This article was originally published on February 15, 2009. For updated information, please check out the links (by prisoner name and number) in my four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, last updated on April 25, 2012.
Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, and available from Amazon here and here) tells the stories of the last prisoners transferred to Guantánamo as part of the industrial-scale rendition of prisoners from Afghanistan. 30 prisoners — mostly regarded as “high-value detainees” — followed in September 2004 (10 prisoners), September 2006 (14 prisoners) and, individually, from March 2007 to March 2008 (another six prisoners) — but the prisoners described in Chapter 17 and this online chapter were the last of what can accurately be regarded as the “general population” at Guantánamo.
With a few exceptions, they were all Afghans, and were seized and sent to Guantánamo between the summer of 2002 and November 2003. The stories of 38 men (and boys) are told in Chapter 17, and this additional chapter features 37 more prisoners, whose stories were not included in the book, either because they were unknown at the time, or to keep the book at a manageable length. At the time of writing, 27 of the 38 prisoners discussed in Chapter 17 had been released. Nine more have been released since, and two are still held. Of the 37 discussed in this online chapter, all but eight have been released.
As with the majority of the stories of the 220 or so Afghans who were held at Guantánamo, they exemplify the failures of both “Operation Enduring Freedom” (the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001) and the Guantánamo project to identify prisoners who were actually involved in terrorism — both because of chronic intelligence failures on the ground, and a lack of screening in the US prisons at Kandahar and Bagram (as dictated at the highest levels of the Bush administration) — and it is my hope, as Barack Obama’s team begins reviewing the cases of the remaining 242 prisoners at Guantánamo, to see who can be released, and who should continue to be held, that this final online chapter will help to explain why no more than 50 of the 779 men held at Guantánamo had any meaningful involvement with terrorism, why none of the men should have been subjected to the brutal novelties of the “War on Terror,” and why the majority of those still held — including the eight prisoners mentioned in this chapter — should be released as soon as possible.
With the completion of this online chapter, my three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners in Guantánamo is nearly complete. All that remains is for me to compile a definitive prisoner list, with links to the stories discussed in these 12 online chapters, and references for the rest of the stories as told in The Guantánamo Files, which will, I hope, serve both as an essential documentary project chronicling the failures of Guantánamo and the “War on Terror,” and as an invaluable research tool.
The juveniles — and an aging farmer
The first three prisoners whose stories were not discussed in Chapter 17 of The Guantánamo Files — Peta Muhammed, Abdul Samad and Shardar Khan — were part of a group of 30 prisoners rounded up after a raid by US Special Forces, in December 2002, on a compound owned by a warlord called Samoud, eight of whom were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo. Theirs is a disturbing story, not only because there is no evidence that they were involved in the attack that prompted the raid, and because they were apparently treated brutally in a forward operating base in Gardez until they confessed, but primarily because at least three of them — including Muhammed — were juveniles at the time of their capture. The stories of two of these boys — Asadullah Rahman (photo, left) and Naqibullah (photo, below) — are well-known, as they were between 11 and 14 years old when captured, and were two of only three juveniles in Guantánamo who were held separately from the adult population and treated with something approaching the kind of care that juvenile prisoners are required to receive under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child (on the involvement of children in armed conflict).
For the rest of the juveniles, however, there were no such luxuries, and although little is known of the stories of Peta Muhammed, Abdul Samad and Shardar Khan, it is clear that Muhammed (who was released in March 2004) was only 17 at the time of his capture, and it seems probable that Abdul Samad (released in September 2004) was also a juvenile. The Pentagon recorded his date of birth as 1982, but when representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross met Guantánamo’s commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, on 9 October 2003, they noted that he was actually born in 1987.
Shardar Khan, who was 20 at the time of his capture, was the only one of the three who stayed in Guantánamo long enough to take part in a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, in which he explained that he had served Samoud as a cook, and denied taking part in the attack. He was released in October 2006.
Another prisoner released in March 2004, with Peta Muhammed and 21 others, was Mohammed Wazir, a 60-year old farmer from Helmand province, who spent a year in Guantánamo and was held for two and half years in total. Speaking briefly to reporters on his release, he said, “I’m a poor and innocent man. I was in my home, unaware of Taliban and al-Qaeda, when I was caught. If I’m a Taliban or al-Qaeda I want to be punished. If I’m not, then they should compensate me. The two-and-a-half years that I have spent in pain and soreness — who is going to pay?”
Released in 2005
Mullah Jalil, who was 32 or 33 years old when he was seized in 2003 — and who was one of the last prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo from Afghanistan — was released in March 2005. One of only 38 prisoners cleared for release after the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (the administrative reviews established in July 2004, which allowed the prisoners to tell their stories, but prohibited them from seeing or hearing the classified evidence against them), he addressed the only two allegations against him — that he “admitted serving with the Taliban” and that he “served as the Taliban commander of the Bagram airport” — by explaining that he, like Mohammed Wazir, was actually a poor farmer from Helmand province. He admitted working for the Taliban, but explained it was “not voluntary,” and added that he had served for six months in 2000, before the US-led invasion. Denying the allegation that he was “the Taliban commander of the Bagram airport,” he explained that he was in Guantánamo because a “personal enemy,” who had killed his uncle, made false allegations against him. “I was by the river getting ready for prayer;” he said. “In the meantime my enemy reported me to the Americans and they came and captured me. I haven’t even seen Bagram until the Americans captured me.”
Four of the prisoners in this additional chapter were released, with 13 others, in April 2005. Mohammed Nasim, like Mullah Jalil, was one of the 38 prisoners cleared for release after the CSRTs. Captured in February 2003, he described himself as “a poor man, very disabled: I am a poor farmer with very small kids,” and denied the allegations against him, which centered on claims that he had commanded 25 Taliban fighters for a military commander in Kabul. “Since I knew my left and right hands,” he said, “I never went out of my village.”
Nasim had no idea why he was caught, as he had no obvious enemies, but wondered if it was because his name had been confused with someone else’s. He also explained that, although the Pentagon had listed his date of birth as 1962, he was at least 55 years old, and he was one of numerous prisoners whose requests for outside witnesses to corroborate his story (his uncle and his brother) was turned down because the State Department had not received a reply to his request from the Afghan government within the very short time frame (just two weeks) that was allowed for responses.
Also released in April 2005 — and another of the 38 prisoners cleared after the CSRTs — was 34-year old Habib Noor. A resident of Lalmai, who owned a shop selling sacks in the nearby city of Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, Noor was accused of owning a compound used to harbor soldiers responsible for ambushing US Special Forces and Afghan soldiers in early 2003. The US authorities claimed that Noor’s brother had allegedly joined the fighting, but Noor himself insisted that he was unaware of the ambush and had spent that particular day in the village bazaar, and pointed out that he did not even know which brother the Afghan soldiers were talking about, explaining that his younger brother was in Saudi Arabia and that his older brother was “deaf and can hardly see.”
The penultimate prisoner to be transferred from Afghanistan to Guantánamo (as part of the industrial-scale transfer of prisoners that came to an end in November 2003) was 28-year old Hukumra Khan (also released in April 2005), a member of the nomadic Kuchi tribe, who said that he had recently returned from working abroad, as a laborer in Saudi Arabia. Soon after his return, when he had money, new clothes and a satellite phone, Khan stated that he had his phone taken from him by an Afghan soldier, working with US forces, who asked him for a bribe “otherwise I will make problems for you.” The soldier then told a false story about him to the Americans, who came to search his house, and also checked the houses of his brother, his uncle and his father, where they found three Kalashnikov AK-47s. As a result, they took him to a forward operating base in Gardez, where he was held for 37 days, and where, he said, “Every day they told me that I would be released,” but instead he was transferred to Guantánamo via Bagram. At his tribunal, pleading to be released, he said,
My life is torn up. I lost the telephone, I lost my money, I left my kids and I don’t know what they are doing. They send me only because I didn’t give the money. I’m a labor worker, I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not Taliban and I’m not al-Qaeda … I’m asking from you guys to be kind to me. Don’t be mean to me. Please release me from here.
