A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article:

The unclassified two-page list was obtained by Al Jazeera in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last July, immediately after a Defense Department official began notifying attorneys for some prisoners that parole hearings would begin in an effort to empty out Guantánamo and help President Barack Obama make good on his five-year-old promise to shutter the detention facility.

When the notifications began last July (which I wrote about here), it was apparent that the decisions regarding the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) were based on recommendations made in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The task force members spent a year reviewing the cases of  the 240 prisoners held when Obama took office, and recommended them for release (156 men, 80 of whom have been released), for prosecution (36 men in total) or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

This latter category, comprising 48 of the prisoners, was profoundly troubling to those of us who had looked closely at what purported to be the evidence against the prisoners, and had concluded, with good reason, that it was profoundly unreliable. This is because it consisted, to an alarming degree, of self-incriminating statements made by the prisoners themselves, often in circumstances in which coercion, or other forms of pressure were used, or of statements made by other prisoners, even though many of these prisoners had been identified as unreliable by personnel at Guantánamo, and also, in some cases, by judges reviewing the supposed evidence in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions.

In July, when the first Periodic Review Board notifications began, it was obvious that the 71 men included 46 of the 48 men who had been designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the task force. The other two, sadly, had died at Guantánamo in 2011. Following the task force’s recommendations, President Obama had issued an executive order designating these 46 men for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, but had attempted to deflect criticism from human rights advocates by promising that they would receive Periodic Review Boards, so when the notifications began they were, to be frank, long overdue.

The identities of these 46 men were revealed last June, when Charlie Savage of the New York Times obtained, for the first time, the “Final Dispositions” of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, identifying whether those still held had been cleared for release, recommended for prosecution, or recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

The identities of these 46 men can also be found in the prisoner list on the “Close Guantánamo” website, or in the list of prisoners included in my article in January providing information for those who want to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo.

Until now, however, the US government had not spelled out publicly who the other 25 men were, although the identities of the 36 men recommended for prosecution had been made available last June in the task force’s “Final Dispositions,” and most of the 25 could be worked out by removing from the 36 the names of those who have already been charged.

Four of these men are no longer at Guantánamo — Ibrahim al-Qosi, Omar Khadr and Noor Uthman Muhammed were released after agreeing to plea deals in their trials by military commission, and one other — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — was transferred to the US, where he was tried and convicted, and another, Majid Khan, agreed to a plea deal and is still held.

Eight others have been charged — Ahmed al-Darbi, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid Bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.

According to this analysis of the figures, only eleven men should have been charged, rather than the 13 who have been charged, but the list obtained by Jason Leopold explains the discrepancy, as Ahmed al-Darbi and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, although on the list, will evidently not be facing Periodic Review Boards. Al-Darbi recently agreed to a plea deal, and al-Iraqi, charged in June 2013, recently had conspiracy added to his charge sheet.

This was in spite of the fact that, although 36 men were recommended for prosecution, only 13 have been charged because judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., in two ground-breaking cases in October 2012 and January 2013, dismissed two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the charges — material support for terrorism and conspiracy — were not real war crimes and had been invented by Congress.

As a result of removing these names, it has now become clear that the 25 men originally recommended for prosecution, but now facing PRBs instead, include such prominent figures in Guantánamo’s history as Abu Zubaydah, the first supposed “high-value detainee,” held in CIA “black sites” from March 2002 to September 2006, when he arrived at Guantánamo. The Bush administration’s vile torture program was first developed for Abu Zubaydah, even though he was never a member of al-Qaeda at all, despite being initially touted as the organization’s third-in-command. Also facing a PRB is Mohammed al-Qahtani, supposedly intended as the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, who had a specific torture program approved for him at Guantánamo by Donald Rumsfeld.

Also included are other “high-value detainees” held in CIA “black sites” prior to their arrival at Guantánamo in September 2006 — Abu Faraj al-Libi (captured in Pakistan in May 2005), the Indonesian Hambali and two alleged associates, Mohd Farik bin Amin and Bashir bin Lap (captured in Thailand in 2003), and Haroon al-Afghani, who arrived at Guantánamo in 2007. Also on the list are a number of other men held in “black sites” and transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004 — Sanad al-Kazimi and Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, Hassan bin Attash (the brother of Walid bin Attash, who was just 17 when he was seized in Pakistan in September 2002 and rendered for torture in Jordan), the brothers Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani (also seized in Pakistan in September 2002) — and Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman seized in Thailand in 2003.

