how Anwar Khan, who was 35 years old when he was seized, was captured by Afghan soldiers, while crossing the border to Pakistan, with identification documents in different names. This was a common occurrence, and although it was alleged, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, that he was directed to carry Taliban weapons from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and that he assisted the Taliban by helping to transport, stockpile and hide weapons caches, he explained that he worked as a security guard for various shopkeepers in Pakistan and commuted regularly between the two countries. In a statement in his Administrative Review Board in November 2005, he explained that he had fought against the Taliban, and said:
I was and I am against the Taliban. I was and I am for the American forces. I was not and will not be a danger to the Americans … I was going to Pakistan and I had a Pakistan card with me on my way to my job. They stopped me and told me they had five questions and then brought me to Bagram and in Bagram they punish me a lot and now I am here. It’s up to you if you believe me or not, but they were unjust when they brought me here and they have to pay me back for that. The Doctors beat me up and they did not give me the medicine … I am sick and they did not give me medicine. They put me in mental facilities for people who are completely crazy for ten months and then injected me with some medicine that was not good. It damaged my mental status.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Anwar Khan was an “Update Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country with Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement,” dated August 29, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1967. For some reason, no medical information was available.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force did not start off well, claiming that, in approximately 1985, at his local mosque, he “met Taliban sympathizer Mullah Ashraf,” even though, of course, the Taliban was not founded until 1994. He was then apparently “banished from the village,” and a friend of Mullah Ashraf in the government at the time, Said Jalil, put him up in his house in Mazar-e-Sharif. In approximately 1991, his father “sent him to live with his uncle in Punjab, Pakistan,” and “allowed him to work the winter months in Punjab as a security guard at the bazaar and travel to his parents’ home in Afghanistan in the summer months.”
At an unspecified date, but perhaps in 2002, Said Jalil apparently asked him to transport weapons from his home in Afghanistan to a Taliban commander in Pakistan. The Task Force was unsure of the exact circumstances of his capture, as he provided two stories, and no information was provided from any other source to establish which was true. The first, when he claimed he was traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan to visit his family, involved him being “detained at the border and taken into custody because he had many identification cards,” and in the second he “claimed he returned to Pakistan after he dropped weapons off in Afghanistan,” and “was stopped at a US checkpoint near Asadabad, AF, taken into custody by US forces and transferred to a questioning facility.”
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 16, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Said Jalal’s associates and activities, Taliban ammunition and weapon caches in Noorgal District, Kunar Province, AF [and] Taliban leaders and regional facilities/bases in the Noorgal District, Kunar Province.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force decided that he was “a probable arms smuggler with probable ties to the Taliban,” who had “continually changed his timeline and story to fit the line of questioning.” His pocket litter, including the business cards, was also regarded as suspicious — in the words of the Task Force, “several identification and business cards, a piece of paper with a name and number on it, an invitation to an extremist meeting, an oath, and several other items,” and an oath, for an unspecified organization, that read as follows: “I will not disclose anything from my organization and will never lie. I will follow the rules and regulations of the said organization.”
It was also noted that his “activities during interrogation [were] deceptive, evasive and indicative of a higher level of education than he admitted],” but the authorities failed to come up with anything conclusive to prove their doubts. In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a low-moderate threat from a detention perspective,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated July 2, 2004), recommended, instead, that he be transferred with conditions, although he was not released for another 14 months.
Abdul Zahor (ISN 949, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Website Extras 12, I explained how Abdul Zahor, who was 38 years old at the time of his capture, told his review board hearing at Guantánamo in 2005 that he was a shopkeeper, and responded to an allegation that he had knowledge of a bomb plot against the US embassy in Kabul by saying that he was told about the plot, but that when he went to the Americans to inform them about it, he was seized instead. He also denied an allegation that he was a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the anti-US militia headed by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, ironically, had received the lion’s share of US aid during the Soviet occupation, by explaining that he had spent five years in prison after a short-lived alliance between Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud (the leader of the Northern Alliance, who was assassinated on September 9, 2001) had broken up in the early 1990s, and that HIG members had killed three of his brothers and had shot him in the back and the foot.
