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 spring 2012.
This is Part 31 of the 70-part series. 386 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, the next ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantanamo Prisoners Released in 2006,” covered the stories of the 111 prisoners released in 2006 (and the three who died at the prison in June 2006), almost all of whom were freed because of political maneuvering rather than anything to do with justice, as is the case with this latest ten-part series, dealing with the 124 prisoners released in 2007, including two more who died without ever having been charged or tried.
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.
And then, of course, as I have outlined above, and as is revealed extensively in the files, they were trapped in a prison where officials, in their ill-conceived desire for “actionable intelligence,” ended up attempting to justifying their detention either by coercing or bribing the prisoners themselves or coercing or bribing their fellow prisoners, while showing them the photo albums of prisoners known as the “family albums,” to come up with allegations that could be passed off as plausible, whether or not there was any substance to them at all.
David Hicks (ISN 2, Australia) Released May 2007
As I explained in Chapter 9 of my book The Guantánamo Files, David Hicks, one of the most well-known prisoners at Guantánamo, who was 26 years old at the time of his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, was a former horse trainer from Adelaide, who converted to Islam after traveling to Europe and training with the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999, and then traveled to Pakistan to study in a madrassa, subsequently crossing into Afghanistan to continue his studies — at what he described as a “center for Islamic revolution” — and to fight with the Taliban, as was reported in an article in the Australian in December 2006.
On November 10, 2001, he rang his father on a satellite phone from a ditch outside Kandahar, telling him he was going to help the Taliban defend Kabul from the Northern Alliance. He then made his way to Kunduz, and on November 24, as the last bastion of Taliban power in northern Afghanistan fell to the Northern Alliance, he decided to make his escape. Climbing on board a taxi-van with dozens of Afghans, he tried to hide his blond hair and blue eyes, but was unsuccessful. As the van made its way through the streets of Pul-i-Khumri, south of Kunduz, the driver noticed his pale skin and called the local Northern Alliance commanders. Heavily armed soldiers stopped the van at a checkpoint, seized Hicks and took him to a cell in the local garrison, where, he said, he was sold for $15,000 to the Americans, who took him to the Northern Alliance prison at Sheberghan, under the control of the warlord General Rashid Dostum.
Because of his color and his nationality, Hicks, like John Walker Lindh, was singled out for particular attention by the US military. According to Shah Mohammed (ISN 19, released in May 2003), who was held with him in Guantánamo, he was treated differently from the majority of the prisoners from the moment he arrived in Sheberghan. “He was asked a lot of questions [by the Americans], more than us,” he said. Hicks himself said, in court documents discussed in the New York Times, that US soldiers “tied his hands and feet and beat him with bare fists during two-hour sessions,” and forced him to sit on a window ledge, while six soldiers pointed their weapons at him. He also explained that one interrogator, “obviously agitated, took out his pistol and aimed it at me, with his hand shaking violently with rage,” adding, “I realized that if I did not cooperate with US interrogators, I might be shot.”
His treatment at Sheberghan was, however, just the start of his misery. While the majority of those around him were transferred to Kandahar or released through deals made by General Dostum, Hicks was one of a handful of prisoners (including Lindh) who were flown to the USS Peleliu for interrogation, where his American interrogators were joined by unsympathetic representatives of his home country, and where he heard other prisoners “screaming in pain” while being interrogated. He was then moved to the USS Bataan, where conditions became “drastically” worse, and it was while he was on this second ship that he and other prisoners were taken by helicopter to some vast, barn-like buildings in an undisclosed location, where they were forced to kneel for ten hours, and where, Hicks said, “I was hit in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle several times (hard enough to knock me over), slapped in the back of the head, kicked, stepped on, and spat on.” It was only after these avenues of abuse had been exhausted that he was finally transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airport.
There, he said, he and other prisoners “were forced to lie face down in the mud while solders walked across our backs,” and he “was stripped, his body hair shaved,” and, he said, a piece of “white plastic was forcibly inserted in my rectum for no apparent purpose,” about which soldiers “made crude comments.”
In Guantánamo, Hicks said, he was repeatedly beaten, once for eight hours, and frequently while he was restrained and blindfolded. “I have been beaten before, after and during investigations,” he said, adding that he had also been “menaced and threatened, directly and indirectly, with firearms and other weapons before and during investigations.” He also said that he was subjected to sleep deprivation “as a matter of policy,” and according to Ruhal Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal (the “Tipton Three”), he was one of numerous prisoners refused medical treatment — in his case, treatment for a hernia at a time when they recalled that he had “gone downhill” and appeared willing to make any number of false confessions to alleviate his plight. Revealing he extent to which very little information regarding the prisoners’ ill-treatment is available in their publicly available files, the Pentagon’s own brief allegations against Hicks contain no reference whatsoever to any of the above.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Hicks was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control,” dated September 17, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in August 1975, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after being introduced to Islam by members of Jamaat al-Tablighi (the worldwide missionary organization that was nevertheless regarded by US authorities as “a Tier 2 NGO target”; in other words, an organization that had “demonstrated the intent and willingness to support terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests”), he “became aware of the situation and struggles occurring in Kosovo, as well as the role of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), while working as a horse trainer in Japan in 1998 and 1999.
He “claimed it was the plight of the people in Kosovo that urged him to seek the KLA,” and then traveled to Kosovo, where he trained for three months, but never saw combat, as the conflict ended. After a thwarted attempt to fight in East Timor, he flew to Pakistan in the fall of 1999, where, in December 1999, “while performing missionary work for the JT [he] met with representatives of the Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT),” described as “a Tier 1 target”; in other words, one of a number of terrorist groups, “especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests,” even though LeT’s main preoccupation was the India-Pakistan conflict regarding Kashmir, and even though Hicks’ sole preoccupation was with Kashmir, and did not involve US interests at all.
After traveling to Lahore and Quetta for discussions, and to join LeT, Hicks traveled to Muzzafarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, for training, although again he never saw combat, as Pakistan’s largest and most influential intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, was “controlling the number of troops in Kashmir,” and did not let hi in, even though he apparently “stated he would have waited several months or longer for an attempted insertion into Kashmir.” Thwarted again, he managed to enter Afghanistan instead, and traveled to Kandahar “in search of military training, based on information from a contact with the Taliban in Pakistan.’ He then returned to Pakistan, and studied the Koran at a madrassa in Karachi for four months.
In December 2000, he returned to Kandahar, and, on this occasion, was apparently “introduced to the Al-Qaida organisation,” and reportedly undertook military training at the Al-Farouq training camp, described as “Al-Qaida’s Al-Farouq terrorist camp,” even though its main purpose was basic military training. It was stated that he “trained with Al-Qaida at multiple locations in Afghanistan, including the Abu Obeida terrorist camp for urban warfare training,” and met with Mohammed Atef and Abu Hafs, two senior figures in Al-Qaida. He also visited the front lines, but again missed out on combat.
In describing his capture, it was noted that, “[a]s the Taliban lines fell, and just prior to the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif by the Northern Alliance, [he] fled the area to Kunduz, AF, by riding in a truck,” and “then traveled to Bagram, AF, where Northern Alliance national soldiers arrested him,” and “was turned over to US Forces and incarcerated on the USS Pettiloo (actually, as noted above, the USS Peleliu). He was sent to Guantánamo on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002, allegedly because it was assessed that he “may provide knowledge of Al-Qaida Training Camps in Afghanistan.”
However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As Chris Mackey, a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan, explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences (The Interrogators), every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “Al-Qaida and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In assessing Hicks’ story, the Task Force described him as having had “direct involvement with senior Al-Qaida leadership, including Osama Bin Laden,” even though there was no indication that he had met bin Laden. It was also claimed that he “actively sought out extremist organisations throughout the world in order to train, operate, and fight with them” (even though he always missed out on combat), and that his “involvement and extensive training with the KLA, LeT, Al-Qaida, Taliban, and Jamaat al-Tablighi [made] him a highly skilled and advanced combatant, as well as a valuable asset and possible leader for extremist organisations” (which, again, was a huge exaggeration considering that Hicks had never fought anyone).
It was also claimed that he was “an admitted/sworn fighter for Al-Qaida and [had] written a statement affirming such,” even though this statement obviously contained what the US authorities wanted to hear, and not what actually happened. It was also stated that he had been assessed as being “of high intelligence value,” and that he still possesse[d] intelligence value,” although “due to his current trial by Military Commission,” for which he had been “formally charged with conspiracy, attempted murder by an unpriviledged [sic] belligerent, and aiding the enemy,” JTF GTMO stated that it would “not continue exploitation efforts.”
The Task Force also noted that Hicks’ “overall behavior” in Guantánamo had been “compliant,” although he was assessed as being “deceptive.” It was also assessed that he posed “a high risk, and pose[d] a significant threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and, as a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.”
As the Task Force noted, however, its appraisal was not especially relevant, because, in July 2003, Hicks was one of the first six prisoners to be put forward for a trial by Military Commission, along with Salim Hamdan, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, Ibrahim al-Qosi, and, initially, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi (although they were subsequently released). The Commissions were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, but were then revived by Congress, and the first trial of the revived system was Hicks’, in March 2007.
As I explained in Chapter 20 of The Guantánamo Files, on March 26, 2007, a weary David Hicks accepted a plea bargain and declared that he was guilty of the only charge that was eventually raised against him: providing “material support for terrorism.” For his cooperation, he was sentenced on March 30 to nine months’ imprisonment, rather than the seven years that the prosecution had been seeking, and was told that he would be returning home in May 2007 to serve his sentence in Australia.
This was some comfort for Hicks, but observers noted that the process was still fundamentally flawed. Australian lawyer Lex Lasry told the Sydney Morning Herald that the court looked “pretty dysfunctional.” He was not impressed when the judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, eliminated two of Hicks’ three lawyers, excluding one, Joshua Dratel, after he refused to agree in advance to court procedures that had not been drawn up, and he complained that when Hicks’ remaining lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori, objected that Kohlmann was not sufficiently impartial, he “sat in judgment of himself” and “solemnly found that there were no grounds to find he was not impartial.”
For further information about how Hicks’ release came about as part of a deal arranged between Vice President Dick Cheney and Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, see “The politics of David Hicks’ release from Guantánamo confirmed: plea bargain arranged between Cheney and Howard,” and for further information about the corrupt political maneuvering in the Military Commissions, see, ““The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials.”
After his release, Hicks told his story in depth in his book, Guantánamo: My Journey, published in October 2010. For an excerpt, see “Former Guantánamo Prisoner David Hicks Describes His First Two Weeks at Camp X-Ray,: and also see “Empathy and Self-Reflection: An Extraordinary Article by Jason Leopold About His Friendship with Former Guantánamo Prisoner David Hicks,” and “Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner David Hicks Gives His First Interview — To Jason Leopold of Truthout.”
Gholam Ruhani (ISN 3, Afghanistan) Released December 2007
Gholam Ruhani, who was 26 years old at the time of his capture, was seized in December 2001 with Abdul-Haq Wasiq (ISN 4, still held), the Taliban’s deputy minister of intelligence, and one of the few senior Taliban figures captured by the Americans, in a potentially perilous Special Forces operation in Ghazni, south of Kabul, as I explained at the time of his release, also drawing on an account I gave in Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files. At the time, Ghazni was a Taliban stronghold, but when the Special Forces received a tip-off that a local warlord had arranged a meeting with Qari Amadullah, the Taliban’s minister of intelligence, in which, it was suggested, Amadullah might provide information that would lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden, their commander, Gary Berntsen approved the mission.
In the end, Amadullah did not turn up, and clearly had no intention of doing so. Safely ensconced in Pakistan, after escaping from Afghanistan, he spoke to a journalist in late December, interrupting the interview to take a phone call, and then declaring, “I am personally requested by Mullah Omar and Sheikh Osama to go to Uruzgan and take the command of new guerrilla war preparations, which will start as soon as possible, and you will hear the news in papers and on BBC.”
Unsurprisingly, having effectively given US forces his itinerary as a result of this loose talk, he was killed in a US air strike a few days later. In the same interview, however, he also spoke about Abdul-Haq Wasiq. He said that Mullah Omar, who, he claimed, was living in a safe place in the mountains north of Kandahar, had asked him to visit, but he had been unable to do so, “because a lot of people know me, and I am frightened they will capture me somewhere on the road. So I sent my assistant Mullah Abdul-Haq Wasiq to Kandahar. Unfortunately he was captured by American agents in Ghazni.”
