Haji Ghalib, the Afghan Freed from Guantánamo Who Is Now Fighting Isis and the Taliban

4.12.15

Former Guantanamo prisoner Haji Ghalib, photographed after his release from Guantanamo in February 2007.When it comes to reports about prisoners released from Guantánamo, there has, since President Obama took office, been an aggressive black propaganda policy — firstly from within the Pentagon and latterly from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — painting a false picture of the alleged rate of “recidivism” amongst former prisoners, a trend that has also been echoed in the mainstream media, which has repeatedly published whatever nonsense it has been told without questioning it, or asking for anything resembling proof from those government departments that are responsible. For some background, see my articles here, here, here and here – and my appearance on Democracy Now! in January 2010.

The three outstanding problems with the supposed recidivism rate — beyond the lamentable truth that no information backing up the claims has been made publicly available since 2009, and that the media should therefore have been very wary of it — are, firstly, that lazy or cynical media outlets regular add up the numbers of former prisoners described as “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists to reach an alarming grand total, which, in recent years, is over 25% of those released, when the numbers of those “suspected” of recidivism are based on unverified, single source reporting, and may very well be unreliable. Back in March 2012, for example, as I explained in my article, “Guantánamo and Recidivism: The Media’s Ongoing Failure to Question Official Statistics,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said, “Someone on the ‘suspected’ list could very possibly not be engaged in activities that are counter to our national security interests.” (emphasis added).

The second huge problem with the reports is that even the “confirmed” rate is, very evidently, exaggerated, as it is, to be blunt, inconceivable that as many former prisoners as alleged can have been engaged in military or terrorist activities against the US. In the latest DNI report, for example, made available in September 2015, it is claimed that 117 former prisoners (17.9% of those released) are “Confirmed of Reengaging,” but no indication is given of how that can be possible. Claims can certainly be made for a few dozen “recidivists” — primarily in Afghanistan, and amongst those few former Gulf prisoners who apparently set up an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Yemen — but the figure of 117 is simply implausible.

A third important reason for disputing the claims, as noted by the Constitution Project, is that the overwhelming majority of those allegedly “Confirmed of Reengaging” — 111 of the 117 — were released under President Bush, and only six men released by President Obama — just 4.9% of those released on his watch — are regarded as being recidivists; in other words, the current threat is just 4.9%, and as a result, as the Constitution Project explained, “95.1% of detainees transferred during the Obama presidency have not reengaged.”

In the New York Times at the weekend, another more positive take on the reporting about former prisoners took place with the publication of an article about Haji Ghalib (aka Hajji Ghalib), an Afghan former prisoner, who, since his release in 2007, has become a formidable opponent not just of the Taliban, but also of efforts by Isis fighters to make inroads into Afghanistan.

Ghalib, it should be noted, is one of several dozen Afghan prisoners I identified in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files as having worked with US forces, but who ended up at Guantánamo because of rivalries with other Afghans, who took advantage of the Americans’ generally woeful intelligence, and their inability or unwillingness to cross-reference information about prisoners, to get their rivals banished to the US prison in Cuba. See the front-page story I wrote for the New York Times with Carlotta Gall, in February 2008, about Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, a heroic opponent of the Taliban, whose appeals for verification of his story were repeatedly ignored. Hekmati died of cancer at Guantánamo in December 2007, but the Bush administration never acknowledged its mistake.

In The Guantánamo Files, I wrote about Haji Ghalib as follows:

40-year old Haji Ghalib, the chief of police for a district in Jalalabad, and one of his officers, 32-year Kako Kandahari, were captured together, after US and Afghan forces searched their compound and identified weapons and explosives that they thought were going to be used against them. Both men pointed out, however, that they fought with the Americans in Tora Bora. “I captured a lot of al-Qaeda and Arabs that were turned over to the Americans,” Ghalib said, “and I see those people here that I helped capture in Afghanistan.” He explained that he thought he may have been betrayed by one of the commanders in Tora Bora, because he “let about 40 [al-Qaeda] escape so I got on the phone and cussed at him and that is why I am here.”

In 2008, Ghalib also told Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers (as later reported here) that he was detained “in a basement at an airstrip in Jalalabad during March 2003” by Special Forces troops, and added, “At night they would strap me down on a cot, and put a bucket of water on the floor, in front of my head. And then they would tip the cot forward and dunk my head in the bucket … They would leave my head underwater and then jerk it out by my hair. I sometimes lost consciousness.”