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Zahor (identified as Abdul Zuhoor) claimed that he had lied in Guantánamo, and said that he actually commanded 350 men and had, at one point, been allied with the Taliban, although Abdul Odood, a community leader in the governor’s provincial office in Zuhoor’s home town, pointed out that, although he had at at one point allied his militia with the Taliban, “He did not join the Taliban because of any ideology. He joined them because he was having a feud with the Northern Alliance people,” aligned with Massoud.
Zuhoor’s story was, in short, the kind of web of alliances and betrayals, common throughout recent Afghan history, that was impenetrable to US forces, and although he had fought both Hekmatyar and Massoud, and had both opposed and aligned himself with the Taliban, it was ludicrous that he was sent to Guantánamo. As he explained in reference to the bomb plot, “I don’t care if [in the future] they need me to report a bomb that will kill 500 people or 5,000 people, I will not” tell anybody.
Because of his propensity for lying, it is unknown how much else of what he told McClatchy’s reporter was true. He said that, when he was held in Camp Four (the camp reserved for cooperative and/or well-behaved prisoners, who were allowed to live communally), he used to argue with a Taliban member, Mullah Ghafoor, fulfilling his “reputation as a contrarian militia leader who’d fought with multiple factions in Afghanistan,” according to Tom Lasseter of McClatchy, who wrote the article based on the interview, and who also described this activity as a “throwback to the country’s tradition of warlords switching sides with the changing fortunes.” Lasseter also explained that Zuhoor “considered himself more a man who owned his turf than anything else.”
In these discussions, Mullah Ghafoor “would walk alongside Zuhoor and needle him about his lack of loyalty to any given militia,” while Zuhoor “would accuse Ghafoor of hypocrisy.” He told McClatchy’s reporter, “Mullah Ghafoor, he was preaching the benefit of jihad, the rewards that would come in the afterlife. I told Mullah Ghafoor, ‘Why don’t you go to jihad first? Then I will follow you.’”
However, he said that Mullah Ghafoor also told him what decisions had been made by the “senior Taliban and al-Qaida leadership in Camp Four,” who, in whispers and messages, discussed “the most pressing issues at Guantánamo” and issued fatwas, calling for hunger strikes, for example, or banning chess and card playing.
While McClatchy’s team noted that Zuhoor’s statements had to be treated with skepticism, it was also noted that Akhtar Mohammed (aka Akitar Mohammed, see above) said that “the riots that shut down much of Camp Four temporarily in 2006 largely were triggered because ‘some of the elders of the camp were demanding trials because they had been there for months or years without being interrogated.’”
It was also noted that one of the prisoners’ attorneys “said that his client at one point said he couldn’t meet with his legal team anymore,” and explained, “He said there were five or six detainees who had assumed positions of leadership in the camp, and that he had to deal with them. And they said that he would need a fatwa to continue speaking with us, to continue speaking with Americans.”
From its investigations, the McClatchy team concluded that a fatwa “couldn’t come from just any imam: It had to be from a senior cleric in Saudi Arabia,” but it seems unlikely that Zuhoor’s statements regarding the deaths of three prisoners in June 2006 can be trusted, when such profound doubts have been expressed about the official story — that the three committed suicide simultaneously. Zuhoor said that, on the afternoon of June 9, 2006, Mullah Ghafoor told him that the shura council had “sat together and issued a verdict. Three of the men volunteered to kill themselves to get more freedom for the other detainees.” Zuhoor added that Ghafoor told him that “the sacrifice will begin tonight,” and the next day he heard about the three deaths.
In another contentious statement, Zuhoor said that “inmates associated with the shura council often said they had seen US soldiers stepping on the Quran,” adding that these stories “would enrage the detainees who heard them,” although he claimed that the stories were not true, and that it was, instead, “a plot by the Taliban and the Arabs to cause trouble so they could get concessions from the Americans.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Abdul Zahor was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 13, 2005, in which he was also identified as Zahoor Khan, and it was noted that he was born in 1963. It was also noted that he was only “in moderate health,” because he “suffer[ed] from chronic pain syndrome,” and had multiple psychiatric diagnoses.” In addition, it was stated that he was “very manipulative,” as though this had nothing to do with his psychiatric problems.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force began by noting that three of his brothers were dead, although the circumstances — Zahor’s claim that they were killed by HIG members — were not mentioned. It was also noted that he had married two of their widows, was planning to marry the third, and also intended to have a fourth wife.
