The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Two of Ten)

6.12.11

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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 32 of the 70-part series. 399 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 their fellow prisoners, to come up with allegations that could be passed off as plausible, whether or not there was any substance to them at all.

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Two of Ten)

Yahya Al Sulami (ISN 66, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2007

As I explained in Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, Yahya al-Sulami (also identified as al-Silami), who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he had been teaching the Koran in Afghanistan. I also explained that he was one of many prisoners who came under particular suspicion because he did not have a passport at the time, as the US authorities had realized that those who attended training camps did not have passports because they were required to hand them in at guest houses before training. However, this inevitably meant that those who did not have passports for other reasons — either because they were lost, stolen or abandoned in the rush to leave a hostile environment, or because they were entrusted to others in an attempt to find a legitimate way to leave Afghanistan — were automatically regarded as liars, whether or not this was the case. As I also explained, al-Sulami said that he was given a contact in a village near Khost by a friend in Mecca, where he taught the Koran for four months, but was clearly regarded as lying when he said that he lost his passport in a river while following a group of Afghan refugees to the Pakistani border.

As I also explained at the time of his release, he was one of 30 prisoners accused of being bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, as one of a group of prisoners who became known as “the Dirty Thirty,” although the origin of the allegations was not made clear. In Guantánamo, al-Sulami denied a claim by the US authorities that all 30 were bodyguards, and “were told the best thing they could tell US forces when interrogated was they were in Afghanistan to teach the Koran,” and also refuted another allegation, which he said was made by a Yemeni prisoner whom he described as “mentally unstable and on medication” (presumably Yasim Basardah, known as the most notoriously unreliable informant in Guantánamo), in which he was “identified as the Emir of a group of 10-15 fighters guarding a river crossing leading to the Tora Bora camp.”

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Sulami was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated August 11, 2006, in which it was noted that he was born in February 1979, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that, after graduating from high school in 1999, he “attended the Religious Institute in Mecca,” and, after graduating from there, “decided to teach Islam to non-Arabs in accordance with various religious decrees that had been issued by religious scholars.” In “approximately August 2001,” he flew to Karachi, with the assistance of a man named Khalid al-Muslih, who, he said, he “had met while studying at the Holy Mosque in Mecca” (although an analyst described him as “possibly an al-Qaida facilitator”).

On arrival in Karachi, he said, he contacted the Dar al-Ifta (the House of Religious Affairs),” and “informed them of his plan to teach the Koran in Afghanistan.” He then “crossed into Afghanistan via the Miram Shah border crossing and proceeded to Khost,” where a man named Muhammad al-Afghani (also described by an analyst as “a possible al-Qaida facilitator”) took him to a mosque, where, he said, he stayed for four and a half months, teaching the Koran to children.

He “denie[d] receiving any type of military training” during this period, and said that, once the war in Afghanistan started, he “contacted al-Afghani and requested that he arrange for [his] return to Saudi Arabia.” Al-Afghani then “introduced [him] to two Afghan guides who led [him] and 30 other Arabs from Khost back [sic] to Pakistan.” He “stated that the group he was with traveled for six days in the mountains before they arrived in Pakistan,” and, after crossing the border near Parachinar, were seized by Pakistani border guards.

After being held in a Pakistani jail in Peshawar, he was transferred to US custody at  the Kandahar Detention Facility on December 27, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, allegedly for the following reasons: “To provide background information on members of the group with whom detainee was captured, To provide information on the tactics and logistics of the Al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan from 2000 until the fall of Tora Bora [and] The effect of the civil war on the Afghanistan educational infrastructure.”

However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):

[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As Chris Mackey, a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan, explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences (The Interrogators), every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “Al-Qaida and Taliban suspects” were widespread.

In assessing his story, the Task Force described his “claim of traveling to Afghanistan to teach the Koran” as “highly suspect,” although their rationale for doubting him was questionable. Firstly, it was noted that “[t]he only language [he] speaks is Arabic; however, he claims that without a translator, he taught to children who only spoke Pashtu.” This analysis rather shamefully ignores the fact that the Koran, regarded as the literal word of God, is taught and learned in Arabic regardless of whether those learning it are actually Arabic speakers.

Another reason for disputing al-Sulami’s story was that one of the men seized with him apparently “stated that a prison warden instructed the members of [his] group, when they were captured, to claim they were in Afghanistan to teach the Koran,” although this, to be honest, was the kind of reasoning used in the 17th century witch hunts, and it made it impossible for a genuine teacher of the Koran to establish that he was not a liar.

Most alarmingly, however, the main allegations against al-Sulami came, as I suspected, from Yasim Basardah, the most notoriously unreliable witness in Guantánamo — and also from another unreliable witness, a well-known victim of torture. Basardah “reported numerous times that detainee was the commander of approximately 15 fighters responsible for guarding a river crossing leading to a Tora Bora camp,” although no one else said he was, and he “also stated that detainee had become one of [Osama bin Laden]‘s bodyguards while [he] was at Tora Bora.”

This was a typical allegation, as the group of men of which al-Sulami was a part were described as the “Dirty Thirty,” and were all regarded initially as bin Laden bodyguards, although, on close inspection, these claims all seem to have been made either by Basardah or by other prisoners who were tortured, and whose statements are therefore unreliable. Alarmingly, in al-Sulami’s case, an analyst noted that Basardah had “stated that detainee was a bodyguard on only one occasion,” and added, crucially, “In every interview where [Basardah] was questioned on detainee, [he] has changed his story. Detainee’s identity as a bodyguard has not been substantiated through other known sources.”

Basardah also “speculated that detainee probably received special mission training,” and “stated that there was a special group at Al-Farouq that trained and then disappeared,” with “[a]dditional special training for the group” being “conducted at the Kandahar Airport.” He also “stated that detainee once possessed a computer disc showing this training,” and that he “knows important people in Yemen and Afghanistan,” but as the analyst’s comments reveal (above and beyond what is known of Basardah’s general unreliability), all of the above is worthless because he couldn’t even maintain a coherent story when it came to conjuring up information about al-Sulami.

The torture victim who also apparently identified al-Sulami was Abdu Ali al-Haji Sharqawi (ISN 1457, still held, and also identified as Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj), who was tortured in Jordan and in CIA facilities in Afghanistan. His worthless claim was that he “believed detainee went to Afghanistan after 11 September 2001″ (he didn’t), and he also said that he “believed detainee was part of Hamzah al-Qaiti’s  group in Kabul,” because he “saw him at al-Qaiti’s guesthouse.” Al-Sulami said that he hadn’t been in Kabul, but, instead of believing him, the authorities persuaded an Egyptian, Fadel Roda al-Waleeli (ISN 663, released in July 2003, and also identified as Reda Fadel El-Weleli), “met detainee once in Bagram,” prompting an analyst to claim, “This corroborates [Sharqawi]‘s placement of detainee in the Kabul area, which is located near Bagram.”

In conclusion, the Task Force claimed that al-Sulami “continue[d] to hide his true activities while in Afghanistan, such as in which cities and guesthouses he stayed,” adding, “Further exploitation is necessary to assess [his] true threat and intelligence potential.” As the Task Force explained, “Due to the lack of available information about detainee,” JTF-GTMO determined that he was “at least 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 behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and sometimes hostile to the guard force and staff.”

As a result, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updating a recommendation for his continued detention at Guantánamo (dated September 19, 2005), repeated that recommendation, although it was also noted, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Sulami] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).” This was particularly significant because, in a key passage in his file, it was stated, “After the 2002 Saudi delegation visit, [he] was identified by the Saudi Mabahith as one of the seventy-seven Saudi nationals of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US Government, but whom the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from JTF-GTMO.” Even so, it took another 11 months for an agreement to be reached that led to his repatriation, when he was put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

Abd Al Razaq Al Sharikh (ISN 67, Saudi Arabia) Released September 2007

As I explained in Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, Abd al-Razaq al-Sharikh (also identified as Abdulrazzaq al-Sharikh, and Abd al-Razaq al-Sharekh), who was only 16 years old when he arrived in Afghanistan in late 2000, was the younger brother of Abd al-Hadi al-Sharikh (ISN 231, released in September 2007), who was 19 at the time of his capture. In Guantánamo, al-Sharikh said that he wanted to fight in Chechnya, where another brother had been killed, but explained that, although he wanted to “go over there so I can die and meet up with him,” a friend advised him that he “wouldn’t last one day” in Chechnya, and suggested that he went to Afghanistan instead.

Al-Sharikh also admitted training at Al-Farouq (the main training camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11), and serving on the Taliban front lines with Pakistani members of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, but insisted that he never fired a weapon at anyone, and that there was little activity until after 9/11, when the Northern Alliance attacked them so hard that they retreated. In his tribunal, he was not questioned about whether he was at Tora Bora, which was taken to be a significant sign of militancy, and said that, instead, he went to Khost via Kandahar, and then crossed into Pakistan, where he was arrested with two Pakistani guides.

As I also explained, in my articles, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” and “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo,” despite being a juvenile at the time of his capture, al-Sharikh was not treated differently from the adult population at Guantánamo, according to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which stipulates that juvenile prisoners — those under 18 at the time their alleged crime takes place — “require special protection,” and obliges its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

At the time of his release, I told more of his story, explaining how he said that, in Saudi Arabia, “The Muslim scientists, or clergymen, were telling me to fight in Afghanistan. They convinced me to fight there, and told me how to get there, so I went.” Turning to the circumstances of his capture, he denied an allegation that he was “captured by Pakistan police while traveling with a group of Arabs and Afghanis, some of whom were security guards for Osama bin Laden,” saying, “This is not true. When I went to Pakistan, I only had two people with me. When I was turned over, they captured the Arab and Pakistani people. When they sent me to prison, I was taken along with the other group.” He added that he had traveled with two Pakistani guides, and that, after surrendering, he was met by a representative of the Saudi government, who knew of him because “I am from a very well known family.” Despite assurances from the representative that he would help him return to Saudi Arabia, however, he was then handed over to US forces.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Sharikh was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated August 6, 2007, in which he was identified as Abd al-Razzaq al-Sharikh, and it was noted that he was born in January 1984, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he “completed one year of high school and then sold honey outside various mosques near his parents’ home” in Riyadh, but, in early 2000 (when he was mistakenly identified as being 18 years old, even though he was only 16), his brother, identified as Abd Abdallah Ibrahim Latif al-Sharakh (aka Abbad), “was killed while participating in jihad in Chechnya.” It was noted that he “looked up to Abbad and when he heard that Abbad was killed, he became zealous to join the jihad and martyr himself.”

Al-Sharikh stated that he “was not recruited by any organization and did not become a member of Al-Qaida,” and, instead, “decided to travel to Afghanistan (AF) on his own initiative and at the suggestion of his brother’s friends,” who “approached [him] at his brother’s funeral and encouraged him to travel to Afghanistan because the living conditions and training opportunities were better there than in Chechnya.” His brother’s friends arranged for him to travel with another individual (perhaps because of his age), and in early December 2000, the two flew to Karachi, and then on, via the Taliban’s office in Quetta, to Kandahar, and a compound near Kandahar airport, where al-Sharikh spent a week before training at Al-Farouq.

