The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (5) – Escape to Pakistan (The Yemenis)

The Guantanamo Files

This article was originally published on October 12, 2008. 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 6 of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press/the University of Michigan Press) tells the stories of 29 Saudi prisoners and eight Yemeni prisoners captured in Pakistan, after crossing the border from Afghanistan, during a frenetic period in the middle of December 2001, when almost a third of Guantánamo’s total population was captured.

In addition to the prisoners discussed in Chapter 6, a further 23 Saudis, 21 Yemenis and an Afghan of Saudi origin were also captured at this time. To keep these additional chapters manageable, the stories of the Saudis (and the Afghan Saudi) were examined in the previous additional chapter, and the Yemenis are discussed here.

Unlike the Saudis, who were mostly released from Guantánamo in 2006 and 2007, after the Saudi government instigated a rehabilitation program — involving religious retraining and support in finding wives and employment — which met with the approval of the US authorities, few of the Yemenis have been released, even though they, like the Saudis, were, for the most part, a mixture of humanitarian aid workers and missionaries, caught up in an undiscriminating dragnet, and Taliban foot soldiers. Recruited in their home countries to help the Taliban establish a “pure Islamic state” by defeating their Muslim rivals in the Northern Alliance, these foot soldiers had little, if any knowledge of al-Qaeda, and no involvement whatsoever in the 9/11 attacks or any other terrorist activities.

At the time of writing, there were hints of a thaw in the long diplomatic impasse between the governments of the United States and Yemen regarding the fate of the prisoners, whose continued detention en masse remains one of the major stumbling blocks to the administration’s efforts to scale down Guantánamo’s population. To date, this has largely taken place through a steady and almost imperceptible program of releases intended to prevent observers from focusing on what a miserable failure the whole “War on Terror” prison has turned out to be.

During a visit to Yemen in September, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Vickers apparently discussed cooperation with the Yemeni government to establish a facility, modeled on the Saudi rehabilitation project, to receive released prisoners, which, as the Wall Street Journal described it, might overcome US concerns that the Yemenis “won’t be properly monitored if they are sent home.” In an email, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, stated that the Pentagon was “optimistic” about reaching an agreement with Yemen, and the Journal also reported that the Pentagon had said that “constructive dialogue” was ongoing. It was noticeable, however, that the US government was making no bold claims in public, and that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh remained silent on the matter.

Twelve of the men described in this additional chapter were, to varying degrees, “confirmed” as Taliban foot soldiers — or otherwise affiliated with the Taliban — in the tribunals at Guantánamo, the pale substitute for due process that was introduced by the administration in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, in June 2004, that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights. Instead of a fair hearing, however, what the prisoners found was a system (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals) that, although it allowed them to tell their own stories, prevented them from having legal representation, and included classified evidence that they were not allowed to either see or hear, which could have — and in many cases clearly was — obtained through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners.

Several hundred prisoners — including the majority of the prisoners discussed in this additional chapter — refused to take part in the CSRTs and the annual Administrative Review Boards (ARBs) that followed them, but from the allegations against them in their “Unclassified Summaries of Evidence,” it’s clear that few were even alleged to have had any connection to al-Qaeda, and that they are all, essentially, Prisoners of War, deprived of the rights of the Geneva Conventions, and flown halfway round the world to be imprisoned as “terrorists” instead.

Foot soldiers (and cooks) in an inter-Muslim civil war

(a) Released from Guantánamo

Five of the men are among the 13 Yemenis — out of 108 Yemenis in total — who have been freed from Guantánamo. The first to be released was Othman al-Omairah, who was 28 years old when he was seized. Although he was listed by the Pentagon as a Yemeni, he was one of 14 prisoners released to the Saudi Arabian authorities in June 2006. In the thin series of allegations in his Unclassified Summary, it was alleged that he answered a fatwa and traveled to Afghanistan on a forged passport, provided a false name when captured, and trained for a month from October to November 2001 at al-Farouq (a camp established by the Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in the early 1990s, but associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11). Noticeably, this latter allegation was impossible, because al-Farouq shut down after 9/11.