In 2012, the BBC World Service found him unemployed, “living in a cold damp apartment in Kabul,” but since then he has been at the forefront of resistance to the Taliban — although at great personal cost. 19 of his relatives, including both of his wives, his daughters, a sister and a grandchild, have been killed by the Taliban — almost all as a result of a bomb planted in a coffin — and Haji Ghalib’s descriptions of his life reveal how much he has suffered. “I don’t have good memories of life, to be honest,” he says, adding, “Everything has been fighting and killing.”

Ironically, those who falsely imprisoned him for five years now occasionally help him out. As the Times article notes, “the American military sometimes supports his men with airstrikes — although Mr. Ghalib complains that there are too few bombers and drones for his taste.”

Another sad note in the article concerns an Afghan poet and gemstone dealer named Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, with whom Haji Ghalib was friends in Guantánamo, but who “now leads the Islamic State fighters whom Mr. Ghalib’s forces are trying to drive out of eastern Afghanistan.” As the Times put it, “Mr. Dost, a dour but quick-witted man who was known for the poetry he etched into the side of coffee cups for lack of better writing materials, was adamant that there was only one course of action after their release: Go to Pakistan and start waging jihad. He spoke of uniting the whole Muslim world.”

What I find sad about this is that, although Muslim Dost undoubtedly features in the DNI list of recidivists, it seems obvious that his profoundly negative experiences in Guantánamo must have played some part in radicalizing him. See this article from 2006, the year after his release, when he was calling on the US to return his poems, and preparing to publish a book about his experiences. Also see my profile of him here, which mentions his clashes with, and imprisonment by the Pakistani authorities following his release, and which also makes clear that it may be factors that have nothing to do with the US that have played the most significant role in turning him into an Isis soldier.

I hope you have time to read the article about Haji Ghalib, and to reflect on his bravery — and on how Guantánamo ruined his life, and led, in part, to the loss of his family, as everyone released from Guantánamo becomes a target for those opposed to the US, and often face retaliation if they don’t cooperate.

Once in Guantánamo, Afghan Now Leads War Against Taliban and ISIS
By Joseph Goldstein, New York Times, November 27, 2015

Hajji Ghalib did just what the American military feared he would after his release from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp: He returned to the Afghan battlefield.

But rather than worrying about Mr. Ghalib, the Americans might have considered encouraging him. Lean and weather-beaten, he is now leading the fight against the Taliban and the Islamic State across a stretch of eastern Afghanistan.

His effectiveness has led to appointments as the Afghan government’s senior representative in some of the country’s most war-ravaged districts. Afghan and American officials alike describe him as a fiercely effective fighter against the insurgency, and the American military sometimes supports his men with airstrikes — although Mr. Ghalib complains that there are too few bombers and drones for his taste.

Accounts of former Guantánamo detainees who went on to fight alongside the Taliban or Islamic State have become familiar. So are those of innocents swept up in the American dragnet and dumped in the prison camp without recourse or appeal. But this is a new one: the story of a man wrongly branded an enemy combatant and imprisoned in Guantánamo for four years, only to emerge as a steadfast American ally on the battlefield.

At 54, Mr. Ghalib’s face is creased, and his eyes are both exhausted and watchful, as though all they really expect to see is the next bad turn that will befall his life. There have been many, including the death of both wives, his daughters, a sister and a grandchild at the hands of the Taliban.

“I don’t have good memories of life, to be honest,” Mr. Ghalib said.

In a recent interview in Kabul, he cataloged the enemies he has fought during a life of struggle — first the Soviets, during the jihad of the 1980s; then the Taliban over the next three decades; and now the Islamic State.

More slowly, he recounted the long list of relatives he lost over these decades of calamity, from a brother who died in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s to his 70-year-old brother-in-law, who was beheaded this month. The Taliban killed more than 19 relatives in all.

“Everything has been fighting and killing,” he lamented.

Now, his latest fight has even pitted him against a man he once considered a close friend: a poet named Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, whom he lived alongside in Guantánamo.

While Mr. Ghalib chose to reject bitterness and fight on behalf of the American-backed government, his former friend Mr. Dost now leads the Islamic State fighters whom Mr. Ghalib’s forces are trying to drive out of eastern Afghanistan.

But years ago, stuck in the same camp at Guantánamo, they would spend their days debating politics and religion.

Mr. Dost, a dour but quick-witted man who was known for the poetry he etched into the side of coffee cups for lack of better writing materials, was adamant that there was only one course of action after their release: Go to Pakistan and start waging jihad. He spoke of uniting the whole Muslim world.