He said that he spent a few months training, and then traveled to “a location a short distance behind the front line at Bagram,” where he “rotated between the front and secondary battle lines for approximately eight or nine months until the Bagram line fell to the Northern Alliance and the order came to retreat.” He and four other individuals then “started back to Kandahar, but because of Coalition bombing, they diverted to Khost,” where he stayed “for approximately ten days before he heard that all Arabs needed to make their way to Pakistan.” He then set off for Pakistan on foot with two Afghans, presumably as guides, and said that, after eight days, he “joined a group of 20 to 30 other Arabs who hiked to Pakistan through the Tora Bora Mountains.”

It was also noted that, on December 15, 2001, the day after this group arrived in Parachinar, they were seized by the Pakistani authorities. The Task Force claimed that he was apprehended “with a group of 31 other Arabs, which consisted mostly of [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards, but this was not necessarily a reliable assessment, as will be noted below. The group was then transferred to a prison in Peshawar, where al-Sharikh was held until he was transferred to Kandahar on December 26, 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 17, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information about the following: Terrorist recruitment of Muslim foreign nationals attending the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force was dubious about his claim that he was not a member of Al-Qaida, claiming that, as well as traveling to Afghanistan and taking part in training and combat, as he acknowledged, he had also been “selected by senior Al-Qaida leaders” for a terrorist attack on the Prince Sultan Air base (PSAB) in Saudi Arabia, and had “also acknowledged having been present at Tora Bora during meetings of senior Al-Qaida commanders during the battle.”

It was also noted that he had “reported about his brother,” and had “provided much of what [was] known about [his] timeline,” but “continue[d] to omit specific details regarding [his brother]‘s activities and his associates at Tora Bora.” Moreover, the Task Force claimed that he had “not acknowledged being a UBL [Osama bin Laden] bodyguard or a member of UBL’s security detail,” and noted that he had “provided very little information of value about UBL, Sayf al-Adl, or other senior Al-Qaida figures to whom he had access, and it is not clear whether he has no valuable information about them or if he is deliberately withholding important information.”

In seeking to justify its claims, the Task Force drew on some distinctly dubious witnesses. One was Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016, still held), the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the US torture program was specifically developed, who said that he recalled al-Sharikh and his brother paying for specialized training, and another was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (ISN 212, but never held at Guantánamo), a particularly important “high-value detainee,” who was the emir of the Khaldan training camp until it was closed by the Taliban in 2000, after he refused to allow it to be taken over by Osama bin Laden. Al-Libi’s 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.

Despite his conflict with bin Laden, al-Libi was described as “a trusted Al-Qaida senior trainer and commander,” and it was claimed that, “while providing explosives training at Al-Farouq in April 2001, he was directed by senior Al-Qaida operative Abu Hafs al-Masri to provide specialized training to two Saudi nationals named Akrima and Hammam” — identified as the aliases of al-Sharikh and his brother — and that he “provided the training at a special site for three days,” after which they were “to conduct attacks against a US military base in Saudi Arabia.”

Another dubious witness, and well known as an unreliable witness in Guantánamo, was Abd al-Hakim Bukhari (ISN 493, released in September 2007), who, ludicrously, was described as an “[a]ssessed Al-Qaida operative,” even though he had been imprisoned and tortured by Al-Qaida as an alleged spy. Bukhari apparently identified al-Sharikh and his brother “as having connections to terrorist cells in the US and the United Kingdom.”

Another even more unreliable witness was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), a Yemeni known as the most prolific and unreliable witness in Guantánamo, who claimed that al-Sharikh was “a jihadist from Saudi Arabia who belonged to the Mehjin Center (camp of fighters) in Tora Bora,” and “further stated” that Yahya al-Salmi (ISN 66, also identified as al-Sulami, see above) “became the leader of the Mehjin Center after Mehjin died, and that [al-Sharikh] was [his] deputy. He also claimed that al-Sharikh, along with al-Sulami, “commanded approximately 15 fighters responsible for guarding a river crossing leading to a Tora Bora camp.”

The claim that al-Sharikh “stated he witnessed a meeting held in Tora Bora,” which included various Al-Qaida leaders, prompted an analyst to note that it was “unlikely [he] would be allowed to witness a high-level meeting if he did not hold a position of authority or trust among the senior Al-Qaida commanders at Tora Bora.”

Some of the allegations above may well have been true, but it was disturbing how many were produced by notoriously unreliable witnesses, and how few came from al-Sharikh himself. Nevertheless, it was clear that there were reasons to regard him as suspicious, because, as the Task Force also noted, “Prior to the visit of a Saudi government delegation to JTF-GTMO in 2002, the Saudi government provided information about 37 detainees whom they designated as high priority. Detainee was number one on that list.”

In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of high intelligence value,” and of posing “a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed to be a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been mostly compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff,” and, as a result, Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updating a recommendation for his continued detention at Guantánamo (dated August 3, 2006), repeated that recommendation, and it is unclear why he was released the next month.

After his release, and after he had been put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program, the Pentagon claimed that al-Sharikh became involved in providing support to terrorists. In April 2009, the Pentagon produced a fact sheet, “Former Guantánamo Detainee Terrorism Trends” (PDF), in which it was claimed that he had been “arrested in September 2008 for supporting terrorism,” although this was not listed as “confirmed” but only as “suspected.” No further information has been provided to justify this claim, and it may be that he was included because, in February 2009, one of his brothers, Abdulmohsin al-Sharikh, was listed as one of Saudi Arabia’s 85 most wanted terror suspects.

Khalid Al Bawardi (ISN 68, Saudi Arabia) Released November 2007

As I explained in Chapter 5 of The Guantánamo Files, Khalid al-Bawardi, who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, told his tribunal at Guantánamo the most complete tale of being a missionary, which he related with a superior moral tone that was both pompous and convincing. He explained that he took a vacation from his job with the Chamber of Commerce, and went to Pakistan to find people who were receptive to the idea of dawa, which he described as correcting the mistakes of Muslims who have “strayed from the path of righteousness.”

He then gave his tribunal a lecture on Jamaat al-Tablighi, the vast missionary organization, saying that, although he met Tablighi representatives in Pakistan, “They have certain procedures that they are tied down by and the procedures they follow are wrong in our religion. Their work is good and it’s correct but they make some mistakes,” adding, “You are not able to understand this or get a whole clear picture because you don’t have a complete picture of Jamaat-al-Tablighi. Besides that, you have to know Islam to know what is right and what is wrong.”

Having decided to work on his own, he said he traveled around Pakistani villages with a guide, correcting people’s mistakes (particularly to do with raised graves and good luck charms), and then went to Kabul, where the people were more in need of his help. When the war started, he was advised to leave the country, and, after explaining that he suspected that his landlord stole his bag, which contained his passport, he described a difficult journey to the border, in which a man who gave him a lift in a car “forcefully told me to get out” in the desert, and a young Afghan who took him into his house also asked him to leave “I told him I wanted this and that and he said he was poor and that he couldn’t help me,” he said. After finding a guide, he was arrested crossing the border.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Bawardi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated October 6, 2006, in which it was noted that he was born in November 1972, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that, after quitting school, he “became a telephone operator and receptionist in the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce,” and then, after about a year, “quit work and sold vegetables for a few months.” On an unknown date, he traveled to Dubai, “to conduct missionary work and teach the Koran,” and at some point “read an old fatwa” issued by a sheikh, which “directed all pious men to travel abroad and perform missionary work in underdeveloped Islamic countries,” which he took to mean places such as Afghanistan or Pakistan. Pointing out that “there was no mention of jihad in the fatwa,” he said he chose to travel to Pakistan, and flew to Karachi in approximately May 2001.

On arrival, he said that he met an Afghan named Muhammad, who offered to be his guide. He said he “spent approximately one month in the Karachi area teaching the Koran in small unnamed villages,” while Muhammad translated for him. In approximately June or July 2001, Muhammad told him “they could do great work in Afghanistan and suggested they go there,” and he and Muhammad then traveled to Kabul, where he “facilitated discussion groups on Islam for four months,” but, in October 2001, “after the air war started,” he “decided go back to Saudi Arabia and left Kabul without Muhammad.”

Essentially telling the same story he later told his tribunal at Guantánamo, he said that, after “seeking out someone to help him leave Afghanistan, [he] returned to his apartment in Kabul to find all of his possessions, including his passport, stolen in his absence.” He then set off for Pakistan “by car, but his Afghani driver left him somewhere on the road between Kabul and the Pakistan border in fear of being seen with an Arab.” He then “walked for some time before reaching a small village where he stayed for three or four weeks.” Sometime in November 2001, with an Afghan guide, he “left on foot for the border,” but, on the way, “ran into and joined a larger group of 10 to 23 male refugees heading toward Pakistan.” He said that he traveled with this group for about a week until they were seized by Pakistani border officials, and added that he “was held for a few days in a Pakistani jail and questioned by Saudi officials,” and then, on December 27, 2001, was transferred to US custody.

He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, and the Task Force provided the following explanation, which, unusually, added analysis from Guantánamo to the spurious information compiled in Afghanistan: “Detainee’s transfer was likely due to the perceived association between him and the 30 UBL [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards, Al-Qaida members, and Taliban fighters with whom he was arrested. However, initial reports suggested he was able to provide information on the following: Effect of the civil war on religion and ethnicity as they affect regional security issues.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “utilizing a cover story passed to him while in a Pakistani prison,” noting that a fellow prisoner had “stated that a prison warden instructed members of [his] captured group to claim they were in Afghanistan to teach the Koran,” and adding that it was assessed that he “continue[d] to hide his true activities.” To reach these conclusions, however, the Task Force relied on a number of dubious witnesses.

One was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), well known as the most prolific and unreliable witness in Guantánamo, who “stated detainee trained at Al-Qaida’s Al-Farouq Camp for three weeks, two months before the US bombing campaign started in October 2001,” and “also identified detainee as fighting in the Quodous area” (noted by an analyst as “a likely reference to the center in Tora Bora commanded by Al-Qaida member Abdul Qadoos”) “and as being in charge of determining where to dig caves and bunkers.”

Another unreliable witness was Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held, and also identified as Maad al-Qahtani), who said he “met detainee in Tora Bora.” An analyst described al-Qahtani as “a confirmed Al-Qaida operative with direct ties to senior Al-Qaida leadership, including UBL [Osama bin Laden] and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad,” but he is more generally known as the most notorious victim of torture in Guantánamo.

It was also claimed that variations on his name had been found on various documents seized in raids on houses connected with Al-Qaida, and this led to a far-fetched claim that he “may have been an Al-Qaida facilitator,” because a “variation of [his] alias, Abu Khalid al-Tamimi, [was] the same as that used by a facilitator of a 1998 suicide plot against a US tanker ship in the Straits of Gibraltar.”

In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been semi-compliant but mostly hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a previous recommendation for his continued detention at Guantánamo (dated October 15, 2005), repeated that recommendation, although, crucially, he added, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Bawardi] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO),” although it took another 13 months for that agreement to be reached, and for him to be repatriated, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

In an interview in January 2010, al-Bawardi spoke to the Daily Telegraph, and claimed that he had, in fact, traveled to Afghanistan for jihad. As the article noted, “Bored, depressed and stuck in a dead-end job, Khaled al-Bawardi spent just a few hours watching jihadi videos to convince himself that he wanted to fight for militant Islam. It took another six years in Guantánamo Bay, plus a year in religious rehab in Saudi Arabia, to realize there might be better career options.”