Little is known of the second man, Mohammed al-Asadi, who was one of six prisoners transferred to Yemeni custody in December 2006 (and the only one of the six who was cleared for immediate release by the US authorities). 22 years old at the time of his capture, al-Asadi was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in March 2001 “to fight the jihad,” serving as a guard at a Taliban center, and fighting for a month and a half with a Taliban group consisting mainly of Pakistanis.

In response, having agreed to attend his hearing to make a statement, he proceeded to say, “I do not wish to make a statement because there’s no use in making a statement or defending myself.” He added, “I have many statements and evidence and information that I could present, but there is no use in presenting them because you have classified information that I cannot see or look at to defend myself against them. There is no point in me saying anything.” After this succinct demolition of the tribunals’ inbuilt bias, he said, “I don’t have any response” to all the allegations in the Unclassified Summary, and it was left to his Personal Representative (the military official assigned to the prisoners in place of a lawyer) to state that he had been “very cooperative” and had “exhibited very good behavior” during his pre-CSRT interviews, that he had stated that he had never fought against the United States, and that he wished to point out that “he was with the Taliban before they fought against the US or the Northern Alliance.”

A third man, Ali Mohsen Salih, was one of four prisoners transferred to Yemeni custody in June 2007. Just 21 years old at the time of his capture, Salih appears to be one of several young men recruited for jihad by Ibrahim Baalawi (also known as Abu Khulud), who had apparently escaped from Tora Bora (see Chapter 4) and would clearly have been a much bigger catch than any of the foot soldiers rounded up by the Pakistani authorities instead. A facilitator who had spent time in Afghanistan, where he had sworn bayat (an oath of loyalty) to Osama bin Laden, Baalawi was not mentioned by name in Salih’s case, but may well have played a part in his recruitment. In Salih’s tribunal, in which he was accused of training at al-Farouq and fighting with the Taliban on the front lines at Bagram, he said that he had actually traveled to Afghanistan because he had heard that the Taliban “would provide a home for those who chose to live there.”

The restraint chair used on hunger strikers at GuantanamoIn Guantánamo, he was one of around 200 prisoners who took part in a hunger strike in the second half of 2005 to protest about the conditions in which they were held. Although he weighed just 139 pounds (9 stone 13 pounds) when he arrived in Guantánamo in 2002, at one point in December 2005 his weight dropped to just 107 pounds (7 stone 9 pounds), and he was force-fed daily from the end of Oct 2005 to the end of Jan 2006, when the authorities largely curtailed the strike after taking delivery of a number of restraint chairs — even though it is illegal to force-feed competent prisoners.

The fourth man to be released, Hani al-Shulan, who was 22 when he was seized, was also freed in June 2007. Although he initially said that he was a student who went to Afghanistan to find a job and save money, after being told about the possibilities by a sheikh at his local mosque, and that he subsequently found work as a chef’s assistant north of Kabul, it later transpired that, after arriving in Afghanistan in July 2001, he spent two months cooking for the Taliban, and “stated that his job was to prepare food that was later transported to soldiers fighting on the front lines.” He insisted that he had never raised arms, and that he “didn’t mind ‘working’ for the Taliban, but didn’t want to fight,” and he also explained that, if the fatwa he answered “had included fighting Americans, he would not have gone to Afghanistan.”

The fifth to be released, Ali Mohammed, who was 19 at the time of his capture, denied allegations in his ARB that he was a Taliban fighter who took part in military operations against the US-led coalition, saying, “I have never shot one bullet in my life.” He rather weakly claimed that he went to Afghanistan to “look around to see how the people were doing,” and added, “In my imagination I thought I was going to see many centers with a lot of guards in them and I would see a lot of Muslims. I would find out find out how the Muslims were worshipping and what they do.” He did, however, admit attending a training camp for 40-45 days and also admitted that he had worked for the Taliban, although only in the kitchens or as a guard behind the front lines.