There is, however, another side to Khan’s story. In 2008, when he was working as a cab driver in Khost, he was interviewed by Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers for a major review of 66 released Guantánamo prisoners. Lasseter described Khan (who explained that his name was Hukumran) as “easy to like,” but explained that, although he reiterated the story that he told his US interrogators, a high-ranking Afghan intelligence official claimed that he “isn’t what he seems. His satellite phone was confiscated, the official said, because of whom he’d been calling: men linked to the Taliban.” He added that, “while US military officials at times detained the wrong men at Guantánamo, they also sometimes let the right ones go.”
Also released in April 2005 was 35-year old Naibullah Darwaish, one of at least eight prisoners in this online chapter who had been working for the post-Taliban government of Hamid Karzai, but who were seized by US forces and sent to Guantánamo because rivals (either from the Taliban or from the Communists who had been ousted from power in the early 1990s) had told false stories about them. Disturbingly, this was so prevalent that the stories of many more are discussed in The Guantánamo Files.
In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Darwaish was accused of having “a stockpile of weapons” under his control, and of having “detailed knowledge” of the plans and organization of the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (the anti-US militia of the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, ironically, had been heavily funded by the US during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s). In response, Darwaish explained that he was the chief of police for a district in Zabul province, east of Kandahar, that the weapons were registered with the Karzai government’s Ministry of the Interior, that he knew nothing about the workings of HIG, and that his appointment had actually made him a “lifetime enemy with Taliban.” Although he insisted that he didn’t know who had made false allegations against him, it was apparent from his tribunal that the US authorities had decided that it was significant that Hamedullah Tukhi, the Karzai-appointed governor of the province, who gave him his job, had once been allied with Hekmatyar. Darwaish, of course, disagreed, telling the tribunal,
I’m innocent and I’m very hopeless. I accept you as my elder brother in Afghanistan, Americans are our eldest. We respect you because you guys help us, and you guys helped rescue us from the criminals, the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That is a very important thing.
Released in October 2006
Three more Afghans who were working for the Karzai government were released in October 2006. 32-year old Swar Khan, who is mentioned briefly in Chapter 18 because the US authorities claimed to be unable to find witnesses he had requested, even though he gave them phone numbers, was captured by US forces in Khost and accused of being a Taliban intelligence officer and selling weapons to anti-coalition forces. In response, he explained that a long-standing rival, Habib Noor (not the prisoner mentioned above), had taken a job with the Americans and had then used that position to lie about him. He pointed out that two Afghan military leaders — “trusted commanders of the Americans” — that he worked for had also been betrayed, although they were released from Bagram after a few months.
In 2008, Tom Lasseter met up with Khan (who explained that his name is actually Swatkhan Bahar), when he repeated his story, and included his complaint about the Americans’ apparent inability to track down his witnesses. After noting that, during another review at Guantánamo, “an officer asked Bahar whether he’d thought about sending a letter to his commander in the Afghan Interior Ministry to obtain a note describing his service in the police — something the US military could have easily done itself,” Lasseter proceeded to demonstrate how easy it was to track down witnesses, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the tribunals were more concerned with establishing the prisoners as “enemy combatants” than they were with discovering the truth:
[A] McClatchy reporter had little trouble finding Bahar’s Interior Ministry boss, one of the witnesses discussed during his tribunal. All it took was a couple of telephone calls, through a translator, to local Khost officials to find Mohammed Mustafa, who was the Interior Ministry’s security chief for Khost from late 2001 to mid-2003.
Mustafa confirmed much of Bahar’s story: that a rival in the Afghan security services who was working for American troops in the area framed him. “There was no proof against him, nothing indicating he was involved with these sorts of activities,” Mustafa said. “I went to the Americans’ base and asked them to release him, but they wouldn’t.”
Syed Ajan (identified by the Pentagon as Sada Jan) was seized from his house in Afghanistan’s tiny, mountainous north-eastern province of Kunar in May 2003. Throughout his imprisonment, he maintained that he was a carpenter, who had been working, for the eight months until his capture, as the district officer for the Karzai government. He explained that he had ended up in Guantánamo because rivals had told a false story about him to US forces, and had sold him for money.
When Tom Lasseter tracked him down for McClatchy Newspapers’ report on the released prisoners, he was able to confirm that Ajam had been telling the truth. Lasseter spoke to Mohammed Roze, the director of the Kunar branch of Afghanistan’s national peace and reconciliation office, who explained that he had investigated Ajan’s case and had concluded that he “was framed by rivals in a nearby village.” He said that “the two men who passed false allegations about Ajan to the Americans were militants opposed to Karzai’s government,” and declared categorically, “Syed Ajan was not involved with any anti-government activities. The Americans arrested him mistakenly.”
Sadly, however, it is clear that the US military’s gullibility ruined Syed Ajan’s life. After his release from Guantánamo, he revealed that his wife and his eldest son had died in his absence. He also said that he “hadn’t found much work” since his return, and added that the Afghan government owed him several months’ back pay.
Moreover, this was not the only manner in which the US authorities had damaged him. Although he complained about his treatment in Bagram, where, he said, “the guards often kept him from sleeping at night, knocking on the door at odd hours and shouting for him to stand up,” adding that “he was pushed around during cell searches; and the guards liked to slam him into the walls on the way to interrogations,” and also complained that, at Guantánamo, he was subjected to long interrogations, and “was made to sit in a chair for hours before and after the questioning, sometimes with the heat turned up, sometimes with the air conditioning blasting,” the worst abuse occurred just after he was seized, during the two days that he was held in a US base in Kunar.
“When they took me inside the base, they began hitting and kicking me,” he explained. “I lost consciousness. When I came to, I couldn’t stand up; I had a very hard time breathing. For a month, I had very sharp pains in my side.” This, however, was only the start of the abuse. “The soldiers came back to my cell,” he continued, “There were six of them. They said, ‘Stand up,’ and then they began kicking me like a football. They threw me back and forth and beat me against the wall. They put the muzzle of a rifle against my head. It just clicked; they’d taken the bullets out.”
He added, “I’m still sick since that time … I can’t control my urination, and sometimes I put toilet paper down there so I won’t wet my pants.” During a review at Guantánamo, he was even blunter in his assessment of the damage the US soldiers had caused him. “Americans hit me and beat me up so badly,” he said, “I believe I’m sexually dysfunctional.”
Throughout Ajan’s imprisonment, the US authorities showed no interest in verifying his story. During his seven months at Bagram, he said, he repeatedly told his interrogators, “I am a member of Karzai’s government, which apparently is a crime,” and did the same in Guantánamo. Although he was accused of working for the Taliban, firing rockets at US forces, and having bomb-making materials in his house, he persistently denied the charges. He explained that the Taliban “came and robbed my house, arrested my brother in Jalalabad, and took six rifles from me. Then they put us in jail for one and a half months, and didn’t release my brother.” As Tom Lasseter described it, he also stated that the US authorities “were presenting a mishmash of bad information from jailhouse snitches trying to earn favor at Guantánamo, informants in Afghanistan who wanted to settle political scores, bad translations during his interrogation sessions and misunderstandings.”
Ajan’s tribunal even ignored testimony provided by two witnesses in Guantánamo, who knew him from Kunar, both of whom swore that he had no connection with the Taliban. One was Taj Mohammed, an innocent goat herder (also released in October 2006), and the other was Sabar Lal (released in September 2007), a military commander who was also working for the Karzai government. Although Ajan spent his last 18 months in Guantánamo in Camp 4, where generally insignificant prisoners were allowed to live communally, it was not until just before his release that he received anything approaching an apology, when an interrogator told him that US forces in Kunar “had stopped working with the people who’d informed on him.”
