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 30 of the 70-part series. 374 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. Part Nine featured the stories of eleven more Afghans, and this final part telling the stories of the prisoners released in 2006 tells the stories of another 14 Afghans (and one Pakistani) and includes some genuinely shocking examples of pro-US Afghans rounded up because of false information told to US forces by their rivals, and which, sadly, the US authorities were too arrogant or indifferent to investigate.
Abdul Bagi (ISN 963, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Bagi, who was 30 years old at the time of capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
Bagi said in Guantánamo that he and his 39-year old uncle, Kushky Yar (ISN 971, see below), were captured in the street near their homes while heading to the bazaar to buy parts for a tractor. Bagi denied that he was involved with the Taliban, saying, “My father and mother are dead and they left me small children. I am serving them. I have not served the Taliban or anybody else … I have been home every night taking care of my brother and sister.” He was remarkably restrained when it came to the allegation that he was “apprehended wearing an olive drab green jacket consistent with the eyewitness accounts of the individual attacks,” saying, “The green jackets are in the shops, hundreds of them, everybody can buy them and wear them.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Abdul Bagi 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 he was born in 1972 and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force conceded upfront that, after two years and three months in detention, there was no indication that he had been involved in anti-US activities, explaining that, “Initially it was believed [he] was one of several individuals involved in ACM [anti-coalition militia] operations directed to deter US/Coalition Special Forces (USSF) conducting an operation called “Combined Special Operations Forces (CSOF) Eagle” during February 2003 in Helmand Province,” one of whose primary objectives was to apprehend Abdul Wahid, “who was believed [to be] located at his compound.” As the Task Force explained, however, “It cannot be confirmed that detainee was actually part of this operation.”
After noting that Abdul Bagi was a farmer, who “farmed his portion of the family land,” the Task Force noted that he “cannot read,” and “only knows how to write his own name,” and also noted, “He has not been on hajj. He does not know how to drive. Neither he nor anyone in his family has ever traveled outside of Afghanistan. He has heard of jihad, but does not know what it means. He believes soldiers and the government conduct jihad.”
Turning to the day of his capture, the Task Force noted that, by his own account, on the day of his capture “he was awakened by US vehicle noise near his village, as well as sporadic gunfire in the mountains nearby his village.” Later that morning, he and his uncle “were walking to the bazaar to obtain oil and a filter for a tractor, when five US forces vehicles approached them,” and they “stepped off the road and into a shallow depression,” because, “[d]uring previous encounters with US Forces, a translator had told them to stay clear when US vehicles came by,” so they stepped off the road “to let the vehicles pass.” However, when US forces noticed that they “were wearing green jackets similar to those worn by the men who had attackedUS Forces and appeared to be hiding in a shallow ditch,” the vehicles “pulled up to where they were sitting and US Forces captured them,” and took them to the US prison at Bagram airbase.
Abdul Bagi was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, allegedly to “provide information on the following: Specific Taliban personnel, Possible resistance to Coalition Forces [and] Anti-US sentiment in the Bahgran [Baghran] District of Afghanistan.”
However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As Chris Mackey, a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan, explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences (The Interrogators), every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “Al-Qaida and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In assessing his story, the Task Force reiterated that it “cannot be confirmed detainee was involved in insurgent operations against Coalition Forces.” It was noted that his uncle “claimed unknown personnel approached him, and gave him an RPG and told him he was to take part in an ambush against the Americans.” However, “When he learned the Americans were on the way, he threw the RPG in a well and hid in the hole.” An analyst noted, correctly, that it was “unlikely” that Kushky Yar “would not know the people who provided the RPG to him” and Abdul Bagi, but the bigger question was whether this had actually happened, and, although Abdul Bagi and Kushky Yar were both wearing olive drab green jackets, Bagi’s “denial of being part of an ambush against US Forces or ever having an RPG seem[ed] to be plausible.”
In notes indicating that false confessions were obtained from both men on capture, it was noted that Abdul Bagi “denied the report that he admitted to US Forces upon capture that he was involved in the attacks,” and also “denied the report that claimed he hid a weapon at the well.” It was also noted that “[n]o one searched the well where the RPG had allegedly been thrown; therefore, no RPG was recovered.”
In conclusion, Abdul Bagi was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” What this actually means, of course, is that he was not regarded as a risk at all, but over-classification was evidently built into the system at Guantánamo, and this can also be seen from the manner in which, despite conceding that there was no evidence whatsoever to indicate that he was anything other than a farmer seized by mistake, he was still “assessed as a supporter of the Taliban,” and was “suspected to be a probable low-level member of an Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) group headed by former Taliban Commander, Abdul Rais Wahid.” In addition, in an analysis of his behavior at Guantánamo, it was noted that he had “a past history of passive behaviour,” and had “only three acts recorded in his discipline history.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updated a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated March 29, 2004), recommended the transfer of Abdul Bagi to continued detention in Afghanistan “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” even though this information was not spelled out explicitly, and even though, of course, there was actually no justification for demanding his ongoing detention. He was released nine months later.
Rahmatullah (ISN 964, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Rahmatullah, who was 20 years old at the time of capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
Rahmatullah was one of four men — the others being 34-year old Abdul Wahab (ISN 961, released in August 2008), 29-year old Hafizullah Shah (ISN 965, see below), and 22-year old Naserullah (ISN 967, released in November 2007) — who were captured in a minivan at a checkpoint and accused of wearing the infamous green jackets and suffering from hearing loss associated with the attack.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Rahmatullah was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 27, 2005, in which he was also identified as Ramatullah and Mullah Ramatullah Ustaz. It was also noted that he was born in 1981 and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was married, and was a laborer and tractor driver.” It was also noted that he was illiterate, and had “no formal education, no military training and never traveled outside of Afghanistan.” He stated that, prior to his capture, he had been working in a field for fifteen days, but “was told by his employer, Manan, to go home and celebrate the Eid holiday.” The next day, he “caught a taxi with seven other individuals,” but, as he was passing through Lejay, “he heard explosions and saw airplanes and helicopters.”
He was then captured at a checkpoint, in what appeared to be a random arrest, although the USSF (the US/Coalition Special Forces) claimed to have observed him “climbing down a nearby mountain” following the ambush on the US convoy. He was then sent to Bagram, and was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban activities in the Baghran District.”
The Task Force assessed him as “an associate of Abdul Wahid,” who had “participated in attacks against US forces,” although all there was to indicate that this was the case, beyond his jacket, his alleged hearing loss and the claim that he was seen on a mountain, was a claim that, when he “was questioned about the ambush, his participation in the Taliban, and being a militant commander, he became nervous and showed visible signs of deception,” and was also “deceptive about his knowledge of the individuals who were in the taxi with him at his time of capture.”
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and, despite the lack of evidence, of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that his “behavior ha[d] been generally compliant with very little disturbance to other detainees or guards,” and Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated March 29, 2004), repeated the recommendation, although he was not released for another 19 months.
Hafizullah Shah (ISN 965, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Hafizullah Shah, who was 29 years old at the time of capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
Shah was one of four men — the others being 34-year old Abdul Wahab (ISN 961, released in August 2008), 20-year old Rahmatullah (ISN 964, see above), and 22-year old Naserullah (ISN 967, released in November 2007) — who were captured in a minivan at a checkpoint and accused of wearing the infamous green jackets and suffering from hearing loss associated with the attack.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Hafizullah Shah 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 Hafizullah and Rafizullah. It was also noted that he was born in 1974 and was “in good health” although he was “taking Aciphex for abdominal pain.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was an orphan, raised by his future father-in-law, who “grew wheat on his land” (and “grew opium on his land prior to the switch to wheat”), and “helped his father-in-law farm wheat, barley and corn.” He apparently said that, on the day of his capture, he “walked for about three and a half hours and then got into a taxi” with six other people, who he claimed not to know, although an analyst noted that “three of the individuals captured with [him] claim[ed] to know him or to have met him before.”
Describing the circumstances of his capture, the Task Force claimed that, after the ambush, “US Special Forces (USSF) personnel set up a checkpoint after they observed the attackers hide their firearms,” and that, when the taxi was stopped, he “was captured and detained on suspicion he was one of the men who had just engaged USSF.” He was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban personalities and activities within Helmand Province.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that, as well as wearing a green jacket” and “suffering from hearing loss,” USSF “observed the men who conducted the attack at the top of mountain,” who “stopped, appeared to cache weapons, and then maneuvered down the mountain,” where some of them “entered a taxi,” while “others mounted motorcycles and proceeded to the checkpoint.” The US forces apparently “believed the detainees assumed they would not be arrested if they had no weapons on them.”
This was certainly a more detailed explanation than was provided in Hafizullah’s case, and it was also supposed to be reinforced by generalizations about the Baghran valley, which, it was claimed, had “provided a continuous safe-haven to hostile Taliban forces,” and was “dominated by a small number of Mullahs,” who were “allowed to maintain control of the valley and its drug profits as long as they support[ed] the Taliban, HIG [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the militia of the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar], and foreign Al-Qaida.”
It was also claimed, in a passage that implied that the US could have rounded up everyone in the valley, “Many of the people of the valley are either family members or employees. Those that aren’t must tacitly support the Mullah leaders or they will be killed. All adult males are forced to be members of the underground. A few are full-time guerrillas, with frequent operations outside the valley. However, in time of attack, all males pick up arms in defense of the valley against “invaders” (US or coalition forces).”
In further analysis of Hafizullah’s case, it was assessed that he had “failed to be truthful throughout his detainment, both at JTF GTMO and in Afghanistan,” and it was also noted that, in September 2004, interrogators remarked that he “was deceptive, demanding, and acted very sure of himself.” In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that his “behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and slightly aggressive,” and Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated March 29, 2004), repeated the recommendation, although he was not released for another 19 months.
Baridad (ISN 966, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Baridad, who was 50 years old at the time of his capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
Baridad told his tribunal, “I live in a place that if you see it, even an animal would not live there … If you come back home and see my life, I bet you will cry. You will come back and ask why [they] pick up this poor innocent guy.” He explained that on the day of his arrest, “I was sick … I couldn’t even go to the mosque and it was about eight feet away … I was so cold I was just sitting in the sunshine and that is when the Americans captured me.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Baridad was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1953. It was also noted that he was only “in moderate health,” which may well have indicated that he was quite ill, as he was being “treated for Depressive Disorder, Somatoform Disorder and Personality Disorder,” for which he was “being treated with Zoloft and Ambien,” and also had Gastroesophageal Reflux with a Hiatal Hernia,” for which he was taking Prilosec.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had lived in the Baghran valley for his whole life, and that he was “a farmer who grows wheat and does odd jobs,” who had “no military experience” and did “not know how to use weapons.” In a version of the story he told his tribunal, he said that he “was sunning himself with two of the village elders when USSF [US Special Forces] arrived and surrounded the village,” and that they waved [him] over to speak with him and the other two men he was with, and then proceeded to arrest him.”
According to “capturing unit reporting,” cited by an analyst, after the ambush “USSF conducted a search of the area and a group of personnel were observed boarding a vehicle and motorcycles in the vicinity of the attacks,” and, after establishing a checkpoint just outside the village, stopped the suspected vehicle, and questioned the passengers, who were all “wearing green OD jackets,” and were allegedly “suffering from hearing loss that was assessed to be caused by the firefight with USSF.” According to this account, Baridad was captured with the four men mentioned above — 34-year old Abdul Wahab (ISN 961, released in August 2008), 20-year old Rahmatullah (ISN 964, see above), 29-year old Hafizullah Shah (see above), 22-year old Naserullah (ISN 967, released in November 2007), and also Bismullah (ISN 960, released in September 2004).
It was also stated that, after initial questioning, the prisoners “were detained for further questioning at an advanced operations base in the vicinity of Lejay, AF, from 11 to 18 February 2003,” when he was sent to Bagram. He was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Biographical information regarding Taliban member, Abdul Wahid, Specific information regarding Taliban warning systems used when American/Coalition Forces are approaching villages in Afghanistan [and] Information regarding individuals in the Lejay area who disappear when US or Coalition Forces visit.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he had “tried to deceive interrogators,” and that he had “information concerning a possible spy network that warn[ed] Afghan villages of American/Coalition Forces entering or leaving an area,” although thee was nothing to prove that Barided was involved in the ambush.