Others of note are Mohamedou Ould Slahi, another torture victim, who, despite being hyped as an al-Qaeda member, had his habeas corpus petition granted in 2010, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian whose lawyers are seeking his release because he is very ill, Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who is trying to get charged so he might be able to be released, Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in Guantánamo, and Obaidullah, an insignificant Afghan, wrongly accused of being an insurgent, who nevertheless was put forward for a trial by military commission.

The identities of the 71 men are now known, and I have added the information to the prisoner list on the “Close Guantánamo” website, but it is of little help to them. The first Periodic Review Board took place in October, and the second in January, and although the first PRB led to a recommendation for the release of the man in question, Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni, he only joins the 76 other prisoners, cleared for release by the task force, who are still held.

And of course, with each PRB only taking place every three months, it will take until 2031, at this rate, for all the PRBs to be completed.

The message, then, must be for the Obama administration to release the prisoners already cleared for release, and to speed up significantly the process of conducting the Periodic Review Boards.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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

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39 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    After I posted a link to the version of this article on “Close Guantanamo” yesterday evening, Jason Leopold wrote:

    Thank you, Andy! Great work!!!!! Hope we can take our show on the road again soon!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    This really is a superb analysis!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    That would be great, Jason. I see you’re writing for VICE now! Good article on Moazzam: https://news.vice.com/articles/moazzam-begg-is-officially-allegedly-a-terrorist-again

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Thank you so much, Andy!!! Trying out some new places!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Good on you, Jason. VICE – very cool. I, on the other hand, fail to follow up on leads. I met a guy from VICE-TV in New York in January, and he talked to me for background info for a documentary that might be in the works, but did I follow up and ask about work? No. What kind of cloud cuckoo land do I live in?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher Caster wrote:

    Actually, much as I deeply regret the life of torture that those 155 men are living, I’m starting to come around to the view that their horrific sacrifice is more useful in Guantanamo than it could be anywhere else. (Prison is torture by itself, apart from being entombed in concrete).

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Trying to follow you, Christopher – do you mean that all prisons are horrible places, so at least their plight might be more noticeable for taking place in Guantanamo, rather than anywhere in the US domestic prison system?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher Caster wrote:

    They are much more of a blot on the Americans in Guantanamo than anywhere else. Releasing them (or even just transferring them) would be greatly in the Americans’ interest. Not to mention their own, of course. I heard that most former Guantanamo victims, though, continue to be marked men even upon release. Moazzam Begg’s recent arrest would be an example. Constant surveillance and restrictions, no passports or employment prospects… Virtually endless house arrest. Thoroughly blighted lives.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the clarification, Christopher. Some of the men have found opportunities to move on with their lives – generally those with large and supportive family networks, and opportunities for employment – but in general it’s as you say, and the taint of Guantanamo dogs them unfairly.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher Caster wrote:

    If Guantanamo were closed, the Americans might appear to many to be half-way humane.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher, yes, good point. It is, sadly, easy to forget how, for many people around the world, Guantanamo expresses a fundamental truth about what Americans are really like, rather than how they like to see themselves.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher Caster wrote:

    I don’t know if I mentioned it already: how much longer are the Americans going to think they’re living in a Hollywood film about WWII: Munich, Nuremberg and all?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Hey Andy you’re quoting one of my favorite 90s bands The Lightning Seeds! Come on and make that call! Important work to do!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Quoting the Lighting Seeds? How? Where? When? Make what call? You’re twisting my melon, man! (another band to identify, Jason)

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Khalid Wardak wrote:

    Thank you may we wake up to help humanity

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Khalid. Good to hear from you, and thanks for the words of encouragement to our fellow human beings.

  17. Mark Erickson says...

    Andy, of course great work. Wish I could send some more tangible support. I did manage to become a Beacon supporter of Jason’s for his FOIA expertise. I’ve got an idea to work on, but haven’t dived in yet.