Mohammed was released in September 2007, but he had almost left the prison in May 2006. As the Washington Post reported in July 2007, “The word came in May 2006: Ali Mohammed Nasser Mohammed, a slight, 24-year-old Yemeni with curly black hair and a wispy beard, would be freed from Guantánamo after more than four years. He got a checkup. His photo was taken, as were his fingerprints. He was measured for clothes and shoes, then offered a meeting with the Red Cross. As the Pentagon tersely put it later in an e-mail to his attorneys: ‘Your client has been approved to leave Guantánamo.’”

However, as his lawyer Martha Rayner explained, “He never went home.” Although he was born in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi authorities refused to accept him back, because his parents are both Yemenis. As the Post explained, “Under Yemeni and Saudi law, he is Yemeni, by virtue of his parents’ citizenship.” It took another 16 months of diplomatic wrangling — and a visit to Yemen by his lawyers — for Ali Mohammed to be freed, but in the end he was more fortunate than a number of other Yemeni prisoners, who still languish in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release for several years.

(b) Cleared for release but still held

At least two of the other foot soldiers have, inexplicably, remained in the prison while other Yemenis have been released, even though they have been cleared to leave. The first of these, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, who was just 18 years old at the time of his capture, told one of the strangest recruitment stories of all. He explained that he didn’t want to go to Afghanistan, because he had a job in a restaurant in Yemen, but said that his parents, who were living in Afghanistan, forced him to travel to visit them. He added that, once he was there, his father and brother told him that he could only return to Yemen if he agreed to attend al-Farouq for two months’ training.

Al-Raimi said that he got sick at the camp, went to a clinic in Kabul, and then returned to resume training, but he added that this was four days before 9/11, after which “the training stopped and the camp was closed down.” After the US-led invasion began, he said that he was unable to contact his family, who had his passport, so he crossed the mountains with some friends, and was in Pakistan for a few days before he was arrested in a car by Pakistani soldiers. “My friends had no problems because they had their passports, visas and money,” he explained. “But, because I didn’t have any of these, I was told my best bet was to go to the embassy and surrender myself. This is what I was planning to do when I was captured. They captured me before I got to the embassy.”

In Guantánamo, al-Raimi, like Ali Mohsen Salih, took part in a hunger strike, although there is no evidence that he took part in the prison-wide strike of 2005. In June 2003, however, during one of the other hunger strikes that took place in the prison, his weight, which had been 130 pounds (9 stone 4 pounds) on arrival at Guantánamo, dropped to just 100 pounds (7 stone 2 pounds). He is also one of four Yemeni prisoners who made allegations to his lawyer, Douglas Cox of Allen & Overy, that, as Cox described it, “medical staff at Guantánamo are violating state, federal and international ethics rules by participating in interrogations and abuse of detainees and by sharing detainees’ medical records with interrogators, allowing interrogators to use this knowledge to coerce or threaten detainees.” In an interview with his lawyers, al-Raimi said, “Over here the medical treatment is tied to the cooperation with the interrogators. I asked the doctor several times to give me medical assistance but the doctors told me unless I talk to the interrogators, they will not give me help.”

Also cleared for release is Muhammad bin Salem, who was 27 years old at the time of his capture. In the particularly thin set of allegations against him in the Unclassified Summary of Evidence for his CSRT, it was alleged that he traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan in July 2001, and received training at al-Farouq. Noticeably, he was not even accused of having taken part in combat against the Taliban (let alone US forces), as it was only alleged that he “supported al-Qaeda and Taliban forces by serving as a cook at a rest and relaxation facility for front line troops at Bagram,” and that he was captured by Pakistani forces after retreating directly from Bagram to Pakistan.

(c) Not cleared for release*

The first of the five other supposed foot soldiers, Fayiz Suleiman, was 27 years old when he was captured. In the Unclassified Summary of Evidence for his CSRT, it was alleged that he worked for a suspected al-Qaeda operative in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that he traveled from Yemen to Kabul on an unspecified date, and that he trained to make poisons in Kandahar. It was also alleged that he was a member of an Arab fighting group on the Taliban’s front line against the Northern Alliance in Taloqan in northern Afghanistan (although it was also stated that he worked as a nurse in Taloqan), and that he was at Tora Bora before crossing the border with other Arabs in December 2001, when he was seized and transferred to US custody.