The third man who had been working for the Karzai government was Mohammed Aman. A 46-year old drugstore owner from Gardez, Aman had worked as a clerk — a local bureaucrat — for whichever government was in power (including the Taliban, who he despised), and was also a Captain in the Afghan Defense Ministry and the deputy officer for personnel in Gardez at the time of his capture, but he fell foul of the same rivals who were responsible for sending a number of other Pro-Karzai officials from Gardez to Guantánamo. Three of these men — Dr. Said Mohammed Ali Shah, a prominent local dignitary who was chosen to be the People’s Representative of Gardez under the Karzai government (also released in October 2006), Abdullah Mujahid, the former security chief of Gardez (released in December 2007, and also profiled here), and Mohammed Mussa, an electrician (released in July 2008, and described below) — testified at his tribunal in 2004, and backed up his story, but as with many other prisoners, no serious attempt was made to verify his story by contacting the Afghan government.
Interviewed for the McClatchy report after his release, Aman explained that he had been seized during a house raid in spring 2003, At first, he said, “I thought they were searching the whole village and it was just my turn,” but then “They pointed their guns at my head and said, ‘Put your hands behind your back.’ Then they tied my hands. They did the same to my father, who was 83, and my son, who was 15. One of the Afghan soldiers said, ‘Do you know where they’re taking you?’ I said I didn’t. He said, ‘Guantánamo. Do you know what this place is?’ I said I had heard about it, and asked what it was for. He said that it was for enemies of the government, for enemies of humanity. I thought he was making a joke.”
The McClatchy reporter was able to verify, from “a senior Afghan intelligence officer with detailed knowledge of the case,” that Aman had been seized “on charges fabricated by men who worked with him in the Defense Ministry department of personnel in Gardez,” but no one cared at the time of his capture — or for years afterwards. After the raid, he was taken, along with his father and his son, to a US base outside Gardez, where all three “were handcuffed to the wire frame of sand barriers that lined the perimeter of the base.” Amin explained that he was held like that for five or six days, and was only fed on one occasion throughout the whole time, and added, “I had on a hood, so I couldn’t see if it was American or Afghan soldiers doing it, but when I was outside, people kicked me in the back all the time.”
He also said that he was interrogated frequently, based on the false information provided by those who had betrayed him. “One day they made me sit on my knees from night to daybreak, with a stick under my knee,” he recalled. “There was a soldier on each side of me, screaming. There were dogs tied to the wall, and the dogs were barking and snapping their jaws. Another soldier was behind me; he yelled now and then. And in front of me, an interrogator yelled questions out at me.” His pleas that he worked for the Afghan army were ignored.
After the ordeal in Gardez, the three were flown to Bagram. Aman’s father and son were released after about six weeks, but Aman stayed for six months, suffering from painful hemorrhoids and losing a substantial amount of weight. and spent the last two months in solitary confinement, even though his interrogator had given up asking questions about the Taliban, and instead began asking about “security in Gardez and the loyalties of a long list of Afghan Defense Ministry officers.”
Transferred to Guantánamo in late 2003, he was sent immediately to the hospital, as he could “barely stand” after his experiences at Bagram. Within six months, he was placed in Camp 4, but he said that he spent much of his time in the hospital. “During my entire time at Guantánamo I was interrogated maybe 10 times,” he explained. “But I went to the hospital at least 100 times. I went so many times that the other detainees laughed at me and said, ‘They have brought you here for medical treatment.’”
As with Syed Ajan, it was only before his release that his interrogators admitted, “You have been brought here with false information; you were sold to us.” They added, “We are trying to be much more careful now.” Understandably, he was not impressed. Asked what he thought about his experiences, he shrugged and said, “It was all lies. It was just a sham.”
Anwar Khan, the last of the prisoners released in October 2006, was 35 years old when he was seized by Afghan soldiers, crossing the border to Pakistan, with identification documents in different names. This was a common occurrence, and although it was alleged, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, that he was directed to carry Taliban weapons from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and that he assisted the Taliban by helping to transport, stockpile and hide weapons caches, he explained that he worked as a security guard for various shopkeepers in Pakistan and commuted regularly between the two countries. In a statement in his Administrative Review Board in November 2005 (the annual reviews set up after the tribunals to establish whether the prisoners were still a threat to the US, or had ongoing intelligence value), he explained that he had fought against the Taliban, and said,
I was and I am against the Taliban. I was and I am for the American forces. I was not and will not be a danger to the Americans … I was going to Pakistan and I had a Pakistan card with me on my way to my job. They stopped me and told me they had five questions and then brought me to Bagram and in Bagram they punish me a lot and now I am here. It’s up to you if you believe me or not, but they were unjust when they brought me here and they have to pay me back for that. The Doctors beat me up and they did not give me the medicine … I am sick and they did not give me medicine. They put me in mental facilities for people who are completely crazy for ten months and then injected me with some medicine that was not good. It damaged my mental status.
Released in December 2006
Abdul Zahor, who was 38 years old at the time of his capture, was released in December 2006. In his review at Guantánamo in 2005, he stated that he was a shopkeeper, and responded to an allegation that he had knowledge of a bomb plot against the US embassy in Kabul by saying that he was told about the plot, but that when he went to the Americans to inform them about it, he was seized instead. He also denied an allegation that he was a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the anti-US militia headed by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, ironically, had received the lion’s share of US aid during the Soviet occupation, by explaining that he had spent five years in prison after a short-lived alliance between Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masoud (the leader of the Northern Alliance) had broken up in the early 1990s, and that HIG members had killed three of his brothers and had shot him in the back and the foot.
Interviewed by McClatchy after his release, Zahor (identified as Abdul Zuhoor) revealed that he had lied in Guantánamo, and explained that he actually commanded 350 men and had, at one point, been allied with the Taliban. The broad outlines of his story were, however, correct, although he failed to point out that he had been imprisoned by Massoud, had been expelled from Afghanistan by the Taliban, and had killed three brothers of the HIG member who killed three of his own brothers in revenge. According to Abdul Odood, a community leader in the governor’s provincial office in Zuhoor’s home town, Zuhoor had, at a later date, allied his militia with the Taliban, but Odood explained, “He did not join the Taliban because of any ideology. He joined them because he was having a feud with the Northern Alliance people,” aligned with Massoud.
Zuhoor’s story was, in short, the kind of web of alliances and betrayals, common throughout recent Afghan history, that was impenetrable to US forces, and although he had fought both Hekmatyar and Massoud, and had both opposed and aligned himself with the Taliban, it was ludicrous that he was sent to Guantánamo. As he explained in reference to the bomb plot, “I don’t care if [in the future] they need me to report a bomb that will kill 500 people or 5,000 people, I will not” tell anybody.
Released in April 2007
Released in April 2007 (although I initially thought that he was released in September 2007) was Azimullah, who was just 20 years old at the time. In his tribunal in Guantánamo, he explained that he was captured near a madrassa (religious school), where he was studying. He was accused of acting “as a guide to a group of individuals attacking the Salerno Fire Base” (a US base in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan), but he said that he didn’t know anything about this group, or about allegations that they had “weapons, surveillance equipment (cameras and binoculars) and radios,” or that he “met with an Arab man and an Afghan man who gave him money prior to the attack.”
Asked about the circumstances of his arrest, he said that he was walking towards the village with a man named Salim, whom he did not know previously, but whom he had met “on the way going to the village,” when a group of Afghan soldiers “saw us and arrested us.” He explained that he was not told why he was arrested at the time, but that “when they took me to the base,” where he was handed over to the US military, “they told me that I attacked them and that I did this and this.”