It was also noted that, when the Taliban came to power (in 1996), Zahor moved to Pakistan for two and a half years, before returning to Afghanistan, presumably sometime in 1998. He apparently “traveled every 20 days with his 12-year old son to Kabul, AF to purchase supplies (i.e. rice, food, soap, and shampoo).” It was also noted, without comment, that, at some unspecified point in time, He “moved into an abandoned house in Kabul, AF for approximately 45 days.”
If the notes about his mental health provided an insight into how his comments to McClatchy were not necessarily at all reliable, the Task Force’s interpretation of Afghan history also provided a cause for alarm. It was claimed that he “spent 17-18 years fighting jihad,” although it was also claimed that these 17-18 years were spent as “a member of Massoud’s Shura-e-Nazar,” which was described as “a suspected anti-American organisation,” even though Massoud is Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance (America’s allies in Afghanistan), who was the most implacable opponent of everything to do with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, and Shura-e-Nazar was the supervisory council created by Massoud in 1984 to coordinate the activities of the various groups in the non-Pashtun parts of Afghanistan who were fighting the Soviet Union.
This is such a huge error that it colors everything else in the file — as well as casting even graver doubts on the reliability of any purported US intelligence relating to Afghanistan.
The rest of the supposed case against Zahor is flaky at best. At one point he said that he was imprisoned for four months in the Barak prison in the Panjshir valley, “because people accused him of religious infidelity,” although on another occasion he said he was imprisoned for five years for serving under a Taliban commander named Salangi, which seems to be a particularly untrustworthy claim. It was also claimed that he was “a soldier” for two military commanders identified as being involved in actions against US and coalition forces.
On the specific details of his capture, the story was also confusing. It was noted that a woman named Layla, described as his “girlfriend,” told him that two friends “were possibly planning on bombing one of the buildings in Kabul.” After discussing this information with his father, Zahor decided to report it to the US authorities, and visited a US base the next day, telling a soldier named James about what he had heard. He then visited his son, who was ill, and, on his return, Layla told him that she had “seen the explosives intended for the bombing.” Zahor then informed James of these developments, and was told the return the next day, but when he did so, he was seized and held by US forces. That was on February 1, 2003, at the Kabul Military Training Center,” and he was then sent to Bagram “due to his involvement in a possible US or UK embassy bomb plot in Kabul.” He was sent to Guantánamo on March 23, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on HIG and Taliban personalities.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “a commander of the Taliban and affiliated with the HIG and Al- Qaida,” although neither of these connections rings true. Given what Zahor himself said to McClatchy, and what Abdul Odood said about him, it may well be true that he was a commander of a group of men, and that he had been involved with the Taliban because he fell out with Massoud. This would explain why documentation was found in his possession addressing him as Commander Zahoor Khan, and it would also explain how other documentation that “was obtained” may have “listed personalities identified as [his] troops.”
Rather less weight, I think, can be attached to his alleged relationship with Salangi, who was described to US forces (by an unknown source) as “a former Afghan anti-Soviet fighter who joined the Taliban after a falling out” with Massoud (correctly described here as an “anti-Taliban cammander”), and who, it was also claimed, “was placed in jail by Massoud in 1996 but escaped in 1998 and joined the Taliban.” This evidently provided a point of contact between Zahor and Salangi, if, as seems probable, Zahor also fell out with Massoud and was imprisoned by him, but it is unknown if it was correct of US forces to describe Zahor as “subordinate to Salangi,” or to draw inferences to incriminate Zahor from additional claims that Salangi “specialized in assassinations and other terrorist operations,” and “remained loyal to Mullah Omar.”