    Who is the other prisoner with Slahi who has provided enough info for him to have better quarters? They were written about with a title including some “birds in a gilded cage” reference. Can’t remember if it was WSJ or WaPo.

    As for Slahi, his habeas case was remanded to the district court several years ago now. If you or Jason could figure out if it will ever be reheard, I’d appreciate it. Nancy Hollander is one of his attorneys still I think.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Mark,
    Great to hear from you. Hope all is well with you.
    The man in the gilded cage with Slahi (from the Washington Post article in 2010, “For two detainees who told what they knew, Guantanamo becomes a gilded cage”) is Tariq al-Sawah, the Egyptian, also on the list of prisoners to receive PRBs. As I noted, his lawyers are seeking his release because he is very ill, and I wrote about that in October: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/10/15/lawyers-seek-release-from-guantanamo-of-tariq-al-sawah-an-egyptian-prisoner-who-is-very-ill/
    It’s interesting that you should ask about Slahi’s case – and why it hasn’t been revisited by the District Court. The same question occurred to me when Belkacem Bensayah was released in December. He too was supposed to have his case reviewed again by the District Court (having had his habeas petition initially turned down in the District Court), but it never happened.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    My analysis of the list of 71 Guantanamo prisoners who will face Periodic Review Boards – just 8 of the 155 men still held will be tried, and those who won’t be tried include Abu Zubaydah, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Hambali and Mohamedou Ould Slahi. If just eight men are to be tried, I think it’s time to release the other 147.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Ajo Muhammad wrote:

    Quite logical. Thanks Andy.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Ajo. I’m glad it’s logical. It means we can campaign on it.

  22. Mark Erickson says...

    It is, hope the same for you. I thought it was al-Sawah, but wasn’t sure. I’ll read the article.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m pretty good, Mark, all things considered. I have to thank the NHS for looking after me.
    Have you read Slahi’s diaries, as published by Slate last year?

  24. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, what possible justification could the Periodic Review Secretariat have for taking months between each review?

    Even if they were doing a thorough review of the so-called evidence, I still think there would be no justification for the reviews to take months to prepare. Unfortunately, I think we can trust there will be no thorough review. Since the public record shows the JTF-GTMO analysts did an abysmally incompetent job, never applied any sanity checking, public safety desperately requires a thorough forensic review, by a new set of analysts empowered to throw out all conclusions that could not withstand sanity checking, or were derived from torture, abusive interrogation, or simply incompetent interrogation.

    But, just as with the habeas appeals, where the higher court, the circuit court, directed the judges to give all the analysts claims “the presumption of regularity” I am afraid the PRB also accept the JTF-GTMO documents as having the “the presumption of regularity”.

    There are a number of differences between the OARDEC panels, the CSR Tribunals and annual ARB reviews and the Obama era Boards. The Obama era Boards draw from representatives from several government departments. I think the representatives are both more senior than the military officers on the OARDEC panels, and, unlike the OARDEC officers, who had no other duties, the Obama era Board members have to schedule their participation on the Boards among a lot of other duties.

    It reminds me of one of the mysteries of Abu Ghraib, answered in the fine print of the report of the Generals who investigated the abuse at Abu Ghraib (published long after it was useful, and its conclusions largely ignored).

    Ricardo Sanchez, the senior officer in Iraq, was ultimately responsible for the night raids that rounded up hundreds of young Iraqi men at one go.

    After Abu Ghraib first hit the news, US reporters started to regularly report the fluctuation in the prisoner population at Abu Ghraib. The actual prison buildings were surrounded by acres of tents, containing lower risk prisoners, which were in turn surrounded by barbed wire. Even so, Abu Ghraib was packed far beyond even this emergency capacity. The reporters were reporting how the number of prisoners would grow, and grow, and grow, by thousands of individuals, rising to close to 20,000 men, when, finally, after months of growth, where the population would double, triple, quadruple, there would be a mysterious mass release, bringing the population down to a manageable level.

    What was happening during the raids, of course, is that GIs would descend on a neighbourhood, at night, after bedtime, and break into every single household, and seize every single military age man. They must have been aware that, even if the neighbourhood was a hotbed of resistance, almost all of those young men would be innocent bystanders. But US intellligence was frustrated, they had no informants, no wiretaps, no way to conduct genuinely targeted raids. And Iraq was under martial law, so they didn’t have to justify the arrests to civilians.