Mr. Ghalib had other plans. “I used to argue with them that we are Afghans and we must support Afghanistan,” he said, meaning the current, American-backed government that replaced the Taliban. It was the minority view, but he did not worry about sharing it with Mr. Dost or any of his jailed countrymen. “We were friends with each other despite our views,” he said.

How Mr. Ghalib ended up in American captivity is its own bewildering story. After building a reputation as an effective commander against the Soviets and the Taliban, he became a police chief for the new Afghan government after the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. But in 2003, he was arrested after United States soldiers found explosive devices adjacent to the government compound where he worked. That was apparently close enough. There were also several letters that linked him to Taliban figures, although American officials conceded the letters might have been forged.

One of the military officers weighing the evidence against him explained that he did not “put much credibility to any of these letters,” according to a transcript of the tribunal.

That left Mr. Ghalib flummoxed. “So why are you detaining me?”

At Guantánamo, Mr. Ghalib often explained to his captors that he had been fighting the Taliban for years and had even aided American forces at Tora Bora against Al Qaeda. He recited the names of major anti-Taliban commanders who would vouch for him.

American investigators eventually concluded that the “detainee is not assessed as being a member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban,” according to a military document outlining the evidence. Yet the military nonetheless described Mr. Ghalib as “a medium risk,” noting that he could possibly become a formidable enemy given his years of experience as a combat commander — albeit on the government’s side before his detainment.

Finally, in 2007, Mr. Ghalib was released.

He left Guantánamo angry not only over the “psychological torture” the American military put him through, but also at the Afghan government for never pushing for his release, he recalled. Yet he was determined not to let the hardship of the past four years alter the course of his life.

Mr. Ghalib decided that he would be guided by “the overall pain that my people and my country are going through — that is the most important thing.”

But his own sorrows would only grow in the coming years.

“My dream was to go back and live peacefully at home,” Mr. Ghalib said. “But nobody let me do that.”

It began with a road, or at least the idea of a road, that his tribe, the Shinwari, wanted built in Mr. Ghalib’s home district in Nangarhar Province. As a tribal elder, Mr. Ghalib took a leading role in the internationally financed project.

Almost immediately, the Taliban began to threaten him for working with the foreigners, and soon the insurgents began assassinating his relatives.

Among the first to die was Mr. Ghalib’s brother, caught on his way home from a mosque. After the Ramadan holiday in 2013, the extended family gathered at the gravesite to mourn. But the Taliban had dug up the gravesite and buried a bomb there to punish the family further.

“Eighteen members of my family were killed in that attack,” Mr. Ghalib recounted — almost all women and children.

“My family is finished,” Mr. Ghalib told The Associated Press that afternoon, calling the Taliban “inhuman.”

Back then, Mr. Ghalib had been on a local peace commission, one of many tribal elders seeking to encourage reconciliation with the insurgents. But President Hamid Karzai offered him a chance for revenge. He had little family to look after, and the Taliban would keep coming after him, Mr. Ghalib recalled the president telling him. The president got him a job as governor of Bati Kot, a Taliban-infested district straddling a highway to Pakistan. He quickly organized a local police force and began going after the Taliban.

“When I got into the government, I started to destroy them,” Mr. Ghalib recalled. The Taliban tried to placate him, he said, recalling an unusual phone call he received: The insurgent commander on the line offered to find whoever had planted the bomb at his brother’s grave and hang him.

Mr. Ghalib rejected the terms. “I told them that our enmity has just started.”

This summer, his Shinwari tribesman requested that he be transferred two districts south, to rescue a benighted region called Achin, where a belt of villages had fallen to a new threat: Islamic State fighters under the command of Mr. Dost, his old friend from Guantánamo. The militants had pushed 10 tribal elders into an explosives-lined trench and videotaped the blast that killed them.

When Mr. Ghalib arrived as the new district governor, he placed on his desk a photograph of his 2-year old grandson, killed in the cemetery bombing. “Each time I look at it, it makes my heart burst and that motivates me,” he said. “That’s why I carry on all the operations myself.”

In one battle this summer, Mr. Ghalib described how he and his son led a force of police officers and soldiers against Islamic State fighters who were threatening to overrun Achin’s small district center. After being hit by multiple roadside bomb explosions, most of the forces fell back, leaving Mr. Ghalib and his son alone to face some 15 Islamic State fighters.

“We were able to shoot many,” he said.