Also of doubt is a claim that Engineer Obad, described as “a friend who spent time in prison” with Zahor (when he was allegedly imprisoned in the Panjshir valley), stated that Zahor “used to be HIG with ties to Al-Qaida,” as it seems clear, despite the confusions in Zahor’s story, that he was never involved with Hekmatyar’s militia, and there seems little reason to doubt that the deaths of his brothers were attributable to his conflict with HIG.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him 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, in a description of his conduct in Guantánamo that failed to mention his obviously severe mental health issues, that, on February 10, 2005, he “expressed the idea to commit self-harm,” and, on other occasions, had “tried to hurt himself by banging his head against the cell.” It was also noted, again without comment, that he “repeatedly refuse[d] to obey the rules of the guard force and the cell block,” and had “a history of harassing the guard force.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan, updating a similar recommendation that was made on March 20, 2004, although he was not released for another 19 months (and two years and nine months after he was first recommended for release).
Abdullah Khan (ISN 950, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah Khan, who was 43 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three villagers seized in Kandahar province on January 29, 2003, the other two being Haji Shahzada (ISN 952, released in April 2005), who was 46 years old, and Allah Nasir (ISN 951, released in August 2007) who was 55. The three were captured during house raids by Afghan soldiers, and Shahzada, a prominent landowner and the local representative for the Karzai government, explained that it happened after an enemy of his told a false story to the Americans, who believed it.
In Guantánamo, Shahzada explained, “In Afghanistan they heard that American forces are providing $25,000 to capture each Arab and $15,000 to capture each Afghan. Is it [that] you want to buy people with money? The enemy who sold me for $15,000 to you, I will charge him $200,000 and I will make sure that I hand all of his family to you, so they will work like me in Cuba.” Warning that capturing innocent people like him was a sure way of turning the population against the Americans, he also said, “this is just me you brought but I have six sons left behind in my country. I have ten uncles in my area that would be against you. I don’t care about myself. I could die here, but I have 300 male members of my family there in my country. If you want to build Afghanistan you can’t build it this way … I will tell anybody who asks me that this is oppression.”
Ludicrously, most of the allegations against Shahzada centered on Khan, a poor shopkeeper who had just sold him a dog. Captured at Shahzada’s house, and accused of being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the governor of Herat (who had been in US custody since February 2002), he was also accused of being an airfield commander for the Taliban, and the ridiculous exchanges in his tribunal at Guantánamo are available here. The third man, Nasir, was an old family friend of Shahzada. An ethnic Uzbek, he was a poor shopkeeper, and was also subjected to ludicrous allegations: that he worked for the Saudi charity al-Wafa in Herat, and that he was involved in an international bomb plot, although he was even less fortunate than Khan, as he was not released until August 2007.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Khan was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 20, 2005, in which he was also identified as Kheirallah and Mullah Khair Khah, and it was noted that he was born in 1956. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” even though he had ”some chronic diseases.” By way of explanation, it was stated that he had “Type II Diabetes, treated with oral medications,” and was “currently on the following medications: Glucophage, Avandia, Glipizide, Zocor, Tricor, and Amitriptyline.”
In Khan’s file, the Joint Task Force conceded upfront that, “due to name similarities [he] was misidentified as the former Taliban Commander of Kandahar Airfield,” and explained that he “was captured shortly after it was reported that Haji Khairullah, a former Taliban commander of Kandahar airfield, was sighted in Kandahar city and had attended a meeting with a number of other individuals to discuss attacks aimed against US or coalition forces.” In another shocking demonstration of the inept gathering and processing of intelligence, the fact that the real suspect, Khairullah Khairkhwa, was in US custody and had been since February 2002, was again ignored, with the Task Force noting that it had been “assessed through current reporting that the Haji Khairullah whom the detainee was mistaken for is still working with the Taliban,” and “was conducting Anti-Coalition Militia operations against US/Coalition forces as of early 2005.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he was married with eight children (three sons and five daughters), and was a storeowner from Uruzgan province, who, for the 15 years before his capture, had, with his father, run a store that “sold foodstuffs, makeup, plastic flowers, and fabric for clothing.” His only military history involved two years fighting against the Russians in the 1980s, and, latterly, “three months as a conscript serving food for the Taliban.”