Al-Bawardi said, “When I was young, I thought these people were angels and we had to follow them. Now, though, I can see between right and wrong.” The article also stated, “Quietly-spoken, and dressed in a traditional Arab robe and keffiya, Mr. Bawardi is an alumnus of the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Counselling and Care outside Riyadh, where for the last two years, batches of former Guantánamo inmates have undergone religious ‘deprogramming’ in exchange for their liberty.” The article also noted differing points of view about the program, stating that, “although there is widespread agreement that the battleground lies as much in the mind as in the streets, mountains or deserts, debate remains as to whether Saudi-style rehab programmes are the right answer. Critics contend that the Prince Mohammed project’s softly-softly approach is simply a way for Saudi’s rulers to sweep dissent under the carpet, and that it is far too easy for inmates to simply pretend they have reformed. Its backers, though, say there is little alternative — punishment, after all, is a limited sanction against a movement that thrives on martyrdom.” In contrast, “Saudi officials maintain that only a tiny minority of the programme’s 120 former Guantanamo inmates are known to have reoffended — while the rest are, they claim, helping to combat the spread of Al-Qaida’s ideology. Defeating that, they point out, is the only sure route to vanquishing Al-Qaida permanently.”

Sadeq Mohammed Said Ismail (ISN 69, Yemen) Released June 2007

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One)” and in an article at the time of his release, I explained how, according to his account at Guantánamo, Ismail (also identified as Sadeq Mohammed Said), who was born in 1982, and was therefore 19 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in May 2001 and serving as a courier for the Taliban. Although he had been injured in an aerial bombing attack near Khost, and was captured after crossing the border into Pakistan, the US authorities managed to claim, based on an unsubstantiated allegation, presumably from another prisoner, that he was captured in Tora Bora, during the showdown in November and December 2001 between Al-Qaida and Taliban forces, and the US military and their Afghan proxies, when Osama bin Laden and the senior leadership of Al-Qaida slipped away across the unguarded border to Pakistan.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Ismail was a brief “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated November 12, 2004, in which Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended to his military review board that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).”

Little information was provided in this document, although it was noted that, according to the Task Force’s assessment, he “traveled to Afghanistan for the purpose of receiving military training; however, he claims to have received no training.” The allegation that he was a courier was also mentioned, as it was claimed that, “While in Afghanistan, [he] participated in escort or courier operations between Kandahar and Kabul for the Taliban for several months until the US bombing campaign began in the area.”

The Tora Bora allegation was not mentioned, but it was noted that the Task Force assessed him “as being very deceptive, as he ha[d] not been forthcoming during debriefings,” was “very uncooperative,” and gave “conflicting information.”

It was also noted that, in his “Most Recent JTF GTMO Assessment, signed on 6 September 2003,” which also recommended his transfer to the control of another country for continued detention, he was assessed as being of low intelligence value and a medium threat. Despite the recommendation for his transfer, however, he was not released for another two years and seven months, and three years and nine months after he was first recommended for transfer.

After his return from Guantánamo, in an interview with Gulf News following his release from four months in Yemeni detention on October 12, 2007, he told reporter Nasser Arrabyee that “he did not know why he was arrested in the first place, and why he was released.” Identified as Sadeq Mohammad Saeed, he told a different story abut his capture, claiming that he “was arrested along with his compatriots in Afghanistan from a hospital where he was undergoing treatment for injuries he suffered in a battle more than six years ago.”

Arrabyee explained that, just hours after arriving at his home in Ibb city, “he was receiving visitors who came for a welcome ceremony,” and was dressed “in smart traditional Yemeni clothes and sporting a long beard.” His brothers “were introducing him to those who came to the house, many of whom were strangers.” Some were relatives of other Guantánamo prisoners. She noted that, although he “was initially reluctant to speak to the journalists,” he “gave in after some persuasion by his brothers and spoke to Gulf News,” focusing on what he called a “letter to the Americans and the world,” in which, with some defiance, he “said he and his companions were engaged in ‘jihad’ since they left [their] homes and families and would continue doing so as long as they live.” That may have been bravado, to be honest, although it may also have got him labeled as a suspected recidivist by the US authorities.

Explaining more, he said, “I traveled to Pakistan and from there to Afghanistan and then I joined one of the Taliban battlelines.” As Arrabyee described it, he “refused to delve into the bodily abuses he suffered while in Guantánamo, but spoke about abuses against religion inflicted on all detainees,” and said, “The abuses targeted religion, reviling God, and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his companions and the believers. Some brothers were subjected to psychological and physical torture because they were Muslims. There were a lot of abuses, and it is enough to say they were directed at Allah, his prophet and the believers.”

He added that “he was not sure of his future plans,” and explained, “I cannot say anything right now. I’m still a stranger on this land, I’m a new-born, I cannot say I can do this and that.” Arrabyee noted that he “traveled to Afghanistan before completing his secondary school.”

In a final rhetorical flourish that can only have alarmed the US authorities, fearful of retribution and unable to understand the desire of some Muslims to fight in other Muslim countries, one of his brothers, Rashad Mohammad Saeed, who had traveled to Afghanistan for jihad, said, “Let the Americans know that jihadists are respected in their nations and they are not killers or criminals.” As Gulf News put it, “he exhorted Muslims to rise in revolt against the Bush administration which spends billions of dollars to destroy Taliban and Al-Qaida,” saying, “These attempts are only making the Taliban and Al-Qaida stronger and stronger.”

Mishal Saad Al Rashid (ISN 74, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2007

As I explained in Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, and in an article at the time of his release, Mishal Saad al-Rashid (misidentified by his captors as Mesh Arsad al-Rashid), who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, was typical of numerous men captured and sent to Guantánamo, in his insistence that he went to Afghanistan, over a year “before any problem happened in America,” to help the Taliban fight General Dostum and Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance.

He was confused that the Northern Alliance had formed a coalition with the United States, as the only coalition that he knew of was between the Northern Alliance and Russia. Although this misconception, repeated by several other prisoners, was partly due to the propaganda issued by pro-Taliban sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, it also had some basis in fact, at least in the case of Dostum, who had fought with the Russians during the Soviet invasion, before switching sides in the early 1990s.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, al-Rashid accepted an allegation that he was a member of the Taliban (but not Al-Qaida), and also acknowledged that he had received military training in Afghanistan. He was one of several hundred Taliban fighters who surrendered after the fall of Kunduz, believing that they would be freed after handing over their weapons, but who discovered, instead, that they were to be imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi, a fortress run by General Dostum. After the prisoners were tied up and taken for questioning, some of them, fearing that they were about to be killed, staged an uprising, which was put down by the Northern Alliance, backed up by US and British Special Forces, and supported by American bombing raids, in which the majority of the prisoners were killed. In the end, a week after the uprising began, 86 survivors emerged from the basement, who had survived being bombed and flooded.

At Guantánamo, when asked about the “uprising,” al-Rashid, who was injured in his thigh and shoulder, said, “What uprising? We didn’t do any uprising. We had given up our weapons, so how could we be part of an uprising? They [Dostum's troops] were the ones that had the weapons. We tried to defend ourselves but we couldn’t, because they had all the weapons.” He added that accusing men who were tied up of using weapons was a sure sign of the “betrayal” that had taken place in the fort.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Rashid was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated April 28, 2007, in which it was noted that he was born in 1980, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he attended elementary school but “acquired no further formal education,” and, from 1995 to 2000, worked as a guard at a palace. Around March 2000, he responded to a fatwa “telling Muslims to support the Taliban in Afghanistan against the NA [Northern Alliance],” and also “heard about religious persecution of Muslims in Afghanistan,” and, as a result, he quit his job and traveled to Qatar, intending to take a flight to Pakistan. For reasons that were not explained, he and a new friend he met en route were unable to fly to Pakistan, and so they returned to Saudi Arabia, where they succeeded in taking a flight to Islamabad instead. They then made their way to Peshawar, where “they spoke with a Pakistani about their desire to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban,” and he “helped them cross the border into Afghanistan and escorted them to a Taliban house in Kandahar.”

He attended training at Al-Farouq (the main training camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11), and was then “assigned to the reserve lines (secondary line) for several months.” He then traveled to the front lines in the Khawaja Ghar region, where, with other Arabs, he fought alongside the Taliban. After the Taliban withdrew (as the Northern Alliance advanced), he and others retreated to a Taliban house in Kunduz, where his commander, Mullah Thaker, told the them to surrender and said that “they would be allowed to return to their country.” It is not known whether Thaker knew this to be untrue, but after surrendering, they were taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where he “was shot in the left leg and under his right arm.”

After he and the other survivors were moved to General Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, he was transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airport on December 29, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif [and] Taliban membership.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he had “denied having knowledge of any of the detainees that ha[d] identified him,” had “failed to provide any detailed information concerning his activities and associates while in Afghanistan,” and had “provided inconsistent information about his personal history.” Nevertheless, there was nothing about his story to demonstrate that he was anything more than a simple foot soldier, but the Task Force managed to come up with an alternative account from Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, released in January 2009), a talkative Iraqi known as one of the most unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo.

Al-Tayeea claimed that al-Rashid “worked with wireless communication systems,” and “reported that detainee was responsible for transporting trainees between Kabul and Al-Farouq, and served as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi’s liaison when he came to the camp (al-Iraqi, ISN 10026, who was moved to Guantánamo in 2007, and is still held, was described as “one of [Osama bin Laden]‘s closest commanders and the person in charge of non-Afghan Taliban troops and Al-Qaida fighters that made up the 55th Arab Brigade on the Afghanistan northern front”). Al-Tayeea also stated that al-Rashid “reportedly collected intelligence on trainees and soldiers for al-Iraqi and that the two men had frequent contact.”

To be fair, although an analyst noted that “[t]his reporting indicate[d] detainee had direct access to al-Iraqi and served in a significant role in UBL’s 55th Arab Brigade, possibly as a counterintelligence officer,” the analyst also noted that al-Rashid’s “close association to al-Iraqi” was “uncorroborated by other sources and require[d] further exploitation,” although anyone reading just the start of the 10-page file would not have known this, as, in an “executive summary,” it was stated simply that he “may have served as a counterintelligence or intelligence officer,” and “may have served as a liaison for senior Al-Qaida leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi at the Al-Farouq Training Camp.”

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,” although one reason for regarding him as a risk was because he had cursed an interrogator during a session in 2003. While this was not actually indicative of anything but frustration, an analyst claimed that, “While this can be construed as only rhetoric, it also denotes the detainee’s inclination to continue to wage or support jihad in the future.” Al-Rashid was also “assessed to be a medium threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been semi-compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a previous recommendation for his continued detention at Guantánamo (dated April 14, 2006), repeated that recommendation, although he was released just eight months later, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

Rukniddin Sharopov (ISN 76, Tajikistan) Released February 2007

As I explained in an article after his release, Rukniddin Sharopov, who was born in 1981 (although the US authorities initially stated that he was born in 1973), claimed in Guantánamo that, because he wanted to earn some money, he agreed to “serve for the army of Tajikistan’s government.” He said that he believed that he would be serving in Lajerg in Tajikistan, but was “tricked” into fighting with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a close ally of the Taliban in the fight against the Northern Alliance in northern Afghanistan, and serving in Afghanistan instead. He explained that, in Lajerg, he found himself in a camp run by the IMU, where his passport was taken away from him, and one of the organization’s leaders, a man called Rostum, “told him it was better if he went into the military.” As a result, he said, he was sent to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against General Dostum’s Uzbek faction of the Northern Alliance.