    Could there ever be any real value in such widespread mass arrests — even under martial law? I don’t know. But, if for the sake of argument, you thought it made sense to seize all the men from a neighbourhood, knowing that well over 90 percent of them were innocent bystanders, it would be essential to quickly reduce the number of men who were going to be referred for interrogation.

    A simple first step? We know from all those forensic shows, that people who have recently fired a gun have “gun shot residue” on their hands. Give each man a gun shot residue test, sniff their hands with a sensor that can detect if they have handled bomb-making chemicals, feed each man a meal, and let every man go who the chemical tests confirm had not been firing guns or handling explosives.

    Buried in the Fay-Jones Report was the answer to the mystery as to why the population in Abu Ghraib would balloon, over the course of several months, only then to be lanced by a mass release.

    The structure General Sanchez was responsible for required a committee to meet and agree on every single release. The three members of this committee were General Barbara Fast, the most senior intelligence officer in Iraq, General Janis Karpinski, the most senior military police officer in Iraq, and Colonel Marc Warren, the most senior military lawyer in Iraq.

    The answer to the mystery was so mundane. These officers didn’t get along, they were very busy with other responsibilities, roads were dangerous, and Sanchez hadn’t authorized them to delegate subordinates to represent them at these meetings.

    When thousands of men had to be released every month it was crazy to require the most senior officers to rubber stamp those releases, as there was no way they could meaningfully review a thousand case files, even if they had no other responsibilities. Realistically, when the obviously innocent men should have been released within 24 hours, they would have had to meet at least twice a day.

    I see the delay as ultimately Sanchez’s responsibility. As senior officer he should have been aware of how the Abu Ghraib population kept ballooning, and he should have forced his subordinates to figure out a way to release the obviously innocent men in a truly timely manner.

    And, with the Periodic Review Secretariat taking years to convene the first Board, and taking months between Boards, Obama should be noticing and he should delegate his National Security Advisor to cut the red tape, and streamline the reviews.

    I think it was a mistake to staff the boards with senior people, who already have a heavy load of responsibilities.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent analysis, arcticredriver. You are absolutely correct to point out that the slowness of the PRB process is because of the high level positions of those on the boards, who have many other demands on their time. I should have spelled that out more clearly when I wrote that, at the current rate of reviews, it will take until 2031 for the PRBs to be completed. I’ll spell it out more clearly the next time.
    Your analogy wit Iraq is very useful. The huge dragnets sweeping up all males in an entire neighbourhood, was one of the facts about the Iraq war that really grabbed my attention when I read Mark Danner’s analysis of the reports in early 2006, and that also helped to inform my Guantanamo research, as, to a lesser extent, that is what happened at Guantanamo as well – and to a greater extent at Bagram. In all of these cases, the battle for hearts and minds was lost, as innocent men and boys spent months or years in custody, and, as you point out (and I don’t believe I was fully aware of it before), a major problem was the high-level reviews involving people who were too busy to undertake them.
    I will try and think of ways to further highlight the slowness of the PRBs – although the first priority remains to get Obama to actually release people he says he doesn’t want to hold forever, and with every passing day his refusal to release the cleared Yemenis becomes more infuriating.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    And why is it they can’t try Abu Zubaydah. He’s been built up to be such a “Big Terrorist” by the media and Bush. Is it the torture?

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi, Mui. Great to hear from you. No, it’s not just the torture, it’s also the inconvenient fact that he wasn’t part of al-Qaeda, and didn’t know about the 9/11 attacks. As the gatekeeper of a camp that wasn’t aligned with al-Qaeda, it makes it rather difficult for the US to find charges that will stick. A few years ago they apparently found a diary (not Abu Zubaydah’s) that led them to believe they could charge him as being the head of an al-Qaeda-affiliated militia group after 9/11, but that’s obviously gone by the way too. I think it was obvious that what he was actually doing was helping all kinds of people (men, women and children, civilians as well as soldiers) escape from Afghanistan.