Of particular interest, as well, were claims that he had photo-identified two other prisoners, even though there was no reason whatsoever for him to have known either man. One was Sami al-Haj (ISN 345, released May 2008), a cameraman for Al-Jazeera described as “a courier/facilitator using his employment in the Union Beverage Company (UBC) and Al-Jazeera to facilitate funds, travel and/or personnel for Al-Qaida’s global terrorist network,” who “was primarily involved in facilitating funds for fighters in Chechnya by funneling funds through [the] Al-Haramayn [charity] in Baku, Azerbaljan.” Not only was this description wildly implausible, but also there was no indication of why Baridad would ever have come across al-Haj. Similarly, there are doubts about his alleged photo-identification of Asd al-Hammer Mohammed (ISN 668, released in March 2004, and also identified as Abdul al-Hameed Andarr), who was described as “the cousin of Saifullah Rahman Mansour, a Taliban Commander who resided in Kabul,” because, again, there was no reason given as to why Baridad would ever have met him.
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,” because he was “assessed as a probable member of the Taliban,” and it was also claimed that, if he was released, “Abdul Wahid or other insurgent groups [would] most likely recruit him again for terrorist activity.” It was also noted that his “behavior [had] generally been non-compliant with guard orders,” because he had “insulted guards, failed to obey commands, and talked to other detainees across cellblocks.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated March 29, 2004), repeated the recommendation, although he was not released for another 18 months.
Kushky Yar (ISN 971, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Kushky Yar, who was 39 years old at the time of capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
As was explained in Guantánamo, he was seized with his nephew, Abdul Bagi (ISN 963, see above), who explained that they were captured in the street near their homes while heading to the bazaar to buy parts for a tractor.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Kushky Yar was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated July 5, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1963. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” although he had “attempted to hang himself and received follow-up treatment from Behavioral Health Care Services.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force conceded upfront that, after two years and three months in detention, there was no indication that he had been involved in anti-US activities, explaining that, “Initially it was believed [he] was one of several individuals involved in ACM [anti-coalition militia] operations directed to deter US/Coalition Special Forces (USSF) conducting an operation called ‘Combined Special Operations Forces (CSOF) Eagle’ during February 2003 in Helmand Province,” one of whose primary objectives was to apprehend Abdul Wahid, “who was believed [to be] located at his compound.” As the Task Force explained, however, “It cannot be confirmed that detainee was actually part of this operation.”
The Task Force noted that he “was a self-employed tractor driver and motorcycle mechanic,” who had “no formal education, and cannot read or write.” It was also noted, “There is no outside reporting associating [him] with Al-Qaida or the Taliban.” On February 10, 2003, he “was awakened by US vehicle noise near his village,” and “also heard sporadic gunfire in the mountains nearby his village,” as Abdul Bagi also reported, and that, later that morning, he and Abdul Bagi (here identified as Abdul Bari) “were walking to the bazaar to obtain oil and a filter for a tractor when five US forces vehicles approached them,” and they “stepped off the road and into a shallow depression,” in order to “let the vehicles pass,” because, “during previous encounters with US Forces, a translator had told them to stay clear of passing US vehicles.” Seized and taken to Bagram, he was sent to Guantánamo on May 8, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Specific Taliban personnel, Possible resistance to Coalition Forces [and] Anti-US sentiment in the Bahgran District of Afghanistan.”
As was also noted in Abdul Bagi’s file, Kushky Yar “claimed unknown personnel approached him, and gave him an RPG and told him he was to take part in an ambush against the Americans.” However, “When he learned the Americans were on the way, he threw the RPG in a well and hid in the hole.” An analyst noted, correctly, that it was “unlikely” that Kushky Yar “would not know the people who provided the RPG to him,” but the bigger question was whether this had actually happened, or if it was a lie produced under duress, and this latter interpretation was suggested through additional notes that he “denied the report that claimed he hid a weapon at the well and also claimed he had no weapons at the time of his arrest,” that he “denied the report that he admitted to US Forces upon capture that he was involved in the attacks,” that both he and Abdul Bagi “have maintained the same story since capture,” and, in addition, that “[n]o one searched the well where the RPG had allegedly been thrown; therefore, no RPG was recovered” — if, indeed, an RPG had ever been thrown into the well in the first place.
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although he was still “assessed as a supporter of the Taliban,” and was “suspected to be a probable low-level member of an Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) group headed by former Taliban Commander, Abdul Rais Wahid.” In addition, in an analysis of his conduct at Guantánamo, it was noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff,” although he had “one reported incident” on August 18, 2003, when he “was reported for trying to commit suicide,” which is a new twist on the insensitivity of the detention machine at Guantánamo. It was also noted that he had “made no other outward appearance of trying to commit self-harm, since the last reported instance and [was] expected to maintain his current behavior trend.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated January 19, 2004), recommended his release “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” even though this information was not spelled out explicitly. He was released seven months later.
Alif Mohammed (ISN 972, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Alif Mohammed, who was 56 years old at the time of capture, was one of ten men seized after an attack on US forces in Lejay, in Helmand province, on February 10, 2003, all of whom, it seems, were wearing olive drab jackets when they were seized. According to the US authorities, US Special Forces were “viciously attacked” by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, although the men who were sent to Guantánamo (out of at least 70 who were originally rounded up) seem to have been nothing more than poor farmers.
Alif Mohammed was accused of orchestrating the attack using a satellite phone, but he said that he was just a poor tinsmith, and pointed out that he would never work for Abdul Wahid because he killed his nephew and his nephew’s pregnant wife. In his tribunal, Abdul Bagi (ISN 963, see above) spoke in his defence, saying, “Alif Mohammed is a drug addict and he is a very poor guy … The Taliban beat [him] too much because he is a drug addict and was close to killing him. How could he be their commander?”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Alif Mohammed was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 3, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1946. It was also noted that he was “in good health,” although he had been “diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depression,” for which he was prescribed Zoloft.
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “worked as a farmer, gunsmith, and ironworker,” who had fought against the Russians as a mujahideen commander in the 1980s, but was unable to ascertain exactly how he was captured. In one version of events, an analyst noted that Mohammed’s “capture data” stated that US Special Forces (USSF) “found him with weapons and magazines in a culvert system trying to hide and escape,” and “assessed him as a security or military commander of Abdul Wahid’s compound in Lejay and believed he was responsible for orchestrating an ambush on USSF.” However, as the analyst also noted, “This information was subsequently countered by a screening report that stated [he] was captured while washing himself in a river and did not possess weapons at [the] time of capture.” He was then sent to Bagram, and on to Guantánamo, although no date was given in the file, and his “file does not indicate why he was sent to JTF GTMO.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “associated with members of Al-Qaida’s terrorist network” operating in Helmand province, and, as an example, stated that, “In debriefings, [he had] discussed communication between Abdul Wahid and Sher Mohammed, the governor [of] Helmand province,” which “indicates knowledge not typically associated with a low level individual or a loose association.” However, it is not known if there is any truth in this. Certainly, one other allegation — that he had “briefly described an association” between Abdul Wahid and Abdul Razzaq Hekmati (ISN 942, who died of cancer in Guantánamo in December 2007) — was nonsense. Hekmati was “assessed as a mid-to-high level member of the Taliban who is associated with high-level members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida’s terrorist network,” whereas he had actually been responsible for liberating three significant anti-Taliban figures from a Taliban jail, as I explained in a front-page New York Times story with Carlotta Gall in February 2008, and had then had to live in exile in Iran.
In conclusion, Alif Mohammed was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because, despite a lack of actual evidence, he was “assessed as a possible Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) member,” who was also “affiliated with Al-Qaida’s terrorist network due to his extensive history with mujahideen (Islamic holy warrior) networks” and other associations. It was also noted that his “behavior ha[d] been for the most part compliant and non-aggressive,” who had “a few cases of refusing to comply with the rules of the guard force and the cellblock,” which, on May 26, 2003, at 11.30 pm, involved him trying “to commit self-harm by tying a sheet around his neck.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated March 29, 2004), repeated the recommendation, although he was not released for another 18 months.
Abdul Halim Sadiqi (ISN 1007, Pakistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 15 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Halim Sadiqi (also known as Abdul Halim Sidiqi), who was 33 years old at the time of his capture, was one of many prisoners subjected to ludicrous allegations whose provenance was not disclosed, but which were clearly implausible. Sadiqi, who was married with a baby daughter, ran a small store in Pakistan. Caught up in the fall of Kunduz, after traveling to Afghanistan to look for his brother, he spent a year in Sheberghan and another three years attempting to convince the US authorities that he was not a military commander who ran a “network of madrassas,” through which he was able to recruit 2,000 fighters for al-Qaida, and that he had led this vast fighting force — which included “300 Arab al-Qaida operatives” — in combat against the Northern Alliance until he was captured in Kunduz.
In his review board hearing in November 2005, he said, “The person who made these allegations, either he was drunk or he doesn’t even have a brain,” and finally someone believed him. A Board Member told him, “I don’t believe that you were a mastermind, or a great general, or this person who could command 2,000 recruits to come with you on a moment’s notice. I believe you.”
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Sadiqi (described as Abdul Haleem) repeated his story, telling a McClatchy reporter in Karachi that, when he “wanted to find his brother in Afghanistan in September 2001, he knew where to go first [and] visited the local chapter of [the Pakistani militant group] Jaish-e- Mohammed in his Pakistani town of Sadiqabad,” who gave him “a pass of sorts to travel to Afghanistan and meet with Jaish-e-Mohammed officials there.”
He explained that his brother, Abdullah, “was preparing to fight the Americans and their allies after running away from his madrassas,” and also said that he had found his brother “close to the Tajikistan border,” but were trapped in the city of Kunduz, the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan, as it fell to the Northern Alliance.
Quite where the US claim that he commanded 2,000 Pakistani and Arab fighters came from was not explained. McClatchy noted that, in his tribunal and review board at Guantánamo, it was alleged that he “drew many of those fighters from a network of 10 madrassas that he oversaw in Pakistan,” and that he “allegedly did so after he met with an al-Qaida logistics officer at the wedding of one of Osama bin Laden’s children in Kandahar in 2001.”
It was also noted that, in denying these allegations, he insisted “he was an innocent shopkeeper sent by his family to retrieve an errant brother,” and that “the charges were the result of bad information that Afghan troops had passed along.” He also “pointed out that he went though the trouble of getting a visa at the Afghan embassy and entering the country at a legal checkpoint,” which, as he noted, was “hardly the course of action of a militant commander.”
The Pakistani government refused to comment on his case, but McClatchy noted that Bashir Ahmad (ISN 1005, released in September 2004), who was seized with him, admitted that he had gone to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban, and, although Ahmad “wouldn’t say” what Haleem was doing at the time of his capture, “the fact that the two were arrested together” suggested to McClatchy that Haleem “may have traveled to Afghanistan with permission from Jaish-e Mohammed not to find his brother but to join him in fighting US troops.”
That, however, was a far cry form being a commander in charge of 2,000 soldiers, and, in reflecting on this, Tom Lasseter of McClatchy noted that Haleem, like a majority of the prisoners, “wasn’t captured by US soldiers,” but “was rounded up by Afghan troops loyal to warlords who made a small fortune selling their prisoners to the American military.” It was also noted, “The higher the profile of the prisoner, the more money the warlords could demand. An al-Qaida-affiliated commander, for instance, fetched a much higher price than an ordinary foot soldier.”
Furthermore, Haleem was held at Sheberghan, the prison run by Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum, for 17 months after his capture, and when he was finally transferred to Bagram, interrogators “didn’t have access to witnesses who could describe what was happening” when he was seized, and “also weren’t in touch with local leaders from places such as Sadiqabad, Pakistan, who could have shed light on whether Haleem was a local jihadist leader or a grocer.” Instead, the case against him consisted of “questionable information passed on by warlords, testimony gathered in often-hostile interrogation sessions and information supplied by other detainees who wanted to curry favor with their captors.”
Speaking to McClatchy’s reporter in Karachi in June 2007, Haleem explained that, after his capture, he first had to survive the journey from Kunduz to Sheberghan, when the prisoners, who surrendered in their thousands, were transported to Sheberghan in container trucks, and hundreds — or even thousands — of prisoners died of suffocation, or by being shot through the sides of the containers by Northern Alliance soldiers, in what has become known as “the convoy of death.”
Haleem told McClatchy’s reporter that he’d been transported “in a metal shipping container with about 200 other men, many of whom died from suffocation or bullets that Afghan troops fired through the side of the box,” and explained, “When they opened the door we were in the middle of Sheberghan jail. We were all sitting on the dead bodies which were lying on the floor; they were lifeless. An arm was sticking up in the air here, a leg was sticking up in the air there.”