He then explained that he was a passenger on a truck containing Uzbek soldiers — not Taliban, as alleged by the US authorities — who surrendered to Dostum’s forces in a compound in Khawaja Ghar, near the border with Tajikistan, and added that, although he had no criminal record in Tajikistan, he believed that this might cause a problem for him in his home country. “This is one thing the interrogators told me,” he said. “The interrogator told me it would be a problem for me if I went back to Tajikistan because I was with the Uzbek community.” He denied receiving training at Lajerg, as, he said, he had received some mandatory training in Tajikistan, and he added that he didn’t like to shoot guns and that at the camp he collected wood for the fire. “I never fought before and I am not going to fight after this. I have never fought in my life,” he stated.

After his capture, he was taken to Qala-i-Janghi, a fort in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and was one of only 86 men — out of a total of around 450 foreign fighters — who survived a notorious massacre in the fort. This followed an uprising by a number of the prisoners, who feared that they were about to be shot. He said that he did not take part in the uprising, but was in the basement when it was flooded by the Northern Alliance and the US Special Forces, and that some soldiers untied his hands and “put something around my injury.”

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Sharopov was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated August 3, 2005, in which he was identified as Rukniddin Sharipov, and was noted that he was born in September 1981, and was “in good health,” although it was also noted that he “complained of chest pain a few times,” although there had “not been findings on chest X-rays,” and that he “was on a hunger strike in Oct 02.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account and mostly corresponding with what he told his tribunal at Guantánamo, the Joint Task Force noted that he was sent to school in Pakistan “when he was five and remained there until age 15,” and then “attended Government Degree College, where he studied Civics, Pashtu, and History.” He apparently “stated he returned to Isfara when he and a friend, Tsabit Vakhidov” (ISN 90, see below, also identified as Muqit Vohidov and Wahldof Abdul Mokit) and another friend, identified only as Farad, “were recruited for service with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),” described by the US authorities as “a Tier 1 counterterrorism target, defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.”

He apparently said that the three of them “left Isfara by train destined for Russia to find work,” but “[w]hile they were at the train station in Dushanbe,” they “met a man by the name of Rostam who recruited them to join what they believed to be the Tajikistan military,” and “told them that they would be paid USD $300 a month in wages if they joined.” After they agreed, they went to Tavildara, also in Tajikistan, where they “arrived at an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) training camp.”

There, he said, there were about 200 soldiers, and, after he received a few days’ military training, “he stood guard at the main gate of the camp.” He and the others were then flown to Kunduz “in helicopters provided by the Tajikistan government,” although he “did not know where he was flying,” and was only told that “he was going to a warmer place.” He added that he believed he arrived in Afghanistan sometime after Ramadan in 2000.

When it came to the circumstances of his capture, it was stated that he traveled with other IMU fighters from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif,” but were told to surrender to Dostum’s forces just before arriving. The Task Force noted that he “was present at the Mazar-e-Sharif prison uprising,” and also noted that he stated that he “had his hands tied behind his back and was on his knees when fighting started in the prison.” He added that he “began to run and was wounded,” and “received three shrapnel wounds on his right foot.” It was also noted, “During the fighting, he went back to the house and went into the basement where there were many other Pakistani and Arabic-speaking prisoners. Only one of the prisoners in the basement had a Kalashnikov. [He] heard that Dostum’s forces threw a grenade into the house, [which] killed some of the prisoners in the basement and injured others. [He] spent about 5-6 days in the basement.”

He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Detainee may be able to provide general to specific information on the training and relocation of Tajik youth into Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban [and] Detainee may be able to provide general to specific information on the unit that formed the Uzbek movement in Mazar-e-Sharif.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that he had “admitted being an IMU member,” and assessed that he and Vakhidov “were both recruited to join the IMU prior to leaving their homes,” because, although both men “stated that they were headed for ‘Russia’ to seek jobs,” neither “had a specific destination in Russia.” It was also claimed that Sharopov “did not explain where they got finances to take the train,” and It was “much more likely that someone in their village recruited them and that ‘Rostam’ was scheduled to meet with them on the train and escort them to the Tajikistan training camp.”

This may have been so, but it still didn’t demonstrate that Sharopov was anything more than a simple foot soldier. The Task Force concluded that he was only “of low intelligence value,” and only posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although officials also claimed that he had been “indoctrinated into the Islamic extremist ideology and knowingly joined the IMU for jihadist purposes,” which I do not believe had been established. It was also noted that his “overall behavior pattern ha[d] been compliant with spikes in aggression, with the most reports coming from harassment of the guard force.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention in Tajkistan, even though it was also noted that he was “a fugitive from Tajikistan and [was] wanted for violating Tajikistan’s laws and international orders,” which indicated that he would be treated very poorly if repatriated.

Sure enough, after his release, Sharopov and Muqit Vohidov (aka Tsabit Vakhidov) were tried and sentenced to 17 years in “high-security penal colonies” (aka labor camps) for “serving as mercenaries in Afghanistan” and aiding the Taliban by fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and for taking part in “illegal border crossing.” After passing sentence, the Supreme Court judge, Musammir Uroqov, said that both men had maintained their innocence, and added, “In their last words, they said they didn’t expect such consequences for acts they committed.” However, according to RFE/RL, the judge was satisfied that “investigations carried out in Vohidov and Sharopov’s native Isfara region proved that both men [had] been involved with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.”

In June 2010, as I explained here, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting revisited the story, explaining how the men’s families had been campaigning for a review of the verdict, and how prosecutors were possibly prepared to review the case. Although arguments were made that the sentence was justified because the men “committed acts that violate national law,” it was also noted that the time they served in Guantánamo was not taken into account during the sentencing.

Moreover, as I explained, other observers remained deeply critical, and their insights reflected badly not only on the Tajik authorities but also on the US government. As the IWPR article explained, Payam Foroughi, until recently a human rights officer with the OSCE in Tajikistan, “believes due process was not followed,” pointing out that the men “had not enough, or any, time to sufficiently and seriously discuss and properly prepare their case with a lawyer — and one of their choice — prior to their court hearing.” He also believed that the court “should have probed further into the allegation that Vohidov and Sharopov willingly became members of the IMU,” adding, “If anything, the evidence points to them having been victims of human trafficking.”

Criticism of the US came, inadvertently, from the judge in the men’s trial in 2007, who told IWPR, “We could not determine, even from the defendants, on what legal basis they were detained at and released from Guantánamo. We could not get hold of any documents. So we reached a verdict based on the documents that we had.” Highlighting this problem more explicitly, a local lawyer told IWPR that “the lack of documentation from Guantánamo was a recurring problem in countries to which detainees are repatriated.” He might have added that in most countries the authorities’ response was to let the men go.

In August 2011, RFE/RL reported that, for the 20th anniversary of Tajikistan’s independence, on September 9, 2011, human rights activists and lawyers were calling on the Tajik president to consider releasing the two former Guantánamo prisoners as part of an amnesty, noting, “Some 8,000 prisoners are expected to be set free to mark the occasion. Unofficial estimates suggest there are currently 13,000 people imprisoned in Tajikistan. There have been 11 amnesties in Tajikistan over the past 20 years. In the most recent, in November 2009, some 10,000 prisoners were released.”

The article stated, “Human Rights Watch, two prominent American lawyers, and a legal expert from Columbia University in New York have sent letters to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon making the case for Rukniddin Sharopov’s and Abdumuqit Vohidov’s release.” Chicago-based attorney Matthew J. O’Hara wrote, “It is my expert opinion that a great injustice has been done on the two.” He explained that it was probable that the two men “did not traverse the international border by will,” and, as RFE/RL added, “Sharopov and Vohidov maintain that they have never killed anyone, or been involved in terrorist activities or acts of violence.”

In their letter, Human Rights Watch stated, “Neither US, nor Tajik authorities provided any sound evidences of Sharopov’s and Vokhidov’s belonging to terrorist activity and crimes. We hope that the forthcoming amnesty law will also cover ex-prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay, who were accused of murder, and hope that Vokhidov’s and Sharopov’s appeals for amnesty will be carefully examined.” However, there has been no further news since August 2011.

Mehrabanb Fazrollah (ISN 77, Tajikistan) Released February 2007

In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre,” I explained how Mehrabanb Fazrollah, who was 39 years old at the time of his capture, was subjected to a particularly thin set of allegations in Guantánamo: that he traveled to Afghanistan in April 2001, that he “admitted to fighting with the Taliban,” and that he was captured with a Kalashnikov and ammunition.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Fazrollah  was an “Update Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country with Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement,” dated August 28, 2005, in which he was also identified as Mehrabon Faizulloh Odinaev, and it was noted that he was born in October 1962, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, it was noted that he served in the Russian Army from 1981 to 1983 (but did not serve in Afghanistan), and then “received training as a bus driver and an auto mechanic,” but “also worked at an oil refinery, on a collective farm producing cotton, and in a fruit delivery business.” From 1992 to 1994, during the Tajik civil war, he lived in Afghanistan for three months, and then “became a refugee and moved to a refugee camp near the Kunduz airport.” After the civil war he returned to Dushanbe, and, in 2000, “sent his ten-year old son with a group of Tajik youths” to study at a madrassa in Karachi.

In March or April 2001, he said, he decided to visit his son. Traveling to Pakistan via Afghanistan, he spent a week with old friends, and “continued his travels with stops in Kunduz and Kabul.” After locating his son in May, he spent a month with him and then set off back for Tajikistan. However, he said that he was unable to find anyone to help him cross the river to get back to Tajikistan (which was a dangerous and illegal crossing), so he remained in an Afghan village until early November 2001, when he “decided to depart for Kunduz because the Northern Alliance arrived and were arresting people who did not have identification.” There, he said, he stayed in a refugee camp for ten days, but was then picked up by Northern Alliance troops.

They told him that “they would bring him and several others to a safe place,” but, instead, took them to Qala-i-Janghi, an ancient fort in the possession of the warlord General Rashid Dostum, where he survived the massacre that resulted after some of the hundreds of prisoners started an uprising, fearing that they were about to be shot. He was one of 86 survivors, who hid in a basement where they were bombed and flooded, but no mention was made of it in his file. He was then moved to Dostum’s prison at Sherberghan, before being transferred to US custody at the Kandahar detention facility. He was sent to Guantánamo on May 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: The prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif, Tajiki refugees residing in Afghanistan [and] A madrassa in Karachi, PK.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force provided a conflicting account to his own, noting that he was “assessed as a low-level member of the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan (IMT), which is allied with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),” and also noting that he “admitted he fought alongside the Taliban against Northern Alliance forces and fled after the collapse of the Taliban.” The IMU was described by the US authorities as “a Tier 1 counterterrorism target, defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests,” but even so, he was regarded as not being of major significance.

The Task Force also claimed that he had “not been forthright during debriefings,” and regarded his story of visiting his son as “a cover story,” but in conclusion he was only assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-hostile and compliant,” and, as a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation for his “Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention” (dated May 5, 2004), recommended him for transfer with conditions, although he was not released for another year and a half.