At such times, Mr. Ghalib said, he would not be surprised to find Mr. Dost among the jihadists shooting back at him — the rumor is that Mr. Dost is usually on the front lines.

But Mr. Ghalib said that he would have little to say to Mr. Dost at this point: “He slaughters civilians, innocent people and children.”

“We will not spare him if I face him on the battlefield,” Mr. Ghalib said matter-of-factly. And given the chance, he said, “he will also not leave me alive.”

The two last saw each other a decade ago, in 2005, in Guantánamo. The Americans had concluded that Mr. Dost was no longer a threat and sent him home.

“It is very ironic that Muslim Dost got released before me,” Mr. Ghalib said. He himself had two more years to go before the Americans finally released him, too.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a cross-post of a powerful New York Times article about a released Afghan ‪Guantanamo‬ prisoner, Haji Ghalib, who is fighting the Taliban and Isis, and has had almost his entire family killed by the Taliban, plus my own commentary, in which I provide my own account of Haji Ghalib, and also provide an analysis of how skewed and untrustworthy are the “recidivism” claims issued every six months by the Director of National Intelligence. I also explain how generally irresponsible the mainstream media are in promoting these unsubstantiated claims.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When Pucci Dellanno shared this, she wrote:

    Article by Andy Worthington:
    the story of a man wrongly branded an enemy combatant and imprisoned in Guantánamo for four years, only to emerge as a steadfast American ally on the battlefield.
    “At 54, Mr. Ghalib’s face is creased, and his eyes are both exhausted and watchful, as though all they really expect to see is the next bad turn that will befall his life. There have been many, including the death of both wives, his daughters, a sister and a grandchild at the hands of the Taliban.”

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, and for your summary and the quote you highlighted, Pucci​. And everyone should know there were a number of Afghans in Guantanamo who supported the US, but were handed over by unscrupulous rivals who told lies about them – my research indicates that there were a few dozen Afghans in total. Here’s my front-page article from the New York Times in Feb. 2008, written with Carlotta Gall, about one of these men, who died at Guantanamo in Dec. 2007. It took only a few hours for Bush administration officials to tell the Times to throw me under the bus – sorry, meant to say, to apologize for giving me a byline: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/world/asia/05gitmo.html?pagewanted=all

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Pucci Dellanno wrote:

    I read your article through. It’s harrowing. Talk about postcode lottery, hey Andy?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, really, Pucci​. And not just some of the Afghans. Dozens more prisoners were seized in house raids in Pakistan based on ridiculously inept intelligence, like these two, for example: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2007/12/14/the-shocking-stories-of-the-sudanese-humanitarian-aid-workers-just-released-from-guantanamo/
    And while the right-wingers like to scoff that a typical “al-Qaeda” lie by Arabs at Guantanamo is that they went to Afghanistan for humanitarian purposes, that is indeed why some of those held were there – and some went as missionaries, and others went as economic refugees … So many men wrongfully detained.

  6. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    I agree that Ghalib’s story is a very important one when trying to determine how much truth there is in the claims that there are a huge number of what the DIA calls “recidivists”.

    I agree, his personal story is a sad one. If he helped the USA, in Nangarhar, in 2001, there is a very good chance he is one of the pre-invasion “warlords”, who the USA was warned would be an on-going impediment to Afghanistan’s future stability, even if he was more minor than PKZ, Dostum and Fahim. If he lead men in 2001, they were probably all men from his tribe, drawn from his village, and neighboring villages, whose loyalty was to him personally, not to the central government.

    Warlord Mohammed Fahim, who was one of Karzai’s Vice Presidents, and who was Minister of Defense up until late 2004, seems to be just about as conservative as the Taliban, when it came to value we say we think are important — like the education of girls. Karzai made a large number of appointments. If Afghanistan had been a modern country in 2002, Karzai would have appointed 38 Provincial governors, 300 or 400 district governors, and a similar number of Chiefs of Police — together with a much larger number of civilian appointments, Provincial and district transport chiefs, Provincial and district irrigation and hydroelectric chiefs, Provincial and district education chiefs, and all the other ministries a modern state with a robust infrastructure requires.

    Abdullah Mujahid, another former warlord, who ended up in Guantanamo, was made a transport chief, and given the budget to pay the number of subordinates a real transport department would require. He seems to have used that budget to employ all the fighters who had been loyal to him, before and during the US invasion. Mujahid was illiterate. He seems to have lacked the experience and intelligence to manage teams of road-workers, with bulldozers, and road-graders, to rebuild the shattered road network. He seems to have employed his loyal gang to set up roadblocks to collect tolls, which enriched him and his gang, rather than being sent to Kabul.