He also said that, in Sheberghan, the Afghan guards “occasionally came into his cell to punch him in the back of the head and kick him in the chest,” and at Bagram US soldiers “once threw him to the ground and kicked him in the head ‘like they were playing soccer.'” He also said that, although he “was never hit at Guantánamo,” the abuse there “was worse than a guard’s boot.” There, he said, interrogators “sent him repeatedly to isolation cells,” because “they thought he was lying to them.” The guards “stripped him naked and tossed him into the small rooms for a week, two weeks or, once, 25 days, and he came out filled with confusion and rage.”
He also said that “he thought often about his brother, Abdullah,” who had “died in the container that took them to Sheberghan, just another one of the bodies on the floor,” and added that “he began to have trouble sleeping and would go for weeks on end without sleeping through the night.” He also explained that he “often became violent, and many times got into fights with other detainees,” and, in conclusion, added that, eight months after his release, he still “woke up angry on most days,” and “hadn’t forgiven the Americans” for what they had done to him.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Sadiqi was a “Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country with Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement,” dated September 28, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1968, and was “in good health,” although it was also noted that he “was seen by psychiatry for follow up after a suicide attempt,” and was also “treated for scrotal bleeding, genital pain, difficulty urinating, allergies, rashes and minor body aches.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted upfront that, although he “was previously assessed to be a high-level Taliban Commander and member of Al- Qaida,” further review of his file, “in conjunction with a thorough search of national-level counter-terrorism databases,” indicated that the was “not a Taliban Commander or a member of Al-Qaida,” and was “now assessed to be a probable Islamic extremist who traveled to Afghanistan for jihadist purposes.”
The Task Force also noted that he worked on a farm and as a store manager, and largely told the story Sadiqi later told to McClatchy — that he traveled to Afghanistan to find his brother Abdullah, locating him in Kunduz, and that the brothers then “found passage on a truck” leaving Kunduz, but, “[w]hile passing through a Northern Alliance checkpoint, the truck was stopped and searched by General Dostum’s Forces,” and Sadiqi and his brother “were taken into custody,” and “transported in a shipping container to Sheberghan Prison.” It was also noted bluntly, “Detainee’s brother did not survive.”
It was not recorded when he was sent to Bagram, but he was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban Techniques, Tactics and Procedures (TTPS) for fighting enemy dispositions and routes that may still be in use, Taliban personalities [and] Activities in Pakistan centering on recruitment and anti-American sentiment.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed, without providing anything resembling evidence, that he had “shown that he [was] a militant jihadist and [was] using deception to avoid providing incriminating evidence.” He was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been mostly compliant with limited hostility to the guard force and staff.”
As a result, Maj, Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated November 24, 2003), recommended him for transfer “with conditions,” although he was not released for another 13 months.
Haji Nasrat Khan (ISN 1009, Afghanistan) Released August 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Haji Nazrat Khan, who was 78 years old at the time of his capture, was seized after his son, Izatullah Nazrat Yar (ISN 977), a tribal leader who was working for the Karzai government, supervising the collection of weapons, and guarding them in a compound, was detained. His son was not freed until November 2007.
When Haji Nazrat Khan heard about the capture of his son, he made his way to the US compound to ask why and was promptly arrested himself. This was shameful behavior on the part of US forces, as Khan was a former commander for Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, who was President of Afghanistan for two months in 1992, and had been largely housebound since 1993, when his health deteriorated.
In Guantánamo, he was was scornful of allegations that he fought with the Taliban. “I was having problems with my legs,” he said. “I could not get out of my home. How could I fight for the Taliban the way that I am?” He was also particularly eloquent about Afghan history, and gave his tribunal a heartfelt summary of his people’s woes, in which he explained that, after the Soviet Union fell:
[W]e were expecting, waiting for Americans to help us to create and build up a new government. Unfortunately, they did not do it. Then the Taliban took over and they committed atrocities, killing, and any brutality they could. Talib means educated student or to learn things, but they were not that kind of people. Then, during the Taliban time, the opportunity opened for people to come from all over the world. The terrorist and any other kind of person came to Afghanistan and destroyed our honour and our dignity.
Bin Laden, we hate him more than you guys and you people do not realize who is an enemy and who is a friend. When you came to Afghanistan everybody was waiting for America to help us build up our country. We were looking for you guys and we were very happy that you would come to our country. The people that hated you were very few, but you just grabbed guys like me. Look at me. Our very happiness, you turned it to bitterness. I am still not mad at you guys, but in the future try to know the difference between your enemy and your friend.
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Khan (identified as Nusrat Khan) reiterated his story, after a powerful introduction by Tom Lasseter. “Nusrat Khan is disabled,” he wrote. “About 20 years ago, one side of his body went numb; then a year or two later, the other half did, too. In Afghanistan, the doctors said only that he was ill; in the United States, they probably would have said that he’d had at least two strokes. He’s barely able to move without a cane and one of his sons holding him on either side. He’s more than 75 years old. He might be 76; he might be 80. He’s not sure.”
Despite this, as Lasseter also noted, pointedly, “The American military held Khan, a member of the first US-backed Afghan congress after the fall of the Taliban, for more than three years at Guantánamo on charges that the elderly, illiterate and near-physically incapacitated man was an insurgent leader.” Confirming his story, it was noted that he was seized after he had “gone to live at his son’s house and be with his grandchildren,” after his son was seized on the basis of similarly empty allegations — the capturing forces found 700 weapons in the compound where he lived, but neglected to work out that he and 50 others were being paid by the Karzai government to guard them.
Nusrat Khan, the father, didn’t know anything about any of this, of course, but he was nevertheless opportunistically accused of being a member of Hezb-e-Gulbuddin (HIG), the anti-US militia headed by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as was his son. “How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up?” he asked his tribunal at Guantánamo, but his words fell on deaf ears.
Khan’s son had worked for Hekmatyar from 1992 to 1996, but “quit after the Taliban routed Hekmatyar’s forces and took over the country in 1996,” and his father denied fighting for Hekmatyar. In fact, as McClatchy noted, “he denied being anything other than an old man who’d once fought to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan but who for the past decade hadn’t done much of anything.”
McClatchy’s reporter also spoke to Mohammed Akram Mirhazar, the assistant director of the National Peace and Reconciliation office, which “checks the backgrounds of former Guantánamo detainees,” who said that Khan “was arrested because of a decades-old rivalry.” He said that certain Northern Alliance officials “had fed US troops false information about Khan.” They “had a long-standing grudge against Khan,” he added, because he had “led a rival faction during the war against Soviet occupation. They did this just to take revenge; it had to do with old feuds from the time of jihad” against the Soviet Union. Mirhazar also confirmed, “Nusrat had no links with the Taliban; he has been sitting at home for more than 10 years.”
After interviewing Khan at Guantánamo, Abdul Jabar Sabit, Afghanistan’s Attorney General, concluded that he “may once have had ties to Hekmatyar, but that in recent years, ‘He was sick and he was unable to do anything to anyone.'”
Khan met McClatchy’s reporter in the waiting room of a gas station in Sorobi, “in the mountain passes between Kabul and Jalalabad,” where young men “came in frequently to see whether [he] needed anything.” Noting that he had kind eyes and talked slowly, and often with a profound effort, the reporter listened as he explained that, after his capture, he was held in Bagram for about a month, where, for most of that time, “he was kept in an isolation cell wearing a blindfold and earphones, with his hands tied behind his back.”
“My mind was not doing well,” he explained. “I don’t know how long I was in there. I didn’t know day from night. I don’t know how many days or months I was in Bagram. I didn’t understand anything.” Asked to describe his experiences, he “shook his head,” and said, “It is not necessary to remember that time again,” adding, “When I was in isolation, I couldn’t even see myself.”
“The only breaks from the darkness,” he said, were the interrogations, roughly every three days, with either the CIA or military interrogators. “They asked me very stupid questions like, ‘On what grounds did the Americans arrest you?'” he said. “I told them, ‘You are asking questions like a child — ask me what my real crime was. Tell me what my crime was.’ They never responded to this. I told them, ‘I am not important enough to meet Hekmatyar. This is a stupid question. You need to improve your intelligence-gathering. You want to control the world, but you don’t know why I’m here.'”
This was powerful criticism, as were his statements in Guantánamo, although first he had to get there. Because he was unable to walk, he was “strapped to a stretcher and hoisted into a plane,” as McClatchy described it. “I was taken to the plane to Guantánamo on a stretcher, like I was a corpse,” he said. “I told the doctors at Guantánamo, ‘Look, you cruel men, look at my age. You brought me here and I can barely walk.'”
He explained that the pointless interrogations continued at Guantánamo and he told his interrogators that “they had no idea what they were talking about,” while they took notes. “I told them, ‘The only issue here, the only reason I am here, is Islam. I am a Muslim, and that is why I’m here.'” Eventually, the message got through. After a few months of being interrogated every two or three days, “he went a year and a half without being called in for questioning,” and, after just a few months in the prison, was also moved to Camp Four, where compliant prisoners and/or prisoners regarded as insignificant were held, where he was held for three years, and where, at some point, his son was also moved.
Reflecting on this time, he said, “I cannot read, so I passed the time, the days and nights, with God. We were in the house of cruel men; all I was left to do was think, to think about my future.”
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 January 7, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1935. It was also noted that he had “non insulin-dependent diabetes that [was] controlled by oral medications,” that he “suffer[ed] from weakness in both lower extremities attributed to a left sided stroke in 1990,” that he had recently been “diagnosed with a prostate nodule that could be prostate cancer,” and that he had “high blood pressure controlled by medication.” It was also noted that he had “no psychiatric history” except for “a mild panic disorder,” that he had “a history of latent tuberculosis,” in common with many of the prisoners, and that he also had rheumatoid arthritis.
In terms of leaving Guantánamo, it was also noted that he had “the following travel requirements” — he “needs to have the ability to stretch and recline at least every three (3) hours due to chronic low back pain,” he “needs to have his diabetic and high blood pressure medications available every morning,” he “will need to have his non-narcotic pain medication available for the flight,” and “will require wheelchair transport to and from the aircraft.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, during the Soviet occupation, he moved his family to Pakistan, and, in 1991, became a commander for Sibghatullah Mojaddedi’s Jebh-e-Nejat-e Melli (National Liberation Front), although Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami group “was the most powerful resistance organization fighting the Soviet occupation due to US support,” and Hekmatyar told Mojaddedi that “his people should join the HIG against the Soviets since he had the support of the US.” When Hekmatyar took control, however, “he had all of the party’s leadership killed and forced the remaining members of [Jebh-e-Nejat-e Melli] to join the HIG.”
Khan said that, after he “aligned himself with the HIG, he was told he was not going to be allowed to fight anymore,” and was sent back to his village to be the local HIG militia commander.” Despite the fact that this took place during the time that Hekmatyar was supported by the US, an analyst insisted on describing HIG as a Tier 1 terrorist target for its opposition to the US, which simply doesn’t make any sense at all.
Continuing its ham-fisted analysis, the Task Force proceeded to note that Khan “was a local HIG commander until his health began to deteriorate” in 1991, when he turned over his command to a man named Lal Pasha, who, soon after, fled to Iran following the fall of the Communist regime. At that point, it was claimed that his son “was voted the new HIG village commander,” even though he was only 20 or 21 years old at the time.
From here, the story jumped incongruously to 2003, when Khan’s son was now a “commander under the Karzai government under General Engineer Wasil,” who “was instructed to collect all of the weapons from the villagers and store them until further notice,” and “was arrested by US and Afghan forces on 1 March 2003, in Sorobi, AF after he was reported to be a HIG commander involved in rocket attacks against US forces.” According to this account, Khan himself was seized on March 26, 2003, after US forces, who were “conducting a building search for hidden weapons,” which was “based off of a HUMINT source claiming a large number of weapons were being stored in [his] house.”
As the Task Force also explained, he “did not resist capture and was asked if any weapons were stored in the home, [to] which he replied, ‘there were no weapons stored in the house,'” However, when weapons were found, he allegedly “stated he had been directed to collect weapons from the local people for storage by General Wasil and Wasil had established a military/police post in his home with him in charge,” which is obviously preposterous, as Khan was barely able to move, let alone run a weapon-collecting organization.
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 9, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Current operations and leadership personalities of the HIG.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force decided that he was “not a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network, but [was] an admitted retired HIG commander who turned his command over to his sons,” Hizatullah Nasrat Yar and Abdul Wahid, who was “still at large.” It was claimed that his sons “were involved in the planning and support of attacks on US personnel in the Kunar Province,” that Khan “was also involved with the activities of his sons,” and that, “even after retiring, [he] still had influence among the HIG leadership through his sons and if released, he [would] still have the ability to plan, support or facilitate acts of terrorism against the US and its allies.”