On January 27, 2003, Khan said that he traveled to Kandahar to sell goods at a bazaar, where he met Haji Shahzada (described as Haji Shah Zadah) and another man named Miram Zah (who is probably Allah Nasir). Shahzada invited the two men to stay the night at his house, but after they left the bazaar on foot and walked through another bazaar, Khan “saw his enemies, Mullah Noor Jan and Omar Jan.” He explained that they “spoke briefly and [he] said he would visit them in a few days.”
He and Shahzada and Zah then took a car to Shahzada’s house, where they stayed the night, and, the following evening, after the three men “had spent the entire day listening to the radio and playing with [Shahzada's] five children,” Shahzada told them “to stay another night since it was raining.” That night (January 29, 2003), Khan “was awakened by a noise and was arrested along with five others,” although only he and Shazada and Allah Nasir “were actually detained,” and he explained that “Mullah Noor Jan arranged for the arrest because of a longstanding feud.” The Task Force confirmed that the three men “were believed to have been involved in a meeting to discuss plans of attack against US and coalition forces,” even though it was later realized that this belief was completely ungrounded.
He was sent to Guantánamo on February 16, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Mullah Berader and Saifullah Mansour, Taliban Air Command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, and logistics capabilities [and] Planned attacks against US/coalition forces.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force once more acknowledged the mistakes that had been made, noting that it was “assessed that US/Coalition forces erroneously identified” Khan, and that “[i]n-depth research of all national-level counter-terrorism databases failed to provide reporting to support original claims that [he] was the Former Taliban Commander of Kandahar Airbase.” It was also noted that there was “a lack of reporting to support the original accusations that [he] was involved in planning future attacks against US/Coalition Forces.”
By way of explanation, the Task Force claimed that Khan “used the alias Khairullah or Mullah Khair Khah, which led to[him] being connected to a report received on 25 January 2003,” which “stated that Mullah Khair Khah [actually Khairkhwa], the former Taliban Commander of Kandahar airfield, had been sighted in Kandahar City, AF, and would be returning in two days to finish conducting business.” However, revealing again how shambolic the entire intelligence operation was, the Task Force also claimed that Haji Khairullah (i.e. Khairullah Khairkhwa), identified as the brother of Mullah Shahzada (not Haji Shahzada), and “the actual Taliban Commander of Kandahar Airfield,” reportedly “attended a Taliban meeting with 40 other Taliban commanders in 2004,” even though, as I explained above, and as should have been blindingly obvious, the real Khairkhwa was in US custody and had been since February 2002. Despite this, the claim about the 2004 meeting, rather than the fact that Khairkhwa was already in US custody, was used by an analyst to indicate that the claim that he “was originally captured and thought to be the Taliban Kandahar Airfield commander” was wrong, and he “had been misidentified.”
It was also noted that unspecified “[a]dditional reporting,” indicated that Khan (when regarded as Mullah Khair Khah) “was believed to have a cache of weapons,” although, unsurprisingly, “none were found at the time of his capture.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of low intelligence value,” and also of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although, despite the fact that his capture was so clearly a case of mistaken identity, he was “assessed as being a low-level member of the Taliban or Al-Qaida’s terrorist network,” which was an outrageous claim, as no evidence whatsoever was provided to indicate that there was any truth to it. It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant, aggressive, and belligerent.”
As a result of the above, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated March 29, 2004), instead recommended him for release, in a decision that was “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment” — in other words, the discovery that his was a case of mistaken identity. Even so, it took another nine months until he was released.
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, Louise Gordon wrote:
If all of Andy’s 5,002 friends contributed to his human rights work, think of all that would be accomplished!
That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Louise? Contributions are always welcome: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/09/05/quarterly-fundraiser-help-me-raise-2500-for-my-work-on-guantanamo-and-torture/
Jeanine Molloff wrote:
Thanks, Jeanine, for the supportive words!
Jeanine Molloff wrote:
You’re welcome! I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous—I haven’t written such a large work–yet. Once again–KUDOS!