Over the years, details have been added to these bare allegations, but the central claims — that he trained to make poisons, and that he fought at Taloqan — remain unconvincing. According to the latest available transcript, Suleiman “identified himself as a trained imam in Jeddah,” and stated that various sheikhs “would frequent his facility to solicit money for other countries and to address jihad.” He added that the majority of the sheikhs’ talks “focused on Chechnya.” Elsewhere, it was revealed that the “poisons” allegation came from an unidentified source — interrogated under unknown conditions — who “identified” Suleiman “as one who trained at the Kandahar Airport to make poison.” It was also evident that Suleiman had refused to concede that he had been in Taloqan, where another unidentified source “identified” him as a nurse, who performed these duties “while fighting the Northern Alliance.” For good measure, this source also placed him in Tora Bora. In response, Suleiman maintained that “he had no military service and he had no desire to serve in such a capacity,” stated that he was “never trained on the use of weapons,” and ”denied any connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.”

Abu Bakr Alahdal, who was 22 when seized, was initially accused of arriving in Pakistan in May 2001, and traveling to Afghanistan in October 2001, where, it was alleged, he fought with the Taliban at Bagram. Over the years this story, too, has been fleshed out. According to the latest transcript, Alahdal “became interested in going to Afghanistan when he heard about how the Taliban had destroyed the idolatrous Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.” According to the Unclassified Summary of Evidence, he “felt the statues were an affront to Islam and needed to be destroyed,” and “respected the Taliban for what they did.”

After locating a facilitator at a mosque in Yemen, who sorted out his travel arrangements, he then apparently traveled to the Taliban’s recruitment office in Quetta, where he declared that he “wanted to live in a truly Islamic country,” and “volunteered to fight with the Taliban.” Despite this, however, his “application to join the jihad was put on hold,” and “an Afghan facilitator” took him to Afghanistan instead, where he stayed in a Taliban guest house in Kandahar for four days, in a guest house in Kabul for a week, and in another guest house, run by a North African man, in Jalalabad, where he spent two weeks “touring the market and mosque.”

He apparently then made his way to Bagram, where he “served as a fighter for the Taliban Arab forces,” but then “contracted malaria and some other unidentified illness” and was sent to a hospital in Kabul, where he spent two months recuperating. When “the aerial bombardment started” (perhaps the precursor to the capture of Kabul in mid-November 2001), he allegedly “decided that if he was going to die, he should return to the front and die in the service of Allah in battle.” Although he then made his way back to Jalalabad, where he “waited to be recalled to the front lines,” he “then withdrew to a village on the outskirts of Jalalabad,” from where he made his way to Pakistan, where he was turned in by villagers.

In Guantánamo, Alahdal has been a long-term hunger striker. Although he only weighed 99 pounds on arrival (7 stone 1 pound), his weight dropped at one point to just 81 pounds (5 stone 11 pounds), and he was force-fed daily from the end of August 2005 until the publicly-released weight records ended in December 2006, when he still weighed only 101 lbs (7 stone 3 pounds).

In the case of Tarek Baada, who was 23 years old when he was captured, it was initially alleged that he traveled to Afghanistan in June 2001, “to train for jihad,” that he trained al-Farouq, and that he and a group of fighters were then assigned to the third line, about 4 km south of the front line near Kabul. It was also alleged that, after the fall of Kabul, he fled to Tora Bora, where he was put on guard duty.