Released in August 2007 (and imprisoned in Kabul)
In August 2007, while a number of prisoners who had been working for the Karzai government were still held, the US authorities inexplicably decided to release Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed, the former Minister of Commerce in the Taliban government, who was 45 years old when he was seized by Afghan soldiers in April 2003. According to his lawyers, who paraphrased comments made by Mohammed in his tribunal and review boards at Guantánamo, he “had nothing to do with military affairs or fighting,” and “did not oppose the United States or the Afghan forces, and insist[ed] that he would never do so.” After the fall of the Taliban, he explained that he had “supported himself by working as a farmer on his land, growing almonds and spices.” He added that he “believed that President Karzai had pardoned former Taliban civilian officials,” and that therefore he “had no reason to leave the country.”
Also released in August 2007 was Abdul Ghani, another madrassa student, who was 19 years old when captured. In his ARB hearing (in November 2005), he explained that, on instructions from his father, he had traveled to collect his brother from a compound in the mountains near his hometown of Spin Boldak, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, but that when they returned, on a motorbike, and were ordered to stop by a US patrol, his brother refused and was shot dead.
In his hearing, he faced numerous allegations, which particularly focused on a claim that he and a senior Taliban member “were reported to be recruiting members to fight Americans and the Afghan government,” and that they “held individuals at gunpoint and preached jihad against the illegitimate Afghan government and the Americans.” In response, Ghani said, “I have never had a gun. I have never preached [jihad]. I don’t know about these things. Even before the Americans [came to Afghanistan] I didn’t know anything about Americans. I don’t know anything about the Afghani government. I do not have any hostility toward anyone.”
However, his hearing was notable for the manner in which the Presiding Officer questioned him about his madrassa, in Quetta, Pakistan. After he denied an allegation that he had stated that it “taught jihad against Americans,” the following exchange took place:
Presiding Officer: Who were they teaching jihad against?
Detainee: In regard to that matter, Sir, jihad was not being taught. Only the Koran was being taught.
Presiding Officer: Which one [establishment] was teaching jihad?
Detainee: I have not seen that kind of madrassa that teaches jihad or preaches about jihad.
Presiding Officer: You must be the only individual in Afghanistan who thinks that way. You are not getting off to a very good start.
Eventually, the Presiding Officer explained the panel’s interest in the madrassa, saying, “The area and the mosques you are talking about are well known mosques that teach and have taught jihad. Your telling the Review Board that these mosques were not teaching jihad is highly incredible.” This may, or may not have been true, but it was difficult to see how attending an anti-American madrassa and watching as your brother was shot dead were valid reasons for being taken to Guantánamo.
On their return to Afghanistan, Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed and Abdul Ghani were the first Afghan prisoners not to be freed outright, but were, like all the other prisoners that followed, imprisoned in a wing of Pol-i-Charki jail, the main prison in Kabul, known as Block “D” or the Afghan National Defense Facility (ANDF), which had recently been refurbished by the US authorities.
As I noted in an article last May,
[T]he whole story of US involvement in the prison is deeply disturbing, as are reports that the “trials” of the men returned from Guantánamo are “closed-door” affairs, in which, as the Washington Post explained [in April 2008], “they are often denied access to defense attorneys,” and are, essentially, tried on the basis of “evidence” provided by the United States, which they are not allowed to see; in other words, exactly the same situation that they faced in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo … As Mohammed Afzal Mullahkeil, a lawyer for the returned Afghan prisoners explained, “When they were sent from Guantánamo, they were told, ‘You are innocent and you will be free once you’re in your country.’ When they got to Bagram, they just brought them to Block D and said they should have a second trial.”
Direct intervention from President Karzai — in the form of a Commission to investigate the cases of the returned prisoners — has apparently improved the situation in the ANDF, so that the majority of those returned have now been released, but it remains profoundly disturbing that, after years of arbitrary imprisonment in Guantánamo, they should return to another environment in which the parameters of justice are difficult to discern.
Released in September 2007 (and one prisoner still held)
In September 2007, three more prisoners were released. The first, Said Amir Jan, who was 22 years old at the time, was seized by US forces from an Afghan military compound with another 22-year old, Sharifullah, who is still held at Guantánamo. Both men were accused of hoarding explosives for the Taliban and being involved in various plots, but they insisted that they were loyal government soldiers.
Sharifullah, who was obliged to contend with allegations that he had trained to use mines, and that, on his arrest, “a search revealed the storage of Improvised Explosive Devices,” said that he was one of the first recruits in the new Afghan army, and explained that he was trained by British officers and had then spent seven months as part of a group that was responsible for guarding President Karzai. When he was unable to get a promotion, however, he returned to Jalalabad, where he had just taken up a new position as an officer when he was arrested.
Said Amir Jan, who was accused of a being part of a cell of militants suspected of training at an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan before returning to Afghanistan to report to a Taliban commander, and of planning to plant bombs on bicycles and motorcycles to attack US military and UN personnel in Jalalabad, was particularly incensed by the allegations, pointing out that he served under Haji Qadir (a commander who later fought with the Americans during the Tora Bora campaign) and had been imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban. “We did not accept oppression and be imprisoned through their system,” he explained. “I wanted to be a free man. So I decided to fight them. I ended up in prison for five years.”
Even the US military acknowledged that Jan had been imprisoned by the Taliban, as the Summary of Evidence compiled in Guantánamo conceded that he was “beaten and tortured by the Taliban, resulting in the loss of his two front teeth.” He explained that those who had seized him had been duped by traitors who were taking money from both them and al-Qaeda, and were passing off innocent men as members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “I’m here because somebody got paid some dollars,” he said. Despite this, military officials at Guantánamo claimed that he had confessed to taking part in the plot. When he denied the allegation, he asked, pointedly, “I fought the Taliban, and they captured me and put me in jail. How could I be with them and work for them?”
What made matters worse was that, as with every other prisoner who requested outside witnesses, no attempt was made to verify his story. In Guantánamo, he explained that a former commander in his army unit had written him a letter and had included his cellphone number. As the McClatchy Newspapers report explained, after an interview with Jan (who stated that his correct name is Amir Jan Ghorzang), “One of the US officers presiding over the board asked Ghorzang why the General hadn’t made clear in the note that he thought Ghorzang was innocent. Ghorzang suggested that the General probably thought it wouldn’t make a difference.”
Although the General — Agha Saqib, who is now the police chief of Kandahar — had written a letter, no one bothered to follow it up, but as Tom Lasseter explained, “It took McClatchy less than a day to get Saqib on the phone in Afghanistan. He confirmed that Ghorzang had spent about five years in a Taliban jail. He also said the Americans had detained the wrong guy,” and explained that the man they were actually looking for was called Qari Naqib, “a soldier in his unit in 2002 who’d gone bad.” The problem, Naqib said, was that US forces “never asked him for any information and didn’t coordinate their raid with the Afghan army.” He added that they “relied on bad information from informants who didn’t know what they were talking about.” “Things are very complicated in Afghanistan,” he continued. “The forces who are operating here should be very careful and precise. Everyone who is sent to Guantánamo is not a criminal; there are innocent people, like Ghorzang.”
In his McClatchy interview, Ghorzang explained that he was rarely interrogated at Guantánamo, but that “They asked me over and over what I would do when I went back to Afghanistan. I think they were worried because I was an innocent man when they arrested me, and they were worried that I might make problems once I was released.” On his release, he was held in Pol-i-Charki for about four and a half months, and was then freed, but at the time of his interview he was unemployed, and described himself as “broke and angry.” Meanwhile, as Agha Saqib explained, Qari Naqib, “the real terrorist,” had called him a few times. He was living outside Jalalabad, he said, and “sounds fine.”
Amir Jan Ghorzang was at least more fortunate than Sharifullah, whose continued presence in Guantánamo is, frankly, inexplicable. As Ghorzang explained in the following exchange in Sharifullah’s tribunal, when he was called as a witness:
Detainee: Do you know that I was involved to work in the new government? Was I honestly working and working for the new government?
Witness: You were working with the new government and he was involved with the Karzai government, in support of the Karzai government.