Fahed Al Harazi (ISN 79, Saudi Arabia) Released September 2007

In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Fahed al-Harazi, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of travelling to Afghanistan in March 2001 and — with remarkable speed — becoming a trainer at Al-Farouq, the main training camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11.

in an article at the time of his release, I expanded on his story, noting that, although he had secured legal representation by the time he was released, he had refused to meet his lawyers, and had also refused to take part in either his tribunal or his review boards, so that the allegations against him went unanswered. While the first set of allegations — that he traveled to Afghanistan in March 2001 “to fight the jihad,” attended “an Al-Qaida affiliated camp,” fought on the front lines against the Northern Alliance, and was wounded in Qala-i-Janghi — seem plausible, the additional claims — that he was actually a trainer at Al-Farouq, and that his name was found on a document at the “Military Committee al-Mujahideen Affairs Office,” which contained “nominees for the Al-Qaida Trainers Preparation Center” — appeared more dubious.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Harazi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated June 19, 2007, in which he was also identified as Fahd al-Harazi, and it was noted that he was born in November 1978, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he “completed at least 15 years of school,” although he “held no job after graduation, but spent his time with ‘non-religious’ friends.” However, he regularly “attended a masque next door to his residence in Mecca,” and there “met a Pakistani named Abdul Jalil who told [him] he needed to go and fight in jihad.” Another individual, named Majid, then “told [him] that they both could go to Afghanistan and then return to Saudi Arabia after only a short time,” and he “managed their travel, obtained Pakistani visas, and paid for all travel expenses.” In March 2001, they flew to Karachi, and then on to Quetta, Kandahar and Kabul.

In Kabul, he said, he and Majid “attended two weeks of military training, which consisted of instruction on small arms and grenades,” and were then sent to Kunduz. They “arrived at a Taliban guesthouse in Kunduz the first week in May 2001,” and al-Harazi said that “[b]etween five and 20 Taliban soldiers were resting at this guesthouse at various times.” After a week, he “and his two associates traveled to the second line, about three miles to the rear of the Taliban front lines.” He “claimed he went to the front lines on five or six occasions with his AK-47 but never fired his weapon nor did he see any fighting,” and remained on the lines until he was instructed to retreat to Kunduz (he said this was late August 2001, but it was almost certainly November).

Two weeks later, the Taliban surrendered to the Northern Alliance, and he “was told they could surrender and were guaranteed safe travel through Mazar-e-Sharif, AF, to Herat, AF,” but Northern Alliance forces under the warlord General Rashid Dostum apparently captured him and others on November 24, 2001, and took them to Qala-i-Janghi, where a massacre of prisoners took place, after some of them staged an uprising, fearing that they were about to be shot.

As the Task Force described it in al-Harazi’s file, “After one night in captivity, the prisoners revolted leading to the deaths of members of the Northern Alliance forces and CIA officer Johnny ‘Mike’ Spann.” Al-Harazi “was shot in the arm during the uprising,” and he and 86 others that “survived the assaults hid in the basement until they were re-captured about a week later,” after the basement had been bombed and flooded. He was taken to General Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, and was turned over to US control on approximately December 28, 2001. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban training capabilities, Training Course for Trainers at Al-Farouq Training Camp [and] Routes of ingress and egress from Afghanistan.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force decided that he was lying, although their reasons for doing so were questionable. One unreliable witness, Abdu Ali al-Haji Sharqawi (ISN 1457, still held, and also identified as Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj), is a victim of torture in Jordan and in secret CIA custody in Afghanistan, and there might therefore be doubts abut the truth of his statement that, after being shown a photo of al-Harazi, he “identified [him] as Hassan al-Makki, who attended the class at Al-Farouq Training Camp to become an instructor.” To back this up, it was noted that the same name, Hassan al-Makki, “was found on a list of participants for a course entitled “Training Course for Trainers,” held at Al-Farouq from September to December 2000,” in which it was stated that al-Makki “traveled to Afghanistan in 1999, attended the trainer’s course, and worked as a trainer at Al-Farouq.” It was also “indicated” that al-Makki “was residing in the airport complex for the duration of training,” which an analyst took to mean “the Al-Qaida guesthouse located at Kandahar airport.”

The problem with these claims, of course, is that it is by no means clear that the man from Mecca who adopted the alias Hassan was actually al-Harazi, even if that was an alias he used, as others from Mecca might also have chosen that name, and it is no more reassuring that David Hicks (ISN 2, released May 2007), “stated detainee went by the name Khalid and was a trainer of the basic training course at Al-Farouq,” because it is well-known that Hicks lied under pressure, and, in any case, although he allegedly identified al-Harazi as a trainer at Al-Farouq, presumably under prompting, he gave him the wrong name.

Also of significance is al-Harazi’s claim that he did not attend Al-Farouq and, instead, attended a camp outside Kabul, which he described as “not a typical training camp where many people attended, but rather a small residence utilizing very old, primitive weapons.” In an attempt to tie him to a loftier role than being a mere foot soldier, it was then stated that he was perhaps the Hassan identified by Ibrahim Bin Shakaran (ISN 587, a Moroccan released in July 2004 and also identified as Brahim Benchekroun), who “stated that an individual named Hassan was in charge of physical training at a privately-owned Libyan paramilitary camp located in Kabul.”

Obviously under pressure, another prisoner, Fahd al-Sharif (ISN 215, released in November 2007), described al-Harazi as his cousin, “as they are both named al- Sharif and both come from Mecca.” This was ridiculous, as al-Harazi was not called al-Sharif, but there was more. He also “reported that other JTF-GTMO detainees refer[red] to detainee as Abu Barak,” and “separately mentioned the name Abu Barak as a trainer in the poisons training course that [he] attended.” According to Fahd al-Sharif, “Abu Barak taught at the Derunta Camp, Khaldan Camp, and Abu Musab al-Suri’s Camp.” An analyst noted that Fahd al-Sharif was “the only source who ha[d] associated the names al-Sharif and Abu Barak to [sic] detainee,” and also noted that he “identified Abu Barak as an Egyptian, not a Saudi,” but went on to claim that, since al-Sharif “identified detainee and a poisons trainer with the same alias from approximately the same time period (1999 – 2000), it is possible detainee is the poisons trainer. However, no other information is available to corroborate this assessment.”

If this was not enough shallow innuendo, it was also noted that Yasim Basardah (ISN 252, released), a Yemeni well known as the most prolific and unreliable witness at Guantánamo, “stated detainee was a member of an Arab group fighting the Northern Alliance in Taloqan,” which no one else claimed, and John Walker Lindh (ISN 1, but never held at Guantánamo, because he is an American citizen) apparently “photo-identified detainee as Hassan,” under unknown circumstances, although, as the “American Taliban,” he was subjected to torture by his own countrymen before his trial in 2002, which makes his testimony worthless. Lindh apparently said he “first saw him during the retreat from the front lines,” and “believed [he] was an administrator because he carried a walkie-talkie during the retreat and was responsible for keeping people in the rear motivated.” Despite there being no reason for believing this statement, an analyst noted that “possession of a walkie-talkie and role as a motivator indicate a leadership position among the fighters.”

In other dubious statements, Said al-Zahrani (ISN 204, released in July 2007) “stated detainee was known as Abu Hassan,” and said he “saw [him] at the front lines and in the ‘big kitchen,’ which another detainee described as a large dining area.” Al-Zahrani also apparently “indicated that detainee spent 10 days in a large house in Kunduz with 90 others during the retreat.” In another account, Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, “detainee [was] a mujahid from Jeddah” (he was actually from Mecca, as has been made clear) “who was involved with an unspecified Kandahar mujahideen group.”

In other dubious statements, Humud al-Jadani (ISN 230, released in July 2007), who is emerging in these files as another unreliable witness, “reported detainee was present at the Al-Farouq Training Camp, the frontlines, a Kandahar guesthouse, and the Hamza al-Ghamdi Guesthouse in Kabul in 2000.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force also noted that, “Prior to a 2002 visit to JTF-GTMO, Mabahith [the Saudi intelligence service] designated detainee as a high priority detainee,” stating that he “left Saudi Arabia on 29 October 1999, with Turkey listed as his final destination.” Mabahith also “indicated they had information indicating detainee received training at Al-Farouq,” and noted that he “was on the Saudi government’s “watch and arrest list” for his trip to Afghanistan.” An analyst also noted that Mabahith had “no record of detainee returning after his 1999 travel to Turkey.”

This may indicate that some of the information gathered by the US authorities was true, although much of it was emblematic of the desperation, which runs through the files, and which fuels attempts to prove, time and again, and often in conditions of abuse or torture, that prisoners were more significant than they appeared to be. In conclusion, the Task Force assessed al-Harazi 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.” He was also “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been semi-compliant and sometimes hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, the commander of Guantánamo, updating a recommendation for his “Continued Detention with Transfer Language” (dated May 26, 2006), recommended him for continued detention without any discussion of transfer. Nevertheless, he was released just three months later, to be to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

Muqit Vohidov (ISN 90, Tajikistan) Released February 2007

As I explained in an article after his release, Muqit Vohidov (also identified as Wahldof Abdul Mokit), who was born in 1981 (although the US authorities initially stated that he was born in 1969), said in Guantánamo that he had been tricked into joining the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a close ally of the Taliban in the fight against the Northern Alliance in northern Afghanistan. In his tribunal, he explained that he was unaware that he was being recruited to join the IMU, and thought that he was going to be joining the Tajik army instead. He added that the man who lied to him about it –- and to three others in his group –- was a man called Rostum, presumably the same man identified by his friend Rukniddin Sharopov (ISN 76, see above) as a regional leader of the IMU. He also said that he was not previously aware that there were any Uzbeks in Tajikistan, and added that his passport was taken away by a man called Zakir, who was surrounded by armed men who made it clear that they would shoot him if he asked too many questions, and was then flown by helicopter to Afghanistan in January 2001.

He said that he then spent time at three IMU offices in Afghanistan — including offices in Kunduz and Kabul — and wanted to escape but couldn’t, and added that he eventually found a teacher at a madrassa who told him that he would be able to escape from Mazar-e-Sharif, so he went there, spent three months trying to escape, and was then captured by General Dostum’s forces in November 2001. He admitted carrying a Kalashnikov when he was a guard at the madrassa, but denied an allegation that he fought against US forces. When asked how he was arrested, he said that he was in a room with three other people — two he did not know and one doctor — when “Somebody knocked on the door, I opened it and this person came and said, ‘Who are you?’ I told him I was a Tajik, and then he arrested me.”

He also called Sharopov as a witness, who confirmed his story about their recruitment, but was unable to verify what had happened to him after he had left the IMU. Sharopov added that he and Vohidov had survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, where hundreds of prisoners, held in a Northern Alliance fort run by General Rashid Dostum after surrendering, were killed after some of them staged an uprising, fearing that they were about to be shot. Sharopov also explained that both he and Vohidov were then held in a prison in Sheberghan that was also run by General Dostum, until they were transferred to US custody.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Sharopov was an “Update Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated August 3, 2005, in which he was identified as Sobit Abdumukit Vitalikonovich Vakidov, Sabit Farad Tsabit Vokidov and Abdul Mochid Sobid Wahedof, and it was noted that he was born in September 1981, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account and mostly corresponding with what he told his tribunal at Guantánamo, the Joint Task Force noted that, “Prior to his recruitment into theIMU, [he] ran a distribution business.” Describing the events that led to his capture, it was noted that he and Rukniddin Sharopov (identified as Sharipov), described as “one of his best friends,” left Tajikistan and “were on a train to Russia to find better jobs when they met a man named Rustam, who offered them a military job in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.” He said that they “both accepted this offer,” although he added that he “believe[d] Rustam ‘tricked’ [them] because they thought they would be working with the government of Tajikistan’s Army and not the IMU.” An analyst described Rustam as “probably an IMU recruiter,” and it was noted that the IMU was described by the US authorities as “a Tier 1 counterterrorism target, defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.”