In the years since, this account has been augmented, but nothing has been added that indicates, in a convincing manner, that Baada was more a foot soldier. Apparently persuaded to travel to Afghanistan after watching videos “that portrayed the jihad struggle in Chechnya and Bosnia,” he asked his parents for permission to go to Afghanistan, but was turned down, so he pretended that he was traveling to Jordan with a missionary group and set off anyway. Although the al-Farouq and Tora Bora allegations remain — and Baada is credited with stating that “after one month of training everyone at the al-Farouq camp was told that the training was being stopped and then they were all sent back to a guest house” — he denied being a member of al-Qaeda, and, presumably, disagreed with two new allegations from unidentified sources that sought to paint him in a far more prominent light. In the first, an unknown source claimed that he “was considered an important man and somebody who was loyal to a senior al-Qaeda member,” and in the second he was allegedly “identified as someone who was close to a high-level al-Qaeda facilitator,” and that, despite every suggestion to the contrary, he “received money and supplies from the facilitator in order to travel to Afghanistan.”

At Guantánamo, Baada has been one of the most persistent hunger strikers. He weighed 121 pounds (8 stone 9 pounds) on arrival at the prison, but in January 2006, when he was one of a handful of hunger strikers to continue after the prison-wide strike of 2005 was largely halted, he weighed just 94 pounds (6 stone 10 pounds). In March 2007, when notes from a meeting between the imprisoned al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj and his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, were unclassified, Sami mentioned that Baada was one of three prisoners who had been on hunger strike — and force-fed — for the last year. At the time of writing, it was not known if he was still on a hunger strike.

According to the most recent Unclassified Summary of Evidence, Saeed Hatim, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, said that he had “never held a job for more than six months” and “relied upon his father and older brother for financial support.” He explained that he went to Afghanistan in spring 2001, because he had “heard there was a lot of justice in that part of the world,” and also because, like several others who ended up in Guantánamo, he thought that he would find a way to fight in Chechnya. He “stated he became interested in Russia’s war in Chechnya because he witnessed the oppression on the television.” Explaining that he “was outraged about what the Russians were doing to the Chechens,” he “decided to travel there to fight jihad alongside his Muslim brothers.”

Hatim admitted attending al-Farouq but said that he soon left the camp “because it was not what he expected.” He explained that he “faked a fever telling the people he was ill and needed to seek medical care,” and complained that “the trainers were always yelling at him, the food was terrible, and he was forced to sleep on the ground.” He added that “he did not like anything about the training and wanted to quit on the first day.” Although he then ended up with a group of Arab fighters near Kabul, he described his experience on the rear lines as “something like relaxing,” and said that he occasionally traveled to the front lines to deliver food to the soldiers. Speaking of his experiences as a whole, he said that he was obliged to “put his decision to fight in Chechnya on the back burner for a while,” but that he “did not want to partake in the war in Afghanistan because it was a civil war in which Muslims were fighting other Muslims.” It should be noted that Hatim’s appraisal of al-Farouq, and his disdain for a war in which Muslims were killing other Muslims, was far from unique, and features in may other stories reported in The Guantánamo Files.

The last of the foot soldiers, Mashur al-Sabri, apparently traveled to Afghanistan in summer 2000, lived in Jalalabad for a year, and traveled on occasion to the Taliban lines at Bagram and Kabul. Quite what else he did is difficult to ascertain — not because there are no allegations, but because their trustworthiness is hard to gauge. According to various unidentified sources, in May 2001 he was working as a facilitator for new arrivals at two guest houses in Kabul, and was “well known and well respected as an administrator in the guest houses.” It was also noted that he “was said to facilitate the transfer of weapons and other supplies to the front lines,” and, most worryingly (or most outrageously, depending on your point of view), was accused of working for Osama bin Laden. According to the unidentified allegations, he was “believed to have sworn bayat to Osama bin Laden,” because he and others around him knew bin Laden’s travel dates and routes, and another “source” identified him as “a member of al-Qaeda,” because he was “following Osama bin Laden’s orders to keep the guest house up and running.”

