In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, and I’ll be writing about them in a number of articles this week and next, beginning with two reviews that took place, on August 9 and 11, for two Malaysian “high-value detainees,” Mohd Farik bin Amin aka Zubair (ISN 10021), seized in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2003, and Mohammed Bashir bin Lap aka Lillie (ISN 10022). Bin Amin was seized in Bangkok in June 2003, followed in August 2003 by bin Lap and Hambali, another “high-value detainee” whose PRB took place on August 18 (which I’ll be writing about soon).
The PRBs, which include representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release and not facing trials, and, since November 2013, have been reviewing the cases of 64 men, with, to date, recommendations that 33 should be released, while 19 should continue to be held. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list for details.
41 of these 64 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by a previous review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release,” although the authorities conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, while the 23 others were recommended for trials, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after judges in Washington, D.C. struck down some of the few convictions achieved in the much-criticized military commission trial system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had actually been invented by Congress and had no legitimacy.
Bin Amin, bin Lap and Hambali are three of the 23 men who had initially been recommended for prosecution, and they are also three of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were brought to Guantánamo in September 2006, up to three and a half years after they were seized. All had spent the time since their capture in “black sites” run by the CIA, in a variety of countries, and all had been tortured, although details of where they were held, and exactly what happened to them, are still unclear, despite the fact that more information about the CIA’s prisoners than has ever before been conceded publicly by the US government was included in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the CIA’s detention program, which was released in December 2014.
The blunt truth about Guantánamo’s “high-value detainees” is that, in the nearly ten years since their arrival at the prison, they have been surrounded by a wall of silence that remains in place today. Unlike the other prisoners, whose accounts are frequently heard after their attorneys submit their notes of their meetings to the authorities, which then go through a Pentagon declassification process and often subsequently unclassified, at least in part, every word uttered between the HVDs and their attorneys has remained classified, and we can only conclude from this that the US governed remains obsessively concerned with keeping secret information about their torture.
13 of the 14 September 2006 HVDs are still held at Guantánamo. The other man, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was moved to the US mainland in 2009, before Congress enacted a ban on transfers to the US mainland for any reason, where he was successfully prosecuted in federal court, and is now serving a life sentence in a Supermax prison — a route to justice that should have been followed for all the HVDs.
In the cases of the other HVDs, however, despite them being at Guantánamo for ten years next week, all we know about them comes from brief comments reported in accounts of their military commission pre-trial hearings (if they are facing trials, as only six of the 14 are), from the transcripts of the hearings they undertook in 2007 to make them eligible for military commission trials (the Combatant Status Review tribunals, at which many of the 14 spoke very little), from information in a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross report, based on interviews with the men after their arrival at Guantánamo, and from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.
The files contain a lot of information, although that information, derived from the interrogation of the prisoners themselves, and their fellow prisoners, is not always necessarily reliable, as much of it was obtained under circumstances that are to conducive to the telling off the truth. See the files on Bin Amin here, on bin Lap here, and on Hambali here.
What we do know about bin Amin, bin Lap and Hambali is that they were definitely held in a “black site” in Afghanistan — identified as COBALT in the Senate report, and previous known as “the dark prison” or the Salt Pit — but they may also have been held briefly in Poland. There has also long been speculation that some HVDs were held on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and that the men held there may have included Hambali (and perhaps bin Amin and bin Lap), but there is no publicly available information to confirm these suspicions.
Summing up what we know in bin Amin’s case, as the UK-based Rendition Project has described it, is that:
CIA cables cited by the SSCI report confirm that Zubair was held at either DETENTION SITE COBALT (Afghanistan) or DETENTION SITE BLUE (Poland) in the summer of 2003, and was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” whilst at the site. Little has been revealed about his torture, other than the fact that interrogators went beyond the authorised techniques. In particular, CIA cables show that Zubair was subjected to stress positions using a broomstick behind the knees, in a manner inconsistent with the approved technique.
