Somali “High-Value Detainee,” Held in CIA Torture Prisons, Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Review Board


Guleed Hassan Ahmed aka Gouled Hassan Dourad, a Somali prisoner in Guantanamo, held in CIA "black sites" from 2004 until his arrival at Guantanamo in September 2006. This photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.This week, Guleed Hassan Ahmed aka Gouled Hassan Dourad (ISN 10023), a Somali prisoner at Guantánamo — who arrived at the prison in September 2006, after being held in CIA “black sites” for two and a half years — became the 55th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013, the PRBs are reviewing the cases of all the prisoners held at Guantánamo who are not facing trials (just ten of the remaining 76 prisoners) or who were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

32 men have so far been approved for release via the PRBs (and eleven have been released), while 16 have had their ongoing imprisonment held, a 67% success rate for the prisoners, which rather demolishes the claims made by Obama’s task force that they were “too dangerous to release” or that they should be prosecuted.

Guleed Hassan Ahmed was born in April 1974, and is one of 16 “high-value detainees” who, as noted above, arrived at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006. He was seized in Djibouti in March 2004, by Somalis working with the CIA, but little is known of his whereabouts for the next two and a half years until his arrival at Guantánamo, or, indeed, why he ended up at Guantánamo at all. I always wondered if someone in the Bush administration wanted to have someone connected to events in Somalia at Guantánamo, simply to see if new connections could be made.

Allegedly the head of a Mogadishu-based organization, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI), which, it is claimed, supported al-Qaeda members in Somalia, Ahmed had a Combatant Status Review Tribunal under George W. Bush in April 2007, but it reveals little about him before he returned to the silence that enshrouds all the “high-value detainees” unless they are charged and get to engage in pre-trial hearings. Ahmed, however, has not been charged, and was not even recommended for prosecution by Obama’s task force in 2009, suggesting that the government does not really have much of a case against him.

After nine years of US-imposed silence, he emerged briefly on June 2 as a witness in pre-trial hearings for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five “high-value detainees” accused of planing an being involved in the 9/11 attacks. As Reuters described it, he “took the witness stand” to “back up claims” by bin al-Shibh, “who said guards at the U.S. prison used noises and vibrations to torment him.” In February, bin al-Shibh testified that “electronic devices hidden inside his cell were used to produce tremors and banging noises, disrupting his sleep for years.” Prosecutors, as Reuters explained, “responded by questioning his mental state.”

According to Reuters, Ahmed told the court, “Shibh told me that he’s got a problem … and I have the same problem that he’s got. They have mental torturing in the Camp Seven,” where the “high-value detainees” are held. “Speaking in broken English,” as Reuters put it, Ahmed “described vibrations in his cell floor, a constant ‘stinky smell’ and noises that sounded ‘like someone on the roof … hitting hammer.’”

When the prosecutor, Edward Ryan, “accused Ahmed of lying and questioned him on his disciplinary record at the prison,” asking, “Do you remember the time you spit out a food tray slot at a guard?” Ahmed replied by saying, “Yes, I did,” adding, “If you were there in the camp, you would do the same.”

In their unclassified summary for the PRB, the US authorities continued to describe Ahmed as significant, with no clue given as to why, if that was the case, he would not be facing a trial. It was noted that, in 1995, he “traveled from Sweden to Afghanistan to receive training, probably from al-Qa’ida, that he could use for jihadist purposes in his native Somalia,” a rather misleading claim, as Osama bin Laden was still in Sudan at the time, and a rather weak one, as revealed by the use of the word “probably.”

It was then noted that he “went to Somalia in 1997, joined the radical Muslim group Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), fought against the Ethiopian military and provided training to AIAl members,” although as Courthouse News reported, according to the Mapping Militants Project by Stanford University, “AIAI was initially nonviolent but later took up arms against Somali dictator Siad Barre — which drew wide national support — and later launched attacks in Ethiopia against mostly soldiers in an effort to control part of the country.” Their article added, “The US says Ahmed participated in the attacks against the Ethiopian military and trained other group members. However, the Stanford project says the group announced its transition from militancy to politics in January 1997, the same year the US says Ahmed worked with the group.”