Or, as he explained later:
Today we are suffering and living in the jail because of some of the people who are not working honestly. Since the Americans came to Afghanistan we were counting on those people and there was a lot of al-Qaeda and Taliban in our country. In our Muslim people, culturally, when some people help them it’s brave to them and they will be proud of them and up to the end of their life they will support those people (Americans). But unfortunately Americans don’t have any ideology about that region. They can’t use their mind because they don’t know who is this Ghorzang person, how long he was fighting against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, what activities he did for his country, and just you guys bringing them in the jail and they will be in here with nobody thinking about their life or about their age passing for nothing.
The second man released in September 2007, Juma Din, who was 29 years old when he was seized, was accused of being, “reportedly,” a “main adviser” to a leader of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, but he strenuously denied it. He was apparently captured at his sister’s house in Peshawar, which was described as a “suspected al-Qaeda safehouse,” but he stated that he had no knowledge of accusations that his brother-in-law was an al-Qaeda member, and stated, incredulously, “They kept me here for two and a half years because of what my brother-in-law did.”
The third, Abdul Ahmad, who was 49 years old at the time of his capture, is from Bamiyan province, in central Afghanistan. Accused of recruiting for the Taliban, he began by telling his tribunal, “In Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban the situation was really bad and everybody was tired and sick of their improper behavior.” He then explained that, in response to the devastating effects of mass conscription on the part of the Taliban, after they captured Kabul and tried to conquer the whole country, representatives of numerous tribes “got united” to find a solution, “and told them that they were going to provide them with some young men but to leave the rest of the villages alone.” He added that he was chosen as a representative of his tribe because “I never worked for the Taliban government and I hated them,” and because “I can read and write, so they chose me because I could make a list and write down the names of the people that were given to the Taliban.” He also explained that, at the time of his capture, he had actually been working for 14 months as a regional leader for the Karzai government.
Released in November 2007
Two more men were released in November 2007. Mohammed Quasam was captured by US forces at his home in Zormat, in Paktia province, in eastern Afghanistan. He was 25 years old at the time. It was alleged that he was identified as being in charge of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin operations in Jalalabad, but he said that he had never been to Jalalabad. He explained that he was betrayed by a personal enemy of his family — a high-ranking Taliban official called Nur Mohammed — who was an opponent of his father, because his father had worked in the last Communist government.
30 years old when he was captured, Zahir Shah told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he was a farmer, and that he was betrayed not by someone connected to the Taliban, al-Qaeda or some other insurgent group, but by a personal enemy who was working for the Karzai government as a soldier. He was accused of being a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, but he denied the allegation, and he was also accused of having automatic weapons and a grenade launcher in his house, when he was subjected to a search “by United States forces conducting Weapons Cache Recovery Operations.” He admitted possessing a Kalashnikov, but explained that the Karzai government “knew about it, because you have to report to the government how many guns you have in your possession and give them the numbers. I was keeping it for personal safety because we do have enemies in our area.” He insisted, however, that he had never raised arms against American troops.
Released in December 2007 (and two prisoners still held)
Four more prisoners not mentioned in Chapter 17 were released in December 2007. Abdul Razzaq, who was 38 years old when he was seized, was accused of working as a cook for the Taliban, and of possessing “a list of 24 recruits for a Taliban military unit.” In his tribunal, he explained that he was a shopkeeper, that he had been obliged to work as a cook for the Taliban, several years before his capture, to earn money while he was involved in a land dispute with a personal enemy, and that, when the Karzai government came to power, this enemy took a job with them and arranged for his capture. He also explained that the list was not a military list, but simply a list of people he owed money to or who owed him money.
Also released in December 2007 was Abdullah Wazir. 24 years old at the time, his capture appears to be a case of opportunism on the part of the Pakistani police. A shopkeeper in a village near Khost, he said that he was on a bus, making one of his regular visits across the border to Pakistan to buy batteries and tires for his shop, and to mend the broken glass on his satellite phone, when the bus was stopped and searched by Pakistani police. Fearing that, if the police saw his phone, they might try to take his money because they were “corrupt,” he explained that he gave his phone to Bostan Karim, an acquaintance from his village, with whom he had spent three days preaching five years before, and asked him “to hold it for two minutes.” Unfortunately, he added, “a soldier on top of the bus saw me give the phone to Karim.” He then “told another soldier that I had passed something to another person,” and both men were then arrested, taken to a jail and interrogated. Although Wazir reported that “the boss of the jail told me that I will released tomorrow, in the afternoon they handcuffed our hands and took us somewhere else [Bagram]. We spent six to seven months at the place they took us. From there, they brought me here.”
Although Wazir was accused of being a member of the Taliban (an allegation that he denied), what particularly counted against him was his alleged association with Karim, who is still in Guantánamo. A preacher and also a shopkeeper, Karim, who was 33 years old when he was captured, was reportedly “apprehended because he matched the description of an al-Qaeda bomb cell leader and had a [satellite] phone.” In a demonstration of the thinness of so many of the allegations that make up the “evidence” in Guantánamo, it was also alleged that he was “possibly identified as an al-Qaeda associate, planning landmine attacks in Khost,” and was “possibly identified as a person likely to have communicated with Arab al-Qaeda members operating in Peshawar, Afghanistan [sic], and working directly for Arab al-Qaeda in the Khost province.”
As I have explained elsewhere, however (in the previous online chapter and in an article here), Karim maintained that the allegations had been made by another prisoner, Obaidullah, who is also still in Guantánamo, where he was put forward for a trial by Military Commission. In a final twist, Obaidullah has explained in Guantánamo that, although he was a partner in Karim’s shop, and had fallen out with him in a dispute over money, he only made false allegations against him because of the abuse to which he was subjected by US soldiers in Bagram.
Also released in December 2007 was Gul Chaman (also known as Commander Chaman), who was 40 years old at the time of his capture. A former mujahideen fighter against the Soviet Union, Chaman had a colorful history. In the turmoil of the brutal civil war that followed the collapse of the Soviet government in the early 1990s, he fought for six months against the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the charismatic Tajik who led the Northern Alliance (and who was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives two days before 9/11), as a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.
Chaman explained to his tribunal that he then switched sides, joining Massoud, and insisted that he did not join the Taliban after their rise to power in 1994. “When the Taliban movement started,” he said, “[they] captured Logar and then they started coming to Azrah, which is my district. The Taliban collected ten guys by the name of Chaman’s people and killed and executed them right on the spot. I was there and they did not capture me.” He explained that they were “my cousins and my day laborers,” and that the Taliban would not let him give them a proper burial. “After that,” he continued, “I was against the Taliban. I did not fight but I tried my best to fight them through propaganda.”
Accused of being “heavily involved in the drug trade and other illegal activities in Kabul,” Chaman denied the allegations, claiming that, after Hamid Karzai came to power, he made a few visits to Pakistan with a delegation connected with the chief of intelligence, and provided some information on HIG. He added, “I was doing work against the Taliban.”
The circumstances of his capture apparently had nothing whatsoever to do with this back story. Instead, it seems that he was seized and sent to Guantánamo because a young man called Mohammed Mustafa Sohail, who was working as a translator and a clerk for DynCorp, an American private contractor in Kabul, accused him of stealing a computer from the Americans that he had possibly stolen himself. Just 21 years old at the time, Sohail, who was also seized and is still held in Guantánamo, explained that he accused Chaman after being interrogated for 68 hours in Kabul, when an interrogator “tortured and threatened me with a gun to my mouth, to try to make me say something.”
Whether or not there was any truth in this story it came too late for Chaman, who had already been handed over to the Americans at Bagram by the local intelligence chief, but it remains difficult to understand why Mohammed Mustafa Sohail is still being held, as, although his story is rather confusing, it seems to involve, at most, the theft of a computer, which is, surely, not an adequate reason to be sent to Guantánamo.