This suggests that Wasiq either made his own negotiations with the Americans in Ghazni, or was invited and then betrayed by the local warlord, because after the meeting he was duly arrested, along with Gholam Ruhani, by the Special Forces operatives, who duly declared that they were “the number two and three in Taliban intel.”
In Guantánamo, Wasiq has been coy about his role, claiming that he was forced to join the Taliban, and that he sometimes acted as the deputy minister of intelligence, but only to combat “thieves and bribes.” This did not convince his tribunal, who greeted him with the words, “Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. Seldom before have we had someone of such prestige and responsibility.” Ruhani, however, was adamant that he was not the “number three in Taliban intel.” He said that he was a Taliban conscript, who fulfilled his duties in a clerical capacity to avoid being sent to the front lines, and explained that he was asked to attend the meeting between the Taliban and the Americans because he had learned a little English while studying electronics manuals in a store run by his elderly father. “I turned over my pistol and ammunition to the American, as an act of faith, because it was a friendly meeting,” he said. “I expected to leave the meeting and return to my life, my shop and my family. Instead, I was arrested.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Ruhani was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated January 14, 2007, in which it was noted that he was born in 1975 and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that, according to his own account, his family owned an electrical store in Ghazni, where he attended school until, fearing that he would be drafted by the Communist government, his parents sent him, via a family friend, to Iran, where he worked in a textile factory for two and a half years, and only returned to Afghanistan “sometime after 1992, while President Burhanuddin Rabbani was in office.” He then “worked in his father’s store stocking shelves and cleaning” until 1996, when the Taliban “gained control of Kabul” and “began conscripting people.”
He then “took a job with the Ministry of Intelligence because he did not want to go to war,” and “spent approximately two years working with a thirteen or fourteen-man security detail in Kabul,” and also “served as a driver for the group leader, Muhammad Nabi Majrooh,” described as “the Director of the Operations Department who helped [him] get the job.” Majrooh later sacked him (for unspecified reasons), and was then dismissed himself, “because the Taliban suspected he was collaborating.with the Northern Alliance,” but Ruhani “maintained employment at the security office,” when a man named Asim took over. Throughout this period, he added, “he did not receive any formal weapons training, but did carry a pistol for work.”
In describing the circumstances of his capture, it was noted that, the day before the Northern Alliance captured Kabul in November 2001, he “left Kabul for Ghazni, where he continued working at his father’s store.” It was then, he said, that an acquaintance named Nanwai “contacted [him] stating he needed an English translator for a meeting.” Ruhani “agreed to accompany Nanwai to the meeting, which occurred at Haji Ghulan Muhammad Hotak’s house in Ghazni.” In a footnote, the Task Force explained that Hotak was “assessed to be a high-level Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) commander in the Wardak province, and a major narcotics trafficker and weapons facilitator,” who was seized and held in Bagram, where he was designated ISN 1674, and was released on October 14, 2006.
At the meeting, Hotak made a phone call and told Ruhani to ask the unidentified person who answered when he was coming to Ghazni. He was told that it would be in two or three days, and so, three days later, on December 10, 2001, “Nanwai and Hotak requested [Ruhani] attend another meeting at a school,” at which Abdul-Haq Wasiq was present, and Hotak “requested [Ruhani] to act as an interpreter between [Wasiq], Hotak, and the ‘Americans.'” They then drove from the school “to where the ‘Americans’ were waiting,” but Ruhani “claimed he could not understand them because they spoke ‘British English,'” and another translator took over. “The purpose of this meeting,” Ruhani stated, “was to identify the location of Mullah Muhammad Omar,” the leader of the Taliban.
Despite this, at some point during the meeting, “one of the ‘Americans’ exited the house, reentered with American soldiers,and arrested all of the Afghans,” who were then taken to the US prison at Bagram airbase. Ruhani was on the first flight into Guantánamo on January 11, 2002 (the day the prison opened), on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Four members of a thirteen or fourteen-man Taliban unit who were his superiors in Kabul [and] Weapons security and duties of the Taliban team in Kabul.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he “downplay[ed] his position and authority in the Taliban Intelligence organisation,” alleging that Qari Ahmadullah, the Taliban Chief of Intelligence, was his brother-in-law, and that Muhammad Nabi Majrooh was Qari Ahmadullah’s brother.” Even if true, this would not preclude the possibility that he played only a minor role in the Taliban’s intelligence operations in Kabul, and although an unidentified “sensitive contact” identified him “as Majrooh’s deputy in 2001,” there is no way of knowing if there was any truth to this allegation.
Primarily, the Task Force seemed to regard him with some wariness because of his alleged family associations, claiming that Qari Ahmadullah did not die in December 2001, and, on June 7, 2003, “led a group of 36 extremists in a fatal bomb attack against a bus carrying German Intemational Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Kabul,” and that, in September 2006, Muhammad Nabi Majrooh, “along with two Taliban military commanders, planned to conduct suicide attacks throughout Afghanistan.” Again, although there were footnotes referring to specific reports that dealt with these claims, they have not been independently verified, and, in any case, they serve only to suggest that Ruhani was suspicious because his sister married Qari Ahmadullah.
In assessing him, the Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he “ha[d] familial ties to active Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) entities, and would probably join ACM groups dedicated to attacking US and coalition forces in Afghanistan if released.” He was also “assessed as a medium threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile toward the guard force and staff,” although, on September 1, 2005, he “damaged government property by stuffing pieces of his flip flops into his sink.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo, updating a previous recommendation for his continued detention (dated January 21, 2006), recommended him for transfer to ongoing custody in Afghanistan, in a wing of the main prison in Kabul, Pol-i-Charki, that was refurbished by the Americans, and was used to hold prisoners returned from Guantánamo from April 2007 onwards.
Abdallah Al Matrafi (ISN 5, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2007
A father of three, Abdallah al-Matrafi (also identified as Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi), who was 38 years old at the time of his capture, had directed a fund-raising committee in Bosnia, and had worked as an imam in Mecca before establishing the charity Al-Wafa, as I explained at the time of his release, also drawing on an account in Chapter 16 of The Guantánamo Files. At the time of his release, he was presumably aware that most of the dozens of other prisoners who had worked for Al-Wafa had been freed, as their claims that they were involved in genuine humanitarian aid work were accepted one by one. He, however, was regarded as a more significant prisoner, against whom was stacked an array of allegations of his involvement with both the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
After the invasion of Afghanistan began, al-Matrafi sent his family to safety in Pakistan, but stayed on in Kabul, even though the organization’s stores were the targets of bombing raids, in which seven aid workers were killed. He finally left the capital when he was seriously injured in a bombing raid, and his family last heard from him on December 10, 2001, as he was about to board an Emirates flight from Lahore to Dubai. He never made it onto the plane. Abducted at the airport by US agents, he was transferred back to Afghanistan and put on the first flight to Guantánamo.
Little was heard about him in Guantánamo, although it was clear that the authorities regarded him as a major supporter of terrorism, alleging in his tribunal that he knew Osama bin Laden, that his plan to provide funds to bin Laden for training caused disagreement within Al-Wafa, that he admitted that Al-Wafa purchased weapons and vehicles for the Taliban, and that he “negotiated a deal that allowed the Taliban to direct Al-Wafa’s activities.”
In his review boards, further allegations were added, including claims that he “admitted he took orders from Osama bin Laden,” that he “provided financial support to Al-Qaida after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and that he purchased medical laboratory equipment for a microbiologist who was “developing anthrax for Al-Qaida.”
Set against these allegations, however, were a number of counter-claims, which, typically, were ignored when the authorities declared him an “enemy combatant.” On several occasions, al-Matrafi stated that there was no relationship between Al-Wafa and Al-Qaida, “explaining that Al-Qaida disliked Al-Wafa, and both organizations were in disagreement.” It was also noted in the Summary of Evidence for his second review board that, two months before 9/11, he met with bin Laden at his house in Kandahar, and stated that the purpose of the meeting was “to discuss unresolved issues” from a previous meeting, “concerning disagreements between Al-Wafa and Al-Qaida.”
A brief survey of al-Matrafi’s statements before his capture is sufficient to explain his refusal to accept that he was affiliated with terrorists. In October 2001, after Al-Wafa was blacklisted, he appeared on the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera, protesting his innocence and offering to open up the organization’s accounts to public scrutiny.
In addition, two prisoners in Guantánamo who had worked for Al-Wafa backed up his statements. Ayman Batarfi (ISN 627, released December 2009), a Yemeni doctor who tended wounded soldiers during the battle of Tora Bora, pointed out that, although Al-Wafa had a good working relationship with the Taliban, this was required to pursue its humanitarian work, and both Batarfi and another man, Mustafa Hamlili, an Algerian-born Pakistani resident (ISN 705, released in July 2008), reinforced al-Matrafi’s claim that the organization was regarded with suspicion by Al-Qaida because of its Saudi links.
Batarfi may, in fact, be the alleged “Al-Qaida facilitator” mentioned in the Summary of Evidence from al-Matrafi’s first review board, who identified him as “having problems with Osama bin Laden because [he] had come to do charity work in Afghanistan and was funded by the Saudi royal family, who Osama bin Laden rejected and denounced.” This source added, moreover, that al-Matrafi “would take Saudis from Al-Farouq [the main training camp for Arabs in Afghanistan] and try to send them back to Saudi Arabia.”
None of this helped him, however, and what probably counted against him more than anything else was the apparent discovery, in August 2002, of a store of chemicals in offices used by Al-Wafa in Kabul, which included “36 types of chemical, explosives, fuses and terrorist guide books.” Whether this had anything to do with him is unknown. His brother, Mohammed, reiterated that the organization had no links to Al-Qaida. “My brother and I have repeatedly said we have no terrorist links, and that any organization, official or non-governmental, is free to come and investigate our headquarters,” he told the press, adding, “We are only helping the Muslim people of Afghanistan.”
Nothing more has been heard of al-Matrafi since his release, but as I explained when he was repatriated, “Time alone will tell what the Saudi government makes of [Abdul Aziz] al-Matrafi on his return, but, like the allegations against his workers that disappeared under scrutiny like a malevolent mirage, it may well be that those who vouched for him were correct in their appraisal that he was the head of a charity that was required to work with the Taliban, but that was otherwise committed to bringing humanitarian aid to some of the most deprived people on earth.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Matrafi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated October 25, 2007, in which it was noted that he was born in July 1964, and was “in overall good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, between 1982 and 1984, “he served as a tank mechanic in the Saudi Arabian Army, achieving the rank of sergeant,” and then traveled to Afghanistan to participate in the resistance to the Soviet occupation, described as “the Soviet Jihad.” He was apparently there for 18 months, and met Osama bin Laden and other mujahideen who were later involved in Al-Qaida.
From 1993 until 1997, he served as “the local director in Mecca for the High Commission for Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” identified as “probably” referring to the Saudi High Commission for Relief, and further identified as “an NIPF Priority 2B TSE,” defined as “having available resources and being in a position to provide financial support to terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests, or provide witting operational support to Priority 2B terrorist groups.”
It was also noted that he “returned to Afghanistan sometime between April 2000 and March 2001,” after meeting with “the founder of Al-Wafa, Shaykh Abdallah al-Rayis,” who asked him to “set up offices and religious institutes in Afghanistan.” Al-Matrafi subsequently “met with the Afghan Minister of Education, Emir Khan Motaqi, who advised [him] on appropriate locations for the religious institutes,” and “then returned to Saudi Arabia to discuss his findings with Shaykh al-Rayis.” On returning to Afghanistan, he established Al-Wafa offices in Kandahar, Kabul, Herat, and Karachi.
So far, there were no claims that Al-Wafa had any connection with Al-Qaida, although the Task Force also alleged that, during Ramadan in 2000, he met with Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, a religious scholar (who, later, was ferociously opposed to the 9/11 attacks), who apparently took him to meet Osama bin Laden “to discuss the Al-Wafa offices in Afghanistan, and the differences between the ideologies of Al-Qaida and Al-Wafa.” According to the Task Force, at the end of the meeting, bin Laden gave him a letter authorizing Abu Hafs to assist him in establishing additional al-Wafa offices in Afghanistan. As a result, it was claimed, he “submitted the appropriate papers through the office of the Taliban Supreme Commander, Mullah Omar,” and, “[i]n the spring of 2001, an Al-Wafa office opened in Kabul,” although, in the account above, it seemed that al-Matrafi managed to open offices without any assistance whatsoever from bin Laden.