The humanitarian aid worker

The other nine prisoners seized at this time have maintained that they were not fighters (or affiliated in any way with the Taliban), although none have so far been released. Fadil Hintif, who was 32 years old when captured, had spent many years working as a farmer on his family’s land, and had then moved to Sana’a to look for work. There he met a man at a mosque who asked him about “going to Afghanistan to help poor Afghans.” According to the latest Unclassified Summary of Evidence, Hintif “felt this would be a chance to do something good in memory of his deceased father, so he thought it was a good idea.” He then apparently sold his car to raise funds for his trip, received some money from his brother and set off for Afghanistan. In Kabul, he “began living with an individual who previously taught the Koran in Afghanistan,” and when he asked him how he could help the Afghans, was told that “he could either work with the Afghani Red Crescent or he could help distribute food supplies.” Having decided to work for the Red Crescent, he said that he traveled with the instructor to Logar province, south of Kabul, but stopped his work after the US-led invasion began, when he was escorted to the Pakistani border. There, he said, he surrendered to the Pakistani police, who took him to a prison in Peshawar. He was then transferred to a larger prison in Kohat, and was eventually turned over to the Americans.

The model of Casio watch allegedly associated with terrorist attacksThroughout his whole story, Hintif maintained that he “did not receive any training in Afghanistan” and “did not fight in Afghanistan because he was not convinced of the causes that were being fought for.” He explained that he “felt that the groups there were fighting for power, and that there was no reason to fight a jihad.” Disturbingly, apart from vague allegations about the guest houses in which he stayed, the only allegations that the US authorities have been able to come up with against Hintif are that his name was on a document “recovered from a safe house raid associated with al-Qaeda in Karachi, Pakistan” (which is not necessarily reliable) and a much-derided claim that his Casio watch was the same model as one used in improvised explosive devices “in bombings linked to al-Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorist groups.”

The missionaries

Three of the prisoners have maintained that they were missionaries. Abdul Rahman Muhammad, who was just 19 when he was seized, said that he initially traveled to Karachi to look for work, and stayed for three months with a Yemeni friend. He then visited the Taliban’s office in Quetta, in July or August 2001, “seeking a teaching job in Afghanistan,” but was told that there was “no work in Afghanistan.” After returning to Karachi, he decided to try again, and this time paid for a guide to take him to Kandahar, where he stayed in a madrassa for ten days. After the 9/11 attacks, he said that “the people at the madrassa” sent him to a “known Taliban house” near Kabul, and from there he eventually made his way to the Pakistani border, where he was seized. Although the US authorities came up with an impressive list of documents seized in raids, on which Muhammad’s name and details were allegedly recorded, there is (as with the case of Fadil Hintif) no way of knowing how accurate these records are, as many featured supposed “aliases” that were notoriously generic. For his part, Muhammad “denied that he received any weapons [training] during his one-month stay in Kabul.”

The second missionary, Mohammed Khenaina (age unknown) said that he “went to Afghanistan to teach the Koran in Arabic,” although he admitted that he “did not actually teach the Koran.” After staying in a guest house in Kabul, he said that he heard of the 9/11 attacks and was “concerned about retaliation by the Americans and wanted to get out.” He explained that the owner of the house arranged for him to travel to Logar and then Khost, where he stayed with an Afghan, and then traveled through the mountains to Pakistan with five other Arabs and an Afghan guide. After joining up with another group of 19 men who were also fleeing Afghanistan, he reached the border where he was detained by the authorities.

Throughout this story, the only claim of militancy against Khenaina was an allegation that the manager of the guest house “arranged transportation for guests to a Taliban training area 35 minutes north of Kabul,” but Khenaina insisted that “he was not in Afghanistan to participate in jihad,” and that he “did not have a weapon while in Afghanistan.” He also condemned the 9/11 attacks, and explained that, if released, “he would return to Yemen and marry a cousin who has been betrothed to him and never leave again.”

The third missionary, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih, who was 28 when seized, was accused of training at al-Farouq, and was also “identified”, by an unknown source, as “a jihadist” in Tora Bora, although he maintained that traveled to Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks because he “felt compelled to go to Afghanistan to teach the Koran to the Afghanis.” He added that “he was not formally trained in the Koran, but wanted to go just recite what he could.” In reports elsewhere in his Unclassified Summary of Evidence, he reported that a particular sheikh had told him that “it was forbidden to fight for the Taliban,” and that “he doesn’t like violence and was not fighting in Afghanistan, but was seeking a job teaching in a mosque.”