Subsequently, however, according to the US authorities, Ahmed “served as a key member of al-Qa’ida in East Africa’s (AQEA) network in Somalia,” who “provided logistical and operational support to AQEA leaders, including almost certainly casing Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the target of an AQEA plot.”

The authorities also noted that, “[d]espite initially admitting to his al-Qa’ida associations and providing a great deal of information about his support to AQEA, [Ahmed] over the course of his detention has sought to downplay his connection to the group.” They added that he “almost certainly remains a committed extremist and retains a worldview aligned with al-Qa’ida’s global jihadist ideology,” explaining that, “although he generally has been compliant with guard staff” at Guantánamo, “he has expressed hatred toward the West and support for violent extremism,” although the examples given do not necessarily back this up.

It was noted that, during interviews, he “has maintained to US officials that the only jihad he supports is the regional conflict in East Africa,” a point reiterated in an observation that he says that “he only supports regional insurgent efforts.” This, however, was described as an example of how he “has consistently attempted to deceive US officials,” even though it might just indicate that his only concerns are with the regional conflict in Somalia, and not anything else.

In conclusion, the US authorities claimed that it was “unclear” whether Ahmed “has become more radical during his time in detention — having possibly been influenced by more senior detainees — or if he always possessed anti-Western views and over time has become less hesitant to express them.” The authorities added the he “has expressed interest in reengaging in extremism if released,” and also stated that “[h]e does not appear to have direct contact with extremists outside Guantánamo, but some of his closest associates prior to detention have emerged as leaders in al-Shabaab, which almost certainly would provide avenues for [his] reengagement.”

In contrast, his personal representatives (military officials appointed to help prisoners prepare for their PRBs) painted a picture of someone who “wants nothing to do with extremism anymore and does not consider himself to be a threat to anyone,” who “harbors no enduring ill will to the US,” and who, moreover, wants only to be reunited with his wife and his four children, who live in Kenya — all positive comments for prisoners to make who are seeking to persuade US officials, in a process that is most closely akin to a parole board, that they are no threat, bear no ill-will towards the US, and have constructive and peaceful plans for life after Guantánamo.

The personal representatives’ opening statement is posted below. Courthouse News reported that Ahmed appeared before the PRB “in a long-sleeve, white tunic and looked intently engaged during the 20-minute hearing … viewed from the Pentagon in a closed-circuit feed,” and also noted that he “appeared without an attorney” at his PRB, and “had no legal representation.”

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 02 Aug 2016
Guleed Hassan Ahmed, ISN 10023
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10023, Mr. Guleed Hassan Ahmed. He has met with us on multiple occasions over the past month and has never missed a meeting. From the start he has been cooperative and enthusiastic about his PRB.

Guleed has family in both Canada and in the US. All are ready and willing to support Guleed upon his transfer. He is especially looking forward to reuniting with his wife and four children who live in Kenya.

As an HVD he has not had access to as many classes and programs as the other detainees. He has however tried to participate in anything that was offered. Guleed likes to watch National Geographic movies, Blue Planet documentaries, and anything about science or nature. He likes to read religious books, Harry Potter books, the Economist and Newsweek.

Guleed would like the chance to leave detention at GTMO and start a new simple and peaceful life. He has had experience in Computer Engineering and small business in the past that could be useful in setting up a new life.

In our meetings with Guleed, he has stated to us that he harbors no enduring ill will to the US. Additionally, he has stated he wants nothing to do with extremism anymore and does not consider himself to be a threat to anyone. He wants only to live a peaceful life with his wife and children.