To support these claims (which are ridiculous when Khan’s invalidity is taken into account), the Task Force alleged that Abdul Wahid “was the governor of Laghman Province when the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan came to power, but was replaced due to his known connections with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the HIG,” and provided other claims about his son’s involvement with HIG, as well as claiming that, “In November 2002, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar reportedly stayed at [Khan's] compound,” which means nothing without further verification.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he had “a past history of passive behaviour,” and that he had “no recorded discipline history and no violent behaviour.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention (despite his age and his invalidity), updating a previous recommendation (whose date was not mentioned), although he was not released for another 19 months.
Sada Jan (ISN 1035, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (12) – The Last of the Afghans (Part Two),” I explained how Sada Jan (whose date of birth was not recorded) was seized from his house in Afghanistan’s tiny, mountainous north-eastern province of Kunar in May 2003. Throughout his imprisonment, he maintained that he was a carpenter, who had been working, for the eight months until his capture, as the district officer for the Karzai government. He explained that he had ended up in Guantánamo because rivals had told a false story about him to US forces, and had sold him for money.
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Sada Jan (identified as Syed Ajan) repeated his story, and McClatchy’s reporter was able to confirm that he had been telling the truth, speaking to Mohammed Roze, the director of the Kunar branch of Afghanistan’s National Peace and Reconciliation Office, who explained that he had investigated Ajan’s case and had concluded that he “was framed by rivals in a nearby village.” He said that “the two men who passed false allegations about Ajan to the Americans were militants opposed to Karzai’s government,” and declared categorically, “Syed Ajan was not involved with any anti-government activities. The Americans arrested him mistakenly.”
Sadly, however, it is clear that the US military’s gullibility ruined Syed Ajan’s life. After his release from Guantánamo, he revealed that his wife and his eldest son had died in his absence. He also said that he “hadn’t found much work” since his return, and added that the Afghan government owed him several months’ back pay.
Moreover, this was not the only manner in which the US authorities had damaged him. He complained about his treatment in Bagram, where, he said, “the guards often kept him from sleeping at night, knocking on the door at odd hours and shouting for him to stand up,” adding that “he was pushed around during cell searches; and the guards liked to slam him into the walls on the way to interrogations.” He also complained that, at Guantánamo, he was subjected to long interrogations, and “was made to sit in a chair for hours before and after the questioning, sometimes with the heat turned up, sometimes with the air conditioning blasting.” However, he said that the worst abuse occurred just after he was seized, during the two days that he was held in a US base in Kunar.
“When they took me inside the base, they began hitting and kicking me,” he explained. “I lost consciousness. When I came to, I couldn’t stand up; I had a very hard time breathing. For a month, I had very sharp pains in my side.” This, however, was only the start of the abuse. “The soldiers came back to my cell,” he continued, “There were six of them. They said, ‘Stand up,’ and then they began kicking me like a football. They threw me back and forth and beat me against the wall. They put the muzzle of a rifle against my head. It just clicked; they’d taken the bullets out.”
He added, “I’m still sick since that time … I can’t control my urination, and sometimes I put toilet paper down there so I won’t wet my pants.” During a review at Guantánamo, he was even blunter in his assessment of the damage the US soldiers had caused him. “Americans hit me and beat me up so badly,” he said, “I believe I’m sexually dysfunctional.”
Throughout Ajan’s imprisonment, the US authorities showed no interest in verifying his story. During his seven months at Bagram, he said, he repeatedly told his interrogators, “I am a member of Karzai’s government, which apparently is a crime,” and did the same in Guantánamo. Although he was accused of working for the Taliban, firing rockets at US forces, and having bomb-making materials in his house, he persistently denied the charges. He explained that the Taliban “came and robbed my house, arrested my brother in Jalalabad, and took six rifles from me. Then they put us in jail for one and a half months, and didn’t release my brother.” As Tom Lasseter described it, he also stated that the US authorities “were presenting a mishmash of bad information from jailhouse snitches trying to earn favor at Guantánamo, informants in Afghanistan who wanted to settle political scores, bad translations during his interrogation sessions and misunderstandings.”
Ajan’s tribunal even ignored testimony provided by two witnesses in Guantánamo, who knew him from Kunar, both of whom swore that he had no connection with the Taliban. One was Taj Mohammed (ISN 902, also released in October 2006), who was a goat herder, and the other was Sabar Lal (ISN 801, released in September 2007), a military commander who had also been working for the Karzai government, although he was shot dead as a reported insurgent in September 2011.
Ajan spent his last 18 months in Guantánamo in Camp Four, where generally insignificant prisoners were allowed to live communally, but it was not until just before his release that he received anything approaching an apology, when an interrogator told him that US forces in Kunar “had stopped working with the people who’d informed on him.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Jan 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 September 20, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1969, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he “claimed to be a carpenter by trade,” and that he “served in the jihad against the Soviets,” and then “served with the Northern Alliance during the Rabbani presidency” (Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was President from 1992 until the triumph of the Taliban in 1996). It was also noted that he “claimed not to be Taliban, but admit[ted] to being a former member of the Jama’at Ul-Dawa Al-Qurani (JDQ, also identified as Jamaat ul-Dawa al-Quran), which was described as “an Islamic extremist group with ties to Pakistani’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) and the Saudi Red Crescent Society(SRCS),” as though this was supposed to mean something, when it was a garbled collection of unrelated pieces of information, and, in addition, JDQ was not on any US watchlists, and there appeared to be nothing to suggest that Jan’s activities in connection with the group extended beyond the years of resistance to the Soviet occupation.
In terms of more relevant, up-to-date information, it was noted that Jan “served as district manager for the Pashad district, Kunar province, AF and bodyguard for Jan Daan Khan” (or Haji Jan Dad Khan), described as “the former governor of the Kunar Province after the fall of the Taliban,” although there does not appear to have been a governor of that name. In describing the circumstances of his capture, it was noted that, on May 2, 2003, “after an unidentified person identified [him] as bragging that he fired missiles at the base at MSS Asadabad, AF,” Operation Detachment Alpha 316 (ODA 316), described as “a team comprised of special forces soldiers whose goal was to capture high value targets,” captured him at his house along with his neighbor Ishmal Gul, about whom nothing more was heard. It was also noted that no weapons were found,” which was significant, although, more contentiously, “numerous documents were recovered,” allegedly “indicating [his] ties to the Taliban.”
It was also noted that he and Ishmal Gul “were transported to MSS Asadabad,” although no mention was made of the abuse Jan suffered there. It was also mentioned that he was then transferred to Bagram airbase, and he was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Mission, organization, operations, personnel, equipment, weapons, and dispositions of military forces in the Pashad district office, Mission, organisation, operations, and whereabouts of Taliban commanders and other Taliban personalities in Kunar and other areas in AF, Quantity, condition, description, and disposition of weapons and weapon caches located in Kunar and other areas in AF, Mission, organization, operations, personalities, dispositions, equipment and weapons of terrorists in Kunar and other areas in AF [and] Smuggling of Taliban, Al-Qaida, Arabs, other personnel and munitions through border crossings in Asadabad and Pashad district.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force was unable to add anything substantial to the mixed bag of allegations described above. 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.” He was also “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.”
As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated November 26, 2004), recommended his release with conditions, “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” although this information was not specified, and he remained “assessed as a probable Taliban commander,” even though the “information obtained since [his] previous assessment” must, logically, have served to disprove that assertion, and therefore to also render him as someone who should no longer have even been regarded as “a medium risk.” But this, of course, was all part of the deep and multi-layered injustices of the detention system at Guantánamo.
Haji Mohammed Akhtiar (ISN 1036, Afghanistan) Released December 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Haji Mohammed Akhtiar, who was 50 years old at the time of his capture, was one of six men seized in Gardez in July 2003 who were working for the Karzai government. As he explained in Guantánamo, he had been a mujahideen commander against the Russians in 1980s, but, after living as a refugee in Pakistan during the Taliban’s rule, he only returned to Gardez in 2002, when he was captured by long-standing enemies loyal to the anti-US warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, who only released him when he promised that he would not serve the Karzai government for the next nine months.
When he finally took up a government post at the end of this period, recruiting personnel for the Afghan army, he was seized by US forces and taken to Bagram. Like two of the others seized at this time — Abdullah Mujahid Haj (ISN 1100, the former security chief of Gardez, who was released in December 2007) and Dr. Said Mohammed Ali Shah (ISN 1001, see below, who was a prominent local dignitary chosen to be the People’s Representative of Gardez under the Karzai government) — he blamed long-standing Communist rivals, who were jockeying for positions of power in post-Taliban Afghanistan, for telling lies about him to the Americans, although he also blamed one of Haqqani’s commanders, who had become close to US forces.
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Akhtiar repeated his story, but Tom Lasseter started his article by noting, “Death seemed to be waiting for Mohammed Akhtiar at every turn in Guantánamo. He didn’t worry about the American interrogators or guards; he got along well enough with them. It was the other prisoners who terrified him. Afghans loyal to the Taliban were ready to kill him. Arabs loyal to al-Qaida hated him, too.”
Akhtiar explained that he was the “head of a large tribe — comprising thousands of families — in southeast Afghanistan who didn’t support the Taliban when they seized power in 1996,” and, as a result, Akhtiar “fled to Pakistan under threat of execution.” He told McClatchy’s reporter, “I did not join the Taliban when they came to power, so they burned my house down.”
In US custody, first in Afghanistan and then in Guantánamo, he was accused of “participating in a rocket attack on American forces in Gardez, helping to plan an attack on a local governor and of being a militant commander in his district,” but he constantly refuted the allegations, on one occasion telling his review board at Guantánamo, “I wish that the United States would realize who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.”
A senior Afghan intelligence officer “with thorough knowledge of Akhtiar’s case,” who “spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns for his safety,” told McClatchy that Akhtiar “should never have been arrested, much less sent to Guantánamo,” explaining, “He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government.” He was seized by US forces, the source added, “because an Afghan who had a personal vendetta against Akhtiar had given them bad information.”
Interviewed in April 2007 in a compound of tribal offices in Gardez, Akhtiar’s eyes were “gaunt and troubled,” according to McClatchy’s reporter, who noted that “he frequently stared into space and had to be coaxed back to continue his sentence.” He explained that the area they were in “had seen frequent Taliban attacks in recent months, and he said he was nervous to be there. What if the Taliban captured him? he asked. He’d be killed immediately, he said, answering his own question.”
Reiterating what he said at Guantánamo, he explained that, when the Taliban were removed from power, he returned to his home in Paktia province, but in the summer of 2002 “a militant commander detained him in retribution for working with the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai,” and he “was almost executed before a council of tribal leaders intervened.” Released after “promising that he wouldn’t allow members of his tribe to join Karzai’s government for nine months,” he was free for just one month before US forces came calling.
This was just one of many chronic failures of intelligence the part of US forces, and it was compounded because no effort was made to ascertain whether the wrong men had been seized. Akhtiar told McClatchy that he “had a deep hatred” for the Taliban, “because they had beaten his brother to the brink of death and left him paralyzed,” and added that “Taliban leaders in Paktia province knew that Karzai’s Defense and Interior ministries had offered him jobs in exchange for hundreds of new police and army recruits from his tribe,” and also realized that a “local tribal leader working for Karzai’s regime, with a host of new troops loyal to the government, would have posed a substantial threat to the Taliban in the area.”
In order to stop him, Akhtiar said, the Taliban “orchestrated a barrage of false allegations, funneled through informants who worked with the American military,” leading to his wrongful imprisonment. When US soldiers came to seize him at his home in May 2003, he said he “let them in and went peacefully,” because “he knew he had nothing to fear,” as he was “just a month away from being hired by the Karzai government.”
After his capture, he said, he was sent first to Bagram, where “he endured harsh treatment.” He explained, “They did not let me sleep for 20 straight days. They played very loud music, and if they saw me sleeping, they woke me up … During that time, I managed to sleep for maybe one or two hours a day.” He added, “When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, ‘What is my crime?’ the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs … they would chain my hands to the ceiling, and put another chain around my chest and a third on my ankles. They would leave me like this for two or three hours and then take me down because I was so weak.”
He said he was sent to Guantánamo on July 17, 2003, and, although it was normal for prisoners to be put in solitary confinement for their first month, he said he was held in solitary for his first two months. “After those two months, I began to have mental problems,” he explained. “I had panic attacks, I had hallucinations — I thought there were dogs trying to bite me or people who wanted to fight me. I began yelling and screaming, but there was nothing there. They took me out of isolation and gave me sedatives; I slept for a very long time.”