In Guantánamo, Salih took part in the mass hunger strike in 2005. Although he weighed a comfortable 160 pounds (11 stone 6 pounds) on arrival at the prison, his weight dropped on two occasions, in December 2005 and January 2006, to just 110 pounds (7 stone 12 pounds).

The tourists

Two of the prisoners said that they had primarily traveled to Afghanistan as Islamic tourists. Sharaf Masud, who was 23 years old when he was captured, submitted a statement for his CSRT in which he stated that he had gone to Afghanistan as a religious tourist, traveling from Jalalabad to Kabul because he “wanted to see how they did Islamic practices in different places in Afghanistan.” He explained that he “left Kabul because the Afghans were trying to kill Arabs in the market,” took a taxi back to Jalalabad, and then joined a group of people walking to the border, where he was arrested after asking to be taken to his embassy. He also concluded his statement by observing, “All the rules in the United States and in the world, the person is innocent until you prove that he is guilty not innocent. But here with the Americans the detainees are guilty until proven innocent.”

More of Masud’s story has emerged in the years since, little of which contradicts his initial account. In his latest Unclassified Summary of Evidence, it is reported that he traveled to Afghanistan “because he heard that the Afghan leader led by Islamic ways” and that he supported the Taliban. Maintaining that he “did not travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban,” he stated that he “did not consider the situation in Afghanistan to be a true jihad because it was Muslim versus Muslim” and that he “was not worried about fighting in Afghanistan because it was Muslim versus Muslim and was occurring in the northern part of the country.” Although it was alleged that a known facilitator arranged his flight from Karachi to Quetta and that his names were found on various documents recovered in raids on alleged al-Qaeda safe houses, there were no allegations that he took part on any kind of combat — only claims that he stayed in guest houses in Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad for four months — and a ludicrous allegation by a “senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,” who “noted the detainee looked familiar and that he may be a Tunisian with connections to Italy.”

In the case of Riyad al-Radai (date of birth unknown), it was alleged in his CSRT that, after traveling to Afghanistan, he was “picked up in a car by a group of Taliban members and driven to Kandahar, where he stayed in a Taliban guest house for two to three months,” and that he “admitted he agreed to serve the Taliban” and was posted on the front line for a week. It was also alleged that he admitted working at a field hospital for six months as a nurse’s aide, helping to care for wounded Taliban fighters, but in response he said that he had actually spent six months as a patient in a hospital in Kabul.

When his ARB came round, he said that “everything in the Unclassified Summary was a big lie and that America had no choice but to keep him locked up since it would look bad if they released him after holding him for three years.” He “repeatedly and strenuously” stated that he had been confused with some other prisoner, and that this mistake had started in Bagram, where, presumably, the “evidence” against him was first established. He also said that he was not aware that the people who had picked him up in Afghanistan were members of the Taliban, and added that, although he did stay at a guest house, he was not aware that it was run by the Taliban. He also explained that he visited the rear lines (not the front lines) because he had heard that there was a disagreement between the Afghans who were there, and he “wanted to see if he could possibly provide assistance.”

By the time of his second ARB, in January 2006, this confusing story had become even less clear. Al-Radai maintained that he had “wanted to find out what the Taliban was really all about,” and one allegation — that after “seeing that the Taliban was trying to serve Islam, [he] decided to serve the Taliban in any manner except for fighting” — sounded vaguely convincing, but it was surrounded by numerous other allegations that were patently absurd, which related to his previously aired claim that he had been mistaken for another man.