  28. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, with your permission I will add my comment of my own to your reply to Mui JS? In other fora I often see participants express concern that the Guantanamo captives’ lawyers are going to get them freed, on legal “technicalities”. On those fora I sometimes say “While no one likes to see someone who seems obviously guilty get released on a “technicality”, for almost all the Guantanamo captives, the “technicality” is that they are actually completely innocent.”

    I’ve puzzled over the information that has been made public about Abu Zubaydah, the Khaldan training camp he worked for, and Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi, its director.

    We have read Abu Zubaydah’s account, and the account of some of the other Guantanamo captives, that laid out the history of the Khaldan camp, how its founding dated back to when the CIA sponsored Arab volunteers to travel to Aghanistan to fight beside Afghan militiamen to help oust Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers, how it predated both the Taliban and al Qaeda, how the individuals running the camp found new sponsors after the CIA funding ran out, how its management differed from the more radical and militant al Qaeda. You have described how Al Libi convinced everyone else involved in the camp that they should defy the 2000 demand from the Taliban and al Qaeda that the camp should be made to join al Qaeda.

    All of this the USA should have been aware of in 1990 when the CIA quit funding activities in Afghanistan. They should have been aware of this when al Qaeda returned to Afghanistan from Sudan, in 1995 or 96. They should have been aware of this when Al Libi defied the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2000, in 2001, when they invaded Afghanistan, and at every moment since then.

    There is that old, old joke, where the cop finds a drunk crawling around on his hands and knees under a street lamp. When the cop asks what he is doing the drunk points to his car, and says, when I was trying to unlock my car, I dropped my car keys, and now I am searching for them. The cop then asks him, why, if he dropped his keys over there, is he searching for them here. And the drunk replies, “yes I dropped my keys over there, but the light is so much better here, under the street lamp”

    I think because the Khaldan camp was so much older than the al Qaeda camps, and had trained individuals who were later known as heroes of the Soviet ouster, or the Yugoslav-Bosnian civil war that lead to Bosnian independence, or who fought the Russians, with Caucasian separatists, that it was much better known than the al Qaeda camps. I think the US intelligence establishment’s conflation of Khaldan with the al Qaeda camps was the same kind of mistake as that of the drunk, in that old joke.

    In his CSR Tribunal testimony Abu Zubaydah said his job was to stay in Pakistan, meet potential trainees, billet them for a few weeks, and vet them, to see whether they met Khaldan’s admittance criteria. He testified part of his job was to weed out crazy jihadists. Well, since then, I have wondered what did he tell the rejects? Did he say something like, “Sorry brother, our camp is not for you, but if you are really determined to follow this more militant path, go see this guy,” giving them the name of an al Qaeda facilitator?

    If the USA could document he referred those rejected for training at Khaldan, to an al Qaeda facilitator, even occasionally, I could see them wanting to try him for complicity.

    I read something about how, during the early rapport-building part of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation, he named a Saudi prince who had sponsored the Khaldan camp, apparently thinking this referral would help prove his innocence. I read that this Saudi prince died, mysteriously, a few months later.

    My reading of the OARDEC transcripts is that the US intelligence establishment failed to understand that a big part of Osama bin Laden’s job was fund-raising from among the rich Saudis he grew up with — something his 2nd-in-command al-Zawahiri couldn’t do. I think the US intelligence establishment failed to realize that OBL would have faced the problem of trying to raise funds from donors who were less militant, less radical than he was. I think the US intelligence establishment failed to realize that OBL would have faced the problem that his donors were fickle, and would happily give funds to sponsor genuine charities, that built orphans, or gave war-widows job skills, so they weren’t reduced to begging. I think OBL competed for donors with Khaldan, and that this may have made him more jealous than competing with Khaldan for potential trainees.

    Should the USA have chosen to treat Abu Zubaydah as an enemy, as a war criminal, if he had never engaged in any anti-US crimes, if other countries claimed he engaged in crimes against their national security? If Serbia argued Abu Zubaydah helped send foreign fighters who fought us during the Bosnian Civil War — that makes him a war criminal — should the USA have said, “sorry Serbia, that is none of our business”? Russia could make the same claim. So could Israel, as, if I read the transcripts properly, Khaldan helped (some) of its graduates travel to Palestine, to resist the Israelis.