The last of the men released in December 2007 is Abdul Ghafaar. 45 years old at the time of his capture (in March 2003), Ghafaar was accused of being the bodyguard of someone who killed a Red Cross worker in an attack on a convoy in March 2003, although he maintained that he wasn’t involved. “If I were a bodyguard there would have been evidence on me like a knife, a gun,” he explained. He said that he was a poor farmer, with seven children to support, who had never worked with the Taliban or kept a weapon, and he was shocked and surprised that US soldiers had arrived by helicopter to arrest him in a creek bed outside his house. When the tribunal members discussed the attack with him, he replied, “The attack could have been by means of a shovel, pick, gun or whatever. Not with clothes (one pants and one shirt) in the middle of a creek.”
He also explained that he thought he had probably been sold under false pretences by an unknown enemy, as the following exchange from his tribunal reveals:
Q: You mentioned that maybe an enemy turned you in. Did you say that?
A: I don’t know exactly. This is my idea. There had been chaos for twenty-five years in Afghanistan. People have animosity toward each other. We could see that Americans paid $5000 for each person. People handed different people to them. These people are thinking that once the people go to jail, like the time of the Russians, they will not return again. I’m thinking strongly it could be a person behind this that is thinking that my family, my sister and my mother should be alone and they sent me to jail. Americans should not accept a person from just anyone for detention; they should have proven documents with him. I had only my clothes when I was arrested. There were no documents to prove I did such activities.
Released in 2008
Mohammed Mussa Yakubi, who was the last prisoner seized and transferred to Guantánamo as part of the industrial-scale rendition of prisoners (in November 2003), was 37 years old at the time of his capture. A witness in the tribunal of Mohammed Aman (see October 2006, above), he was one of six prisoners seized in Gardez who were actually working for the Karzai government. A security officer, working under Abdullah Mujahid (see above), he explained in his tribunal at Guantánamo that he had been alerted to the presence of an IED near a roadblock in June 2003, and had visited the scene of the explosion with US forces, but was then blamed for it four months later, and seized and taken to Guantánamo. He was released in July 2008.
In August 2008, another prisoner, Mahbub Rahman, was released. Born in 1985, according to the Pentagon’s own records, he was, therefore, either 17 years old at the time of his capture, in summer 2003, or just 18 years old. Although he was accused of spying on American forces, shooting an Afghan soldier and two civilians, and being caught with two automatic rifles, he denied all the allegations, insisting that his only crime — which had no impact on the United States whatsoever — was to shoot, in self-defense, an enemy of his family who was threatening him with a gun, and who had killed one of his brothers several years before. In a long and rambling story, he explained how, after the shooting, he had fled to the madrassa (religious school) at which he had been studying in Pakistan, and was captured after returning to Afghanistan to visit his family.
To complicate matters, three other prisoners were seized in connection with these supposed events, although only one of these, Azimullah (released in April 2007, whose story is related above), was also transferred to Guantánamo, where he too was ensnared in the “spying” allegation, which purportedly revolved around a plot to attack a US base, and was also accused of being involved in a firefight with Afghan soldiers.
In November 2008, the only non-Afghan in this chapter, a Tajik named Zainulabidin Merozhev, was released. Seized by US forces in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in July 2003, when he was 25 years old, he was identified as “Jumma Jan,” and was accused, in Guantánamo, of being a high-ranking Taliban member, who “reportedly was assigned a mission in Tajikistan after 11 September 2001 as part of an al-Qaeda and Taliban operational plan.” It was also alleged that he had a “leadership role” in a rocket attack on US forces at the airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif, that he was “implicated” in an assassination attempt on General Dostum, one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance, and that he was a commander in Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.
In response, Merozhev, who had probably been identified by opportunistic US allies, availing themselves of the substantial bounty rewards available for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects,” explained that he was not “Jumma Jan,” and was nothing more than refugee from Tajikistan who had worked as a driver. He said that he had arrived in Afghanistan with his family as a refugee during the civil war in Tajikistan, when he was a teenager, and had then traveled to Pakistan, where he received an education.
Unfortunately, he then contracted tuberculosis, but when he tried to return to Tajikistan, he was befriended by an “Afghanistan gentleman” who provided him with a car, so that he could earn money as a taxi driver to pay for his medical treatment. He admitted that, during this period, at the end of the 1990s, he had also used the car to drive around a Taliban leader called Guli, a double amputee responsible for security, but he insisted that he only took the job because he needed the money to continue his treatment, and pointed out that before his capture he had spent several years driving a tractor and a bus.
The reality of Merozhev’s tuberculosis was apparently not in doubt, as he stated that he had received treatment in US custody — for four months at Bagram airbase, and for seven months in Guantánamo — where, he said, he had spent 48 days in an isolation ward, but it remains unclear why he was held for so long. As he explained in a review board in 2005, “Since I have been here in Cuba, they have just interrogated me for less than twenty minutes, once, only once. I don’t know how these accusations have come about. I have been here for one and a half years and only one time have they interrogated me.”
Released in 2009
The last of the prisoners to be released, Haji Bismullah, an Afghan who was 23 years old when he was seized in February 2003, was also working for the Karzai government. As he explained to a review board at Guantánamo, refuting an allegation that he had been a Taliban member for six years, “I did not spend a single night with the Taliban. If you prove that I spent one night with the Taliban then all of these [accusations] are true and you can do anything you want based on that. We were with the governor of Helmand province. We were friends with him. Since the Taliban came to Afghanistan we went to Pakistan and we went with him. When the Taliban was overthrown we came back with him.”
Unusually for a released prisoner (few of whose stories register on the media’s radar), Bismullah’s story was picked up by the New York Times, on his release in January 2009, following a unique volte-face by the government, which had convened a new tribunal and had concluded that he was not an “enemy combatant” after all. Echoing Bismullah’s insistence during his imprisonment at Guantánamo, the Times explained that at the time of his capture he was working for the government of Hamid Karzai as the chief of transportation in a region of Helmand province, but was removed from his job by unscrupulous rivals, connected with the Taliban, who cooked up a false story to impress the US military.
Bismullah’s long imprisonment is particularly disturbing, as his brother, a spokesman for the pro-American provisional governor, had filed a sworn statement with officials at Guantánamo in 2006, declaring that Bismullah and his entire family “fought to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan,” and Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, a member of the Afghan Senate and an ally of Hamid Karzai, had also declared in a sworn statement that “he had known Bismullah and his family for years,” and that, when they had fought the Taliban, “Haji Bismullah was with us.” However, as I hope to have made clear, even witness statements from high-level figures outside Guantánamo failed to influence the authorities at Guantánamo, who, as a result, demonstrated conclusively that the system was designed not to secure justice but to defend arbitrary detention, and in this sense Bismullah’s reconvened tribunal was a particular triumph.
Other prisoners still held
In addition to Sharifullah, Bostan Karim and Mohammed Mustafa Sohail, who are all still held at Guantánamo (as discussed above), another five prisoners not mentioned in Chapter 17 are also still imprisoned. Two of these men (discussed at the end of the chapter) were put forward for trial by Military Commission (the novel system of “terror trials” conceived by Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisers), but the other three are still languishing at Guantánamo without charge, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
The first, Abdul Hafiz, who was 42 years old when he was seized in 2003 from his village near Kandahar, was accused in his tribunal of working for a Taliban militia group and of being involved in two killings in Kabul. It was also alleged that he was captured with a satellite phone linked to one of the killings, and that he “attempted to call an al-Qaeda member who is linked to the murder of an ICRC [Red Cross] worker.”
In response, Hafiz, who described himself as “handicapped” and who repeatedly stated that he has problems with his memory, claimed that his name was Abdul Qawi, and that he had been confused with Abdul Hafiz, because Hafiz, for whom he had been working, had given him the phone at a checkpoint. As he stated, “He told me that he did not have any documents to have the phone with him. So he said, ‘You can have my phone because you are handicapped and I don’t think they will search you.’” He added that he did not even know how to use the phone. Describing Hafiz as someone who supported the new government of Hamid Karzai and was “preaching in the village to bring the peace,” He said, “I was working for him to bring peace … He gave me the telephone in the morning and told me to keep it in my pocket. He told me to work and preach to the people not to fight. That war is not good. This is the reason that I lost my leg. Fighting is not good. War does not have good consequences.”