Thank you for your time and attention. We stand ready to answer any questions you have.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the Periodic Review Board this week for Guleed Hassan Ahmed, a Somali held in CIA “black sites” from 2004 until his arrival at ‪Guantanamo‬ in September 2006. Little had been heard of him until his review, despite the fact that he has been at Guantanamo for nearly nine years, as he is held with the “high-value detainees” in the secretive Camp 7. He is described as a key player in Al-Qaeda in East Africa, but if that is the case, why has he not been put on trial?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Because there isn’t sufficient evidence to convict presumably.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Meaning that it may well not rise to the level of evidence, David, but the US authorities will maintain that they can continue holding him, perhaps forever, as an ill-defined combatant of some sort. The mess that is Guantanamo in a nutshell.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    As you know better than me, “Illegal combatant” is not a recognised legal category under international law. EVEN Tony Blair back in 2006 understood it was a legal “anomaly.” Hardly an adequate word to describe hellish illegal kidnapping and medieval torture that will stain, for decades, US notions of itself as a free, pluralist, democratic society rooted in due process.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And another compelling reason for the prison to be closed, David, rather than kept open forever as some dark forces in Congress – and the right-wing media – desire.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    The politicians don’t desire it, they simply lack the testicular fortitude to stand up for due process if the price is to be smeared by Fox News and Hate Radio labelling them as “soft on terrorism” – it’s ironically a terror tactic to keep them in line

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s right, David. I also should have mentioned that there are some in the US military – and no doubt some of the intelligence agencies as well – who want to keep Guantanamo open.

  8. Martin says...

    “in 1995, he “traveled from Sweden to Afghanistan to receive training, probably from al-Qa’ida, that he could use for jihadist purposes in his native Somalia,” a rather misleading claim, as Osama bin Laden was still in Sudan at the time, and a rather weak one, as revealed by the use of the word “probably.”

    According to Guleed’s 2006 unclassified biography, he trained in the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan. That’s the same camp Ramzi Yousef trained at.

    Despite the FBI’s evidence to the contrary, whoever writes the unclassified summaries still thinks that the Khaldan camp and Abu Zubaydah were part of al-Qaeda. They weren’t. The camp and Zubaydah was independent but did assist al-Qaeda and had a close relationship with them. Ayman Zawahiri even eulogized Zubaydah’s partner Ibn Shaykh al-Libi after he was murdered in a Libyan prison.

    As for the AIAI, according to Stanford University:

    “AIAI as a cohesive militant group did not exist after 1997, although it may have continued for some time as a loose political front with vestigial militant factions. AIAI members often continued their militant activity through other groups, which were sometimes referred to as AIAI because of the high concentration of former members. In particular, many AIAI militants joined the predecessor of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that emerged in the late 1990s. Aweys, for example, became a leader of the ICU and its armed wing, which would become the militant group Al Shabaab. These groups shared AIAI’s goal of establishing an Islamic state”

    In any case, Guleed is not going anywhere.. Expressing interest in re-engaging in extremism shows he’s still dangerous. None of the HVDs have changed. They still want to re-engage in terrorism but because we tortured them, at least seven of them will never be prosecuted. At least the U.S. government doesn’t use the word “probably” too much with Rahim, Zubair and Lillie.

    I look forward to Hambali, Abu Zubaydah, and Abu Faraj al-Libi’s unclassified summaries and wonder if these leaders will actually show up to their hearings.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Martin,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I think it’s more constructive to think of someone like Guleed as a regional militant rather than succumbing to the use of the word “terrorist,” and it makes me wonder how long the US can argue that it can hold people indefinitely in connection with regional conflicts, but let’s see what happens. In theory, he could be recommended for release, as the US has no clearly defined case against him like 9/11.

  10. Tom says...

    I know that many people want to make a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair. From what I know about UK law, the person you want to arrest has to agree to voluntarily go with you. The last comment I heard from Blair about this is “it’s a constant nuisance. But you learn to live with it”.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Tom. There’s a BBC article here:

  12. Donald says...

    “In theory, he could be recommended for release, as the US has no clearly defined case against him like 9/11.”

    Guleed was denied approval for transfer but managed to impress the board a little bit in regards to family support and a reasonable plan to support himself so he might actually be free one day. Surprising!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for this second update, Donald. Yes, I can see that happening one day and I think it’s appropriate. I don’t think there’s any good reason to hold anyone unless they’ve very clearly been involved in terrorism or are absolutely committed to harming the US and have actively worked to do so – and these people, of course, should be tried.

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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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