A this point, the allegations take a darker turn. After claiming that, in “late spring of 2001,” al-Matrafi was approached “regarding providing funding for Taliban Ministry of Communication and Electricity projects in Afghanistan” by the Pakistani nuclear scientist and Islamic scholar Dr. Bashir Ud-Din Mahmud (aka Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood), a co-founder of the Pakistani charity Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (“Reconstruction for the Islamic Community”), and Shaykh al-Farouq (aka Suheil al-Farouq), the head of the UTN office in Kabul, it was claimed that, in approximately July 2001, he “again met with UBL to discuss Al-Qaida and Al-Wafa issues, and, just before September 11, 2001, “met with Al-Qaida biological and chemical expert Yazid Sufaat and directed him to the Al-Wafa office in Pakistan.”
These are severe allegations, but it has never been established that there was actually any truth to them, given the doubts expressed in the accounts related before the WikiLeaks files were released, and nor has it been established that there is any truth to an additional claim that, after 9/11, he “facilitated the movement of Al-Qaida operatives into Afghanistan.” What is clear is that, in early December 2001, he “crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan with the help of his translator Muhammad Ajmal,” who “convinced Pakistani customs officials that [he] was ill and needed immediate medical attention,” and who then took him to a Lashkar-e-Tayyiba office in Lahore. There, he “provided [him] with an escort in order to obtain a visa and the necessary exit paperwork before taking [him] to the airport.”
However, Pakistani police arrested al-Matrafi at Lahore airport on December 11, 2001, and he was transferred to US custody on December 29, 2001. He apparently reported that, when he was seized, he had various items in his possession, including $1,000, although the Task Force noted that none of the items were held by JTF-GTMO. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002 to “provide information on the following: The financing of Al-Qaida operations in Bosnia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan using Al-Wafa as a front operation [and] Key Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he had been “truthful about many of his activities as a director of Al-Wafa,” but claimed that “he omit[ted] other details and attempt[ed] to downplay his associations with and support to Al-Qaida by stating that all of his support went to the Taliban or for the betterment of the Afghan people.” It was also noted, as he said repeatedly and was noted elsewhere, that he “claimed that he did not agree with [Osama bin Laden] and Al-Qaida’s goals and that Al-Qaida did not trust Al-Wafa.”
In a detailed analysis, it was claimed, with reference to the chemical weapons claims mentioned above, that “he attempted to procure chemical warfare weapons for use against US and Coalition forces and was involved in Al-Qaida’s attempts to develop or procure Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and that he “authorized Al-Wafa to spend $5000 US to assist Al-Qaida anthrax researcher, Yazid Sufaat, purchase laboratory equipment.” It is not certain where these claims came from, but it is alarming to realize that one source, mentioned here, may have been Jamal Mar’i (ISN 577, released December 2009), a Yemeni who worked for Al-Wafa in Karachi, who was kidnapped from his home on September 23, 2001 and rendered to a secret prison in Jordan before ending up in Guantánamo, or, even more worryingly, Jamil Qasim, who was never even sent to Guantánamo.
Ayman Batarfi (ISN 627, also released in December 2009) was a Yemeni doctor, identified by Mar’i as “Sufaat’s associate,” although that may not have been a reliable claim, given the circumstances of Mari’s detention. Mar’i also said that Batarfi “gave Sufaat the telephone number for Jamil Qasim who Sufaat was to contact for funding assistance,” and who “was a micro-biology student and served as a junior medical advisor for Al-Wafa in the Karachi office along with [Mar’i] and Abu Ahmad (aka Imran Uways).” Qasim, also identified as Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, was reportedly flown to Amman, to the same secret prison that Jamal Mar’i was sent to, but he never resurfaced. In 2007, Amnesty International told the Washington Post it had “asked the Jordanian government for information on his whereabouts but ha[d] not received an answer.”
Other unsubstantiated claims about al-Matrafi were that he “attempted to purchase a computerized laser-guided missile system costing $500,000 US,” in which the missiles “would contain a chemical substance, have a range of 1,500 kilometers, and have a destruction radius of 1,500 square meters” (which sounds like a paranoid fantasy, rather than anything real), and there were also suspicions that, because he “admitted he met with Dr. Bashir Ud-Din Mahmud,” it was possible he “was involved in attempting to procure a nuclear weapon for Al-Qaida.”
This was in spite of the fact that, although he was “assessed to be a supporter” of the Al-Qaida network, he was “not assessed to be a member of Al-Qaida,” and, more importantly, it contradicted a statement by the “high-value detainee” Walid bin Attash (ISN 10014, still held), who “commented that the Al-Wafa NGO disagreed with Al-Qaida’s opposition to the Saudi government and actively attempted to undermine Al-Qaida’s recruiting and training programs in Afghanistan prior to 11 September 2001,” and another statement by Humud al-Jadani (ISN 230, released July 2007), who “reported that [al-Matrafi] disagreed with the message [Osama bin Laden] was preaching to the mujahideen concerning martyrdom.” Al-Jadani said that al-Matrafi “felt that martyrdom was attained by fighting to the last breath, whereas [bin Laden] was preaching suicide missions.” He added that bin Laden “became upset and threatened [al-Matrafi]’s life, ordering [him] never to go near any of the Al-Qaida guesthouses again and never talk again to the mujahideen about martyrdom.”
Whle the US allegations against al-Matrafi were, then, largely full of holes, it was of interest that the Mabahith (the Saudi intelligence service) “provided information on 37 detainees, in order of precedence, whom they designated as being of high priority interest,” and that al-Matrafi “was the 13th name on that list,” because the Mabahith had previously had him “under surveillance for recruiting activities.”
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,” and it was also claimed that he was “a high threat from a detention perspective,” even though his “overall behavior ha[d] been mostly compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended his continued detention, updating a similar recommendation on September 9, 2006. Nevertheless, he was released just two months after this updated recommendation, for reasons that have never been explained, and, on his return, was presumably put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul (ISN 8, Afghanistan) Released December 2007
As I explained in a footnote to Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, Rasoul, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was seized in a car with two Taliban commanders, Mullah Norullah Noori (ISN 6, still held) and Mullah Mohammed Fazil (ISN 7, still held) after the fall of the city of Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan, in November 2001. In Guantánamo, he claimed that he was a Taliban recruit, who was seriously wounded in 1997, and added that he rejoined the Taliban in 1999 “to gain better medical attention,” and went to Kunduz to fight the Northern Alliance in September 2001.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Rasoul was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated December 25, 2006, in which he was identified as Abdullah Gulam Rasoul, and it was noted that he was born in 1973, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, based on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he was from a village in Helmand province, that he claimed “he only attended two years of school during his adolescence,” and that he also claimed “he never received any formal military training.” He also claimed, as he later did in his tribunal at Guantánamo, that he “answered the call to jihad twice, once in 1997 and the second time in 1999.”
He further explained that, on the first occasion, he “decided to travel to Kabul, AF, to join the Taliban,” when he “was issued an AK-47 while staying at a compound that housed 15 to 20 people,” but, after just a month, “was seriously wounded after a bombing raid by Massoud” (Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks), and was then held in hospital “for approximately seven or eight months.”
In 1999, when he rejoined the Taliban in Kandahar, he claimed “he reacquired an AK-47 for his personal use,” and said he stayed in a compound known as Kuli Urdo, which “housed military personnel and several tanks,” although he added that he “would spend a few days at the compound and a few days at home.” He also said that, while there, he “recalled seeing” Mullah Norullah Noori (identified as Sham Ul-Haq Noorullah), and another unidentified man named Allah Uddin.
After traveling to Kunduz in September 2001 “to join Taliban soldiers in the fight against the NA” (although he claimed “he never saw combat”), he said he “recalled seeing his friends from Kuli Urdo, Mullah Mohammed Fazil (identified as Mohammed Fazl), and two other men, Dadi Allah, and Mullah Beradar.” He also pointed out that, of the 5,000 Taliban in Kunduz, all “were under the command of [Fazil], Allah, and Beradar.”
Describing the circumstances of his capture, the Task Force claimed that, on November 28, 2001, he and Noori and Fazil (both described as “Taliban leaders”) and two other unidentified men “turned themselves over to General Dostum,” although it seems more likely that, as he explained on other occasions, they were all seized while traveling together in a car. Dostum then “moved the group to Mazar-e-Sharif,” and, in early December 2001, took Rasoul, Noori and Fazil to his prison at Sheberghan. After being transferred to US custody, they were held on two US ships — the USS Peleliu and the USS Bataan — and were then taken to Bagram. Rasoul was on the first flight into Guantánamo, when the prison opened on January 11, 2002, and the spurious reason given for his transfer was to “provide information on the following: Extensive information on Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Fazl.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that his “true position and standing within the Taliban ranks ha[d] not been clearly determined,” because he “continue[d] to identify himself as being a mere foot soldier,” even though he “identified [Fazil, Noori], Mullah Beradar, Mullah Dadullah-Lang, and Mullah Quyem (NFI) as friends and associates.” Providing a variation on his capture story, the Task Force noted that it was “highly doubtful that the detainee, who was allegedly standing with other Taliban soldiers along a roadside, would be singularly selected by General Dostum’s soldiers to join [Noori] and [Fazil] in the vehicle they were secured in, unless [he] was as significant as his fellow captives.”
The Task Force also picked up on the fact that Fazil was the “Taliban Army Chief of Staff,” and that Noori was the “Governor of Balkh Province,” and noted that Rasoul “was placed in a house with the high-ranking government officials, while the other two foot soldiers were sent to Qala-i-Janghi prison,” where hundreds of Taliban soldiers were sent after surrendering, and where a notorious massacre took place. An analyst noted that, although Rasoul claimed it was “normal that low ranking people ride in cars with high-ranking commanders,” he “stayed with the high-ranking officials at a separate facility” while “about 500 of [Fazil’s] troops went to the Qala-i-Janghi prison.”
There were other, idiotic claims — that Rasoul “carried three Casio watches on his person at the time of capture,” and that two were the model F-91W, which was “a type of watch used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” — but when it came to understanding Rasoul’s significance, the fact that he “admitted being a bodyguard to [Fazil],” and that Fazil said that he “performed duties as a bodyguard, driver, and administrative assistant” (even though he also described his duties as being “more like a foot soldier”) ought to have made it clear that he was of some significance, although instead the decision was made to release him.
The Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also “assessed to be a low threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation for “Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD) with Transfer Language” (dated December 24, 2005), recommended him for transfer out of DoD control, although he was not released for another year.
After his release, as I explained in an article for the Guardian, “Who are ‘the worst of the worst’?,” he apparently resurfaced as Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a Taliban leader responsible for roadside bomb attacks against British forces, and, by March 2010, had apparently risen through the ranks to become Mullah Omar’s top deputy, after the capture of Mullah Berader (aka Barader). Also known as Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a detailed profile of him was published in the Christian Science Monitor in April 2010. He was also profiled in Newsweek in May 2011.
Fahed Mohamed Al Qahtani (ISN 13, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2007
Fahed al-Qahtani, who was just 19 at the time of his capture, had been recruited for jihad in his home country, as I explained in an article at the time of his release, drawing on an account in a footnote to Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files. In Guantánamo, he explained that he had also been aided in his travel by a facilitator, but also said, “I went for jihad to Afghanistan, but when I got there I changed my mind. I saw some things there that were against my religion … Things like worshipping a cemetery where people have died. That has nothing to do with our religion, worshipping graves.” Refuting allegations that he attended Al-Farouq, the main camp for Arab recruits, and that Osama bin Laden visited while he was there, he insisted that he spent most of his time in a house in Kabul that was “a cooking facility for the [Taliban] front line,” and then fled with others to Kunduz, the last Taliban bastion in the north, “until we were surrounded and there was an agreement to have all the Arabs delivered to Mazar-e-Sharif.”
Delivered, with several hundred others, to Qala-i-Janghi, a nearby fort, he survived a US-led massacre, which took place after some of the prisoners started an uprising, by somehow escaping from the fort without being killed. “I was present but did not participate in the fighting,” he explained. “I escaped during the fighting and turned myself in one day after. I went to the market to turn myself in. I met people in the market who were in the army of [General] Dostum [one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance]. That is where I was when I was recaptured … Dostum sold me to the Americans … They put me in jail and I was tortured by Afghans and made to say things. I was moved to Kandahar. When I got to Cuba I told the interrogators the real story.” Despite apparently telling the truth, the most extraordinary piece of “evidence” against al-Qahtani emerged in Guantánamo, when it was shamelessly alleged that he “admitted under duress that he was an Al-Qaida [sic] and had met Osama bin Laden.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Qahtani was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated May 26, 2006, in which he was identified as Fahd Nasir Muhammad al-Oahtani, and it was noted that he was born in January 1982, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he dropped out of high school, and, on a trip to Mecca, “met a Yemeni named Abu al-Maali (variant: Ma’ali) who discussed with him the uprising in Palestine,” and told him “he should travel to Afghanistan (AF) for training and then return to Saudi Arabia for subsequent missions in Palestine.” Al-Maali told al-Qahtani “he would arrange for passports, visas and travel arrangements,” and promised he would meet him in Afghanistan “at a later date.” Al-Qahtani then asked three friends to accompany him, and, although they were reportedly unwilling, al-Maali persuaded them as well.
Traveling to Kandahar via Karachi and Quetta, al-Qahtani and his friends “were taken to the Arab guesthouse near the Hajji Habash Mosque.” He said he “spent approximately one week in the guesthouse and was told to hand over his documents for safekeeping while he was training,” although he “fell ill just prior to departing for the Al-Farouq training camp,” and “spent three months in a clinic recovering from malaria.”
When he recovered, he was sent to Al-Farouq, and “after he completed basic training, he returned to the guesthouse in Kandahar and was told he could return to Saudi Arabia or stay at the house.” He “opted to stay at the house, wait for Abu [al-]Maali to arrive, and obtain money for his return trip,” but al-Maali obviously didn’t arrive, because, in approximately April 2001, al-Qahtani left the Kandahar guesthouse and traveled to Kabul, and then Kunduz, staying in Taliban guesthouses, and in Kunduz, where the house was a staging area for Taliban fighters traveling to the front lines and for weaponry,” he apparently “made several trips to Takhar province,” and “continued to travel between the two locations until approximately mid-November 2001, when fighters on the front lines, led by [a man named] Gharib, retreated to the Kunduz guesthouse.”
When General Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces surrounded Kunduz, a deal was arranged whereby fighters were told that, if they surrendered, they would be transported to Kandahar. Al-Qahtani and others and were loaded onto trucks, but, instead of being disarmed, taken to Kandahar and freed, as they expected, they were taken to Mazar-e-Sharif, and imprisoned in the Qala-i-Janghi fort. There, his group “was put in the fortress basement,” and the next day he “was taken out, beaten, and robbed.” Then, when he “was being moved to the courtyard, he heard an explosion and fighting broke out.” This, as noted above, was an uprising by some of the prisoners, who feared they were about to be shot, but it was savagely put down in what has become known as the Qala-i-Janghi massacre.
Al-Qahtani, however, was fortunate not be killed, as he later explained in his tribunal at Guantánamo. As he said, he “took cover behind some trees and remained there until nightfall when he escaped the fortress with fifteen other fighters.” They then split up and he traveled with two of the men to a market near Mazar-e-Sharif, where he “was shot and captured by Northern Alliance forces,” and claimed “to have been taken to a house and tortured for two days before being taken to another house where he was tortured into admitting he was Al-Qaida,” and then “taken to a third house for one day” until he was “transferred to a hospital where he was briefly treated.”
After being treated, he “was taken to a fourth house where he was detained with the others he had escaped Qala-i-Janghi with and held until the end of Ramadan,” and was then turned over to US forces. He recalled “being one of the first to arrive at the Kandahar Detention Facility,” which opened on December 28, 2001, and he was also on the first flight into Guantánamo on January 11 2002, when the spurious reason given for his transfer was to “provide information on the following: Al-Farouq training camp.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that, although he “initially admitted attending Al-Farouq,” he had “since retracted this claim stating he received training while in a guesthouse on the front lines.” Nevertheless, the Task Force insisted on assessing him as “a probable member of Al-Qaida who traveled to Afghanistan to receive basic, and possibly advanced, militant training,” who “resided in numerous Al-Qaida and Taliban guesthouses and attended at least one Al-Qaida training camp.”
This was a reference to Al-Farouq, but it was noticeable that, beyond his own single confession, later retracted, the only witness who placed him at Al-Farouq was Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, whose testimony is therefore extremely unreliable. Al-Qahtani, identified as “Al-Qaida member Maad al-Qahtani,” apparently “stated that he attended basic training at Al-Farouq with detainee and graduated in mid-February 2001,” and added that “[t]hey also attended advanced training together at Tarnak Farms, from March to mid-April 2001.”
It was also noted that Mohammed al-Qahtani “later stated he had not attended advanced training with detainee and only went to basic training with [him],” but although an analyst noted that, “[s]tarting in winter 2002/2003, [he] began retracting statements,” it was also noted that, “based on corroborating information it is believed that [his] initial admissions were the truth,” and that, as a result, it was “assessed that his identification of detainee as an advanced training classmate is factual, not the mistake [he] would like us to believe.”
Another unreliable claim made by Mohammed al-Qahtani, mentioned in Fahed al-Qahtani’s file, was that, “when questioned whether any of his training camp classmates volunteered for or were asked about their willingness to participate in martyrdom missions,” he stated,”they all were; otherwise they would not have traveled to Afghanistan for jihad,” even though there is no indication that there is any truth to this claim, as many of those who traveled for jihad — the majority, I believe — traveled to take part in the military conflict with the Northern Alliance, and not to take part in martyrdom missions.
In conclusion, the Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated June 11, 2004), recommended him for continued detention, but added, crucially, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Qahtani] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO),” although it took another 14 months for that agreement to be negotiated, and he was then put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Majid Al Joudi (ISN 25, Saudi Arabia) Released February 2007
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (8) – Captured in Afghanistan,” in which I drew partly on a brief account in Chapter 19 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Majid al-Joudi, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, was a long-term hunger striker. In my book, I explained that the lawyer Julia Tarver Mason, who represented ten Saudi prisoners, visited Guantánamo in October 2005 and noted that three of her clients — Majid al-Joudi, as well as Abdul Rahman Shalabi and Yousef al-Shehri — reported to her the brutal manner in which they were being force-fed, because they were taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike that began that summer.
They said that the feeding tubes, which were “the thickness of a finger,” were regarded as objects of torture. She reported that they were forcibly shoved up the prisoners’ noses without anaesthetic or sedatives being provided, and that this resulted in prisoners “vomiting up substantial amounts of blood,” but added that when they did so, “the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like ‘look what your religion has brought you.'” She also noted the prisoners’ claims that they “were verbally abused and insulted and were restrained from head to toe” while the feeding took place, with “shackles or other restraints on their arms, legs, waist, chest, knees, and head,” that attempts to give them intravenous medication were “often quite painful … as inexperienced medical professionals seemed incapable of locating appropriate veins,” and, most shockingly, that, while doctors, including the head of the hospital, were watching, “the guards took tubes from one detainee, and with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee. When these tubes were reinserted, the detainees could see the blood and stomach bile from other detainees remaining on the tubes.”
However, at the time I wrote The Guantánamo Files, I knew nothing else about al-Joudi’s story, as the documents relating to his case were not released by the Pentagon until September 2007. In his one and only appearance at any of the hearings, in November 2006, al-Joudi said that, in October 2001, he was invited to join the humanitarian aid effort in Afghanistan that followed the US-led invasion of October 2001, and that he subsequently took a break from his work — in two family-run fabric stores — and traveled to Afghanistan in mid-November to work for a month for the charity Al-Wafa. He added that, over a two-week period, he distributed food and clothing to villages near Kandahar until he was wounded in the leg. According to the allegation in his last Unclassified Summary of Evidence, he “stated he was hit by a car and taken to a hospital that was taken over by Al-Qaida,” and that he told the men, who “initially thought he was mujahideen and was in Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban,” that “he was volunteering with Al-Wafa.”
As I explained in relation to Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi (ISN 5, above), working for Al-Wafa was enough to be regarded as a terrorist in Guantánamo, where its legitimate humanitarian aid work was ignored. In al-Joudi’s case, the US authorities insisted, despite his protests to the contrary, that documents in his possession when he was captured suggested “he was closely involved with Al-Qaida and that he was either a trainer or a trainee on an anti-surveillance course” — even though this was highly improbable, if not impossible, if he had arrived in Afghanistan just a month before he was seized.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Joudi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated September 28, 2006, in which he was identified as Majid Abdallah al-Judi and Majeed Abdallah, and it was noted that he was born in 1967, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, according to his own account (largely mirroring what I wrote in my online chapter), he was “a distant cousin of King Abdullah Hussein, the current ruler of Jordan,” although in Mecca, where his family lived, he began working in the family’s clothing store, run by his brother, after leaving school, until, one day in approximately October 2001, “the director of the Al-Wafa branch office in Mecca, Muhammad Abdallah Hasan, visited [his] store on several occasions to discuss volunteering in Afghanistan.”
On November 2, 2001, al-Joudi said, he “went to the Al-Wafa office in Mecca and entered into an agreement to volunteer to work for Al-Wafa in Afghanistan (AF) only during Ramadan 2001.” He was provided with “an airline ticket and $2,000 USD,” and left Saudi Arabia soon afterwards, traveling to Kandahar, where the local office manager met him, and he was provided with a room in a house. Two days after his arrival, he said, he and two other Saudi nationals “started delivering food to surrounding villages,” but, around December 1, 2001, when he was returning to the office, after calling his family from a phone booth, “a car struck him as he was crossing a street,” and he “was rendered unconscious and taken to a nearby hospital,” the Mirwais Hospital (aka the Chinese Hospital), where he was taken in “with a broken leg and facial injuries.”
He stated that, “when he awoke, he learned that the hospital had been taken over by members of Al-Qaida,” and that there were “eight armed individuals, using the hospital as a safe haven and barricading themselves on the second floor.” He added that some of them “strapped explosives to their bodies, threatening to blow themselves up if attacked,” although they were killed after a siege, and it was noted that al-Joudi’s file listed his date of capture as December 15, 2001, “when coalition forces removed [him] from the hospital.” He was sent to Guantánamo on January 21, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The Al-Wafa office in Kandahar.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force stated bluntly that his account was “assessed to be false,” because he had “provided fictitious names for Al-Wafa employees, and detained Al-Wafa employees [did] not recognize [him],” and also because his “claimed arrival date at the Kandahar Al- Wafa office [was] at least a month later than the period Al-Wafa reportedly closed the office.” It was therefore claimed that his “associations with Al-Wafa [were] assessed to be a cover story to mask his true activities and associations including his membership in Al-Qaida.”
It was claimed that, due to his “evasiveness, non-cooperation, false cover story … pocket litter, and circumstances of capture,” he was “assessed to be a member of Al-Qaida defending Kandahar who was injured during coalition attacks and hospitalized where he was subsequently captured.” His pocket litter, which he denied belonged to him, apparently included “a handwritten page on which he vowed to remain a jihadist as long as he was alive,” and “two after-action reports detailing the results of surveillance exercises,” which were assessed as having been conducted at the Kandahar Airport Training Camp, and there were also claims that his name was found on incriminating documents recovered from computers seized in house raids involving Al-Qaida members, although there was no direct testimony from any other prisoner to incriminate him.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed to be a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and often hostile to the guard force and staff,” although there was no mention whatsoever of him being a long-term hunger striker. As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a previous recommendation for his continued detention (dated November 1, 2005), repeated that recommendation, but added, crucially, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Joudi] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).”
After his release, and after he had been put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program, the Pentagon claimed that al-Joudi became involved in unspecified terrorist activities. In May 2009, the Pentagon produced a fact sheet, “Former Guantánamo Detainee Terrorism Trends” (PDF), in which it was claimed that he had been involved in “Terrorist facilitation,” and, moreover, that his involvement was “confirmed” rather than “suspected.” However, no further information has been provided to justify this claim.
Zayd Al Husayn Al Ghamdi (ISN 50, Saudi Arabia) Released November 2007
Zayd al-Husayn al-Ghamdi, as I explained at the time of his release (and also in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One)“), who was 27 years old at the time of his capture, was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, although his family did not even know he was in Guantánamo until 2006, because the US authorities had described him as a Jordanian. In Guantánamo, it was noted that he traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, and he was declared an “enemy combatant” after his tribunal in October 2004 on the basis of three particularly thin allegations: that he was a member of the Saudi charity Al-Wafa, that he “carried a weapon in Afghanistan,” and that he was “present and wounded during military operations at Khost” in December 2001.
These allegations were augmented in the years that followed, but nothing about these additional claims suggests that they were reliable. The authorities alleged that he “was identified” as the “occasional leader” of a group of fighters in the northern city of Taloqan, but ignored another narrative that could be pieced together from other statements: that al-Ghamdi reported that he left home “to provide help for the refugees in Afghanistan,” that he worked for Al-Wafa as a laborer in Kabul, and that he traveled to Taloqan because, after approaching Taliban representatives in Kabul to find out “places needing assistance with orphans,” he had been told that Taloqan was a suitable area.
The additional information compiled by the authorities also provided an explanation of the circumstances of his capture, which contradicted the claim that he was “wounded during military operations.” After fleeing to Khost, al-Ghamdi said that he “stopped in the first Taliban center he came to,” which was subsequently bombed. Injured and “rendered unconscious,” he awoke in a hospital in Miram Shah, in Pakistan, where he was arrested and transferred to US custody.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Ghamdi was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated December 5, 2005, in which he was also identified as Zayed M. al-Hussain, Zaid Muhammad Sa’ad al-Husayn, Zayed Mohammed Saad al-Hussain, and Zayid al-Ghamzi, and it was noted that he was born in 1974, and was “in good health,” although he had “a history of right tibia fracture with surgical intervention prior to detention.” It was also noted that he “went on hunger strike in August 2005,” and had been “evaluated by behavioral health for cluster personality traits.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force failed to resolve the confusion about his nationality, noting that, although he “stated he was born in Amman, JO, because his Saudi parents were visiting Jordan at the time his mother went into labor,” and that the family “returned to Saudi Arabia within a month of [his] birth,” an analyst noted that a “visiting Saudi delegation did not identify him as a citizen during a July 2002 visit” (although the Jordanian authorities, who met with him, “did not identify him as a citizen” either).
According to al-Ghamdi’s account, he left university in Jeddah after one semester in order to work as an auto mechanic, and “was inspired to go to Afghanistan (AF) to help destitute immigrants” after reading a flyer issued by the Al-Haramain Intemational Foundation.” After obtaining a visa for Pakistan, he flew to Karachi, and then traveled to Kabul via Quetta, where, he said, “he spent three weeks at a religious institution, the Center for the Preservation of Islamic Virtue in Kabul.” There, Taliban representatives told him “where in Afghanistan he could assist orphans.”
He then “traveled to the first of these places,” the Bamiyan region, “where he remained for three months at Taliban centers,” and “reportedly spent two to three months teaching Shia orphans the Koran and attempting to convert them to Sunni Islam.” In addition, “he claimed to have bought the children food and clothing and helped the community at large by digging wells and helping to repair walls.” From Bamiyan, he said, he traveled to the Pul-e-Khumri region in northern Afghanistan, around the capital of Baghlan province, “where he reportedly spent one month. ”
He also said that he was then “escorted by the Taliban to Kunduz and then traveled by taxi to Taloqan, where he “reportedly spent two months teaching the Koran to children and distributing bread and rice to the poor.” He “claimed he resisted Taliban pressure to fight against the Northern Alliance, as he felt it was contrary to his missionary work to pick sides and fight fellow Muslims.” He also “admitted carrying a sidearm for protection while in Afghanistan, but denie[d] firing it or ever receiving military training.”
Describing the circumstances of his capture, he said that, after the US-led invasion began, “he decided to return to Saudi Arabia,” and “first went to Kabul before proceeding to Khost.” However, on or about December 5, 2001, while leaving Khost, he “was reportedly wounded during an air raid, rendered unconscious, and placed in a taxi,” and, when “he regained consciousness, he was in Miram Shah.” After explaining that “he did not know when or how he crossed the Afghanistan/Pakistan border,” he said that he was then transferred to US custody and held in the US prison at Kandahar airport. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The Wafa Humanitarian Organization [and] Taliban student centers in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he was “assessed to be deceptive,” and had given “very generic and innocuous descriptions of his activities while in Afghanistan, consistent with a cover story to hide possible participation in Al-Qaida terrorist training and combat against coalition forces,” and had “provided conflicting accounts of several details of his background.” It was noted, for example, that only on one occasion, during an interview in February 2002, had he “claimed to have worked as a laborer for the Al-Wafa organization, but ha[d] not mentioned his personal involvement in the organization during further questioning.” It was also claimed that his “frequently observed physical and martial arts training [was] inconsistent with his purported story as a simple missionary,” although it is difficult to see how that conclusion could be defended.
However, although it was assessed that al-Ghamdi was “a possible Al-Qaida member who fought alongside Al-Qaida and Taliban mujahideen against US/Coalition forces under the auspices of [Osama bin Laden]’s former 55th Arab Brigade,” there was no actual evidence. The only witness was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), widely known as the most prolific and unreliable witness in Guantánamo, who lied about dozens of his fellow prisoners.
Basardah — and Basardah alone — “reported that detainee was a fighter and occasional leader of approximately 30 men in the Taloqan region,” and also “claimed he saw detainee at Taloqan with a Libyan named Omar, a military leader at Taloqan and at Tora Bora,” who “had been in Taloqan for approximately five years fighting against the Northern Alliance.” Basardah also “reported” that al-Ghamdi was “a fellow Yemeni” (even though he was not), who “fought with him in the Taloqan region of northern Afghanistan prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks,” and who, following the attacks, “went to Kabul and stayed in the same guesthouse” as him, and then “reportedly traveled to Kandahar, the last time [Basardah] saw [him] until they were reunited at JTF-GTMO.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed al-Ghamdi as being “of low intelligence value,” and, despite only having Basardah’s unreliable testimony to go on, as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updated a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in another country (dated April 22, 2005), and recommended him for transfer out of DoD control” instead, although he was not released for almost two years, and was then put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Majid Al Barayan (ISN 51, Saudi Arabia) Released September 2007
Majid al-Barayan, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture, was captured on the Pakistani border, as I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – ‘Osama’s Bodyguards.'” In Guantánamo, he was subjected to a number of dubious allegations produced by his fellow prisoners — or even by “high-value” detainees, held in secret prisons run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread. For example, he was apparently identified, by unnamed sources and “an al-Qaeda member,” as “being on the front lines near Taloqan,” in northern Afghanistan, in April 2001, when he apparently “was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery weapon,” and he was also accused of attending Al-Farouq, of being in Tora Bora, and, most bluntly, of being “a member of Al-Qaida.” Another prisoner — who I thought may have been Yasim Basardah, the most notorious liar in Guantánamo — said that he “saw the detainee at Osama bin Laden’s private airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan in early 2001,” which also appeared to be an unreliable claim.
For his part, al-Barayan had attempted to portray himself as a missionary, although his interrogators were unconvinced, noting that, although he claimed that he taught children in an orphanage, he did not know the name of the orphanage or any of the children’s names, and could not remember how many children were at the establishment. In addition, a hint that he may indeed have been at Tora Bora came in the following passage: “When the detainee was asked if things were confusing during the fighting, with people running up the hills and back down again, and many people dying, he replied, yes. When the detainee was asked if he fired at the Americans, he replied, no, not at the Americans. We could not see them.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Barayan was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated September 28, 2006, in which he was also identified as Majid Abdallah Said Barayan, and it was noted that he was born in September 1972, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that al-Barayan’s family was originally from the Hadramout region of Yemen, but evidently moved to Saudi Arabia (although this was not mentioned). According to his own account, it was noted that, between 1992 and 1994, he “worked as an accountant for the al-Aziziya Water Company in Saudi Arabia,” and, in 1995, traveled to the UK to attend a college in Salisbury, when he also visited the Finsbury Park Mosque in London. Four months later, he returned to Saudi Arabia, and, in 1998, he traveled to Seattle for 30 days, and “enrolled in an English language course.” On his return to Saudi Arabia, he “enrolled in Career Craft, a three-month employment placement program,” and then “found a job as an accounting clerk and was later promoted to warehouse supervisor.”
It was also noted that, in January 2001, he took a vacation in Malaysia, and also stopped in Pakistan, where he visited Karachi and Lahore, and, after returning home, during July 2001, “began contemplating dawa,” and “decided to travel to Afghanistan because he had heard it was in dire need of assistance.” In Quetta, he said, he went to a guesthouse, where he “told the guesthouse operator that he wanted to go to Afghanistan,” and “left the following morning for Kandahar, AF in a taxi,” adding that, “[s]ince he did not have to pay for the ride, he assumed that it had been paid for by the guesthouse operator.”
In Kandahar, he said, he was taken to a Taliban guesthouse, where he “was asked why he was in Afghanistan, and he replied that he was there for dawa.” He stated that “the guesthouse operator asked [him] if he would train to be a fighter, but [he] declined.” Approximately seven to ten days later, he said, “he was driven to a guesthouse in Kabul, where he was encouraged to join the struggle against the Northern Alliance, but again he declined,” and he was “then transported to a small town between Kabul and Ghazni, AF where he spent approximately six weeks teaching children at an orphanage how to properly clean themselves before prayer.”
He also stated that, approximately two to three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, he “fled the Kabul area to seek refuge in Khost,” where he “was provided refuge by an Afghan named Noor Muhammad,” who, approximately one month later, told him that “there was a group of Arabs getting ready to flee to Pakistan.” Muhammad “subsequently drove [him] to a safehouse where he joined approximately 30-40 Arab males who were traveling to the Pakistani border.” There they were seized by border guards, and “transported to Peshawar, PK where they were held for approximately two weeks.” He was transferred to the Kandahar Detention Facility on December 27, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 9, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Finsbury Park Mosque in London.”
In assessing his story, his brief stay in the UK six years before his capture was certainly regarded as significant by the Task Force. The Finsbury Park Mosque, for example, with input from British intelligence, was described, rather hysterically, as “a key transit facility in London for the movement of North African and other extremists to and from Al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan,” and it was also noted that al-Ghamdi attended the mosque with Muhammad al-Shabibi, a friend from Saudi Arabia, and another man named Sadeh, one of al-Shabibi’s friends, who he stayed with while on London, and who, without evidence, was described as “possibly” being Mossem Sadeh, allegedly “an Armenian facilitator connected to [Osama bin Laden] and associated with such poisons as Anthrax and Botulinum Toxin,” even though there was nothing to suggest that this was the case.
The Task Force also stated that he had “not been forthright about the time he spent in the United States and other countries,” which I regard as a hugely predictable analysis, with no evidential basis, and also noted that he was “assessed as acquiring fake Malaysian passport stamps to cover his true activity, which was to receive militant training at Al-Farouq Training Camp,” even though he “continue[d] to adhere to his cover story of teaching the Koran at an orphanage in Afghanistan.”
In attempting to justify its claim that he was “assessed to have participated in armed hostilities against US and coalition forces in Taloqan, Tora Bora and near Kabul under [Osama bin Laden]’s former 55th Arab Brigade,” the Task Force drew on a handful of witnesses, although none of them were necessarily reliable. One, Hamud Dakhil Hamud (ISN 230, released in July 2007, and also identified as Humud al-Jadani), stated that al-Ghamdi “lived in Saudi Arabia, went to Afghanistan and fought in Tora Bora with Al-Qaida.” He also “claimed that he first saw [him] in Tora Bora and then later at a guesthouse in Kandahar in 2001,” and that al-Ghamdi “told him that his participation in hostilities at Tora Bora was his first jihad and that he had studied in America and Europe.”
I have no idea if these statements were accurate, but four other witnesses were certainly unreliable. One was Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held, and identified as Maad al-Qahtani), who was the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, making all his claims unreliable. He apparently “photo identified detainee as a mujahid from Saudi Arabia who was at Tora Bora.”
The second notoriously unreliable witness, as I guessed, was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), who, just to reiterate, is known as the most prolific and unreliable witness at Guantánamo. Basardah identified al-Ghamdi as “an Al-Qaida trained Arab fighter who holds both Saudi and Yemeni citizenship, but is a native Yemeni,” and said that he saw him in Tora Bora. He also “claimed that he knew [him] quite well, having lived with him for over a month in Taloqan and having fought together against the Northern Alliance at the front,” and “added that detainee was in charge of an anti-aircraft missile launcher on top of a Toyota truck.” He also said that he “saw detainee at a safehouse in Kabul,” and “remarked that [he] received training at al-Farouq.”