Vohidov proceeded to explain that, in January 2001, he attended an IMU camp located in Tavildara, although he claimed he “did not receive any training at this facility,” and said that after ten days “helicopters ferried approximately two hundred IMU fighters to Afghanistan,” including he and Sharopov “who flew on separate helicopters.” They were taken to Kunduz, but Vohidov said he then “attended a Madrassa in Kabul for approximately five to six months,” where he met a man named Sharifullah “who offered to get [him] back to Tajikistan if [he] accompanied him to the IMU office at Mazar-e-Sharif,” where he “worked as a supply clerk in the office and was responsible for the food.” He was seized in Mazar-e-Sharif in November 2001 and taken to Qala-i-Janghi, described as the “site of the uprising in which CIA Agent Michael Spahn [sic] was killed,” even though he claimed he “was not at the prison during the uprising.” He was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Practice of bringing youths into Afghanistan from Tajikistan, Madrassa detainee attended [and] Non-governmental organization (NGO) DOSF.”

In assessing his story, the Task Fprce identified the “madraassa” that Vohidov said he attended in Kabul as being an IMU facility, and also claimed that in Mazar-e-Sharif he worked at the “intelligence office for Sharafuddin Sharafat, former Taliban Intelligence chief at Mazar-e-Sharif and the current ACM [anti-coalition militia] leader.” It was also claimed that Vohidov “met Sharafat during his five to six-month stay in Kabul.”

In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that his behavior was “assessed as somewhat compliant.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention in Tajkistan, even though it was also noted that he was “a fugitive from Tajikistan and [was] wanted for violating Tajikistan’s laws and international orders,” which indicated that he would be treated very poorly if repatriated.

After his release, Vohidov — and Rukniddin Sharopov — were sentenced to 17 years in “high-security penal colonies” (aka labor camps) for “serving as mercenaries in Afghanistan” — where they were accused of aiding the Taliban by fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and for taking part in “illegal border crossing.” After passing sentence, the Supreme Court judge, Musammir Uroqov, said that both men had maintained their innocence, and added, “In their last words, they said they didn’t expect such consequences for acts they committed.” However, according to RFE/RL, the judge was satisfied that “investigations carried out in Vohidov and Sharopov’s native Isfara region proved that both men [had] been involved with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.”

In June 2010, as I explained here, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting revisited the story, explaining how the men’s families had been campaigning for a review of the verdict, and how prosecutors were possibly prepared to review the case. Although arguments were made that the sentence was justified because the men “committed acts that violate national law,” it was also noted that the time they served in Guantánamo was not taken into account during the sentencing.

Moreover, as I explained, other observers remained deeply critical, and their insights reflected badly not only on the Tajik authorities but also on the US government. As the IWPR article explained, Payam Foroughi, until recently a human rights officer with the OSCE in Tajikistan, “believes due process was not followed,” pointing out that the men “had not enough, or any, time to sufficiently and seriously discuss and properly prepare their case with a lawyer — and one of their choice — prior to their court hearing.” He also believed that the court “should have probed further into the allegation that Vohidov and Sharopov willingly became members of the IMU,” adding, “If anything, the evidence points to them having been victims of human trafficking.”

Criticism of the US came, inadvertently, from the judge in the men’s trial in 2007, who told IWPR, “We could not determine, even from the defendants, on what legal basis they were detained at and released from Guantánamo. We could not get hold of any documents. So we reached a verdict based on the documents that we had.” Highlighting this problem more explicitly, a local lawyer told IWPR that “the lack of documentation from Guantánamo was a recurring problem in countries to which detainees are repatriated.” He might have added that in most countries the authorities’ response was to let the men go.

In August 2011, RFE/RL reported that, for the 20th anniversary of Tajikistan’s independence, on September 9, 2011, human rights activists and lawyers were calling on the Tajik president to consider releasing the two former Guantánamo prisoners as part of an amnesty, noting, “Some 8,000 prisoners are expected to be set free to mark the occasion. Unofficial estimates suggest there are currently 13,000 people imprisoned in Tajikistan. There have been 11 amnesties in Tajikistan over the past 20 years. In the most recent, in November 2009, some 10,000 prisoners were released.”

The article stated, “Human Rights Watch, two prominent American lawyers, and a legal expert from Columbia University in New York have sent letters to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon making the case for Rukniddin Sharopov’s and Abdumuqit Vohidov’s release.” Chicago-based attorney Matthew J. O’Hara wrote, “It is my expert opinion that a great injustice has been done on the two.” He explained that it was probable that the two men “did not traverse the international border by will,” and, as RFE/RL added, “Sharopov and Vohidov maintain that they have never killed anyone, or been involved in terrorist activities or acts of violence.”

In their letter, Human Rights Watch stated, “Neither US, nor Tajik authorities provided any sound evidences of Sharopov’s and Vokhidov’s belonging to terrorist activity and crimes. We hope that the forthcoming amnesty law will also cover ex-prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay, who were accused of murder, and hope that Vokhidov’s and Sharopov’s appeals for amnesty will be carefully examined.” However, there has been no further news since August 2011.

Abdul Rauf Aliza (ISN 108, Afghanistan) Released December 2007

In Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, and in an article at the time of his release, I explained how Abdul Rauf Aliza was seized in November 2001 during the fall of Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan, and was held, with thousands of other men, in a filthy, overcrowded prison in Sheberghan run by General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. He was then transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airbase with nine other Afghan prisoners.

One of the nine, Jan Mohammed (ISN 17), a baker from Helmand province who had been forcibly conscripted by the Taliban, was one of the first prisoners to be released from Guantánamo in October 2002. After his release, he explained that the decision to transfer him to Kandahar came about because some of Dostum’s men “told US soldiers that he and nine others were senior Taliban officials.” “They came and took ten strong-looking people,” he told the journalist David Rohde. “Only one of those ten was a Talib.”

It’s probable that the solitary Taliban member transferred to Kandahar with Jan Mohammed was Abdul Rauf Aliza, who was, at some point, more accurately identified by the US authorities as Mullah Abdul Rauf, a Taliban troop commander. Although Aliza claimed that he was conscripted by the Taliban, who said they would take his land if he refused, and insisted that he only worked for them as a cook, several released Afghans explained to the journalist Ashwin Raman that Mullah Abdul Rauf was one of three Taliban commanders in northern Afghanistan held in Guantánamo. They told Raman that he had not been so cautious with his identity while detained in Camp X-Ray, when he “repeatedly pleaded with the Americans to let many of the detainees free,” saying, “These are no Talibs, I am the real Talib.”

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Abdul Rauf Aliza was an “Administrative Review Board Input,” dated October 26, 2004, in which Brig. Gen. Hood recommended to his military review board that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD).”

In this document, it was noted that, according to the Task Force’s assessment, he was “associated with several Taliban commanders and leaders in Afghanistan (AF) including Mullah Agha Jon Akhund, Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund, and Muhammed A. Fazl” (ISN 7, also identified as Mullah Fazil, and described by an analyst as “the Chief of Staff for the Taliban, as well as military commander for 2500 to 3000 Taliban soldiers”). It was also noted that he “accurately identified Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund as the Taliban Defense Minister and logistics supervisor,” that he “personally knew and accurately identified Taliban Commander Mullah Agha Jon Akhund,” and that, “[d]espite his claims of being a low-level Taliban foot soldier and food supplier, [he] managed to become closely associated with several senior level Taliban commanders and leaders.”

It was also noted that Shardar Khan (ISN 914, released in October 2006) “identified detainee” and former Taliban governor Khairullah Khairkhwa (ISN 579, still held) as “two cell block leaders attempting to instigate and influence the rest of the cell blocks to disregard orders, make noise, refuse food, and commit suicide,” to which an analyst again raised doubts, noting, “For a simple Taliban foot soldier and bread deliverer, detainee manage[d] to exhibit leadership qualities by conducting speeches and instilling fear into those who cooperate with JTF GTMO personnel.” The analyst also noted that Khairkhwa “identified the detainee as a possible military leader, military commander, or possibly even as a mayor of Khost.”

In other passages, it was stated that he had “admitted involvement in the production and sales of opium, as well as association with criminal elements within the Taliban and the Northern Alliance,” and it was noted that, although he had been “cooperative with his debriefers,” his accounts “remain[ed] vague and inconsistent when questioned on high-level Taliban leadership or topics of a sensitive nature,” to which an analyst added that, although he was “substantially exploited,” there were “several intelligence gaps that remain[ed] in his story, such as his involvement and knowledge concerning Taliban communications operations, associations with other JTF GTMO detainees, and his opium business.” It was also noted, “After serving three tours with Taliban, it does not seem plausible that the detainee was not promoted and given a more important duty than a mere bread deliverer.”

The last of these many major hints that Abdul Rauf Aliza was more than he appeared to be was a note that “[t]he name Mullah Abdul Rauf, detainee’s reference name, was located on a list of factions and leaders within the Taliban as a corps commander in Herat,” to which an analyst noted, “Several high level Taliban JTF GTMO detainees also identified detainee as a Taliban troop commander,” but added, “However, detainee does have similar physical characteristics to [Mullah Fazil], which may cause his misidentification.”

In conclusion, despite all the doubts highlighted above, it was also noted that, in his “Most Recent JTF GTMO Assessment, signed on 29 March 2004,” which also recommended his transfer to the control of another country for continued detention, he was assessed as being of low intelligence value and a medium threat,” even though it was also noted that, although he “ha[d] been generally cooperative, he ha[d] evaded answering questions regarding his role and leadership within the Taliban,” and even though, “due to recent findings that [he] may have had a more important role within the Taliban than previously thought, [his] intelligence value ha[d] been updated from low to medium.” Despite the recommendation for his transfer, however, he was not released for another three years and two months, and three years and nine months after he was first recommended for transfer.

In August 2010, Newsweek reported that Abdul Rauf Aliza had escaped from prison on his return, had rejoined the Taliban, and was threatening collaborators with the US and the Afghan authorities in Kabul. As the article described it, “One short handwritten note, shown to Newsweek, said: ‘We have made a decision for your death. You have five days to leave Afghan soil. If you don’t, you don’t have the right to complain.’ The screed, written on the letterhead of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s defunct Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, bore the signature of Abdul Rauf Khadim, a senior Taliban official and former inmate at the American lockup in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who had been released into — and subsequently escaped from — Kabul’s custody last year.”

In April 2011, Newsweek reported that Khadim (described as Maulvi Abdul Rauf Khadim) “commanded Mullah Omar’s elite mobile reserve force,” until his initial capture, “fighting regime opponents all over Afghanistan.” After he “convinced his jailers that he wanted only to go home and tend his farm,” and was repatriated, he {e]scap[ed] from house arrest in Kabul, [and] fled to Pakistan.” The article continued, “Today he’s the shadow governor of southern Uruzgan province and a potential rival to [Abdul Qayyum] Zakir ([ISN 8] who was freed from Gitmo at the same time) for the insurgency’s top slot, with a loyal following of fighters at the heart of the US military surge in neighboring Kandahar and Helmand provinces.”