    During the time prior to Bush “emptying” the CIA black sites, and sending 14 remaining CIA captives to Guantanamo, practically experts who speculated on what would eventually happen to those captives seemed sure they could never face charges, because they had been tortured. Nevertheless Bush announced the men would face charges. I know many of the surviving family and friends of the 9-11 victims were frantic for justice, or, in many cases, for vengeance.

    But I think those surviving family, friends, and anyone else seeking either justice or vengeance should have been told that their desire for justice or vengeance could not be further satisfied, beyond the torture the men had already undergone. They should have been told that the President thought he had the authority to order interrogation techniques which would remove the possibility of trying the men, and he thought they may have had information of such crucial importance that he ordered the use of those interrogation techniques, fully aware that by doing so he would be denying the full sense of justice the surviving family and friends felt entitled to. They should have been told that war demands sacrifices, and that, in addition to the loss of their loved ones, back in 2002 the President felt they would have to endure not watching the men be tried, in order to better preserve public safety.

    I remember, from the 2007 transcripts of Hambali or one of the other far eastern former CIA captives the CSR Tribunal President called for a recess. He or she felt the Tribunal had determined the captives had committed National Security crimes in their home country, but they were in doubt as to whether those local crimes made those captives “enemy combatants” of the USA, since they weren’t committed against US forces, or US citizens, and their home countries weren’t participating in the invasion of Afghanistan. After the recess the legal advisor informed the President those local crimes did count.

    Did it make sense to cooperate with China by branding the Uyghur refugees enemies? I don’t think so.

    The USA had the option of letting Indonesia and Malaysia request extradition of Hambali and his colleagues.

    Similarly, the USA had the option of telling Serbia, Israel or Russia that they would not brand men as enemies of the USA because Serbia, Israel or Russia felt they were enemies. They could have told those countries to initiate a formal extradition request, through the US civilian justice system.

    What should happen in 2014 or 2015, when the USA has withdrawn its soldiers, and can no longer claim it is holding captives under the international laws and conventions of armed conflict? In my opinion, implied in the decision to torture the captives, to hold them in brutal conditions, was the prospect that the war would not last forever, and the men would have to be let go.

    During World War 2, the USA and Canada interned tens of thousands of individuals who were legal residents with Japanese citizenship, new citizens originally from Japan, and even citizens born in the USA and Canada to parents born in Japan. In retrospect almost all Americans, except right-wing ideologues like Michelle Malkin, acknowledge this was both a mistake, from a strategic/tactical point of view, as these individuals were almost all loyal to their new homes; and a mistake for being a terrible lapse from the principles of rule of law and the presumption of innocence.

    The USA and Canada could have treated all those individuals of Japanese descent as badly the USA has treated the Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib captives. They could have treated them as badly as the Nazis treated Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the other inmates of their Concentration Camps. With war-time hysteria running hot I am afraid some Americans and some Canadians would have counseled treating those of Japanese descent even worse than they were treated.

    Wisely some heads remained cool enough to rein in the most cruel impulses. And it is really unfortunate that there weren’t enough cool heads to rein in the cruel impulses in the treatment of the captives. That first commandant, Lehnert, the one who pissed off Rumsfeld by bringing in the Red Cross, he sounds he remembered how to remain reasonable. Unfortunately, with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in the heartless camp, Lehnert’s reasonableness wasn’t enough.

    One of the elements I find most disturbing about Guantanamo is the willingness to treat men, who arrived there as innocent civilian bystanders, as enemies, because after the US mistake of subjecting them to years of mistreatment, they might have been turned into enemies.