He added that he “was moved to several camps during his first year at Guantánamo, then was transferred to Camp Four, an area reserved for men who were thought to pose little security threat” — or to have little intelligence value. Even there, however, he was not safe, as it “was home to a large group of Taliban and al-Qaida members and sympathizers,” who had heard that he didn’t back the Taliban. “They told me, ‘You are an infidel because you worked with Karzai’s government,'” he said, also noting that they “routinely spat at him and called him names.”
He was in Camp Four for about a year, and, near the end of his time, was attacked. “One late afternoon, I was sitting at a water tap, taking my ablution,” he said. “My eyes were closed and they walked up behind me and hit me with a piece of a bucket. The blood was pouring down my eyes.” Other former prisoners confirmed the story, explaining that his enemies had “removed a metal mop squeezer from a bucket and slammed him in the head with it.”
One witness was Mohammed Aman (ISN 1074, see below), who said, “Akhtiar went to the central bathroom, and all of a sudden I heard cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They took him away to the hospital; there was blood all over his head.” He added that those who, like he and Akhtiar and other Afghans, refused to abide by fatwas “handed down by a group of al-Qaida and Taliban members made them frequent targets of abuse.” Aman said, “We tried to make the best of it. We played cards and chess together. The Arabs called our room the room of infidels and traitors.”
On his release from the hospital, Akhtiar was “moved to two different cellblocks in the next four months,” but each “had large al-Qaida and Taliban factions,” and, he said, “The Arabs decided they were going to kill me. I told my interrogator that my life was at risk. I spent an entire month in my cell, refusing to go out for exercise. I called the doctors and told them my mental state was getting worse, that my life was in danger, and that instead of helping me, the interrogator had moved me to live with even more Arabs … I told the doctors I would rather kill myself than risk what the Arabs would do to me.” Finally, he “was moved to an area with other Afghans who didn’t support the Taliban, and there he was able, he said, to sleep a little more easily.”
On his release, the Afghan government “gave him about $30 worth of Afghan currency, enough for a private taxi ride home.” Akhtiar said, “The local reporters were there. They asked me, ‘Who are you? Can you tell us your story?’ I told them, ‘I don’t know who I am.’ I didn’t know where to go.” Members of his tribe, he said, came to Kabul to pick him up, but he “moved back to Pakistan almost immediately.” He was warned that the Taliban and al-Qaida were “looking for him.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Akhtiar was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated September 10, 2005, in which all of the above was resolutely denied by the US authorities. In the file, he was also identified as Akhtiar Mohammad, and it was noted that he was born in 1953, and was “in good health,” although he “refused treatment for latent TB.” It was also noted that he was “followed by Behavioral Health Services for adjustment disorder,” that he had chronic constipation and insomnia, for which he was on medication, and that he was also prescribed “artificial tears for chronic dry eyes.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force reiterated Akhtiar’s own story, which involved him fighting the Soviet Union until 1981, living for ten years in Pakistan, rejoining the Afghan army for a few years in 1991, returning to Pakistan again when the Taliban came to power, and then returning to Afghanistan in 1995 to join the Northern Alliance.
It was also noted that Akhtiar said that, in the fall of 2002, he visited General Aliqullah Lodin, described as “the Corps Commander for the Afghan provinces of Paktia, Khost, Logar, Paktika and Ghazni [actually Attiqullah Lodin, who became the governor of Logar province], who told him “he would give him a command, provided he could recruit 300 men who would be serving under him.” He “claimed Mullah Jailani [aka Jalani], an anti-coalition [word missing] and a member of the Taliban, arrested him,” and he “remained in jail for two months until he paid a fine of two million Pakistani rupees, and agreed not to join the Karzai government for nine months.”
Seized with Nazar Gul Chaman (ISN 1037, released in February 2007), on May 4, 2003, in what was described as “a raid on a suspected Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) compound. They were sent to Bagram, and Akhtiar was sent to Guantánamo on July 17, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Pacha Khan Zadran, Haji Zadran and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, The internal structure of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG and Seyyef [actually the Afghan warlord Abd al-Rasul Sayyaf]) [and] HIG and Seyyef [Sayyaf] ties to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID).”
In assessing his story, the Task Force maintained that he was “a high level Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) commander who was in the process of coordinating offensive operations against US/Coalition forces when he was captured,” claiming that, when Akhtiar and Nazar Gul Chaman were seized at his compound it was “because of reports of two high level HIG members conducting explosives training at the compound.” It was also noted that Chaman was “assessed as probably a high-ranking explosives expert in the HIG,” who was “reported to have served as the top HIG commander for all of Paktia province, Afghanistan,” and was “considered to be the 7th or 8th most senior HIG commander,” whereas Akhtiar was regarded as “the HIG commander in charge of the Sayyed Karam District in the Paktia province, AF, and a long time HIG commander.”
There is more, in direct contrast to Akhtiar’s own story, and what he and well-placed Afghan source told McClatchy, and, in conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of high intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to 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,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.”
His case strikes me as one of the most glaring examples of the obsessively closed world in which the US gathered and assessed information, as the gulf between the various stories was so huge that it seems to make no sense that the US authorities made no effort to contact anyone in a position of authority in Afghanistan who might have been able to shed light on this story — as well as many other disputed Afghan stories. Nevertheless, in this claustrophobic, and generally abusive vacuum, Maj. Gen. Hood updated a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated August 27, 2004), with a similar recommendation that he be subjected to continued detention under DoD control. He was released 15 months later, although it is not clear why.
Sharbat Khan (ISN 1051, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Sharbat Khan, like Taj Mohammed (ISN 902, released in October 2006), was a goat herder. 31 years old at the time of his capture, he said in Guantánamo that he was a nomad from the Kuchi tribe, and was captured after an IED attack on US forces, for no reason other than the fact that there was no one else around.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Khan was an “Update Recommendation [for] Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated June 3, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1973, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted upfront that it was assessed that he was “not a member of Al-Qaida or the Taliban,” and that the supposed reason for his detention — that Afghan military forces arrested him because they suspected him of “assisting his brother in an attack against Coalition Forces using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)” — was insufficient. The Task Force admitted that it was “assessed that [he] probably did not play a part in the IED attack,” although it was added that he “may be aware of his younger brother’s role in the ACM activity,” as though this was any excuse for years of detention.
Married with three sons and a daughter, Khan was a member of a sub-group of the nomadic Kuchi tribe, and the Task Force noted that he “and his family herd[ed] goats for a living and [paid] to use the property of others for grazing.” It was also noted that he “did not receive any military or extremist training,” and that, at the time of his capture, he “was harvesting grain for seven days and was away from his home that entire time,” but then he “returned from harvesting grain and went to visit his neighbor for some tea before going home.”
“Shortly after this,” however, “he was captured” — specifically, on May 27, 2003, when “Afghan Military Forces (AMF) apprehended [him] and his brother, Qadir, 500 meters from the site of an IED explosion.” Khan “was suspected of aiding his brother, who “was running from the American and Afghani forces on the backside of the hill where the IED detonated.” He was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, to “provide information on the following: Specific information concerning Anti-Coalition Militant activities to destabilize coalition and Afghanistan government reconstruction efforts in Khost Province, AF, Improvised explosives devices [and]Ingress/Egress from Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he had “consistently denied he aided his brother or had any involvement in the attack.” In addition, contradicting the claim that he “may be aware of his younger brother’s role” in the attack, it was noted that, “To date, there [was] no information associating [him] with this attack,” and it was also noted that he had “not altered his story or provided any further information associated with the IED attack in 25 interviews conducted in Bagram, AF, and JTF-GTMO.” Damningly, to my mind, he “was recommended for release by three interrogation teams while at Bagram,” but was not, of course, freed at that time.
In the most telling observation about him in Guantánamo, it was noted that, during an interview on June 13, 2004, an interpreter noted that he “uses tribal dialect and appears to be very uneducated,” and it was also noted that he spoke about “how he shepherded, [e]xplaining that he had 300 goats, five sheep, eight camels and two baby camels and how he migrated to other various areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan for grazing purposes,” and “also explained how he and his brothers shared and lived in tents as they moved.” An analyst noted, perceptively, that his “knowledge of herding animals, which he readily talks about, and his inability to discuss simple military and political concepts, tend to support [his] contention that he indeed is just a simple shepherd.”
It is not known what happened to Qadir Khan, as he was not sent to Guantánamo, but the Task Force assessed Sharbat Khan as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “behavior ha[d] been generally cooperative,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous assessment that he be retained in DoD control (dated March 29, 2004), recommended him for release, “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” which was not specified. However, he was not actually released for another 18 months.
Said Mohammed (ISN 1056, Afghanistan) Released August 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how the capture of Said Mohammed, who was 25 years old at the time, appeared to be another of the many stories of Afghan betrayal and US incompetence. A shopkeeper from a village near the Pakistani border, his only crime seems to have been that his youngest brother once gave a small piece of dry bread to a passing Arab. He was seized with his father, brother and two other villagers, and he said in Guantánamo, “I was arrested at my home. I was irrigating my land and the guards [US Special Forces] were in my home. As soon as I got into the house, I saw the guards and I went to them and I said hello. They pushed me to the ground, covered my head with a bag and took me to Bagram.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohammed was an “Update Recommendation to Retain in DoD Control,” dated June 3, 2005, in which he was also identified as Bazit Khan, and it was noted that he was born in 1977, and was “in good health,” although he had been “diagnosed with Psychotic Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder,” and was “currently on Haldol and Cogentin.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had moved to Pakistan during the time of the Soviet occupation, and again at the time of the US-led invasion. He also said that he “would go to the Sadar Bazaar in Lahore every winter and sell knives, screwdrivers, scissors, calculators, and radios.” It was also noted that, in Afghanistan, he “owned and operated a shoe store with his brother, Allah Mohammed.”
Turning to the circumstances of his capture, it was noted that, while irrigating his land, he ran into a man named Abdul Rahman, “who was speaking with three Arabs.” Without providing any further information about this meeting, it was then noted that he was seized by US forces on July 3, 2003 in his father’s compound,” because he “was suspected of assisting anti-coalition forces operating in Zormat district as well as actively aiding and abetting the Taliban and Al-Qaida.” He was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, to “provide information on the following: Cultural geography of Afghanistan, Terrorism related facilities, Biographies of the Taliban, Biographies of Al-Qaida personnel [and] Biographies on terrorists in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force described him as “a possible member of Al- Qaida’s terrorist support network, a possible member of ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia) forces operating in Paktia province,” and as “having familial ties with members who maintain strong ties with Taliban and Al-Qaida sympathizers and operatives in Shah-i-Kot.” One was obviously Abdul Rahman, mentioned above, who was identified as ISN 1054, a number that was only used in Bagram and not in Guantánamo, and another was his father, who was not named, but was identified as ISN 1055, another number not used in Guantánamo.
Under unknown circumstances, in Bagram, Abdul Rahman said that Mohammed’s brother, Allah Mohammed, was “an Al-Qaida sympathizer and leader of anti-coalition activities in the districts of Shah-i-Kot and Zormat,” who was also “tied to past and present Taliban leadership.” Abdul Rahman also said that Said Mohammed and his father were “both active sympathizers to terrorist causes, both Al-Qaida and Taliban,” adding, in a statement that probably ensured that Said Mohammed alone was sent to Guantánamo, that he was “more deeply involved than his father … in these activities.”
This perhaps sounds like a reliable assessment, but it is not known whether it is true at all, as it relies almost entirely on statements made by Abdul Rahman, while he was being held at Bagram, where abuse was widespread, and not on any statements made by Said Mohammed himself. Nevertheless, the Task Force assessed him as being of “high 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 “behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and slightly aggressive,” because he had “harassed the guard staff on a number of occasions,” had “failed to comply with the rules of the cellblock and the guard force,” and had “threatened to commit self-harm on a number of occasions.” Because of this, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated March 29, 2004), repeated that recommendation, although this assessment was obviously revised by someone in a position of authority before his release 14 months later.
Mohammed Aman (ISN 1074, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how six men were seized in Gardez in July 2003 who were working for the Karzai government, and in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (12) – The Last of the Afghans (Part Two),” I told the story of one of these men, Mohammed Aman, who was 46 years old at the time of his capture. Aman was a drugstore owner, who had worked as a clerk — a local bureaucrat — for whichever government was in power (including the Taliban, who he despised), and was also a Captain in the Afghan Defense Ministry and the deputy officer for personnel in Gardez at the time of his capture.