    Those warlords could be brutal — as brutal as the Taliban. They could also be as conservative as the Taliban. The NYTimes presents Ghalib as a hero, but if he is as brutal as the Taliban, and as conservative as the Taliban, regular Afghans may not really be any better off if he and similarly conservative former warlords defeat the Taliban and the Afghan branch of ISIS.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    The NYTimes talked about how Ghalib and Muslimdost were friends, in Guantanamo, with adjacent cells, who had long, friendly, theoretical discussions of politics.

    With regard to Muslimdost — wasn’t he one of the 38 individuals that the CSRT determined were “no longer enemy combatants” — that absurd DoD phrase that stops short of stating that they were never really enemy combatants. He said he had not been a fighter, allied to the Taliban, Hekmatyar or al Qaeda. He convinced his CSRT. He convinced me too.

    If you go with a dictionary definition of “recidivist”, none of the released captives are recidivists, because the term only applies to individuals who were convicted, served their sentence, and returned to committing crimes, after their sentence was over, and they were released. So, going by the dictionary definition of “recidivist”, the only former captives who could be recidivists would be David Hicks, Hamdan, and a couple of other guys who pled guilty at their military commission, served their sentence, and have been released.

    So far as reporting goes, neither Hicks or Hamdan have been charged with so much as a jay-walking offense, since they finished their sentences. So, the genuine dictionary definition recidivism rate is 0.0 percent.

    Muslimdost seems to have been a very atypical Afghan captive. Most Afghan captives were illiterate, or barely literate. But Muslimdost, in addition to being a gem merchant, published a magazine, or a series of magazines. I think that means we can call him an intellectual. His younger brother, released a few months earlier, was also a gem merchant, and joined him in his publishing ventures. But does not seem to have joined him in his militancy.

    I wish I had made more of an effort to track the reporting on him. I am pretty sure he was imprisoned again, by Pakistani authorities, after his repatriation.

    Anyhow, since some observers like to treat the CSRT as if they were trials, as someone who was cleared by his CSRT, Muslimdost is doubly not a recidivist.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver.
    I share your concerns, of course, about warlords with a proven and brutal track record, but Haji Ghalib doesn’t appear to have been one of them. He wasn’t a warlord himself, and the man he worked for, though influential, doesn’t seem to be someone most aptly described as a warlord either.
    Abdul Qadir, killed by the Taliban in July 2002, had been governor of his home province of Nangarhar from 1992 to 1996, and resumed that role after the fall of the Taliban, until his death. He was a Pashtun from the very influential Arsala family. In the Guardian’s obituary, he was described as “[e]nergetic, dynamic and moderate.” He was close to the Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik, assassinated two days before 9/11, and his younger brother was “the legendary rebel Abdul Haq,” killed by the Taliban in October 2001.
    See: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/jul/08/guardianobituaries.afghanistan
    Abdul Haq obituary here: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2001/oct/29/guardianobituaries.afghanistan
    And here’s a powerful passage from that latter obituary, as the West bombs Syria.
    As the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began, Abdul Haq “predicted that once the small coterie of Taliban leaders fell, the entire regime would collapse. He had warned his US allies not to bomb, but rather to wage a campaign of psychological pressure. ‘If they leave things up to us, it will only be a few months [before the Taliban are toppled],’ he said. Days before the US launched the first air strikes, he warned that civilian casualties would only steel Pashtun support for the Taliban.”
    Haji Ghalib’s US file describes him as “the former Security Commander for Shinwar District in [the – sic] Nangahar Province.” He was also described as having “a history of major depressive disorder with suicidal ideation.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also for your comments about recidivism, arcticredriver, with which I wholeheartedly agree, and about Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost. He was indeed one of the fortunate 38, assessed in 2004-05 by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal to have been “no longer enemy combatants” – and he was even, perhaps, one of those assessed to have been “not an enemy combatant” before the wording was changed, no doubt on the advice of lawyers anxious to avoid huge compensation claims.
    He got into huge trouble in Pakistan, where he lived, after his release, because he was so critical of the ISI (Pakistan’s troublingly powerful intelligence service), and, I believe, was very critical of them in the book he co-wrote with his brother. I linked to an article that covered this period of his life, which I think you will find enlightening: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/apr/03/guantanamo.books

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    When Sara SN shared this, she wrote:

    Give it a read this weekend. Powerful piece, as always, by Andy Worthington.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Sara, and for the supportive words!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara SN wrote:

    Thank you, Andy, your website is a treasure of knowledge. After the NY Times article came out on Mr Ghalib, I went to your site to research on his case and have no words at your dedication.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    :-) Sara!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Ibrahim Moiz wrote:

    I do think distinction needs be made twixt fighting Taliban & IS. Though Afghan government claims to fight both, reality is that for most of this past year only group fighting IS at Afghanistan has been Taliban for a variation of reasons. Nonetheless great stuff as always Andy Worthington

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the clarification, Ibrahim. I think this is part of the problem as it is in other areas of conflict in the Middle East – that there are now factions opposed to one another in various places, neither of which are necessarily acceptable to the West, and that, unfortunately, is largely a result of the West’s actions in the first place in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Karina Friedemann wrote:

    Question: If Obama cleared several men for release but the people running Guantanamo refuse to release them, does that not imply that there is an ongoing mutiny within our own government?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Not quite, Karina. Obama’s task force approved men for release, but Congress then imposed restrictions, requiring the defense secretary to sign off on any planned releases, certifying that, to the best of his knowledge, it is safe to do so. That’s obviously a very real hurdle, but behind the scenes it’s certainly true to say that some people in the DoD – and the intel services – are maneuvering behind the scenes to slow or stop at least some releases. And, in addition, it’s worth remembering that Obama could bypass all of this if he wanted.

  18. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, as I re-read these comments here, I wonder where Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezbi Islami (HIG) stands, vis a vis Daesh (IS). My reading is that during the 1980s HIG was Pakistan’s ISI’s favourite client, within Afghanistan, and that the ISI sent it the lion’s share of military aid the CIA wanted distributed in Afghanistan. It was my reading that they lost favour with the ISI, which shifted its support to the Taliban, in the 1990s, because Mullah Omar, and the Taliban’s leadership, were largely illiterate, while HIG’s leadership cadre included a rich slice of Afghanistan’s remaining literate citizens. That HIG included many men who could read and write made them too independent and not maleable enough, for ISI’s liking.

    It is my understanding that the Taliban’s rule over the provinces, particularly the non-Taliban provinces, could be as theoretical as Karzai’s rule, and that HIG was an armed force fighting a low-level civil war with the Taliban, throughout their regime. During the CSRT hearings of Afghans with a history with HIG the Recorders routinely repeated the assertion that when Osama bin Laden was making plans to leave Sudan and bring his extended entourage back to Afghanistan, Hekmatyar encouraged him to ignore the Taliban and enjoy sanctuary in the parts of Afghanistan HIG controlled.

    I assumed that the post 9-11 alliance between HIG and the Taliban was a strained alliance of expediency as that between the Mao’s ZeDong’s Chinese Communists, and Chaing Kia Chek’s Chinese Nationalist Party, during the Japanese invasion of China during World War Two. Those two Chinese groups had been at war for years, prior to the Japanese invasion, and fought for years after the Japanese were defeated.

    So, if the Taliban is fighting Daesh now, has HIG taken a side?

    I think on some of the issues important to us westerners, like the education of girls, and the rights of women, HIG, and indeed the warlords on our side, like Fahim and Dostum, are in agreement with the Taliban — and I guess Daesh too.

    During the 1990s the Taliban outlawed music, painting, the making or showing of films, the shaving of beards, kite-flying, gambling, cock-fighting, dog-fighting, etc. Well, it seems Daesh is OK with music, because the nightly news and US comedians have covered Daesh’s musical recruitment videos.

    Ibrahim Moiz, if you return to this article, and you have any local knowledge to share on Daesh and HIG, I’d be grateful if you would share it.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, arcticredriver. Most of that is what I recall about HiG too, although I haven’t kept up with the twists and turns of Afghan politics in recent years. It always seemed ridiculous to me, however, that HiG membership was such a frequent claim (not necessarily reliable, of course) against some of the many dozens of Afghans brought to Guantanamo in 2003, who should clearly have been held in Afghanistan.
    I did a quick search about HiG, and found a New York Times article for 2013, placing Hekmatyar in exile in Pakistan, but still militarily active: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/world/asia/in-afghanistan-hezb-i-islami-takes-its-extremism-into-politics.html
    In June this year an Afghan media outlet claimed that “Hezb-e-Islami party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar announced support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group affiliates in fight against the Taliban militants,” although I can’t vouch for the reliability of the claim: http://www.khaama.com/hekmatyars-party-to-support-isis-in-fight-against-taliban-1250

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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