    Andy I know I have said this before, but, I think it is both the naturally just thing to do, but also in the interests of public safety, to fully and properly compensate all the captives, except for KSM, and those who had a genuine meaningful association with terrorism. Since the DoD now acknowledges it costs a million dollars a year to keep the captives in Guantanamo, compensating them and releasing them would be cheaper, too.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    Yes, I read part of the “diary.” Abu Zubaydah was upset b/c he only heard after the fact of something big.He was afraid they’d attack his “nobodies” for 9/11. And yet, still there are those in media who conflate all the little soviet-era sprung camps w/”Al qaeda.” After so much torture and trumpeting and arrests, they already have a stake in it.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    The diary I was mentioning, Mui, was the alleged diary of an alleged associate of Abu Zubaydah, Abu Kamil al-Suri, which was first mentioned publicly when Sufyian Barhoumi’s habeas corpus petition was examined by a judge. I wrote about it here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/07/21/in-abu-zubaydahs-case-court-relies-on-propaganda-and-lies/
    I still need to read the whole of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries, as obtained by Jason Leopold: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/abu-zubaydah-diaries.html
    But you’re right, of course, to note that there has been a widespread failure in the mainstream media to examine the nature of the various training camps in Afghanistan, and to ask whether labelling everything “Al-Qaeda” is at all accurate.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    Andy, I didn’t read that alleged diary, but I read a good deal of the alleged one by Leopold. (And keep in mind, I have authenticity issues, like did this get doctored by the FBI, that kind of thing) It hasn’t changed my opinion that Abu Zubaydah is 1) a little crazy or brain damaged and 2) that the trumpeting about him by Bush was obscenely off the mark. I don’t see any “al qaeda” associations, I see a shrapnel damaged ex soviet/afghan veteran who was put to work on some busy work.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s no unclassified version of the al-Suri diary available, to my knowledge, Mui, and I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Abu Zubaydah diaries, but I’m doubtful that they were specifically doctored – although I have no idea how good the English translation is.
    I agree, of course, that the lies told about Abu Zubaydah by Bush were obscene. We could be excused for thinking that it was planned by those who specifically wanted to implement a torture program; specifically one enabling experimentation on Muslims to take place through physical and mental torture.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, arcticredriver, for this very considered opinion of the situation regarding Abu Zubaydah and failures of US intelligence. I think, to this day, it is difficult to know the extent of the ignorance about the status of the various camps and factions in Afghanistan; by which I mean, was the ignorance almost entirely all-encompassing, or where there some agencies who knew more but were locked out? It seems to me that the FBI knew more about Abu Zubaydah than the CIA, for example, but we know that they were pushed aside when the CIA-led torture program took over as the administration’s main focus. Sadly, it’s clear that there was, in general, far too much ignorance about Afghanistan at the time the 9/11 attacks occurred, a situation that, historically, can be traced back to the aftermath of the Soviet-led invasion, when America walked away, as the country descended into civil war, and, as a result, lost almost all in-roads into what was actually happening. On that basis, invading in October 2001 was insane, because the US knew almost nothing about who it was dealing with – and the result, as we saw, was chaos, as violent, disreputable, self-interested warlords jockeyed for position with those who wanted to work with the US, and, over and over again, ended up being in positions where they secured the trust of the Americans rather than those who should have been trusted.

  34. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, I agree that invading Afghanistan was a really bad idea. I think it was a really bad idea for yet another reason. I don’t think the Taliban was a monolith. It clearly wasn’t and isn’t. It was then, and remains, full of factions. Muttawikil, the Foreign Minister, favored handing Osama bin Laden over to the Americans. This is what the USA demanded of the Taliban, in order to prevent an invasion. With more time, and with more cleverly applied pressure, maybe his faction would have succeeded in convincing the other factions to abandon OBL.

    I think practically every single member of the Taliban is heartily sick of OBL and al Qaeda. I read that the Taliban now compare al Qaeda to a guest you invite to stay in your home, who burns your house down at night when everyone is asleep.

    As for the multiplicity of camps mentioned in the OARDEC transcripts — I don’t think the American analysts had the interest or ability to understand how many camps there were or how many had a genuine tie to al Qaeda.

    The OARDEC documents name about thirty camps, but I concluded that the “urban warfare camp” and the “airport camp” are merely alternate names for Tarnak Farms.

    Another mistake they make is to count every individual who attended one of those camps as a member of al Qaeda.

    There is a Canadian writer, who started out as a journalist and left-wing community activist who graduated into writing novels and screenplays. I had already liked his spy thrillers when he got a grant to be the writer-in-residence at my local library. It was from one of his novels that I learned of the counter-intelligence technique of the “parallel cell”. It was from his novels that I learned some of the vulnerabilities of underground groups. They can’t recruit openly, without risk of exposing their whole network. And unlike a national army, like the US Army, leaders like OBL can’t use national patriotism, or fear of arrest, to keep recruits from deserting, or from simply losing interest in al Qaeda, once they got home.