I’m not sure many people have gone for million-word projects, Jeanine. It seems to be a particular affliction of mine! Seriously, though. I’m very glad you appreciate it, and the reason I’m plugging away at it so relentlessly is not only because it’s important to tell the stories, and to make an analysis of the contents of the files released by WikiLeaks available to those in the US who are not allowed to look at the actual files, but also because, at the end of it, I’ll have the in-depth knowledge and the statistical data to write some pretty damning reports!
Jeanine Molloff wrote:
I hear you. Anything I can do to help?
Jeanine Molloff wrote:
Not that you actually need any help–
Iya Jafran-Furkan wrote:
Wow Andy! Congratulations and thank you so much for this, and may your efforts continue to be fruitful. I was wondering though, are all the stories you have written so far about detainees who have been released?
Ha! Thanks, Jeanine. Let me have a think about that offer …
Thanks, Iya, for the kind words. All the stories so far are about the prisoners who have been released. I am working through the stories chronologically, in temrs of release, so after the last part of the stories of those released in 2006, there will be a ten-part series on those released in 2007, and then another ten articles on those released between 2008 and now. That will take me up to the end of the year, and in January I’ll begin the 20 articles telling the stories of all the prisoners still held. I think it makes sense, because this has been a journey of discovery, as I have learned to navigate and understand the files, and I should be much better prepared for analyzing the files of the 171 prisoners still held than I would have been if I’d tried to deal with them first.
Jeanine Molloff wrote:
Any time Andy–any time.
Iya Jafran-Furkan wrote:
Sounds exciting and a lot of intense work but I am sure you will manage to do a perfect job on it, and we will all appreciate it. Keep doing what you are doing… these stories are so important and need to be told, and you are a great link in letting us outsiders hear their stories.
Thanks again, Jeanine and Iya. And please feel free to publicize these stories, Iya. I’m trying to get the word out as widely as possible, but always appreciate people sharing the stories, and linking to them, and telling others. Each story, to me, is of an individual, not one of the “worst of the worst,” and I can honestly say that nothing I’ve come across to date has justified the establishment of Guantanamo and the Bush administration’s flight from the law and descent into barbarity and lawlessness.
Does anyone ever ask what kind of Risk the Americans pose to the Afgani people? The Americans invaded Their country. Supposedly a ‘hot bed’ and ‘haven’ for terrorists (which I heard one foolish politician state recently – I think on the news here in the UK.) People like Osama went there to fight the soviets – for ‘jihad’ – but why the hell were the Soviets there? And who created Osama? If we look at the history – it is western injustice that created this whole mess. And yet, they (the USA) feel free to invade other countries to protect their own ‘security’. The USA feel justified to torture and hold prisoners indefinitely – whether guilty or not!
Impressing article.. wow. Nice job to the writer! Abdul Zahor story captured my attention. Good Job!
Thanks, Tashi. Good to hear from you.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m Digging this Andy.
Lidia Berger wrote:
Thanks, George and Lidia. Your support is very much appreciated.
Tenzin Nanette Miles wrote:
Andy, does the U.S. Census Bureau or anyone they hire figure our prisons?
Tenzin, I’m sorry, but I’m trying to to understand your question. Are you asking whether the Census counts those held in US domestic prisons?
Allison Lee-Clay wrote:
many developed countries hire Lockheed-Martin to provide ‘confidential’ national census data. I kid you not. like the UK & Canada…
Ah yes, that’s pretty disgusting, isn’t it? Not even one of our own arms companies …!
Tenzin Nanette Miles wrote:
Andy, yes does the Census Bureau figure in those in Guantanamo at all?
Well, no, Tenzin. Those held in Guantanamo are foreigners, so they wouldn’t figure in the census. In addition, although the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that habeas corpus extended to Guantanamo, because the US exercises total control over it, even though, technically, Cuba has sovereignty, many in a position of power and influence in the US still refuse to regard it as being subject to the same rules and laws that apply to the US mainland.
[...] Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006: Andy Worthington has published parts eight and nine in his series on Guantanamo prisoners released in 2006. The stories cover prisoners with mental [...]
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