In this ridiculous scenario, it was stated that al-Radai “used additional aliases of al-Sharqawi aka al-Hajj, which are identifiable with a Pakistani facilitator.” This was nonsense, because the real al-Sharqawi (aka Riyadh the Facilitator) was already in US custody. Nevertheless, it seems probable that a host of other groundless allegations sprang from this mistake, including wild claims that al-Radai “was identified as having a lot of experience because of the long time he spent at Camp Farouq and on the front line fighting the Northern Alliance,” that he “taught others how to train people in various advanced things such as tanks and explosives,” that he “was identified as a leader of 10 to 15 men and drove a Toyota pick-up truck that was used to haul supplies to the front lines,” that he “was identified as being in Tora Bora and was in charge of delivering food supplies to the fighters and also delivered approximately $3000 to the Emir,” and that he “was one of the old senior guys in Afghanistan that was a commander with a lot of responsibility.”

Seeking medical treatment

Three men — Khalid al-Qadasi, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, and Muhammad al-Hamiri — claimed that they had left Yemen for medical treatment. Little is known of al-Qadasi, who was 33 when he was seized, because, as his Unclassified Summary explains, “he claims that he is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison and has emphatically stated that he would rather die than answer questions.” The US authorities have apparently ascertained that he served in the Yemeni army as a young man and traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, but have little else to show for nearly seven years of imprisonment and interrogation. Al-Qadasi has stated that he “left Yemen for Pakistan to obtain medical treatment,” and has also said that he “never possessed any weapons in Afghanistan, as he was unable to fight due to his bad back,” and all the authorities have been able to come up with in response is a claim by an unidentified source that he was a mujahideen fighter who came to Tora Bora, and other claims that he stayed in a guest house in Kabul and traveled on a truck from a guest house in Jalalabad to Tora Bora.

26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, “I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda,” which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull.

Al-Hamiri, who was 19 when he was seized, claimed that he “left Yemen for medical treatment and was tricked by a British resident into going into Afghanistan where he did nothing for six months.” An unidentified source — or sources — claimed that he had trained at al-Farouq and had spoken to Osama bin Laden at a guest house in Kabul, but al-Hamiri denied the allegations, and only conceded that, in Kabul, he had stayed in the home of someone he “felt may have been associated with the Taliban.”

His most critical comments were delivered in a statement that was read out in his absence during his CSRT, and they provide, I believe, a suitable conclusion to this chapter, in which I hope to have demonstrated the futility of imprisoning any of these men as terrorists for nearly seven years. All the charges, he said, “were made up in order to keep him and other Muslims at the camp,” because he “never had a weapon, never carried one and never even killed a chicken.”

Notes

Al-Omairah (ISN 184): CSRB Set 3, p. 258; al-Asadi (ISN 198): CSRT Set 46, pp. 23-8; Ali Mohsen Salih (ISN 221): ARB Factors Set 1, pp. 1-2; al-Shulan (ISN 225): CSRT Set 31, 20-7; ARB Factors Sep 07 Set 3, pp. 67-9; Mohammed (ISN 172): ARB Set 2, pp. 138-45; al-Raimi (ISN 167): CSRT Set 4, pp. 55-64; bin Salem (ISN 251): CSRB Set 3, p. 84; Suleiman (ISN 153): CSRB Set 3, pp. 143-4; ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 26-8; Alahdal (ISN 171): CSRB Set 3, pp. 228-9; ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 48-51; Baada (ISN 178): CSRB Set 3, p. 222; ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 59-61; Hatim (ISN 255): CSRT Set 31, pp. 38-46; ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 8-10; al-Sabri (ISN 324): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 88-92; Hintif (ISN 259): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 20-3; Muhammad (ISN 224): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 46-8; Khenaina (ISN 254): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 6-7; Abdul al-Razzaq Salih (ISN 233): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 70-1; Masud (ISN 170): CSRT Set 39, pp. 14-15; ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 46-7; al-Radai (ISN 256): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 11-13; al-Qadasi (ISN 163): ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 41-2; Latif (ISN 156): CSRT Set 8, pp. 85-93; ARB Set 2, pp. 46-58; al-Hamiri (ISN 249): CSRT Set 33, pp. 21-3; ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 99-100.

*This was the situation after the second round of ARBs, although some may have been approved for release after the latest ARBs. The details of these have not yet been made public.

Additional note

This online chapter was published on October 12, 2008. On February 6, 2009, the story of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (ISN 156) was added.

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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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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