In Bin Lap’s case, the Rendition Project summed up what is known as follows:
CIA cables document Lillie’s arrival at DETENTION SITE COBALT on 14 August 2003, and the immediate use of “standard interrogation techniques”. Lillie was “stripped of his clothing” and “placed in a cell in the standing sleep deprivation position, in darkness.” Authorisation for the use of EITs [“enhanced interrogation techniques,” the official US euphemism for torture] was then submitted to CIA Headquarters on 15 August, the following day, using a template devised in the interrogation of [“high-value detainee”] Ramzi bin al-Shibh in February 2003. The request for EITs was approved within 24 hours.
CIA records cited by the SSCI report do not provide many details of Lillie’s torture, although they do document the use of loud noise to “prevent concentrating, planning and derailing of the exploitation/interrogation process with interrogation countermeasures (resistance).” Lillie himself has testified that, once in Afghanistan, he was kept naked and shackled to the ceiling in a painful standing position for the first week, and that he ‘had to defecate and urinate on [himself] and remain standing in [his] own bodily fluids’. He also stated that he did not receive any solid food until his twelfth day in captivity.
One CIA cable, dated 19 January 2004, suggests that the supposed “resistance” to interrogations might in fact simply be “issues related to culture and… poor English language skills,” with the absence of a Malay interpreter identified as a problem.
Mohd Farik bin Amin’s Periodic Review Board
The PRB for Mohd Farik bin Amin (ISN 10021) aka Zubair, born in February 1975, took place on August 9, 2016, and below are the government’s allegations, and the opening statement of his personal representatives (military personnel assigned to represent prisoners in their PRBs). No statement was offered by an attorney on his behalf. Britain Eakin of Courthouse News, who observed the unclassified portion of the hearings from a government facility in Washington, D.C., reported that bin Amin “appeared in a white, short-sleeved shirt, wearing glasses and with very little facial hair,” adding that he “pored through binders and papers piled up on the table before him during the 15-minute proceedings.” Eakins also noted that “[d]iplomats from the Malaysian embassy were present for the hearing,” and that “[a]n unidentified attorney appeared at the table with bin Amin, but he did not offer an unclassified statement, as many of the attorneys for Guantánamo detainees opt to do during the parole board hearings.”
According to the government’s unclassified summary for Mohd Farik bin Amin’s PRB, he “traveled to Afghanistan in July 2000 for extremist training. He attended both basic and advanced courses at al-Qa’ida’s al-Farouq camp and spent time with a unit on the frontline against the Northern Alliance, although he claims not to have fought.” In addition, the summary claimed that he “swore allegiance to Usama Bin Ladin [sic] and was hand-selected by senior al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Riduan Bin Isomuddin a.k.a. Hambali (ID-10019), to be part of an al-Qa’ida suicide operation to hijack airliners over the Pacific and crash them into the tallest building in California.”
Also according to the summary, bin Amin “developed a close relationship with Hambali, serving as a key lieutenant and interlocutor, while providing operational support to terrorist activities — including casing potential targets, researching and practicing bomb making, obtaining weapons, and acquiring false documents.” He also allegedly “facilitated money transfers from al-Qa’ida to Hambali, portions of which were used for terrorist operations, probably including the attacks in Bali, Indonesia in October 2002 and the August 2003 J.W. Marriott Attack in Jakarta.”
Turning to his behavior in Guantánamo, it was noted in the summary that, since arriving at the prison, he “has been mostly compliant, exhibiting a quiet and mild-mannered disposition” and “has a very low number of non-compliance entries relative to other detainees.” Those compiling the summary added that he “has yet to engage any guard or staff personnel in any derogatory manner.”
However, the summary also stated that bin Amin “almost certainly remains committed to al-Qa’ida’s global jihadist ideology, judging from statements he has made, and is fiercely loyal to Hambali and close associate Mohammad Bashir Bin Lap a.k.a. Lillie (MY-10022), an al-Qa’ida and JI member.” The summary added that he “probably still considers himself al-Qa’ida because he trained in al-Qa’ida camps and swore bayat to Usama Bin Ladin, which [he] has claimed is a lifelong obligation.” According to the summary, “he has said that he is still willing to be killed on the battlefield and be a martyr if given the opportunity, forgoing what he described as the normal life of a wife and children.”
Moving on to what he would do if released, the summary stated, “there is no indication that [he] has any specific plan as to how he would reintegrate, or what he would do if repatriated to Malaysia. His electronics degree and extensive family there probably would enable him to reintegrate, if he chose to live a life outside of radical Islam and abandon his pursuit of jihad.”
The summary added, “There is no indication that [he] has maintained contact with anyone currently involved in terrorist activities. His closest relationships prior to detention were with Hambali and Lillie. If [he] were to be released, he probably would reach out to past associates he knows from his time in Afghanistan or contacts in Hambali’s vast extremist network to find a path to reengagement.”
The above does not augur well for bin Amin, in particular because, although he has been extremely well-behaved at Guantánamo, it is assessed that he remains “fiercely loyal” to Hambali and bin Lap, and the authorities believe that he “probably still considers himself al-Qa’ida.” In addition, another obstacle to a recommendation for his release is the assessment that “there is no indication that [he] has any specific plan as to how he would reintegrate, or what he would do if repatriated to Malaysia,” as the review boards — as well as wanting evidence of contrition — also want to be given a clear plan for a peaceful and constructive life after Guantánamo if they are to approve any prisoner for release.
His personal representatives, in contrast, portrayed bin Amin as someone who openly showed regret and sorrow for his previous actions and has a supportive family, but it is unlikely that their testimony will sway the board members. Unspoken in all the documentation is any hint of whether the US is seeking transfer bin Amin, bin Lap and Hambali to some other country for trial, something that would make sense if the allegations against them are trustworthy. Below, I’m cross-posting the personal representatives’ opening statement, and following that a discussion of Mohammed Bashir bin Lap’s case.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 09 Aug 2016
Mohd Farik bin Amin, ISN 10021
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10021, Mr. Mohd Farik bin Amin. Over the last few months we have met with him several times. He has been very honest and forthcoming when talking about his past, present and future.
Farik has expressed regret and sorrow to us in talking about his past. He believes he made stupid, hasty decisions, largely attributed to his young age and narrow view of the world.
He now hopes to put all that behind him and start a new peaceful life. He is interested in getting married and starting a family. Speaking of family, he happens to be a member of a large, loving family. This can be seen in the pictures added as exhibits [note: not included]. His family has already pledged to support him if he is transferred.
He has useful skills from his past that he can use to support himself. He spent time working in a factory and also could work in either his brother’s or sister’s store.
When given the opportunity to participate in the Detainee Socialization MGMT Program [see here], he jumped at the opportunity. While the program was in session, he was able to increase his English skills.
He has enjoyed fitness magazines and watches movies like “The Godfather” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” As you may have noticed, he excels in drawing. In addition, he loves to play soccer and jog.
Lastly of note is that he has been a very complaint detainee. His time here has taught him no judge everyone based on the deeds of a few. He believes you should treat others as you want to be treated.
He has told us many times he is not a threat and only wants the opportunity to go home and start a normal life.
We stand ready to answer any questions you may have.
Mohammed Bashir bin Lap’s Periodic Review Board
The PRB for Mohammed Bashir bin Lap (ISN 10022) aka Lillie, born in December 1976, took place on August 11, 2016.
According to the government’s unclassified summary for Mohammed Bashir bin Lap’s PRB, he was “a key lieutenant” for Hambali, who, like Mohd Farik bin Amin, “trained at al-Farouq, swore allegiance to Usama Bin Ladin, and was selected to be a member of a suicide cell for an al-Qa’ida ‘second wave’ attack targeting the tallest building in California.” The summary added, “After that plot was cancelled, [he] helped Hambali plan and direct operations throughout Southeast Asia by casing targets, researching bombs, obtaining false documents, and serving as Hambali’s interlocutor its local supporters.” As with bin Amin, the summary claimed that he “also facilitated financial transfers from al-Qa’ida to Hambali, portions of which were used for terrorist operations, probably including the attacks in Bali in October 2002 and the attack on the J.W. Marriott in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2003.”