However, he fell foul of the same rivals who were responsible for sending a number of other Pro-Karzai officials from Gardez to Guantánamo. Three of these men testified at his tribunal in 2004, and backed up his story, but as with many other prisoners, no serious attempt was made to verify his story by contacting the Afghan government, and the testimony of the three men was ignored. They were Dr. Said Mohammed Ali Shah, (ISN 1001, see below, a prominent local dignitary chosen to be the People’s Representative of Gardez under the Karzai government, also identified as Ali Shah Mousavi), Abdullah Mujahid Haj (ISN 1100, the former security chief of Gardez, who was released in December 2007), and Mohammed Mussa (ISN 1165, an electrician, who was released in July 2008).
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Aman explained that he had been seized during a house raid in spring 2003. At first, he said, “I thought they were searching the whole village and it was just my turn,” but then “They pointed their guns at my head and said, ‘Put your hands behind your back.’ Then they tied my hands. They did the same to my father, who was 83, and my son, who was 15. One of the Afghan soldiers said, ‘Do you know where they’re taking you?’ I said I didn’t. He said, ‘Guantánamo. Do you know what this place is?’ I said I had heard about it, and asked what it was for. He said that it was for enemies of the government, for enemies of humanity. I thought he was making a joke.”
The McClatchy reporter was able to verify, from “a senior Afghan intelligence officer with detailed knowledge of the case,” that Aman had been seized “on charges fabricated by men who worked with him in the Defense Ministry department of personnel in Gardez,” but no one cared at the time of his capture — or for years afterwards. After the raid, he was taken, along with his father and his son, to a US base outside Gardez, where all three “were handcuffed to the wire frame of sand barriers that lined the perimeter of the base.” Aman explained that he was held like that for five or six days, and was only fed on one occasion throughout the whole time, and added, “I had on a hood, so I couldn’t see if it was American or Afghan soldiers doing it, but when I was outside, people kicked me in the back all the time.”
He also said that he was interrogated frequently, based on the false information provided by those who had betrayed him. “One day they made me sit on my knees from night to daybreak, with a stick under my knee,” he recalled. “There was a soldier on each side of me, screaming. There were dogs tied to the wall, and the dogs were barking and snapping their jaws. Another soldier was behind me; he yelled now and then. And in front of me, an interrogator yelled questions out at me.” His pleas that he worked for the Afghan army were ignored.
After the ordeal in Gardez, the three were flown to Bagram. Aman’s father and son were released after about six weeks, but Aman stayed for six months, suffering from painful hemorrhoids and losing a substantial amount of weight, and he spent the last two months in solitary confinement, even though his interrogator had given up asking questions about the Taliban, and instead began asking about “security in Gardez and the loyalties of a long list of Afghan Defense Ministry officers.”
Transferred to Guantánamo in late 2003, he was sent immediately to the hospital, as he could “barely stand” after his experiences at Bagram. Within six months, he was placed in Camp Four (reserved for insignificant prisoners, and/or those perceived to be cooperative), but he said that he spent much of his time in the hospital. “During my entire time at Guantánamo I was interrogated maybe 10 times,” he explained. “But I went to the hospital at least 100 times. I went so many times that the other detainees laughed at me and said, ‘They have brought you here for medical treatment.’”
As with other prisoners, it was only before his release that his interrogators admitted, “You have been brought here with false information; you were sold to us.” They added, “We are trying to be much more careful now.” Understandably, he was not impressed. Asked what he thought about his experiences, he shrugged and said, “It was all lies. It was just a sham.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohammed Aman was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated October 22, 2004, in which he was also identified as Kandagha, Khan Agha, Mohammed Aman Ramazan, Toran Aman, Modir Sahib, Pejan Modir and Mullah Mohammed Amin.” It was also noted that he was born in 1957, and was “in good health,” although he “had surgery for chronic hemorrhoids.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was an ethnic Tajik, who was at university when the Soviet occupation began. After fighting against the Soviet army, he traveled to Pakistan as a refugee in 1988, returning in 1992 “when the Mujahideen took over the country.” By his own account, he then “severed all ties with political groups and worked at his family pharmacy in Gardez” until the Taliban came to power (in 1996), when he “went into hiding for eight months.” In 1998, however, he took up a job with the Taliban as “the Deputy Chief of Personnel for Core #3 in Gardez,” and “also worked in the Personnel Management Office in an administrative capacity,responsible for keeping time cards and salary.” He worked for the Taliban until their collapse in November 2001, when he “received word from the Shura (governing Islamic council) that he was to return to his former life and profession.”
He was seized at his home on June 2, 2003 by US forces, who took him “on suspicion he was a member of HIG [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the anti-US militia headed by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar],” and was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, on the spurious basis that he “was assessed as being able to provide information on the following: HIG and the Taliban, Afghan military and tribal militia forces, Personalities, Historical perspectives of Afghanistan, Pharmacy supply structures [and] Financial support received from Saudi Arabian hotels in Riyadh, SA.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he was “assessed as being a member of the HIG and involved in ACM activities,” and “claimed that he ha[d] been implicated in attending numerous operational planning meetings. and had “attended at least three meetings where Anti-Coalition participants discussed attacks against both US-led coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan.”
However, nothing resembling proof was provided. Instead, he was identified as the “Mullah Mohammed Amin” who attended a Taliban leadership council meeting on April 30, 2003, and it was also claimed that, on May 10, 2003, Asadullah, described as “a known HIG commander,” picked him up and they “drove around to provide secrecy to their discussions in the vehicle,” and, “[a]s of late May 2003, HIG members were having secret meetings to discuss the placement of five magnetic anti-vehicle mines for use against coalition targets,” at which one of the attendees was supposed to be Mohammed Aman, apparently using the alias Toran Aman.
The other names mentioned in his file did not surface elsewhere in this analysis of the purported reasons for his continued detention, but they presumably also relate to other nebulous allegations that were supposed to establish his anti-coalition credentials. However, as with many of the other Afghan prisoners, it is astonishing that the US authorities failed to approach anyone in Afghanistan who might have been able to shed light on Aman’s story, like the “senior Afghan intelligence officer” who spoke to McClatchy’s reporter.
Despite the lack of anything resembling evidence in Aman’s case, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to Coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.” It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his “overall behavior ha[d] been generally compliant and non- aggressive.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, although he was not released for another two years.
Kakai Khan (ISN 1075, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
Despite the litany of US errors outlined in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained that my choice of the saddest Afghan story in the chapter was that of Kakai Khan, 31 years old at the time of his capture, for reasons that are unconnected with his alleged activities, and are solely to do with the attitude of one of his investigators at Guantánamo. For what it’s worth, Khan was accused of being responsible for a rocket attack on the Gardez firebase, although he said that he was betrayed by personal enemies.
His case stands out, however, because of comments made in “Defining Success at Guantánamo: By What Measure?,” an article in the July-August 2005 issue of Military Review by Jeffrey H. Norwitz, an investigator with the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force, one of the many organizations responsible for interrogating prisoners at Guantánamo for possible prosecution. Norwitz did not make a pronouncement one way or another on Khan’s supposed guilt, regarding himself as part of an ongoing process — with no fixed conclusion — that bears no resemblance to established legal norms. After his final session in Guantánamo, he wrote, “I knew Kakai would never see the inside of a courtroom. Guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is still a daunting challenge, whether in a federal courthouse or before a military commission at Guantánamo. Kakai’s case could never meet that threshold.”
Even more astonishingly, Norwitz expressed his belief that being deprived of his liberty for years in a legal black hole was compensated for because, by being cooperative, Khan was well-fed, was being taught to read and write, and had received dental treatment, and suggested, moreover, that, in his case at least, Guantánamo was actually a benign beacon of democratic values. “Kakai will ultimately return home a healthier, more educated Afghan citizen,” Norwitz wrote. “He will be prepared to participate in political change, engage in rebuilding his country, or return to herding livestock. The choice will be his, but it will be a choice based on options he would not have had if not for his time in Guantánamo.”
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Khan explained how, in Guantánamo, he sometimes “thought he’d gone completely mad.” He said that, “by reciting Quranic verses over and over, he’d try to bring order back into his life, to make the world around him make sense again.”
Before his capture, he said, his life as a livestock trader had been “ordinary” — there had been “a little violence in the community now and then, small-time dealings with the Taliban and years marked by the passing of the seasons and Islamic fasts.” Then, suddenly, he was seized by US soldiers and taken to a base near Gardez, where interrogators “asked him about a lot of names” he didn’t know. This, he said, “made the interrogators angry. They said he was involved with the bombings of two video shops in a market, that he was a die-hard Taliban fighter who’d attacked US troops.” His denials only made the interrogators more angry. He was forced to sleep “in a line of blindfolded men on the ground outside,” and for three days was given no food. “When we moved, they kicked us,” he said. “When we talked with others around us, they shouted, ‘Shut up,’ and kicked us.”
He was then moved to Bagram, where there were more interrogations. Again, he was told that “he’d helped bomb a pair of video stores as part of a Taliban campaign to reassert themselves in the Gardez area,” and again he denied the allegations. “They took me to interrogation many times,” he said. “I don’t remember how many times. They beat me a lot during interrogations. They had dogs with their jaws tied shut, and they let them jump at me. They would kick me; they would punch me.” The more he proclaimed his innocence, however, “the worse the treatment got,” he said, and explained, “One of the punishments during interrogation [at Bagram] was that they would take me to a room next door, and two soldiers would lift me in the air and shackle my hands to the ceiling; my feet could not touch the ground. I don’t know how long I was up there; I would lose consciousness.”
Khan’s innocence was not something that only he spoke about. McClatchy’s reporter approached “a senior Afghan intelligence official with detailed knowledge” of his case, who said that, “[w]hile Khan knew some Taliban members, and from time to time passed tidbits of information to them, he wasn’t involved in their operations, as was initially thought.” He added, in a startling statement, that once more raises questions about why the US authorities failed to consult with Afghan officials, “There were two explosions in a market, and we had information that … the people who carried out the bombings stayed at his house. But that proved not to be true.”
However, because traditional concepts of innocence and guilt seemed to be irrelevant to the US authorities, whose modus operandi seemed to involved establishing guilt by whatever means, Khan was sent to Guantánamo instead of being released. First he was “taken to a bathroom, and his head and beard were shaved,” and then he and 17 other men “were piled into a truck with their feet and hands shackled and sacks on their heads.” He said that the flight to Guantánamo was “long,” and, evidently, deeply unpleasant. “Men urinated on themselves,” he said. “The smell of feces hung over them.” He also said that “he screamed as loud as he could for someone to loosen the straps around him,” because he “felt as if he couldn’t breathe, as if he were going to suffocate.” As he put it, “I couldn’t feel anything; I was awake but unconscious; I didn’t know what was happening.”
In Guantánamo, after the customary first month in isolation, where sleep deprivation was also the norm, because, he said, the guards “were always banging on the door at night, yelling for him to wake up,” so that he “barely slept for the first three weeks,” he “was sent for a month to a cellblock for detainees with mental problems,” after a doctor came to examine him.
On his release from the psychiatric ward, he was sent to a regular cellblock, where confrontation was incessant. Because the guards shouted at the prisoners to disrupt their prayers, they responded by calling the guards over, and, “when they came, we threw water on them, we spit on them, we pissed on them.” In response, the prisoners, after a fight, “were dragged off to solitary confinement, where they were stripped to their underwear and left in small rooms where the air conditioning was turned up high, then low, leaving them to shiver, then sweat.”
Khan said “he was sent to isolation about 15 times — for 15 days to four months at a time — during his three years at Guantánamo,” and added, “Some trips were bearable. Others left him a wreck.” He explained that he “could tell how badly he was doing after a stint in isolation by how the men in the cells around him reacted when he returned,” telling McClatchy’s reporter, “I would have conversations with [the man] who was in the cell next to me. And sometimes he would say, you do not understand what you’re saying; it makes no sense.” He added that “[n]othing at Guantánamo ever did.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Khan was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated October 8, 2004, in which he was also identified as Gul Baz Khan, and it was noted that he was born in 1971, and was “in good health.” Those assessing his health also noted that had been “successfully treated for active Tuberculosis,” and also had “a history of acid reflux,” which was “controlled with minimal medications.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force assessed that he “was not a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network,” but claimed that he had “ties to Anti-Coalition Militants in the Gardez region of Afghanistan,” and had been “identified as being an Anti-Coalition Militia member responsible for conducting a rocket attack on a US firebase near Gardez.” Khan, however, said that he was a farmer, whose only military experience was during the Soviet occupation, when he was “between the age of twelve to fifteen years old,” and “was taught the use of explosives.”
in dealing with the circumstances of his capture, the Task Force noted that US and Afghan forces seized him at his home on June 4, 2003, with his brother Sher Bara Khan, based on unspecified “accusations” that he was “involved in a bombing of a video store in Gardez.” Held at Bagram, after his initial detention in Gardez, he was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was because he “was assessed to be able to provide information on Mullah Naseem, HIG Commander and Mullah Zoi, Al-Qaida leader in Khamard, AF.”