The last two unreliable witnesses, also well known in Guantánamo as liars, were: Abdul [Hakim] Bukhary (ISN 493, released September 2007), a Saudi who “identified detainee as an individual who was very close to [Osama bin Laden], visited the US, and issued fatwas at JTF-GTMO,” and Ali A. Motaieb (ISN 111, released in January 2009, and also identified as Ali al-Tayeea), an Iraqi who “remarked that the detainee had tried to organize a fatwa in JTF-GTMO.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been compliant but sometimes hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation for his continued detention (dated September 19, 2005) repeated that recommendation. Given this, it is not known why, 13 months later, he was released, although on his release, he was, of course, put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Isa Al Murbati (ISN 52, Bahrain) Released August 2007
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Isa al-Murbati, who was 36 years old at the time of his capture, was a grocer, married with five children, who had previously served in the army. Accused of traveling to Afghanistan in November 2001 with the intention of fighting, and of training to use an AK-47 in Kabul, he said in Guantánamo that he had never been in Afghanistan and had traveled to Pakistan for medical treatment. He pointed out that he was issued with a medical visa — dated 28 October 2001 and valid for one month, it was included in his passport, which was held by the US authorities — and was arrested by the police on arrival in Pakistan.
In Chapter 8, drawing on “Guantánamo Bay Detainee Statements,” compiled in May 2005 by his attorneys Mark Sullivan and Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of Dorsey & Whitney (PDF), I explained how al-Murbati said that, in the US prison at Kandahar, where he was transferred after his capture, he was “shackled to a pole outside in very cold weather,” and, “every hour, US military personnel threw cold water on [him] while he was shackled to the pole.” He said that this took place every night for a week, and added that on one occasion he was taken to an area away from the other prisoners, because Red Cross representatives were visiting the camp, and the authorities did not want them to see him.
Speaking of the abusive conditions at Guantánamo, particularly under Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Isa al-Murbati said that, on one occasion, after an interrogation, the guards dragged him back to his cell by his shackles, causing his ankles to bleed, and then forced his head into the toilet and flushed it, and described another occasion when the lights in his block were suddenly turned off at night, and a group of guards, accompanied by a dog, entered his cell and sprayed mace in his eyes.
When al-Murbati’s lawyers first met him in October 2004, he was wearing a cast on his arm as the result of a series of incidents of escalating brutality that had been provoked when he asked one of his guards — a young, white sergeant with “a reputation for being difficult” — for a spoon. A few days later, when he was returned to his cell after an interrogation session and, as usual, put his shackled hands through the slot in the door so that the shackles could be removed, the sergeant grabbed the belt attached to the shackles and “pulled it violently, even putting his foot against the cell door to create greater leverage,” which caused him “significant injury.”
Al-Murbati also said that he was subjected to a package of abusive measures that was implemented in a widespread manner, and that involved, in his case, the air conditioning being turned off so that his cell became almost unbearably hot, In addition, on several occasions, according to his account, the floor was “treated with a mixture of water and a powerful cleaning agent,” which was then thrown on his face and body, “causing great irritation’ and making it difficult to breathe.” He was also subjected to loud music and noise, and explained that he was played songs “that had Arabic language lyrics praising Jesus Christ,” and on other occasions “very loud music and white noise was played through six speakers arranged close to [his] head” for twelve hours, and “multiple flashing strobe lights were used as well,” which were so strong that he “had to keep his eyes closed.” He also reported that he was subjected to sleep deprivation, as part of the program known euphemistically as the “frequent flier program,” whereby he was “moved from cell to cell in the Tango and Oscar [isolation] blocks, typically on an hourly basis,” and, as a result, was “never able to sleep for more than short periods.” He did not specify how long he had been subjected to this, but it is known from other accounts that prisoners were moved in this manner — every few hours — for day, weeks and even months, and that this is clearly torture.
Just before his release, he told Joshua Colangelo-Bryan that he was “held in almost total isolation,” and was “regularly prevented from sleeping and from communicating with his fellow detainees,” as I explained in an article based on a report by Geoffrey Bew in Gulf Daily News. Al-Murbati had been held for over six months in Camp 6, the newest of the prison blocks at Guantánamo, where prisoners, including dozens cleared for release, were kept in isolation for at least 22 hours a day. Colangelo-Bryan reported that the guards in Camp 6 “run large fans,” which “sound like jet engines and prevent captives from communicating and deprive them of sleep,” and explained, “In his cell, Isa cannot see other detainees and he can barely communicate with them. He told me that it is possible to speak with his brothers through an air conditioning vent in his cell. However, to reach the vent, Isa has to stand on his cement bunk. Most often if he tries to talk to others this way, guards tell him to get off his bunk. They also threaten to take away the few items that Isa has in his cell if he does not follow their directions,” which, as Bew described it, “forces him to crouch to talk under the door, for which he is also berated if caught.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Murbati was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated July 15, 2006, in which he was identified as Issa Ali Abdullah al-Murbati, and it was noted that he was born in 1965, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, from 1984 to 1998, he “was a member of the Bahraini Air Force (BAF) as an F-5 mechanic,” and, in approximately 1993, “traveled to Lowery AFB in Denver, Colorado and attended electronics training.” It was also noted that, while he was a member of the BAF, he “attempted to open a bar in a hotel” with a friend, but the business failed and “resulted in [his] release from the Air Force for unspecified reasons.” He was apparently reinstated in 1997 but “released permanently in 1998 after being deemed unproductive.”
He then “opened a vegetable stand with his brother,” but, in approximately 2000, he quit “because of the long hours and obtained a job as a plumber,” which he stayed in for approximately eight months before injuring himself. At this point, as “a result of his failed business ventures, [he] had accrued a debt of 15,000 Bahraini Dinars (approximately $39,855 USD) for which he had been jailed five times for non-payment.”
At this obvious low point in his fortunes, Shaykh Mustafa, a missionary with the vast missionary organization Jamaat al-Tablighi, who was speaking at a mosque in Manama, told him “Allah would take care of his debts if he traveled to Afghanistan (AF) to fight jihad.” Mustafa asked him “if he would hand-carry an envelope of donations to Shaykh Mansur at the al-Makki Mosque in Karachi, Pakistan (PK),” and showed him an envelope “which contained $3000 USD in $100 USD denominations, and sealed it in front of him.” Al-Murbati then “obtained a one month visa for Pakistan,” and, on approximately November 2, 2001, flew to Karachi.
In Karachi, he delivered the envelope to Shaykh Mansur, spent twelve days at the mosque and then traveled to Afghanistan, where, with the assistance a man from the Karachi mosque, he and three others were taken to Kandahar. There, four unidentified Arabs apparently informed them that “there was not training available at that location.” The group then traveled to Kabul, and “resided in an unidentified house with twenty other individuals for four days,” until al-Murbati “heard that the Taliban was pulling out of the north, and decided to return to Kandahar,” where he apparently checked into the Chinese Hospital (aka the Mirwais Hospital), despite having no injuries.
There he apparently decided to return to Pakistan, and “departed the hospital with an unidentified group of individuals and headed towards Khost,” but after pulling over to the side of the road, with others, in order to break the Ramadan fast, he “was washing his hands after eating, [when] one of the jihadists from the group of fasters accidentally discharged a hand grenade,” and he “was injured by shrapnel in his neck, left wrist and portions of his right back,” and “was taken to a nearby clinic where the metal was removed.” Afterwards, “he was given an injection of painkiller, and placed on a bus headed towards Pakistan.” This bus “stopped at another clinic in the tribal lands to have the wounded passengers’ bandages removed,” and, the next morning, set off for Peshawar.
However, “approximately a half-hour from Peshawar, the bus was stopped at a Pakistani checkpoint, all occupants (except a single Pakistani) were arrested and detainee’s money (approximately $1000 USD) was taken.” He added that the Pakistani authorities “placed him in a hospital for two weeks and then transferred him to a Pakistani prison for two or three additional weeks.” The Task Force added that “Pakistani reporting” identified his date of capture as December 12, 2001, and he was transferred to US custody on December 27, 2001. The Task Force also noted that it was “probable, based on similarities in their accounts,” that al-Murbati, Asim al-Aasmi (ISN 49, released in February 2010), and Zayed al-Hussain (ISN 50, see above), who were all traveling from Khost, and were all injured, were captured together outside Peshawar.
Al-Murbati was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Possible Al-Qaida or Taliban recruiter, travel facilitator, and JT member, Shaykh Mustafa, Safehouse on Ansari Street in Kabul [and] Upper level Al-Qaida and Taliban personnel.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that his brother, Abd al-Rahim al-Murbati, was “a known financier who helped move funds for an Al-Qaida financial facilitator,” and was imprisoned by the Saudi authorities in June 2003. This led to Isa al-Murbati being “assessed to be a probable courier for the Al-Qaida network, using the JT as a cover,” although there was an absence of evidence. The Task Force suspected that his visit to Afghanistan in 2001 was not his first visit, but was unable to prove its suspicions, and, instead, relied on its innuendo regarding his brother, and claims from two dubious witnesses.
The first was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), a Yemeni known as the most prolific and unreliable witness in Guantánamo, who “photo-identified detainee stating he recognized [him] from the US prison in Afghanistan” — which, of course, has no significance as identification. Basardah “said he had very little information on detainee, other than the fact that he was a merchant working in the milk trade,” and “stated detainee would ship milk from Afghanistan to Bahrain.” Instead of recognizing that Basardah knew nothing about al-Murbati, an analyst noted that he had “never mentioned being involved in the milk trade,” and it was “interesting” that Basarfdah “would identify him as such.” Ridiculously, the analyst added, “The word ‘milk’ is often used by extremists as a cover word for the PK machine gun. It is possible that detainee was couriering money under the guise of dawa (charitable) donations to acquire weaponry.” It is not known if this is the same analyst who, noting that, in a September 2003 letter to his niece, al-Murbati “cryptically, and out of context, inquire[d], “What is the news surrounding ‘Oranges’?” stated that the word “oranges” was “used by extremists as a cover word for hand grenades.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” Elsewhere, it was noted that he was “considered a high risk as he will probably engage in nefarious activity if released.” He was also “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated May 6, 2005), recommended him for continued dentition. It is not known what changed in the next 13 months to lead to his release.
As I explained in an article after his release, drawing on a report in Gulf Daily News, Geoffrey Bew explained that, on arrival, al-Murbati “was whisked straight to the Public Prosecution in Manama for a roughly three-hour debriefing, where he was greeted by family members, including his eldest and youngest sons, MPs, supporters and friends.” His youngest son, seven-year old Ebrahim, who was just a baby when he last saw his father, held a bouquet of flowers for him, and said, “It is the first time I will to speak to my father. I am very happy.” Al-Murbati’s eldest son, 17-year old Ali, was “trembling with emotion as he declared the family’s delight,” and said, “I am so happy. I feel so good. I cannot believe it. We heard he was coming home, but could not believe it.” After the debriefing, al-Murbati returned to his home, where he was reunited with his wife and his two daughters.
Bew also reported that MP Mohammed Khalid, who helped campaign for the release of all the Bahraini prisoners, said that it was “a great day,” but added that “the next push would be for compensation.” “I am very happy with today’s event,” he said. “This is the last page in the Guantánamo Bay chapter. Now we want compensation for all the Bahrainis who have come home.”
Saud Dakhil Al Mahayawi (ISN 53, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2007
The story of Saud al-Mahayawi, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, was completely unknown until two months after his release, when the allegations against him were released as part of a package of documents made publicly available by the Pentagon. As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – ‘Osama’s Bodyguards,'” according to the US authorities, he had not even traveled to Afghanistan until “the latter part of 2001,” when his “religious pilgrimage” began, following a meeting at a prayer session with an Afghan, who “explained that the people of his country needed to be instructed concerning the Koran.”
Revealing their cultural ignorance, those who compiled the Summary of Evidence against al-Mahayawi noted that he “later contacted the Afghan and expressed interest in going to Afghanistan to teach the Koran, despite [his] inability to speak the language,” an observation which indicates that the authors had clearly failed to comprehend that, as the literal word of God transmitted to the Prophet Mohammed in Arabic, the Koran is always learned and recited in Arabic, even if those learning it speak other languages.
Al-Mahayawi said that he sold his business and his car to raise the money to travel to Peshawar in Pakistan, where he was met by the Afghan, who took him to Khost to teach the Koran. He explained that he believed that, after about a month, his Afghan friend stole about 5,000 Saudi Riyals from him (about $1,300), which made him “very depressed and angry,” so that he “thought about going home.” When the US-led invasion began, he stated that he “feared for his life,” and asked the owner of the house he was staying in to arrange for a guide to take him to the Pakistani border, where, he said, he “surrendered himself to the Pakistani border patrol,” who “subsequently turned [him] over to the American authorities.”
In contrast to al-Mahayawi’s story, the US authorities alleged that he “was captured with an individual who stated he first met the detainee in Tora Bora,” and that he “was identified as an Al-Qaida fighter at a guard post in the valley” between Jalalabad and Tora Bora, where he “was armed with a Kalashnikov (AK-47) and fired his weapon after coming under fire from Afghans in the valley.” Another mysterious individual “stated that although the detainee claimed affiliation with Jamaat al-Tablighi [a vast apolitical proselytizing organization, with millions of members worldwide], he was actually a fighter at Tora Bora.”
In addition, it was claimed that “[s]everal of the individuals in the group with whom the detainee was captured are believed to have been bodyguards of Osama bin Laden,” indicating that he was part of a group identified as “the Dirty Thirty,” who were mostly accused of being bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, even though there has been no way of verifying if those claims are reliable, as they may have been produced by Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), who was the most notorious torture victim in Guantánamo, and whose statements are therefore unreliable, or by others seized at the time whose statements were produced in unknown circumstances that may have involved torture or other forms of coercion. There was also one more unspecified, and very vague allegation attributed to a “senior Al-Qaida operative,” who apparently “identified the detainee and believed he saw him in Afghanistan.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Mahayawi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated April 15, 2007, in which he was also identified as Saud Dakhilallah al-Jihni and Saud Dakheel al-Hareth, and it was noted that he was born in August 1976, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, according to his own account, which largely corresponded with the one he later told his tribunal, he “dropped out of high school in 1998 after one year and began selling dates at a local market in Jeddah until 2001,” and, while visiting Mecca in 2000, “met a Pakistani named Abdul Rahman,” who told him “about the incorrect method many Afghans were using to practice Islam and suggested [he] travel to Afghanistan to help teach them correctly.”
In early September 2001, he said, he flew to Karachi, where he contacted Abdul Rahman. He then traveled to Peshawar, where Abdul Rahman met him and took him to a village outside Khost (mistakenly identified, I believe, as Torkham, which is a border town some distance from Khost). He added that he “was carrying 8,000 to 10,000 Saudi riyals (SAR) at the time,” and said that, in Afghanistan, while staying with Abdul Rahman in a house owned by a man named Abdullah, he “would teach poor and disadvantaged Muslims to read the Koran in Arabic and how to properly perform Islamic rituals.” After approximately one month, he said, Abdul Rahman “stole approximately 5,000 SAR from [him] and disappeared.”
Al-Mahayawi said he “used his remaining money to purchase cold weather clothes for himself and the children,” but after three months, “the violence in Afghanistan increased and [he] decided to leave Afghanistan to avoid death or injury.” He said that he “traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistani border with 30 other Arabs and surrendered to the Pakistani border patrol on 15 December 2001.” Taken to a prison in Peshawar, he was transferred to US custody on December 27, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Recruitment of clergy from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he “was captured with the ‘Dirty 30,'” and explained that they had been “identified as being a mix of [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards, Al-Qaida members, and Taliban fighters who attempted to flee Afghanistan during the Al-Qaida withdrawal from Tora Bora.” It was also noted that al-Dahayawi “had no identification, documents, weapons, or equipment in his possession at the time of his capture.”
The Task Force also claimed that he was “a member of Al-Qaida who was active in Kandahar and engaged US and Coalition forces in combat action at Tora Bora,” although the two sources for this claim were both notoriously unreliable. One was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), well known as the most prolific and unreliable witness at Guantánamo, who identified al-Mahayawi as Saud al-Juhuni, or Shakir, and said he was “an Al-Qaida trained fighter at a guard post in the valley between Tora Bora and Jalalabad, AF during the Al-Qaida defense of Tora Bora against US and Coalition forces in early to mid-December 2001.” He also said that he “was armed with an AK-47 and fired his weapon when [he] came under fire from Afghans in the valley.” In another interrogation, Basardah said that he “claimed an affiliation with Jamaat al-Tablighi (JT), was a fighter at Tora Bora, and had unidentified problems with the Saudi authorities.”
The other unreliable witness was Mohammed al-Qahtani, who said he “met detainee in Kandahar and Tora Bora,” and “knew him as Shakir, a mujahid from Jeddah.” The references to the name Shakir look convincing, but they may have been prompted, and, in addition, an analyst noted that al-Mahayawi denied staying in Kandahar.
In further attempts to justify regarding al-Mahayawi as a threat, the Task Force referred to his “name and aliases” being found on a list in the pocket litter of an alleged Saudi fighter, which indicated to an analyst that he “probably stayed at an Al-Qaida-affiliated guesthouse and possibly attended an Al-Qaida training camp,” and “variations of [his] name and aliases” being “found on numerous associated Al-Qaida documents and computer files that were discovered during raids of safehouses in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2001 and 2003,” although these references are not necessarily reliable as there are significant doubts about the names and especially the alleged aliases involved.
As if to confirm this, the Task Force also claimed that al-Mahayawi “possibly arranged travel for mujahideen seeking personal visits to [Osama bin Laden],” which is, of course, in a different league from claims that he was a foot soldier who pretended to be a teacher. This convoluted claim came about because Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program in secret CIA prisons was specifically invented, “stated that he saw detainee in Afghanistan.” This means that Zubaydah was the “senior Al-Qaida operative,” mentioned above, who apparently “identified the detainee and believed he saw him in Afghanistan,” and what was also noteworthy was the fact that the US authorities had picked up on another claim made by Zubaydah in unknown circumstances — that “an individual by the name of Abu al-Hareth” was “the facilitator for mujahideen traveling to visit [Osama bin Laden],” and decided that this was “a variant” of al-Mahayawi’s alias.
Despite the raft of dubious allegations above, it was clear that none of the witnesses had identified him as a bodyguard for bin Laden, as it was noted only that he “was captured as part of a group of 30 Al-Qaida fighters, including 18 who have been identified as UBL [bin Laden] bodyguards.” As was specifically noted, “Contrary to a previous assessment, JTF-GTMO assesses that detainee was almost certainly not a UBL bodyguard. Despite detainee’s presence among a group of confirmed UBL bodyguards during the retreat from Tora Bora, statements by multiple Al-Qaida members, including senior Al-Qaida leaders and UBL bodyguards currently in custody at JTF-GTMO, indicate that detainee was not part of UBL’s security detail, but only joined the group of bodyguards during the withdrawal.”
Elsewhere, however, there were allegations from the Saudi authorities that also troubled the Task Force. It was noted that, “Prior to the Saudi delegation visit in 2002, Mabahith [Saudi intelligence] provided information on 37 detainees whom they designated as high priority targets,” and it was stated that he “was number 21 on that list, having been watchlisted by the Saudi government for his travels to Chechnya and jihadist activities in Ethiopia.” By way of further explanation, it was noted that, according to Mabahith, he “was listed on two Saudi government watch lists. The first was a list of individuals forbidden to travel for five years, per decree dated 23 February 1998. The second was a Watch and Arrest listing for detainee’s trip to Chechnya (NFI), per ministerial decree dated 21 February 2002.” It was also noted, “Mabahith arrested detainee in Mecca for attempting to create a new jihad organization (NFI) in A’Wkadin, Ethiopia.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed to be a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour has been semi-compliant and occasionally hostile toward the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation for “Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD) with Transfer Language,” dated February 27, 2006, recommended him for continued detention, although he was released just three months later, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Sultan Al Uwaydha (ISN 59, Saudi Arabia) Released November 2007
In Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Sultan al-Uwaydha, who was 26 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of having been in Tora Bora, of visiting one of bin Laden’s houses, and of having experience of assembling and sighting anti-aircraft weapons. I then looked at his story in more detail at the time of his release (and also in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – “Osama’s Bodyguards‘”), when, as I noted, his explanation for being in Afghanistan — that he traveled to “teach the Koran to poor and disadvantaged Muslims,” and that he duly taught the Koran to children in various locations, before hooking up with his uncle in Khost and escaping to Pakistan, where he was arrested — was severely at odds with the authorities’ version.
The authorities claimed that he was “arrested after crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan with 30 other persons suspected of being Osama bin Laden bodyguards,” and was, therefore, suspected of being one of the so-called “Dirty Thirty.” Other allegations, from an unidentified “source,” from “an Al-Qaida operative,” and from “a senior Al-Qaida operative,” purported to reinforce this notion that he was one of 30 bodyguards for bin Laden. One of these “sources,” for example, stated that “he knew the detainee and that he was probably an Osama bin Laden bodyguard because the detainee was always with Osama bin Laden,” although this sounded distinctly dubious, even before the release of the military files by WikiLeaks promised to shed light on the identities of those making the allegations.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Uwaydha was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated August 1, 2007, in which he was also identified as Sultan Ahmad al-Dardir Musa Uwaydha and Sultan Asman al-Uwaydah, and it was noted that he was born in 1974, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted, based on his own account, that, after graduating from high school, he “lived at home and worked for his older brother as a carpenter,” and also “participated in religious studies” at a mosque in Medina. He also said that, in 2000, after Muhammad Ghulam, a Pakistani visitor to his mosque, invited him to visit Pakistan, he “accepted the invitation and flew to Karachi, PK, where he stayed in a hotel for about a week before heading to Afghanistan (AF) to teach the Koran,” traveling with Ghulam via Quetta to Kandahar, where they stayed “as tourists before going to Ghazni.”
Al-Uwaydha said that he “taught the Koran to children at a mosque in Ghazni,” and, in approximately August 2001, left for Kabul, but, because he did not know any Arabs in Kabul, then “traveled to Khost to find his uncle, who was assessed to be Abd al-Rahman Shalabi Isa Uwaydha (ISN 42, still held, and also identified as Abdul Rahman Shalabi), but ended up traveling “to a nearby village where he taught at the local mosque for two to three months.” At the end of this period, when “the Northern Alliance had advanced south and entered Kabul,” he “returned to Khost, found his uncle, and they then decided to go to Pakistan.”
He added that he and his uncle “traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with 30 other Arabs and surrendered to the Pakistani border patrol on 15 December 2001,” after an eight-day journey. The Task Force claimed that he “was captured with a group known as the ‘Dirty 30,’ which reportedly “consisted of a mix of [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards, Al-Qaida members, and Taliban fighters who attempted to flee Afghanistan during the Al-Qaida withdrawal from Tora Bora.” It was also noted that al-Uwaydha “claimed he lost his passport, money, and other important documents during his travel from Afghanistan,” and that, after his capture, the Pakistani authorities held him in a prison in Peshawar, and transferred him to US custody on December 27, 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Hideouts of UBL [Osama bin Laden] in Afghanistan, Travel history of UBL [and] Recruitment of clergy from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he “fail[ed] to provide an accurate account of his reasons for traveling to, and activities while in Afghanistan,” and noted, as they did with all the prisoners captured at this time, that another prisoner had told them that “a Pakistani prison warden advised detainee’s group to say they were in Afghanistan to teach the Koran or for religious studies.” He was, instead, “assessed to be a member of al-Qaida” and a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, although the witnesses who purportedly confirmed this — and who were referred to anonymously above — were not necessarily reliable.
Two were “high-value detainees” held and tortured in secret CIA prisons. The first, Walid bin Attash,(ISN 10014, still held), described as a “[s]enior Al-Qaida operative,” apparently “photo-identified detainee as Hamza Sharif, one of UBL’s bodyguards, who arrived in Afghanistan at the end of 2000, trained at al-Farouq and then joined the security detail,” and the second, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (ISN 10012, convicted in federal court in New York in January 2011), also described as a “[s]enior Al-Qaida operative,” even though he was no more than a minor player, reportedly “photo-identified detainee as Hamza al-Sharif, who served as one of UBL’s bodyguards in late 2000 and early 2001.” Ghailani also “stated detainee was with UBL in Kandahar and Kabul and heard that detainee later fled with UBL to Tora Bora.”
Two other witnesses were also the victims of torture in the CIA’s network of secret prisons. The first, Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457, still held), described as a “[s]enior Al-Qaida facilitator,” said he “recognized detainee as a Saudi from Medina who traveled to Afghanistan in 1998 and was a UBL bodyguard from that time forward” (even though al-Uwaydha reportedly arrived in Afghanistan in 2000), and also “stated detainee’s alias was Hamza al-Sharif and that detainee was close to UBL,” and the second, Sanad Ali Yislam al-Kazmi (ISN 1453, still held), described as an “admitted Al-Qaida member,” reportedly “identified detainee as Hamza Sharif, a bodyguard from Saudi Arabia.”