Turning to his behavior in Guantánamo, it was noted in the summary that, since arriving at the prison, he “has committed a low number of disciplinary infractions in comparison with other detainees,” although he “has at least one assault against the guard force, which he probably committed because he perceived his grievances were not addressed.” It was also noted that he “has provided interrogators with significant information of value on his extremist activities and associations before his capture, but he probably has withheld some information.”
It was also noted that “[m]ost of [his] comments on life after detention have centered on continuing to engage in violent extremism.” Those compiling the summary added that he “views America as an enemy of Islam, and he has spoken of his intent to fight and kill Americans, specifically US soldiers. [He] has not shown any regrets, and should he be released, most likely would engage in wars where he perceives Muslims are being oppressed.”
The summary also noted that “[t]here are no indications that [his] family members in Malaysia have engaged in extremist activities, and he has no known associations with at-large extremists.”
As with the government’s allegations against Mohd Farik bin Amin, the above does not augur well for bin Lap being approved for release, and the reasons for the board to recommend him for ongoing imprisonment are even more pronounced that in bin Amin’s case, as is clear from the claim that he “views America as an enemy of Islam, and he has spoken of his intent to fight and kill Americans, specifically US soldiers,” and the claim that he “has not shown any regrets.” As with bin Amin, I can only wonder if the US has any plans for sending him to another country to face prosecution, which would seem to be appropriate if the allegations against him are trustworthy.
The only report of bin Lap’s PRB, in Courthouse News, did not mention whether he attended the hearing, or if the only voices challenging the US authorities’ assertions were those of his personal representatives, whose initial statement is cross-posted below. They reported how bin Lap (identified as Mohammed Nazir bin lap) told them “that he is not a threat to America, and his mindset has changed,” and how “he has lost so much since he has been detained (his parents, an older sister and friends),” but as is clear from the above, it is highly unlikely that this will play any part in convincing the board members to approve his release.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 11 Aug 2016
Bashir Bin Lap, ISN 10022
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10022, Mr. Mohammed Nazir Bin Lap. We will be assisting Nazir in presenting his case this morning.
Nazir has been willing to participate with us, and he looks forward to answering any questions the Board has for him. He has treated us with respect since our first meeting.
Nazir looks forward to getting married an starting a business. Wit the land (2 hectares) to raise cattle and process oil from palm trees and a small inheritance from his mother (approximately $6000 (US)), Nazir could leverage his previous business experience as a sugar cane juice salesman, newspaper delivery man and perfume salesman into a profitable venture. He would prefer to return to Malaysia to participate in any rehabilitation program that would help in allowing his transfer to occur.
Nazir has been a hight-compliant detainee with few disciplinary infractions. He participated in the Detainee Socialization Management Program (DSMP), while it was instituted in his camp. He has told us that he is not a threat to America, and his mindset has changed, since the time before his capture. If he were released, he would say good-bye to his old life, because he feels that he ha lost so much since he has been detained (his parents, an older sister and friends).
Thank you for allowing us the time in helping Nazir demonstrate to the Board that he is not a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. We are ready to answer any questions you may ask.
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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), 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.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, catching up on recent Periodic Review Boards at Guantanamo – in this case, the reviews for two “high-value detainees,” Mohd Farik bin Amin and Mohammed Bashir bin Lap, Malaysians associated with the Indonesian Hambali, who were held in CIA “black sites” from August 2003 until September 2006, when they were moved to Guantanamo. Nearly ten years later, this was their first opportunity to ask for their release – although it seems unlikely that the board members will agree, given the seriousness of the allegations against them.
From what I’ve read, Indonesia doesn’t want Hambali back. The U.S. is stuck with him. I don’t know about Malaysia’s position regarding Zubair and Lillie.
Yes, I’ll be writing about Hambali’s PRB soon, Adam, and touching on that. There are a few suggestions here as to why he hasn’t been prosecuted, although I can’t really gauge Indonesia’s lack of interest: http://www.news.com.au/world/bali-bombings-terrorist-hambali-yet-to-face-trial-after-years-in-guantaacutenamo-bay/news-story/224c09c3323e947056af0068b0fec33e
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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