Abdul Aziz Al Oshan (ISN 112, Saudi Arabia) Released September 2007

In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Aziz al-Oshan (also identified as Abdul Aziz al-Khaldi), who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he was a student who went to Afghanistan to rescue his brother, but was seized by the Northern Alliance, and was one of hundreds of prisoners sent to Qala-i-Janghi, a fort near Mazar-e-Sharif, where he survived a massacre that took place after some of the prisoners staged an uprising, fearing that they were about to be shot. When asked in his tribunal about the “uprising,” he said, “You are talking about the uprising. They called it an uprising and it’s not; it’s some kind of massacre. I was even wounded while I was there.”

in an article at the time of his release, I explained how he had recently come to prominence when a poem he had written was included in Poems From Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, an anthology of Guantánamo prisoners’ poetry compiled by law professor Marc Falkoff, who was the attorney for a number of Yemeni prisoners, and he had also written a perceptive and critical analysis of the library facilities at Guantánamo, which revealed how he was gentle, softly-spoken, literate and with a wry sense of humor that five and a half years in Guantánamo could not extinguish. I also told more of his story, based on his account — which began with an explanation of how, after taking his final exam at university, he went to Afghanistan to find his brother Saleh (who was also captured, but released in July 2005), in order to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia.

Caught up, in late November 2001, in the fall of Kunduz, the last Taliban bastion in the north of Afghanistan, he was “tied down and taken with other detainees” to Qala-i-Janghi. In Guantánamo, he explained to his tribunal that, although he had not been involved in any kind of military training and had not raised arms against either the Northern Alliance or the US-led coalition, he was afraid of being tortured, because he had previously been tortured in Afghanistan.

“When I was first captured,” he said, “it was the Afghani police there. They were threatening me and torturing me. If I didn’t say that I was from Al-Qaida or Taliban I was tortured. I went to Kandahar and I was tortured there. The guy was speaking English saying ‘Al-Qaida? Taliban? Al-Qaida? Taliban?’ Evidence of the torture is that they broke my tooth which was fixed here.” He added, “Once I arrived here, things were a little better. There was no torture or things like that but, because of what happened in the past I was dwelling on the fact that, are these people treating me good and they are going to come back and torture me again?”

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Oshan was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated June 19, 2007, in which he was identified as Abd al-Aziz Sad Muhammad Awshan al-Khalidi, Abdul Aziz Bin Saad, and Abdul A. Mohammed, and it was noted that he was born in September 1979, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he was “one exam away from finishing his four-year college degree” in Islamic studies at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in his hometown of Riyadh, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan. The Task Force also noted that he “was not married and lived with his parents through college,” and that he “received a stipend of 800 Saudi riyals (SAR) per month from the Saudi government for attending the university,” and also that, because he “was the only student with a car, he charged people money to take them places,” and “also received money from his parents.”

The Task Force further explained that he “was still in Saudi Arabia when the 11 September 2001 attacks occurred,” and that he “believed the attacks violated Islamic ethics because the Koran states it is wrong to kill innocent people.” This seemed to be particularly important, as did a statement that he “was not personally recruited, but heard from friends about fatwa (religious decrees) urging young men to fight abroad,” and also “overheard other Saudis talking about the conflicts in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and read newspaper articles detailing the suffering of Muslims in those countries.” It was also noted that he read a well-known fatwa “calling on people to ‘defend the Muslims and Islamic nations’ against the Northern Alliance (NA) troops of Massoud and Dostum.”

In spite of noting that he “was not personally recruited,” the Task Force claimed that, in November 2001, he “decided to travel to Afghanistan,” not only “to find his brother,” but also “to fight the jihad.” Al-Oshan apparently “financed his own trip,” which was unusual, as most jihadists traveled with the assistance of facilitators, who made their arrangements for them, and traveled via Syria and Iran (rather than flying to Karachi and then traveling via Quetta, as was typical for jihadi recruits).

When they reached the border, the border guards “instructed a taxi driver to take them to a guesthouse in Herat,” and gave them contact details. After one night in Herat, they apparently traveled to Kabul, where, it was claimed, they “stayed at an unidentified guesthouse for about a week because ‘the front lines were full,'” even though it was not even remotely likely that new arrivals would have been allowed to travel immediately to the front lines on arrival.

He then reportedly traveled to Kunduz with two other men, staying at an unidentified guesthouse, where, it was claimed, he was shown how to use an AK-47, and then traveled to the front line, where he stayed for six days “without seeing any combat action since the mountains acted as a buffer between them and the NA [Northern Alliance].” He and the others then retreated, and walked back to the guest-house in Kunduz. He then apparently “left during the night with a group of others going to Mazar-e-Sharif,” presumably to surrender, but “Dostum’s troops apprehended them and took them to the Qala-i-Janghi Prison.”

Based on his account, the Task Force described the uprising as follows: “On 25 November 2001, shooting erupted within the walls of the prison, and detainee was shot in his thigh and back. Other prisoners dragged him into the basement of the prison. Dostum’s forces pumped gasoline into the basement and ignited it; they later flooded the basement with water. After about one week, the Red Cross arrived and transported all the surviving prisoners to Sheberghan Prison.”

From Sheberghan, US forces took him to their prison at Kandahar, and he was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Training and tactics of front line Taliban fighters.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force focused primarily on his family ties, rather than on any information corroborating the claims that he had been on the front lines in Afghanistan, which, as I noted above, drew only on his own statements, possibly extracted under duress. One of his brothers, Isa (aka Eissa al-Aushan), was described as “the deceased leader of a Riyadh Al-Qaida cell responsible for the.kidnapping and murder of a US contractor, Paul Johnson, Jr.,” and “was killed in a July 2004 gunfight with Saudi security forces.”

It was also noted that he was “assessed to have an uncle named Saud Muhammad Abd al-Aziz al-Awshan,” described as “a Saudi-based terrorist financier associated with the Philippines-base Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” although whether either of these connections actually impacted on him was not provable, and was certainly not sufficient to justify an analyst’s claim that, because “Al-Qaida recruitments often occur within family groups,” his “close relationships with several Al-Qaida members likely exposed him to Al-Qaida propaganda, and possibly to direct recruitment.” The analyst also claimed that “[t]hese relationships likely also indicate a high level of loyalty toward Al-Qaida.”

When it came to the most relevant relationship, with Salman Mohammed (ISN 121, released in December 2006, and also identified as Sulaiman al-Oshan), who was the brother he traveled to rescue, the Task Force described Mohammed as “a mujahid with the 55th Arab Brigade,” and noted that he “was on a list of thirty-seven detainees whom the Saudi Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) designated as high priority before a Saudi delegation visit to JTF-GTMO in 2002.”

This, again, was nothing more than guilt by association, and despite their best efforts, interrogators could also not get Mohammed to incriminate his brother. What was reported instead was that, although Mohammed “corroborated detainee’s approximate date of arrival at the front lines,” he “provided conflicting accounts as to why detainee traveled to Afghanistan, first claiming that he did not know, and later stating that detainee came to retrieve [him].”

The most relevant passage in the file did not involve how his brothers were perceived by the Saudi authorities, but how he was regarded, and it was noted, “In July 2002, a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited JTF-GTMO and interviewed detainee. Detainee was identified as of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US, and unlikely to pose a terrorist threat to the US or its interests. Furthermore,the Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution as soon as the US determined it no longer wanted to hold him.”

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,” which seemed like an exaggerated assessment, especially as he was also “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harry H. Harris Jr., the commander of Guantánamo at the time, updating a recommendation for continued detention with transfer language (dated March 31, 2006), recommended him for continued detention without transfer language, although no reason was given. Even so, he was released three months later, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

Yousef Al Shehri (ISN 114, Saudi Arabia) Released November 2007

In a footnote to Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Yousef al-Shehri, who was just 16 years old at the time of his capture, was seized between Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz with 120 other suspected fighters. I also explained how his cousin, Abdul Salam al-Shehri (ISN 132, released in June 2006), who was just 17 years old at the time of his capture, and who had hidden in the basement during the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, thought he was dead. He was then transported to a prison in Sheberghan run by the Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum, where he spent six weeks in horribly overcrowded conditions, surrounded by the dead and dying, before being transferred to US custody.

Although al-Shehri — like the other juveniles at Guantánamo (at least 22 in total) — should have been rehabilitated rather than punished, according to America’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified on December 23, 2002, only three juveniles were ever treated differently from the adult prisoners (as described in “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Ten of Ten)”).

As I explained in an article at the time of his release, al-Shehri’s suffering at Guantánamo became particularly pronounced when he took part in a prison-wide hunger strike, involving as many as 200 prisoners, in the summer of 2005. In July 2005, and again in January 2006, his weight, which had been 141 pounds when he arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002, dropped to just 97 pounds, and his lawyers, who visited him in October 2005, said that he was “emaciated and had lost a disturbing amount of weight,” adding that he was “visibly weak and frail” and “had difficulty speaking because of lesions in his throat that were a result of the involuntary force-feeding” to which he had been subjected.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Shehri was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated July 21, 2006, in which he was identified as Yusif Muhammad Mubarak al-Shihri, and it was noted that he was born in September 1985 (and was therefore just 16 at the time of his capture), and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that he left school sometime in 2000, and then “sold fruit, vegetables and honey from a cart on the side of the road for approximately two months in Riyadh, Jeddah and Mecca” until a man named Muhammad al-Qosi convinced him to go to Pakistan. There he met another Saudi, Abdul Aziz, and reportedly spent two and a half months in Karachi with him, at a mosque, until Abdul Aziz told him that “it was their duty to participate in jihad with the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

In April 2001, they “traveled to Kabul, where they spoke with the Taliban and stated they wanted to fight,” and “were given directions to a Taliban guesthouse,” where they were separated. Al-Shehri then traveled with three Arabs and approximately 30 Afghans to a compound in Kunduz, commanded by Mullah Thacker, and then, with seven Afghans, he was sent to an Arab unit on the front lines at Khawaja Ghar, where he “spent approximately four or five months at a support center close to the front.” Although his commander, Abu Muath, gave him “one day of training on grenades and the Kalashnikov,” he reportedly “transported food and bullets to the front line and helped bury the dead.”

After the US-led invasion, when “the fighting on the front lines became intense” (in November 2001), al-Shehri and his group were instructed to withdraw from the front lines to Kunduz. After two weeks, his commander informed him that “Mullah Thaker had ordered a withdrawal to Kandahar,” and he and others “traveled in cars and trucks to Mazar-e-Sharif, AF, where Northern Alliance commander Dostum’s men stopped the trucks and ordered the fighters to surrender their weapons.” They were then taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where he survived the massacre, and he was then taken to Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, where he was held for a month and a half. He was then taken to Kandahar by US forces, and was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Personalities and replacement operations of the Arab element that supported the Northern Taliban forces (assessed to be referring to UBL’s [Osama bin Laden's] 55th Arab Brigade).”

In assessing his story, the Task Force stated that he was “historically uncooperative during debriefings, and his truthfulness [was] often in doubt.” It was also claimed that there were unexplained holes in his timeline, which “afforded him the opportunity to attend training at Al-Farouq [the main training camp for Arabs], which he probably completed prior to supporting the Taliban and al-Qaida on the front lines.”

Whether or not he was anything more than a basic foot soldier was actually open to question, as the Task Force was preoccupied by his “familial ties to a significant Al-Qaida member”; namely, “his older brother Saad Muhammad Mubarak al-Shihri aka Abdul Rahman al-Najdi aka Abu Uthman al-Shahri” who was apparently “an official spokesman for Al-Qaida and on Saudi Arabia’s most wanted list in November 2005.”

The Task Force also noted that he had “shown his willingness to martyr himself while at JTF-GTMO,” adding, “Should he be released, he would probably seek the opportunity to do so,” and explaining that he had “sent a letter to his family telling them of his wish to be a martyr.” It was also noted that, on May 18, 2006, he had tried to commit suicide — or, as the Task Force put it, had “committed self-harm by attempting to overdose on prescribed medication.” The fact that suicide was not even remotely regarded as a form of martyrdom by jihadists appeared to have eluded the Task Force.

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.” He was also “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant and sometimes hostile with the guard force and staff.” Providing specific details, the Task Force noted that, on December 10, 2004, “he became violent during an interview session,” when he “threw books at his interviewer, flipped a table, and attempted to head butt a guard,” and that, on August 18, 2005, “while assigned to the detainee hospital, [he] was denied a request to be unrestrained during prayer call,” and “[h]e and the other detainees became upset and began pulling out their IV’s and brandishing them as weapons, throwing thermometers, and grabbing med packs containing syringes and anything else that could be used as a weapon.”

As a result of the above, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation that he retained in DoD control (dated June 10, 2005), recommended him for continued detention, although, crucially, it was also noted, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to [al-Shehri] and/or to exploited intelligence, [he] can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).” It took another 16 months for that agreement to be reached, when he was released.

After his release, al-Shehri was processed through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program, but in February 2009 he was included as one of eleven former Guantánamo prisoners in a list of the Saudi government’s 85 most wanted militants, all of whom had allegedly left Saudi Arabia and in October 2009 it was reported that he and another man, Raed al-Harbi, had been killed in a shootout with Saudi authorities after they entered the country from Yemen, disguised as women, and “planning to carry out attacks.”

Bijad Al Atabi (ISN 122, Saudi Arabia) Released July 2007

In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Bijad al-Atabi (also identified as al-Otaibi), who was 30 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of being an assistant commander in Al-Qaida’s Arab Brigade, and I added more information in an article at the time of his release, in which I explained that, in Guantánamo, he was accused of stating that he traveled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban, that he was trained at a camp near Kabul, and that he fought on the front lines until ordered to surrender to Northern Alliance commander General Dostum at Mazar-e-Sharif.

He was then imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi, a fort where hundreds of men were killed in a massacre, after some of them started an uprising against their captors, fearing that they were about to be killed. He was one of 86 men who survived in the basement of the fort for a week, despite being bombed and flooded.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Atabi was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated January 22, 2007, in which he was identified as Bijad D. al-Atavi and Bajad Dhayfallah Hawaymal al-Ruqi al-Utaybi, and it was noted that he was born in August 1971, and was “in good health.”

In telling his story, based largely on his own account, the Joint Task Force noted that at the age of eight, his father died and he began working on the family farm while also attending school. From 1988 to 1997, he “worked as a guard with the Saudi National Security Force, where [his] duties included guarding movement sponsored television, telecommunication, electric, and food processing facilities.” He said that he “did not receive and firearms training, but was armed with a Belgian rifle.” From 1997 to 1999, he “returned home to work on the family farm.”

He was, he said, “inspired to fight jihad” after listening to a fatwa issued by a well-known sheikh, but spoke to another sheikh who told him that Osama bin Laden “was not a good Muslim and to avoid Al-Qaida.” Nevertheless, he then spoke to an Afghan who gave him information about how to get to Afghanistan and where to stay,” and, on May 25, 2000, “traveled alone to Jalalabad,” via Dubai and Peshawar. There, he said, he was taken to the university, where he stayed with the brother of an individual he had met while traveling from Peshawar to Jalalabad. After a few days, he went to Kabul, where he “stayed in the Wazir Akbar Khan area at a Taliban guesthouse” for a week, and was then taken to the front lines outside Kabul, where he “received training on the AK-47 rifle and hand grenades for approximately two to three weeks at a small unknown Taliban training camp.” He said that he “never fought during his time on the frontlines,” and also said that “Al-Qaida attempted to recruit [him], but [he] refused.”

Al-Atabi further stated that he was on the frontlines until late July or early August 2000, but added that, during one of his regular trips from the frontlines to the Taliban guesthouse (“for rest”), he “was injured in an automobile accident and taken to a hospital in Kabul,” where he remained for up to six weeks. In October 2000, approximately, he was transferred to a hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, where he “received additional surgery and physical therapy on his hand.” He also explained that the Taliban “paid for some of [his] medical bills, and [he] paid the balance.” He then “remained in Lahore at a Taliban guesthouse until approximately  February 2001, when he returned to Kabul and stayed in a guesthouse for about a month, and then traveled to Qarabagh, where he stayed at another guesthouse until approximately mid-April 2001.

He then “traveled to and fought in the Khawaja Ghar region of Afghanistan” until he “was told the Taliban reached an agreement with General Dostum” of the Northern Alliance. This was described as being “approximately mid-October 2001,” although it was actually in November. He then “traveled to Mazar-e-Sharif in a convoy where he was detained on approximately 23 November 2001 by Northern Alliance (NA) forces and taken to the Qala-i-Janghi prison.” Al-Atabi’s comments about the massacre were not noted, but an analyst stated, “Over 70 JTF-GTMO detainees surrendered to General Dostum’s troops in late November 2001. Dostum’s forces took the prisoners to the Qala-i-Janghi prison located outside Mazar-e-Sharif, on 24 November 2001. After one night in captivity, the prisoners revolted leading to the deaths of NA forces and CIA operative Johnny ‘Mike’ Spann. Detainee and other JTF-GTMO detainees, who survived the revolt, withdrew to a basement in the compound until they were recaptured , approximately one week later.”

On December 29, 2001, after being held in Sheberghan prison, also run by Dostum, for four weeks, al-Atabi was transferred to the US prison at Kandahar airport. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Taliban organization, leadership, equipment and procedures [and] Taliban training camp in the vicinity of Taloqan.”

In assessing his story, the Task Force described him as “a member of Al-Qaida and a sub-commander in [Osama bin Laden]‘s 55th Arab Brigade,” and while the former was the normal exaggerated description of any Arab fighting the Northern Alliance, the latter claim came only from one witness, Ali al-Tayeea (ISN 111, released in January 2009), who was well-known within Guantánamo circles as an unreliable witness. Al-Tayeea apparently identified al-Atabi as Abjad Dhaif Allah (aka Abu Umar), and also “photo-identified [him] as Abu Omar al-Nejdi, but stated [his] real name [was] Bujaad Daif Allah,” which an analyst regarded as “a variant of [his] name.” He claimed that al-Atabi “was an al-Qaida explosives and weapons expert who received extensive training,” and “was a mid-level commander, well known to Al-Qaida fighters,” who “fought on the Kabul and Khawaja Ghar fronts,” and also claimed he “was on the North Line for a long time and was Abu Tarub’s sub-commander in the Bilal Group of the Arab Brigade.”

Furthermore, with reference to Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, (described as having “primary operational command of the former 55th Arab Brigade, [and] serving as [Osama bin Laden]‘s military commander in the field”), al-Tayeea claimed that al-Atabi “knew Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi very well because [he] always went to al-Iraqi’s office.” He added that he “saw [al-Atabi] twice with al-Iraqi and also saw [him] with information needed on the North Line,” and “believe[d] detainee was a very important person.”

Even if al-Tayeea was correct to identify al-Atabi as a sub-commander, it did not follow that he was “a very important person,” but what made al-Tayeea’s statement dubious was not only his track record, but also the fact that there was no other reliable verification for his story. Muhammad al-Adahi (ISN 33, still held), apparently “also photo-identified detainee as Abu Omar al-Najdi, a sub-commander to Abu Turab,” but this smacks of a coerced statement, or one produced simply to make life easier, as al-Adahi, a Yemeni who accompanied his sister to Afghanistan for her marriage, never went anywhere near the front lines where al-Atabi was reportedly a sub-commander.

Others recognized al-Atabi, but none of them claimed that he had a command position. Abd al-Rahman al-Umari (ISN 199, a Saudi who died in Guantánamo in May 2007, and was also identified as Abdul Rahman al-Amri) “identified detainee as Abu Omar who was at the Rabei position in Kabul,” Said al-Zahrani (ISN 204, released in July 2007) “identified detainee as Abu Omar who fought on the frontlines”) and correctly “believed [he] was wounded in a castle near Mazar-e-Sharif”), and John Walker Lindh (ISN 1, although he was never held at Guantánamo, because he was a US citizen), “thought the detainee depicted in a photograph shown to him was Abu Umar, a Saudi from Najd, SA.” Lindh apparently also “said Abu Umar had been in Afghanistan for a long time, ‘maybe even in the 80s, fighting against the USSR,'” and “recalled seeing detainee on the backlines near Takhar, AF, and Kunduz, AF, after the retreat.” He added that he “thought detainee had been killed.” An analyst noted, “If detainee is the individual identified by Lindh, [he] has withheld details of his background story,” but it seems more likely that it was Lindh, presumably under duress, who was making things up.

The Task Force also noted that “[v]ariations of detainee’s name and aliases ha[d] been recovered in Al-Qaida associated documents,” recovered during house raids, but this kind of claim is particularly dubious. More significant was a note stating that, “Prior to the Saudi delegation visit in 2002, the Saudi Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) provided information on 37 detainees whom they designated as being high priority. Detainee was eighteenth on the list.”

Mabahith also “noted detainee was on the Saudi movement’s ‘watch and arrest’ list due to information they received reporting detainee’s death in Mazar-e- Sharif and the possibility of someone else using detainee’s passport,” which, of course, was nothing to do with him, but what was most significant was that, “After the Saudi delegation visit, detainee was assessed by Mabahith” not as being “high priority,” but “as one of the 77 Saudi nationals of low intelligence or law enforcement value to the US Government, but of whom [sic] the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from JTF-GTMO.”

In conclusion, 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.” It was also noted that he was “assessed to be a medium threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile toward the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harris, updating a recommendation for his continued detention (dated October 24, 2005), repeated that recommendation, without any acknowledgement of the Saudis’ description of al-Atabi as being “of low intelligence or law enforcement value to the US Government.” However, six months later, he was released, to be put through the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program.

Also see Part One of this series.

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.

8 Responses

  1. JAN (Cosmic Surfer) says...

    Another great article, Andy.
    Thank you for keeping the focus on this extremely important issue. There are only a handful of journalists with the courage to keep Guantánamo in the public’s eye.
    The US government would just prefer to let the attention and awareness go away and let the truth about the dozens of men held without trial, without charges, without guilt to just be swept under the rug.
    We cannot allow that to happen. Innocent people being held in captivity by a country that claims freedom as it’s legacy?
    THAT is just plain wrong

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan, for the supportive words and the perceptive analysis. And thanks again for all the great work you’re doing bringing my work to the attention of a wider audience!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Pete Johnson wrote:

    thanks so much for doing this work,hope everyone can contribute something to the cause

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Ahmad Belal wrote:

    keep up Andy…… You can dig more into it.. Well-done!!!!!!!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pete and Ahmad, for the supportive words, and thanks also to those of you who have shared this so far. The longer this project goes on, the more difficult it becomes, as the authorities added more and more information the longer the prisoners were held, and the more analysis is required on my part to ascertain whether any of it is even remotely plausible.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Ahmad Belal wrote:

    I can feel the heat as the longer it takes though I am not working on it, they way you are, but I would say ” A single man can prove to be a mountain” no matter what. Lets hope for the good InshaAllah. We will see its fruits one day………

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Ahmad. I certainly hope that it will prove useful and continue to prove useful to those who want to know the truth about Guantanamo.

  8. The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners … | 6d says...

    [...] ? the Detainee Assessment Briefs ? relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at … Persistent Search Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006WikiLeaks files on [...]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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