He also explained, “I was just in my home when they captured me and brought me here. I didn’t do anything,” and expressed frustration at not being able to see classified documents containing evidence against him, saying, “In our culture, if someone is accused of something, they are shown the evidence.” At his review in 2005, he presented the board with letters from his family — all addressed to Abdul Qari, not Abdul Hafiz — including one from his brother, which read, “My respectful brother, you didn’t have any relationship with any political people. We were hoping that you would get released very, very soon. We do not understand why you’re still detained there without a crime.” He was clearly so desperate to be freed from Guantánamo and not to be “amongst these beasts and these people” (as he described his fellow prisoners at one point), that he even offered to present the board with a letter from his wife, even though “It is a big shame in our culture to read my wife’s letter to you, but now I am in a very tough situation.”
If Abdul Qari’s continued imprisonment appears to be inexplicable, there was, on the surface at least, more of a case against Mohamed Rahim, a resident of a village near Ghazni (age unknown), but this too collapses spectacularly under scrutiny. Rahim was accused, in his tribunal, of being the chief of logistics for a company providing support directly to the Taliban government, of working for the Taliban Intelligence Office, and of controlling a large weapons cache for the Taliban. In response, he explained that he had been forced to work for the Taliban, and that, because he “was sick” and unable to fight, he was made to work in an administrative post. He denied the allegation that he worked for the Taliban Intelligence Office, calling it an “outrageous” accusation, and also denied controlling a weapons cache. “This doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I was captured in my house. I have no information on these weapons.”
By the time of his next review, in 2005, a swathe of other allegations had been added, including a claim that he was “identifiable as a former companion of bin laden during the jihad against the Russians,” and another that he “was among a group protecting bin Laden at his last meeting at Tora Bora.” It was also suggested that he “was entrusted by bin Laden to exfiltrate his guard forces from Afghanistan back to their countries of origin,” and that “bin Laden and his companions spent the night in a house belonging to an Afghan acquaintance of the Detainee.”
There was more in this vein, including a claim that he “attempted to export gems from Afghanistan to Germany in order to raise revenue to finance al-Qaeda,” but what was completely overlooked by his review board — and presumably, by those who were supposed to be capable of analyzing the intelligence relating to the Guantánamo prisoners — is that when he stated, “I am a sick poor farmer with enemies,” he was telling the truth for one particularly glaring reason, which only emerged in passing in his review, when his Designated Military Officer (a soldier assigned to him in place of a lawyer) pointed out that he was Hazara.
One of four main population groups in Afghanistan — the others being Pashtuns (the Taliban), and Tajiks and Uzbeks (the Northern Alliance) — the Hazara, Shia Muslims who are at least partly of Mongol origin, were despised by the Sunni Taliban, who slaughtered them in their thousands. As a result, it is not only appropriate to conclude that the allegations against Rahim were invented by his enemies, but also to conclude that his enemies in Guantánamo came up with the outrageous claims that he was intimately associated with Osama bin Laden.
The last of the three, Haji Hamidullah, is the son of a Mullah and evidently had some kind of political influence. 40 years old at the time of his capture, he was accused of having ties to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, but he explained that he had only been a member of the group 15 years before, during the Russian occupation. He added that, when the Taliban came to power, he cut all ties to the group, but was then imprisoned by the Taliban, for at least a year and a half, until he escaped and went to Pakistan, where he stayed until the US-led invasion. “I was happy to go home when I learned the US was there,” he said.
Although he was also accused of controlling a cache of weapons and of leading “a group of 30 men who conspired to attack coalition forces in the vicinity of Kabul,” it appeared that he had been seized by US forces because he had agitated for the return of former King Zahir Shah (who was living in exile in Italy) and had run up against an opponent in the Northern Alliance (the head of the Secret Police in Kabul), who arranged for his capture by Americans. As he explained in his review, “Be careful with Afghani people and their personal disputes. We badly need you, and want you in Afghanistan until we stand on our own feet.” Or, as he also explained, when discussing why he ignored the advice of a friend who warned him to stay away from Kabul because his personal enemy had arranged for him to be taken to Guantánamo,
I heard that American laws and courts want evidence, and follow someone a long time before they arrest them; they will not just arrest people on the street. If I knew what I know now, I would’ve run again from Kabul or Afghanistan to somewhere else. The majority of Afghanistan is happy you are there. It’s OK, and I’m smart enough to understand, but be careful of doing wrong things and not considering evidence seriously, because people will get upset with you and not support you.
The two prisoners put forward for trial by Military Commission
The last two prisoners still in Guantánamo — Mohammed Kamin and Abdul Ghani — were put forward for trial by Military Commission in 2008. As with the other Afghans charged (as described in the previous online chapter), putting them forward for war crimes trials was inexplicable, as, even if the allegations were to be verified, they demonstrate that the men were nothing more than minor insurgents in a war, rather then terrorists with any connection to al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks or any other acts of terrorism.
Captured in 2003, when he was 25 years old, Mohammed Kamin was accused of “providing material support for terrorism,” specifically by receiving training at “an al-Qaeda training camp,” conducting surveillance on US and coalition military bases and activities, planting two mines under a bridge, and launching missiles at the city of Khost while it was occupied by US and coalition forces. He was not charged with harming, let alone killing US forces, and, as I explained in an article last March, after he was charged, “were it not for his supposed al-Qaeda connection — he apparently stated in interrogation that he was ‘recruited by an al-Qaeda cell leader’ — it would, I think, be impossible to make the case that he was involved in “terrorism” at all.”
For his arraignment on May 21, 2008, Kamin refused to leave his cell, and was dragged to the court by guards. The judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, explained that he was handcuffed and shackled because he had “attempted to spit on and bite one of the guards” on his way to the courtroom. Refusing to be represented by a US military lawyer, Kamin called the charges “a lie and a forgery,” adding that he had no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he “did not recognize the court’s legitimacy and would not attend future hearings.” In a brief statement, he said, “My judge is the god that has created the sky and the land. He will be my lawyer and represent me. I wait for his decision. That’s enough.”
As I explained in another article last November, a pre-trial hearing in Kamin’s case took place on October 23, even though Kamin was not present. When he was notified of the hearing, he apparently “ripped up the notice, began kicking and hitting the cell door and stated that he was innocent and it was President Bush who should be on trial.” This time, however, the judge did not force him to come to court. The November article describes the farcical proceedings that followed, focused particularly on the government’s attempts to deny Kamin’s defense team the right to assess their client’s mental health.
Abdul Ghani (not to be confused with the other Abdul Ghani, described above, who was released in August 2007) had fought against his imprisonment from at least the time of his tribunal, in 2004, when, after he stated that he wanted the cuffs removed from his hands, the following exchange took place:
Tribunal President: That is not within our power to do that.
Detainee: There is a difference between the law and being brutal.
Tribunal President: We are here only to discuss your enemy combatant status and the handcuffs will stay on.
Detainee: Before we start, I have a question for you.
Tribunal President: Certainly.
Detainee: You bombed Afghanistan with 100,000 bombs and you are calling me an enemy combatant. What about yourself?
Tribunal President: Let’s set the ground rules right now. We are here to talk about allegations on the Unclassified Summary that has been shown to you, and your enemy combatant status. That is the only thing we will discuss with you. That is the only thing within our power to discuss with you.