In addition, Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), the most notorious victim of torture at Guantánamo, identified detainee as a probable UBL bodyguard because detainee was always with UBL,” and Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), well known as the most prolific and unreliable witness at Guantánamo, apparently “photo-identified detainee as a UBL bodyguard.” Basardah also said he “saw detainee four times in Afghanistan with UBL,” and “stated detainee traveled to Tora Bora to prepare the location three weeks before UBL’s arrival.” He also “emphasized detainee had close ties to al-Qaida.” In further interrogations, Basardah led the authorities to believe that al-Uwaydha “reportedly directed fire against US forces, was known for his skills with weaponry, and attended al-Farouq Training Camp.” Basardah told his interrogators that “he personally observed detainee arrange anti-aircraft fire against US forces in Tora Bora and that detainee was good at driving tanks,” and also claimed that he “was able to repair many different types of weapons.”
A further allegation from a torture victim came from Abu Faraj al-Libi (ISN 10017, still held), another “high-value detainee” held and tortured in secret CIA prisons, and described as a “[s]enior al-Qaida operative,” who said he “recognised detainee as Hamza, a driver for a guesthouse in Kandahar whom he had seen in 2000.”
It may be, of course, that all of the allegations above were true, but if that is the case then it is difficult to see why al-Uwaydha was released. He was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although he was only “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour” had only been sometimes “hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Buzby updated a previous recommendation for his continued detention (dated August 3, 2006) with a similar recommendation, although he was released just three months later, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
Muhammad Al Jihani (ISN 62, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2007
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (3) – “Osama’s Bodyguards,'” Muhammad al-Jihani, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, was a former taxi driver, who was so unforthcoming in his tribunal at Guantánamo that it was impossible to ascertain anything other than the fact that he claimed that he had been teaching the Koran in Afghanistan. When asked, “Did you have a place to do that? Did you already contact the mosque or something where you were going to teach?” he responded by saying, grumpily, “All these questions are in my files. Go back to the file and read the file.” The Summary of Evidence against him, released after he was freed, adds a little to the picture, but not very much.
Al-Jihani said that he had traveled to Afghanistan in June 2000, using his own money to pay for his travel, in order “to perform Islamic missionary work after hearing several fatwas issued by Imams in Jeddah,” and clearly refuted all claims that he had traveled for other reasons, including those made by an unidentified “source” who identified him “as one of 30 men who were Osama bin Laden bodyguards and drivers,” and another unidentified source who identified him as “one who visited Kabul, Afghanistan for approximately two weeks between fighting on the front lines.” In addition, a “senior al-Qaeda operative” allegedly claimed that al-Jihani “might have stayed at the Hamza al-Ghamdi guest house in Kabul,” and an “admitted jihadist” described him as a mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan, who “taught the Koran, fought at Tora Bora, Afghanistan and was one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards.” As with other prisoners, it was to be hoped that the military files released by WikiLeaks would shed light on the identities of those making these allegations.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Jihani was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated July 13, 2006, in which he was identified as Mohammed N. al-Juhani and Muhammad Naji Subhi al-Mahayawi al-Juhani, and it was noted that he was born in October 1967, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force, drawing on his own account, noted that he “worked as a self-employed taxi driver for approximately 15 years,” and that, as was discussed in the information presented to his tribunal, he said that he “traveled to Afghanistan (AF) to perform missionary work after hearing several fatwas (religious edicts) issued by imams (prayer leaders) in Jeddah.” He added that he left Saudi Arabia in June 2000 “without speaking to anyone about his trip,” and “did not receive any assistance from outside parties regarding his travel plans,” and explained that he traveled to Kabul via Karachi and Quetta, using “money that he had saved, between 7,000 and 10,000 Saudi Riyals (approximately $1,866 and $2,666USD), to fund his travel and personal expenses.”
Al-Jihani said that, in Kabul, he stayed with a man named Abdul Hadi, the imam of a mosque, and “turned over his passport and half of his money” to him. Then, for the next year and half, “he taught the Koran to young men between the ages of seven and seventeen,” and stated that he “never participated in any type of military training or combat.” At the end of November 2001, he said that “he left Kabul as it was no longer safe and traveled to Khost,” where he met up with with “a group of 30 men traveling to Pakistan.” On arrival in Pakistan, however, they were seized by Pakistani border guards, who, as the Task Force described it, “arrested detainee with a group of confirmed [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards, al-Qaida members and Taliban fighters,” otherwise known as the “Dirty 30.” He was then held in a prison in Peshawar, and transferred to US custody on December 27. 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, although the Task Force conceded that his file “does not indicate why he was sent to JTF-GTMO; however, his transfer was likely due to his perceived associations with the 30 UBL bodyguards, Al-Qaida members, and Taliban fighters with whom he was arrested.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that al-Jihani “was unable to provide any details of his associate[s] or locations” for the 17 months that he said he was teaching in Afghanistan,” and noted that “reporting from other sources possibly identified [him] as a UBL bodyguard and a fighter in Kabul since 1999, as well as in Tora Bora.” These sources, however, were not necessarily reliable.
Two were “high-value detainees” held and tortured in secret CIA prisons. The first, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (ISN 10012, convicted in federal court in New York in January 2011), described as an “Al-Qaida operative,” said that al-Jihani “fought on the front lines under Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi” (ISN 10026, still held), who was described as “one of UBL’s most senior commanders and the person in charge of non-Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters (Al-Qaida’s 55th Arab Brigade) in the Afghanistan northern front,” and added that he “visited Kabul for two weeks prior to returning to the fight.” The second, Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was specifically invented, reportedly “believed detainee to be a Yemeni national who possibly stayed at the Al-Qaida affiliated Hamza al-Ghamdi guesthouse in Kabul and was seen on the front line in Kabul.” This was particularly worthless testimony, of course, as al-Jihani was not a Yemeni, and the allegations regarding Kabul mean nothing, and what it summons up, therefore, is a desperate Abu Zubaydah being shown photos while held in some torture dungeon, and trying to come up with something that would please his captors.
Another witness was also a victim of torture in the CIA’s network of secret prisons. Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457, still held), described as an “Al-Qaida member and facilitator,” apparently “reported that detainee fought on the front lines north of Kabul in a place called Suraca El San’ani (NFI),” which was also a rather empty claim.
In addition, Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), the most notorious victim of torture at Guantánamo, apparently “stated detainee was a mujahid at Tora Bora,” and “added he and the detainee were on a ‘Jihad mission’ there.” In another interrogation, al-Qahtani “identified detainee as an associate in Kandahar.” Another witness was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), well known as the most prolific and unreliable witness at Guantánamo, who “claimed detainee fought in the Ktal region of the Tora Bora Mountains.”
Furthermore, when it came to the claim that al-Jihani was a bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, it was revealed, crucially, that Basardah was “the only one to specifically name [him] as a bodyguard.” In a fascinating section, in which it was claimed that it was “possible the bodyguards may have information on [bin Laden]’s intended movements which can provide clues to his current whereabouts” (and which is now no longer necessary, of course), the Task Force explained that “[s]ome of the significant reports which identify the bodyguards, but do not include detainee, are from debriefings of [Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj]; senior Al-Qaida facilitator Abu Zubayduh; senior Al-Qaida operational planner and former UBL bodyguard Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash (aka Khallad); and UBL’s driver [Salim Hamdan, ISN 149, released in December 2008]” — in other words, not Mohammed al-Qahtani, as was widely thought before the files were released (although al-Qahtani certainly was also responsible for “identifying” bodyguards).
In another significant passage, there was a reference to Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (ISN 212, but never held at Guantánamo), a particularly important “high-value detainee,” whose torture in Egypt in 2002 led to a false confession that Al-Qaida operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons, which was then used to justify the invasion of Iraq, even though al-Libi retracted it. Sent back to Libya after several years in secret CIA prisons, al-Libi died in Gaddafi’s Abu Salim prison in May 2009, reportedly by committing suicide, although observers believed that he had been killed. In al-Jihani’s case, it was noted that “Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s inability to identify detainee from al-Libi’s time at the Yaqub Mosque and the detainee’s inability to provide information about personalities and descriptive features of the Yaqub Mosque casts additional doubt on his cover story.”
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed al-Jihani as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because his “placement within Al-Qaida and his lack of cooperation indicate continued support to Islamic extremism and increases the potential of him rejoining these elements if released.” It was also noted that he was “a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been mostly compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated June 3, 2005), recommended him for continued detention, although it was noted, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Jihani] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO),” although that agreement was evidently not reached for another year, when he was finally released, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.
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, Esteban Chavez wrote:
the gravitas of history
Thanks, Esteban, and thanks to everyone picking up on this. I apologize for the three-week gap between this article and the last one, but I had to take a break, as it was wearing me out going through all the military files, and turning the assessments into readable narratives, with serious questions asked about the quality of the US authorities’ supposed “intelligence.” This is a 22,000-word article, so each installment is basically a small book, which I hope helps to explain why the project is such a colossal undertaking.
Ahmad Belal wrote:
Thanks, Ahmad. Now that I’ve taken a few weeks off to recover after working on this project for so many months on the first 30 parts, I’m reminded of how, in many ways, it’s the cumulation of all the work I’ve been doing on Guantanamo for the last six years, and I hope that there’ll be some way for it to be printed and permanently preserved.
Ahmad Belal wrote:
Yes, it’s a must to preserve it permanently though It will be another heavy project to cope with.
If you need my help , I am available all the time . By profession I am Studying Interaction Design specifically Human Computer Interaction , but still I can play my role.
Ahmad Belal wrote:
Thanks, Ahmad. I appreciate your support, and also the offer of help. I will bear that kind offer in mind.
Sabyasachi Chatterjee wrote:
Just read through the above article while searching the Gitmo file Andy. I found your Facebook account there!
Thanks, Sabyasachi. Very good to hear from you.
On Digg, cosmicsurfer wrote:
Sadly, there are people across the spectrum ignoring facts for the ease of propaganda.
Look at the issue Andy brings here. Guantanamo is the world’s biggest beacon of America. Not the flag or the Constitution or “freedom” or “justice – we prove we don’t give a rat’s ass about them.
Just so much lip service to con ourselves since we certainly are not conning anyone else
Guantanamo is a full scale, neon sign glaring through the dark saying America has lost any self awareness it may have had and cares nothing for the rights of all men, women and children even in their own country.
We are exactly that which is done in our name.
We are torturers and slavers, brutal, murderous, blood-lusting cretins.
THAT is what GITMO shows the world.
Those of use who scream about it every second of every day are shushed, attacked, berated and told to Shut the fuck up while those who refuse to hear tend to believe the lies coming from the politicos and pentagon tyrants who continue to use the abuse of others on which to build.
Talk about the “Tommy” syndrome – but we sure play a mean pinball
Thanks, cosmicsurfer. Very powerful commentary!
Thanks for another fine addition to your important body of work Andy.
I am going to take the liberty of repeating one of the bees in my bonnet. I strongly suspect that the real reason American security officials believed al Wafa and al Qaeda were associated is that they had been able to trace some of the donations that supported these two organizations, and had found some of the same oil-rich individual in the Gulf donated to both organizations.
It seems to me that American security officials’ tunnel vision prevented them from recognizing al Qaeda’s inherent weaknesses.
One inherent weakness is Osama bin Laden had to rely on fickle donors — donors who could follow fads; donors who weren’t as ideologically committed as he was. As you have noted Ibn al Sheikh al Libi and Abu Zubaydah managed the Khalden training camp — a camp independent from al Qaeda’s camps, and independent from al Qaeda. As you have noted Osama bin Laden convinced the Taliban to shut Khalden down. I strongly suspect one reason was that he was jealous of the donations Khaldan got from the same pool of donors who could have donated to him. And I strongly suspect OBL resented al Wafa because it was siphoning off funds that he would rather were donated to al Qaeda.
I suspect most of OBL’s donors also want to donate funds for genuine, legitimate charitable purposes: digging wells, fixing irrigation canals, setting up hospitals, schools, orphanages. Demonizing charities merely for receiving funds from someone who donated to al Qaeda strikes me as a mistake — one that makes us less safe as it causes us to squander counter-terrorism resources on non-threats.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Your fascinating comments are very much appreciated, as are your supportive words. You make some very good points about the funding for al-Wafa, al-Qaeda and Khalden. I wonder if more details will ever emerge of the supposed intelligence that justified the attacks on Muslim charities, forcing some multi-million dollar enterprises to close, and sending shudders through the entire umma, who feared being labeled as terrorists for providing charitable donations.
[…] Guantánamo prisoner, Sultan al-Uwaydha (ISN 059), who “was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in 2006 [actually 2007] and who does not appear to have reengaged in extremist […]
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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