    In the parallel cell technique counter-intelligence officials find someone with a plausible background to lead an underground cell, and then they aid them in meeting individuals who might have been recruited to a genuine underground group. Their agent provocateur can operate more openly than a genuine revolutionary or militant, without fear of arrest, because he is only acting. With the cooperation of his counter-intelligence masters, he can get away with apparently daring acts, that would impress potential recruits.

    Of course when the agent provocateur recruits someone, he soon helps his counter-intelligence masters start a dossier on that recruit.

    Some individuals during their OARDEC testimony said that they had wanted the free military training they could get at a camp in Afghanistan, but they only wanted it: (1) so they could better defend their tribe in feuds with neighbouring tribes in Yemen, or some other country; (2) because they believed every observant muslim had an obligation to learn how to defend himself, his family, his tribe, his nation, or Islam itself — IF he, his family etc were attacked.

    My reading of the testimony was that these men were telling the truth, that a substantial fraction of those who attended Khaldan, or the al Qaeda camps, had no intention of joining al Qaeda, or even volunteering to fight in a foreign war. I suspect the same held true for the Lackawanna Six.

    My impression is that most muslims do not subscribe to the notion that observant muslims have to undergo military training — but some do. It is my impression that of those who do think they have an obligation to undergo military training, only a fraction think that they are obliged to volunteer in foreign wars. And it is my impression that, of those of the pretty small fraction interested in volunteering in foreign wars, only a fraction went all the way to the beliefs they would have to have to join al Qaeda: (1) launching first attacks on countries like the USA; (2) launching attacks without regard to civilian casualties.

    American Public Broadcasting made a documentary about the Lackawanna Six, and interviews with those men seemed to indicate that they had no idea that they were headed to a camp run by individuals dedicated to attacking the USA.

    It was when recruits had handed over their passports that the staff at the camp tried to radicalize the trainees. Yes, some trainees knew they were trying to attend an al Qaeda camp, and genuinely shared al Qaeda’s goals. But I suspect that half or more of the trainees didn’t show up sharing al Qaeda’s goals. Did this radicalization work? I strongly suspect it only worked some of the time. Andy, when I was a teenager I had a number of friends and friendly acquaintances who were recruited into cults. But others, from my circle of acquaintances, managed to evade being recruited into those cults.

    When one is isolated from one’s friends and acquaintances, and are surrounded by determined people who are making a determined attempt to convert one, it can be hard to resist that conversion. But, in my experience from my youth, many of those conversions are abandoned within a few days or weeks.

    So, instead of claiming the al Qaeda training camps trained tens of thousands of sleepers, the actual number of trainees who actually joined al Qaeda may have been no more than a few hundred, or at most a thousand or so.

    How many camps did al Qaeda actually run, beyond al Farouq, its basic training camp? I doubt any of the other camps were run continuously, and I doubt they operated more than a few camps at any one time. Clinton bombed two al Qaeda camps with cruise missiles around 1998, in retaliation for the attack on the USS Cole — so we know al Qaeda ran at least two camps at a time then.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Great comments, as always.
    I believe you’re right about the undue haste in invading Afghanistan when there were major players within the Taliban who wanted to hand over bin Laden.
    I also like the anecdote about al Qaeda being compared to “a guest you invite to stay in your home, who burns your house down at night when everyone is asleep.”
    Also, my initial thought when you were discussing the camps and OARDEC’s ignorance was to recall how Stephen Abraham pointed out that OARDEC was full of unqualified people who were not given full access to the necessary material. However, I also think the problems with OARDEC applied to most parts of the US intelligence services, who knew little or nothing about the current state of affairs in Afghanistan – or even its history.
    Your points about the recruits are also well made. People travelled to camps for training in self-defense, or because they had been told to fight with the Taliban. I believe it’s correct to say that few were interested on other conflicts (although Chechnya was a big attraction at the time of their capture), and very few were interested in pursuing acts of terrorism.


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Andy Worthington

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