Charged, last July, with firing rockets at US forces, planting “land mines and other explosive devices on more than one occasion for use against US and coalition forces,” attacking Afghan soldiers, and “accept[ing] monetary payments, including payment from al-Qaeda and others known and unknown, to commit attacks on US forces and bases,” Ghani, who was 30 years old when seized, told a long and rambling tale in his tribunal about his involvement in the alleged attack, in which he tried to shift the blame onto another man, and claimed that he had sold a rocket he had found, and had only inadvertently become involved in a rocket attack. The story was not entirely convincing, but as I wrote at the time (in a commentary that echoed my thoughts about Mohammed Kamin), “Apart from the inclusion of the magic words ‘al-Qaeda,’ there was nothing in Abdul Ghani’s charge sheet to indicate that he should find himself in the same trial system as those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the African embassy bombings of 1998 or the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, or even, in fact, that he should have been sent to Guantánamo at all.”
For unexplained reasons, Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions, eventually agreed. On December 19, she dismissed the charges “without prejudice.” This meant, as the Pentagon explained, “that the government has the option of charging Ghani at a later date,” but it would surely be better for Barack Obama’s review of the Guantánamo cases, which he ordered on his second day in office, to conclude that Abdul Ghani — and the other Afghan prisoners discussed in this chapter, who are still held at Guantánamo — should be sent back to Afghanistan instead, where, after far too many years of wrongful and pointless imprisonment in a lawless prison experiment for detaining and interrogating “terror suspects,” the Afghan authorities can work out if they actually constitute any kind of threat.
Peta Muhammed (ISN 908); Abdul Samad (ISN 911); Shardar Khan (ISN 914): CSRT Set 25, pp. 1-9; Wazir (ISN 996); Jalil (ISN 1117): CSRT Set 28, pp. 1-3; Nasim (ISN 958): CSRT Set 51, pp. 100-9; Noor (ISN 1041): CSRT Set 16, pp. 7-12; Hukumra Khan (ISN 1157): CSRT Set 18, pp. 15-22; Darwaish (ISN 1019): CSRT Set 43, pp. 27-33; Swar Khan (ISN 933): CSRT Set 33, pp. 57-68; ARB Set 9, pp. 206-16; Sada Jan (ISN 1035): CSRT Set 32, pp. 1-13; ARB Set 11, pp. 22-37; Taj Mohammed (ISN 902); Sabar Lal (ISN 801); Aman (ISN 1074): CSRT Set 47, pp. 31-48; ARB Set 11, pp. 113-31; Ali Shah (ISN 1154); Mujahid (ISN 1100); Anwar Khan (ISN 948): CSRT Set 35, pp. 29-35; ARB Set 9, pp. 311-21; Zahor (ISN 949): CSRT Set 26, pp. 1-6; ARB Set 9, pp. 322-35; Azimullah (ISN 1050): CSRT Set 19, pp. 31-8; ARB Set 1, pp. 189-94; Iktiar Mohammed (ISN 1043): CSRT Set 19, pp. 39-45; ARB Set 11, pp. 64-82; Ghani (ISN 943): CSRT Set 41, pp. 39-47; ARB Set 9, pp. 286-96; Sharifullah (ISN 944): CSRT Set 1, 79-97; Said Amir Jan (ISN 945): CSRT Set 23, pp. 34-48; ARB Set 9, pp. 297-310; Juma Din (ISN 941): CSRT Set 21, pp. 38-44; ARB Set 9, pp. 261-71; Abdul Ahmad (ISN 956): CSRT Set 23, pp. 27-33; ARB Set 10, pp. 30-41; Quasam (ISN 955): CSRT Set 33, pp. 78-83; ARB Set 10, pp. 23-9; Zahir Shah (ISN 1010): CSRT Set 2, pp. 27-35; ARB Set 10, pp. 266-75; Razzaq (ISN 923): CSRT Set 13, pp. 7-13; ARB Set 9, pp. 184-95; Wazir (ISN 976): CSRT Set 3, pp. 4-21; Karim (ISN 975): CSRT Set 31, pp. 77-83; ARB Set 10, pp. 138-50; Obaidullah (ISN 762); Chaman (ISN 1021): CSRT Set 21, pp. 24-37; ARB Set 11, pp. 1-12; Sohail (ISN 1008): CSRT Set 33, pp. 24-34; ARB Set 10, pp. 237-56; Ghafaar (ISN 1032): CSRT Set 16, pp. 25-32; ARB Set 11, pp. 13-21; Yakubi (ISN 1165): CSRT Set 48, pp. 3-10; ARB Set 11, pp. 298-314; Mahbub Rahman (ISN 1052): CSRT Set 2, pp. 93-108; ARB Set 11, pp. 90-104; Merozhev (ISN 1095): ARB Set 2, pp. 32-9; Bismullah (ISN 968): ARB Set 10, pp. 83-94; Hafiz (ISN 1030): CSRT Set 44, pp. 51-61; ARB Set 3, pp. 136-45; Rahim (ISN 1104): CSRT Set 3, pp. 1-3; ARB Set 11, pp. 231-41; Hamidullah (ISN 1119): CSRT Set 47, pp. 89-101; ARB Set 11, pp. 242-56; Kamin (ISN 1045): CSRB Set 3, pp. 77-8: Ghani (ISN 934): CSRT Set 44, pp. 1-12; ARB Set 9, pp. 217-27.
Abbreviations used in the Notes (amended April 2012)
“CSRT” and “ARB” refer to the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which were held at Guantánamo from July 2004 to March 2005, and the first round of Administrative Review Boards, annual reviews held from December 2004 onwards. The transcripts of these hearings, released by the Pentagon in March and April 2006, can be found here. In addition to the transcripts of the CSRT and ARB hearings, this page also provides access to the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for over a hundred ARB hearings.
“CSRB” refers to the Combatant Status Review Boards. These documents, which comprise the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for 517 of the 558 CSRT hearings, were released by the Pentagon in 2005 under Freedom of Information legislation, although they are no longer online. For these transcripts, I have chosen a numbering system similar to that used for the CSRT and ARB hearings, so that, for example, “March 2005 Release” becomes “CSRB Set 3.”
“ARB 2” refers to the second round of Administrative Review Boards. The transcripts of these hearings, released by the Pentagon in September 2007 (after I completed The Guantánamo Files) can be found on the same Pentagon page as linked to above, under the heading “Administrative Review Board (ARB) Documents –- Round Two” and the sub-heading “Transcripts and Certain Documents from Administrative Review Boards (ARB) Round Two (held at Guantánamo in 2006).” Also included are the Unclassified Summaries for all the second round ARB hearings, under the sub-heading “Summaries of Detention-Release Factors for Administrative Review Boards (ARB) Round Two (held at Guantánamo),” which are referred to in the Notes as “ARB 2 Factors,” and below these are heavily redacted documents explaining decisions relating to the release or transfer of detainees. Also included are links to detailed and very useful indexes.
The documents released in September 2007 also augmented the information contained in previously released documents. This release has now been incorporated into the Pentagon page linked to above, but in the Notes above there are references to all the Unclassified Summaries from the CSRT process (with names and ISN numbers) — only 517 of which had been previously issued without names or numbers (see “CSRB” above) — which were included in this release of documents, and references to these documents are labeled as “CSRT Factors.” This release also included all the Unclassified Summaries from the first round ARBs, instead of the limited number released in 2006 (see “ARB Factors” above), and references to these documents in the Notes are labeled “ARB Factors Sep 07.” Also included are heavily redacted documents explaining decisions relating to the release or transfer of detainees.
“ISN” refers to “Internment Serial Numbers,” the unique number assigned to each prisoner in Guantánamo. A list of the 558 prisoners (identified by name, nationality and ISN) who went through the CSRT process can be found here. A list of 759 prisoners, including the 201 released or transferred before the CSRT process began (identified by name, nationality, date and place of birth and ISN), can be found here.
Some of the references in the Notes will not correspond to the files on the Pentagon’s current CSRT/ARB page, and if this is the case, then readers are directed to the New York Times‘ excellent project, The Guantánamo Docket, where all the CSRT and ARB documents can be searched for using the prisoners’ names or ISN numbers.
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 please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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