Beyond the claim that he had been “identified as an Anti-Coalition Militia member responsible for conducting a rocket attack on a US firebase in the vicinity of Gardez,” the Task Force had little to go on to establish Khan as an enemy — for reasons that were, of course, obvious from the “senior Afghan intelligence official” who spoke to McClatchy. All that was provided, to incriminate Khan, was a claim that, when he “was initially interrogated about the bombing of the video store he completely denied any knowledge of the incident,” but “[d]uring follow on interrogations, [he] made a statement that only one bomb was used and he ha[d] knowledge of the construction of the bomb used.” There is, of course, no reason to presume that this “confession” was either reliable, or produced voluntarily.
It was, therefore, rather depressing that, just as Khan’s interrogator had claimed that establishing the truth was probably impossible, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although it was a least noted that he had been well-behaved in Guantánamo, where he had “a past history of passive behavior,” with “no major incidents.” In conclusion, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Afghanistan, although, like Mohammed Aman, he was not released for another two years.
Ali Shah Mousavi (ISN 1154, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how six men were seized in Gardez in July 2003 who were working for the Karzai government. One of these men was a doctor, Ali Shah Mousavi (identified as Dr. Said Mohammed Ali Shah), who was 43 years old at the time of his capture, and a Shiite from one of the most prominent families in Gardez. A former mujahideen commander against the Russians, he explained in Guantánamo that he fled to Iran during the Taliban’s rule, where he qualified as a doctor, and, after returning to his hometown in May 2002, he was chosen as the People’s Representative for Gardez, and attended the loya jirga in Kabul the following month. He then returned to Iran to arrange for the return of his family, visited Saudi Arabia for the hajj, and was greeted by crowds of well-wishers when he returned to Gardez in August 2003. Two days later, however, he was seized and taken to Bagram, where he was beaten regularly, kept awake by recordings of sirens that were played night and day, dragged around on a rope and subjected to extremes of heat and cold.
In an interview conducted for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners that was published in 2008, Ali Shah Mousavi explained how, while he was in front of a military tribunal at Guantánamo, he “tried to make sense of it all.” After all, he had been a member of Afghanistan’s interim loya jirga, the first democratic legislative body formed after the Taliban fell, as well as being a Shiite Muslim, “a sect that the Taliban brutally oppressed and al-Qaida often targeted for death as apostates,” as McClatchy explained, for readers who, like the US government, may have found themselves unable to distinguish between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Incomprehensibly, the US officers accused him of having “met with Taliban leaders in an effort to funnel cash to al-Qaida in early 2002,” of being “a key Taliban leader’s main representative in Iran,” and of having “taken about $150,000 from Iran to eastern Afghanistan to fund militants near his hometown of Gardez.”
As McClatchy noted, Mousavi had already done what should have been necessary to establish his innocence, presenting his tribunal with “a narrative that wove in the intricacies of Shiite Islam and the history of the Afghan revolt against Soviet occupation in the 1980s,” in which he “explained that Afghan political and tribal infighting after the 2001 US-led invasion often led to one side or the other peddling false information to the Americans in hopes that US troops would kill or arrest a rival.”
That, it should have been obvious, was what happened to him (and, of course, to many of the other Afghans described in this article and others), but when it failed to sway the members of his tribunal, he tried another approach, described by McClatchy as follows:
In Afghanistan, he said, schoolchildren study logic, and as part of that, teachers sometimes create logic problems that demonstrate the danger of false conclusions. For example, he said, a teacher might say that a tree is tall, that a person named Ahmed is tall, so it follows that Ahmed is a tree. Or, Mousavi said, the teacher might point out that rats live in the walls, that rats have ears, so it follows that the walls have ears. That, he said, was the essence of the United States of America’s case against him: Mousavi lived in Iran, Iran is an enemy of the United States, so it follows that Mousavi is an enemy of the United States. Or, Mousavi fought under a commander against the Soviet Union, that commander’s son is now with the Taliban, so it follows that Mousavi is with the Taliban. “That is how, logically, you are getting wrong this conclusion,” he said.
As McClatchy also noted, however, “The speech did not work.”When he was finally released, after more than three years in US custody, he still did not understand “why he’d been arrested in the first place.”
In another damning indictment of the US authorities’ indifference towards the guilt or innocence of their prisoners, McClatchy discovered that Abdul Jabar Sabit, Afghanistan’s Attorney General, had interviewed Mousavi at Guantánamo, and had told US officials about the mistakes they had made after he had been briefed about the charges against Mousavi. As a case in point, McClatchy’s reporter asked about “the $150,000 from Iran.” Sabit “shook his head,” and said, “That was not the case. He was there because of the Kalashnikovs … His house was searched, and two Kalashnikovs were discovered, and that was enough for the Americans.”
In other words, as McClatchy emphasized, “Mousavi was sent to Guantánamo and imprisoned there for almost three years because US soldiers found a couple of AK-47 rifles in his house. In Afghanistan, a country ruled for centuries by warlords and competing clans, almost every house has an AK-47 or three.”
Another source, a senior Afghan intelligence officer who had “met Mousavi and reviewed his case several times,” also explained, “There was a feud, and he was handed over to the Americans even though he was innocent.” He added, “He is actually very pro-government,” and pointed out that, since his release, he had “gone so far as to persuade local tribal elders that, despite their missteps and despite his own wrongful imprisonment, the US-backed government in Kabul is the best way forward for Afghanistan.”
In his interview with McClatchy’s reporter in Gardez, Mousavi “frequently laughed or waved his hands dismissively in the air when he described his ordeal.” He explained that none of it “made any sense.”
Telling his story, he said that he had fled to Pakistan in 1982, after the Soviet invasion, but “slipped across the border every two months or so to attack Soviet troops,” and “took command of a small unit of mujahideen.” When the Russians withdrew in 1989, Mousavi prepared to return home, but realized that a civil war was brewing, in which his moderate group might be targeted by extremists, he moved to Iran to “finish the medical studies he’d begun some 10 years earlier.”
The rise of the Taliban only confirmed that he had been correct. However, although he qualified as as a doctor, trained in pediatrics, Iran’s government “wouldn’t allow Afghan refugees to practice medicine,” so he had to work “as a taxi driver and day laborer,” until the fall of the Taliban. “When we heard the news that the Taliban had collapsed in Afghanistan, my friends and I celebrated,” he said. “We began to count the moments until we could return to Afghanistan.”
He “waited for the winter to pass,” and then took his family to Kabul and on to Gardez in April 2002. He explained that his house was gone, destroyed by over a decade of fighting, and noticed that there was still “bitter rivalry among Islamic groups, divided by how much they’d supported the Soviets and then the Taliban,” and “rumblings that those who’d been loyal to the Soviets were filling the ranks of the new security services. Men were killed in the middle of the night, and no one knew whether it was because of a tribal squabble, political greed or revenge for past alliances.”
Despite this, he told McClatchy’s reporter that “he was enthralled by it all.” His nation “once again was trying to find a way forward,” and he “thrust himself into tribal matters and quietly lobbied for position,” securing membership of the loya jirga that elected Hamid Karzai as interim President. Even so, jobs were scarce, and so, he said, he “returned to Iran to continue working odd jobs and save money for a clinic in Gardez,” and when he returned for good in August 2003, “he was met with a hero’s welcome,” and explained how “[c]arloads of townspeople met him at the mountain pass outside the city to accompany him home.” His brother, he added, “had opened a clinic in his absence and he was going to expand it,” but just two days later, as he explained in Guantánamo, US soldiers broke down his door.
“We heard the sound of someone breaking down the front door of my house,” he said. “My cousin said, ‘Here come the Americans.’ I wasn’t afraid; I thought they were coming as part of a patrol and had accidentally broken the door. Then they broke the gate of my guesthouse, and suddenly there were 10 weapons at our heads. They said, ‘Nobody move.'” The soldiers, he explained, asked for him by name. “They said they wanted to take me for questioning,” he said. “I asked, ‘Do you have any documents authorizing my arrest?’ I thought Afghanistan had become a country of law. They told me, very recklessly, very stupidly, that they were not bound by the laws of Afghanistan, that they were American soldiers.”
At this point, Mousavi “asked the other men in the room to leave.” As McClatchy described it, he “couldn’t bear for them to hear, once again, of his shame.” He then explained, “They [American soldiers] said they wanted to search me. I told them I would not allow it. One of the soldiers told the others, ‘Shoot him if he moves.’ Then they searched me and searched my family. My whole family was standing there. They said, ‘We are going to blindfold you and tie your hands.’ I said, ‘Please, not in front of my family.’ They said, ‘If you resist, you will be shot in front of your family.’ So I stood there, and they blindfolded me in front of all of them. This is one of the worst memories of my life.”
Throughout this ordeal, he said, he tried to work out which of his rivals had set him up. As an ethnic Tajik, and a Shiite with political influence, he “had many enemies in a nation that Sunni Muslims dominated,” as McClatchy described it, but he “didn’t have much time to sort it out.” As soon as he was tied up and hooded, he said, “I was sitting in front of my house, blindfolded, when someone kicked me in the back. I fell forward, and so much blood and dirt filled my mouth that I could barely breathe.”
He was then “taken to an American military base outside Gardez, where he was kept for 22 days in a line of men who slept on the dirt between two concrete barriers,” although he was only interrogated “a handful of times,” and “asked about bringing $150,000 from Iran.” He said that “he’d tried to explain that he’d had only $350 in his pocket when he flew back to Afghanistan,” but no one was interested.
From Gardez, he was taken by helicopter to Bagram, where he spent the first month in isolation. “For 15 days they did not let me sleep,” he said. “They played very loud music the whole time. And a soldier at the gate commanded me to stand and then sit and then stand again. When I did not obey him quickly enough, he would tie my hands to the ceiling. Other times, four or five soldiers would come in and beat me, and then tie my hands to my feet and leave me like that on the ground.”
After this first month, he “was put in a small cell, a cage made of concertina wire,” and taken out, once or twice a week, for interrogation by CIA operatives, who, absurdly, “accused him of having ties to al-Qaida.” Mousavi said he tried to explain their errors to them. “I told them that Shiites are quite different than al-Qaida,” he said. The response was not encouraging. “They showed a picture of me from the loya jirga and said your turban looks like al-Qaida and your beard looks like al-Qaida,” he said.
He was also accused of being involved in “Operation Anaconda,” a showdown with al-Qaida in the hills east of Gardez in March 2002, even though that was doubly impossible, not only because of his allegiances, but because he wasn’t in the country at the time. “I told them I wasn’t even in Afghanistan when this fighting took place,” he said. “They kept talking about ‘Anaconda.’ I had no idea what they were talking about.”
Sent to Guantánamo on November 27, 2003, he said he was interrogated on his second day — “the same questions they asked at Bagram” — but “wasn’t questioned again for three months.” In February 2004, an interrogator named Larry “said he’d like to have Mousavi take a battery of lie-detector tests, some with a microphone on his collar, others with wires taped to his arm.” He said that “he passed them all,” but still it made no difference. Next, “two women who said they were with the FBI began questioning him in sessions that stretched across two months.”
Mousavi explained, “At the end of two months of interrogations with them, the women said there was no proof I had links with the Taliban or al-Qaida. They said, ‘During the interrogations we realized you are not affiliated with other parties, that you are independent, but it is also clear that you oppose the presence of foreign troops, so you are a threat.’ I told them that this is an occupation and a lot of people are against it, so you will have to arrest all of them. One of the women replied: ‘For the moment, we have you.'”
In summer 2004, he was moved to Camp Four, reserved for prisoners regarded as inconsequential and/or cooperative, where, he said, he “spent most of his time chatting with other Afghans and playing chess or cards.” For the last 18 months, he wasn’t interrogated at all. Even so, his life was not peaceful. Although he said that he got on well with the US personnel, he “said with a rueful smile” that he had problems with the “Afghan Taliban and Arab al-Qaida members, who the Americans said were his allies.”
“When they learned that I was a Shiite,” he said, “the Arabs would not eat at the same table as me; they would not speak with me.” Haji Nasrat Khan (ISN 1009, see above) said, “There were five Shiites in the camp [mostly Iraqis], and everyone thought they were spies for the US.” After Afghans loyal to the Taliban told the Arab prisoners that “Mousavi had been a member of the loya jirga and he supported Karzai, America’s choice for president in Afghanistan,” they “became even more venomous,” as McClatchy explained. Mousavi said, “When they walked near me, the Arabs spat at me. They called me traitor, infidel.”
Mohammed Akhtiar (ISN 1036, see above), who “lived in the cell next to Mousavi,” confirmed his account, “as did several others who were there at the time.” Akhtiar said, “They said we were all cooperating with the Karzai government, that we were infidels and that they had put us ‘on the list'” to be killed. Another former prisoner, Mohammed Aman (ISN 1074, see above), who was a cellmate of Akhtiar, and therefore another neighbor of Mousavi, also told a similar story. “Dr. Shah had a very bad time there,” he said. “The Arabs were always calling him an infidel.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mousavi was a “Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country with Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement,” dated September 30, 2005, in which he was identified as Said Mohammed Ali Shah, and it was noted that he was born in 1959, and had “a reported history of a MI (myocardial infraction) prior to detainment,” and also had “benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) and acid reflux,” but was otherwise “in good health.” It was also noted that he was “on daily medication for his heart condition and on ‘as needed’ treatment for reflux.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had allegedly “fought against the Soviets for twelve years,” before his departure for Tehran, “where he worked as a physician and taxi driver,” and that, in 2002, he “traveled back and forth between Afghanistan and Iran to give aid to families of individuals killed during the Afghan-Soviet jihad.” He allegedly stated that “the reason he decided to move back to Afghanistan in 2003 was because of his wife’s wish to work for the new government and return home,”
If this all sounds like a mangled version of his own account, it is as nothing compared to the analysis of his claim that he “never received training or conducted activities for the Al-Qaida Associated Movement,” to which an analyst, citing unspecified “reporting,” claimed that he “was to coordinate a meeting scheduled for 13 August 2003 between himself and fourteen Tribal/ACM leaders for the purpose of disbursing money to finance attacks against US/Coalition forces operating throughout the Paktia province.”
In relating the circumstances of his capture, on August 13, 2003, it was stated that he “claimed he was getting ready to eat when US forces came inside and asked him if he was Doctor Ali Shah,” and, “[w]hen [he] replied, he was arrested.”
It was also noted by an analyst that, two days before his capture, unspecified “reporting” stated that “US Special Forces (USSF) operating in the vicinity of Gardez, AF, received information that an individual named Dr. Said Mohammed Ali Shah (detainee) had entered Afghanistan from Iran on 10 August 2003 carrying approximately $150,000 USD, which was to be distributed to Anti-Coalition Militants (ACM) throughout the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on behalf of the former Taliban Eight[h] Division Commander Saifullah Rahman Mansour.”
It was also noted that Mousavi’s “two brothers and cousin” were seized with him but “were later released.” Mousavi, however, “was transferred to US custody at the Bagram Collection Point (BCP),” and was sent to Guantánamo on November 21, 2003, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: ACM [anti-coalition militia] funding scheme, Financial assets in Iran, Locations of ACM clinics and casualty collection points, Local and tribal issues, Potential attacks against US and coalition forces [and] Duties and association with Saifullah Rahman Mansour and the Harakat-i-Inqilabi-i-Islami group and the Hezb-e-Islami group.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force assessed him, without any evidence, as “a probable member of the Al-Qaida global terrorism network due to his close working relationship with high value target (HVT) Saifullah Rahman Mansour, the former Taliban Eighth Division Commander,” which is a claim that makes no sense. It was also claimed, again without any evidence, that he had “ties to terrorist political party members in the Government of Iran (GOI).”
In more detailed analysis, it was claimed that he was “affiliated with Iranian Intelligence, and conducted covert operations between Iran and Afghanistan while acting as a liaison between Iran and Saifullah Rahman Mansour,” and that his activities “included facilitating travel for Al-Qaida and individuals participating in jihad.” It was also claimed that “[s]ensitive reporting indicate[d] [he] was a sub-commander” with Mansour, and that he “claimed that he was an agent of influence for Iran and that Iran gave him $50,000 USD to distribute among Loya Jirga (grand assembly) delegates in order to buy their votes for the July 2002 Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan.”
The allegations in his file are extensive, but all are self-referential, and immune to the kind of light shone on his case by the “senior Afghan intelligence officer” who recognized that it was all lies. Nevertheless, 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 that he was “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated October 22, 2004), recommended instead that he be transferred with conditions, although no reason for this change was given. Even so, he was not released for another 13 months.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Lea Reiter wrote:
Dugg & tweeted.
Thanks, Lea. Much appreciated. This is the biggest article to date — 22,000 words (a small book, then!), with, hopefully, some pretty damning accounts of US ineptitude when it came to rounding up Afghan suspects — and dismissive arrogance when it came to assessing whether or not huge mistakes had been made in rounding up these men. There are 400 more stories to tell, in 40 parts, with a new ten-parter, about the prisoners released in 2007, starting next week. Please share!
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Digging this, Andy.
Thanks, George. I’m starting to think about trying to locate a new source of funding for this project, after I complete the next ten parts. By immersing myself so thoroughly in it, I’m really beginning to understand more than ever about the disgraceful, witch-hunt-like nature of the detention process and the manufacture of often worthless and untrustworthy information masquerading as evidence. Looking forward to putting together some reports analyzing my findings when all the profiles are complete!
Lea Reiter wrote:
Once Federal enforcers get their hooks in you, they don’t let go. A check in the win column for a bureaucrat means saying no to humanity.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Good idea. If I come across anything I’ll let you know. But I doubt that I will.
Thanks again, Lea and George. I actually have some leads to follow up re: funding, George, The only problem is prioritizing it. If there’s reading, writing or research to be done, I find it hard to get worked up about filling in forms instead– even if those forms might lead to some pretty important income!
Andy, thanks again for another important article.
I think I might have mentioned in a comment about a previous article some information I found about the attack on Lejay. I am going to take the liberty of adding some information I found when I tried to find out more about this attack.
I looked into it as the DoD kept claiming or implying that all the captives had been “captured on the battlefield”. But with the exception of the Lejay villagers, and few other individuals, the documents didn’t support that claim.
I don’t find the claim that the GIs came under a “vicious attack” credible — as there were no reports of American casualties in either the Guantanamo documents, or press briefings.
So, who was Raes Abdul Wahed? According to the villager’s testimony he had lived in the region, and had built an unusually fortified compound. But they hadn’t seen him in ages; they hated him; because he wasn’t of their tribe; and had been appointed to command their region by the hated communist regime. One villager said Wahed had killed one of his relatives and his wife.
If Abdul Wahed had really been tied to the communists I wonder how likely it would be for him to be trusted by the Taliban.
I think when one reads or listens to US intelligence analysts the enemies they describe are kind of funhouse mirror reflection of US forces. The OARDEC documents contain multiple references to Abdul Wahed, some of which say he commanded the Taliban’s “40 man unit”, also known as “jihad kandahar” — an elite assassination unit, trained by al Qaeda. His second in command was named “Abdul Razaq” — which explains why Guantanamo held 5 guys named Abdul Razaq.
The documents say members of the 40 man unit were trained in the use of poisons, and other covert techniques — the Taliban’s equivalent to 007. But, while al Qaeda and the Taliban do practice assassination, riding beside a target on a motorbike, and letting your passenger empty a clip from an AK47 seems to be more their style or the use of land-mine.
I am skeptical that this “40 man unit” really existed.
Yes, agreed. I hadn’t looked into Abdul Wahid’s story to discover his Communist past, but that pretty much seals it for me.
I thought you might also appreciate how the documents released by WikILeaks expose so many other shocking failures of intelligence regarding other Afghans, which seemed to be particularly prevalent in the stories in this article. I’m revisiting the shock I first felt, while researching my book, when I discovered that US allies were seized, and no effort was made to ascertain whether or not that was true. And in the last few years, of course, McClatchy’s reporting has further confirmed how there were people in Afghanistan who could have been consulted, but weren’t, and now the WikiLeaks files are allowing us to see how, instead, a house of cards composed of innuendo and hearsay was constructed instead. It’s almost unbelievably inept, pointless, and cruel — and a monstrous waste of money and personnel.
Andy, I am going to take the liberty of leaving some further comments on the attack on Lejay.
Concerning the “vicious attack” assertion. American soldiers are under continual training. They have expensive, modern equipment. Americans like ot think that their soldiers are the bravest, best trained, best equipped. But, I suspect, that in 2002 and 2003 at least, most US soldiers had never seen combat. Even their special forces soldiers were inexperienced, and likely to panic — as the friendly fire incident with Pat Tillman illustrates.
I suspect that the “vicious fire” the documents claim may have been no more than a backfire, or a misfire, or maybe some veteran of the battle against the soviet occupiers taking a pot shot at the column.
One of sad things you won’t find in the OARDEC documents is that the villages sent to Guantanamo were in some cases luckier than the neighbours they left behind. Alif Mohammed, the villager American intelligence officers decided lead a squad of attackers, said that his brother was killed by an aerial bombardment the day after their capture.
The villagers were seized on February 10th. Starting on February 11th US press officers started to brief reporters about “Operation Eagle Fury”. Lejay was bombarded on February 11th. What possible justification could the US have for this attack? They occupied the village. They selected a dozen men they decided might be the attackers. Presumably the 60 men they left behind were the innocent civilian bystanders. So why subject the village to aerial bombardment?
If the intent of bombing the village was to punishing the villagers for supporting or knowing men who shot at the American column I think this would be a bona fide war crime.
There were a relatively small number of foreign forces in Afghanistan at the time of the attack. 20 or 30 thousand I think. And they had taken a relatively small number of casualties. Most of those casualites were inflicted by land mines and IEDs, very few were inflicted by enemy fire. I think that the Americans jumped on this one incident where HQ was told they had been fired upon, and reacted with overwhelming firepower.
I found it hard to track exactly how many aircraft were invovled in the aerial bombardment portion of Operation Eagle Fury. But I read about formations of multiple B52s — bombers that can carry many times more tons of bombs than a big World War 2 bomber. The aerial bombardment portion of the operation seemed to go on for about two weeks. Reports trickled back to the district capital of extensive civilian casualties — reports the American denied.
There was a ground component to the operation. If I recall correctly they mobilized a whole battalion to try to chase down the shooters.
Press officers claimed the Operation captured a dozen fighters — probably the villagers we know from the Guantanamo documents. Press officers claimed aircraft had fired on, and destroyed a column of about a dozen men. But, as the OARDEC documents noted, Lejay was in the middle of Opium country. Armed men might just as likely have been some Opium drug lords guards, and not Taliban fighters at all.
Andy, I am going to share more of my thoughts and recollections of the Lejay attack.
As I read the allegation memos I kept wondering whether so called “evidence” was flowing from one detainee’s dossier to another. Several of the allegation memos claimed the detainee had been captured near an AK47 that had been thrown down a well. I doubt there were multiple wells, with multiple AK47s thrown down them.
Robert Mitchum is said to have been the only Hollywood actor who usually played tough guys who was actually a tough guy in his earlier life. In one of his old movies Mitchum is some kind of crusader or vigilante, who doesn’t have time for legal niceties — he says, “kill them all! Let God sort them out”.
So, why did they think that Alif Mohammed was the squad leader? Probably just because he acknowledged military experience from having fought against Afghanistan’s Soviet invaders.
Several of the Lejay villagers faced the allegation that they were captured with two senior Taliban commanders. One of the allegation memos names these two senior Taliban commanders — Rahmatullah and Bari Dad Khan.
I see this as another instance of the lack of sanity checking. Rahmatullah is an extremely common name in Afghanistan. The very young agricultural worker, Rahmatullah, was very likely to have been one of the very many namesakes of the Taliban leader named Rahmatullah. Baridad was, similarly, very likely to have simply been a namesake of the Taliban leader Bari Dad Khan.
And, if these two were senior Taliban leaders, why was Alif Mohammed the squad leader?
I’ve wondered if it would be possible to send poor Baridad a hearing aid. He was interviewed, with the several other men released at the same time he was. The reporter hinted he thought Baridad’s sanity had cracked, because he kept complaining that one of the Afghan soldiers attached to the Americans had robbed him of his life savings when he was captured — and that life saving was about $60 USD.
I know what you mean by shock Andy. There are several captives whose stories shock me every time I tell someone about them.
I was very interested indeed to hear your comments about the bombing on February 11, 2003 (the day after the alleged attack) being a war crime, and I recall that you mentioned this before in connection with another retaliatory bombing. Very important observations.
I couldn’t quite untangle the threads of the various Lejay stories, as it was claimed that some of the prisoners were seized on February 10, and others on February 11. It’s probably worth further investigation at some point.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: