No Justice for 14 Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Who Arrived at Guantánamo Ten Years Ago


Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, three of the 14 "high-value detainees" who arrived at Guantanamo from CIA "black sites" ten years ago, on September 6, 2006.I wrote the following article (as “Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Arrived at Guantánamo Exactly Ten Years Ago, But Still There Is No Justice”) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Ten years ago, on September 6, 2006, President Bush announced that secret CIA prisons, whose existence he had always denied, had in fact existed, but had now been closed down, and the prisoners held moved to Guantánamo.

14 men in total were transferred to Guantánamo. Three were named by President Bush — Abu Zubaydah, described as “a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden,” and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. Biographies of the 14 were made available, and can be found here. They include three other men allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks — Walid bin Attash, Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali) and Mustafa al-Hawsawi — plus Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian allegedly involved in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Majid Khan, a Pakistani alleged to be an al-Qaeda plotter in the US, the Indonesian Hambali and two Malaysians, Zubair and Lillie, the Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libi, and a Somali, Gouled Hassan Dourad.

After the men’s arrival, they were not heard from until spring 2007, when Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were held, which were required to make them eligible for military commission trials. As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files in 2007, KSM and Walid bin Attash confessed to involvement with terrorism, although others were far less willing to make any kind of confession. Ammar al-Baluchi, for example, a nephew of KSM, and another of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, denied advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or of al-Qaeda.

As I described it:

Ammar al-Baluchi was … adamant that he had no involvement with terrorism, and was dismissive of … allegations that he worked on a bomb plot with [Walid] bin Attash. Although he admitted transferring money on behalf of some of the 9/11 hijackers, he insisted that he had no knowledge of either 9/11 or al-Qaeda, and was a legitimate businessman, who regularly transferred money for Arabs, without knowing what it would be used for. His story was backed up by his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who stated, “Any dealings he had with al-Qaeda were through me. I used him for business dealings. He had no knowledge of any al-Qaeda links. Ammar is being linked to al-Qaeda because of me.”

As I also explained, “Only two prisoners – Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri – broached the subject of torture,” although their statements were significant:

Zubaydah … said that he was tortured by CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I’m not his partner and I’m not a member of al-Qaeda.” He also said that his interrogators promised to return his diary to him – [which] contained … evidence of his split personality – and explained that their refusal to do so affected him emotionally and triggered seizures. Speaking of his status as a “high-value” prisoner, he said that his only role was to operate a guest house used by those who were training at Khaldan, and [speaking] of his relationship with bin Laden, [he said], “Bin Laden wanted al-Qaeda to have control of Khaldan, but we refused since we had different ideas.” He explained that he opposed attacks on civilian targets, which brought him into conflict with bin Laden, and although he admitted that he had been an enemy of the US since childhood, because of its support for Israel, pointed out that his enmity was towards the government and the military, and not the American people.

In his tribunal, al-Nashiri said that he made up stories that tied him to the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and confessed to involvement in several other terror plots – including the bombing of a French oil tanker in 2002, plans to bomb American ships in the Gulf, a plan to hijack a plane and crash it into a ship, and claims that bin Laden had a nuclear bomb – in order to get his captors to stop torturing him. “From the time I was arrested five years ago,” he said, “they have been torturing me. It happened during interviews. One time they tortured me one way, and another time they tortured me in a different way. I just said those things to make the people happy. They were very happy when I told them those things.”

In February 2008, the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators were put forward for a trial by military commission, as I explained in an article at the time, Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (the sixth man was Mohammed al-Qahtani, specifically tortured in Guantánamo, against whom the charges were eventually dropped).

As pre-trial hearings took place, KSM demonstrated an ability to undermine the proceedings, and to slyly speak about the torture to which he and the others had been subjected, as I explained here, and also here and here. Also in 2008, al-Nashiri was charged, although when President Obama took office the commission process was frozen while the new administration worked out how to proceed.

In April 2009, while this was happening, there was another damaging development for the US, when a harrowing report about the experiences of the HVDs, compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross in February 2007 and submitted to the government after ICRC representatives had been allowed to interview the men, was leaked to the New York Review Of Books.

Nevertheless, the men themselves remained silenced. As I explained in an article on September 5 about Abu Zubaydah:

Since arriving at Guantánamo … as with all the HVDs, every word he has uttered to his lawyers has remained classified, in contrast to all the other men held. For non-HVDs, although every word uttered between the prisoners and their attorneys is presumptively classified, the attorneys submit notes of their meetings to a Pentagon censorship team — the privilege review team — which then decides whether the notes should be unclassified. Over the years, a significant amount of information has been unclassified by the privilege review team, but the HVDs are an exception, as the Pentagon continues to try to silence them.

Outrageously, this enforced silence has been maintained ever since, as the US military and the Obama administration continue to try to hide evidence of the men’s torture. One way forward would have been to try the men in federal court, and to make whatever case was possible without reference to the use of torture, but although Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was moved to the US mainland for a trial in May 2009, and was successfully prosecuted and sentenced, lawmakers soon acted to ban any further transfers, and although Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November 2009 that the 9/11 trial would take place in federal court in New York, the administration also ill-advisedly revived the military commissions, and when cynical opposition was mounted to the 9/11 trial plan, President Obama shamefully bowed to the pressure and dropped the proposal for a trial in New York, returning the military commissions to centerstage as the only viable option for prosecuting Guantánamo and former “black site” prisoners.

Since then, the six men charged in the military commissions — the 9/11 five, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — have been stuck in a horrible, dark, farcical limbo, as their lawyers seek to expose evidence of torture, while the government’s lawyers continue to do all they can to prevent that happening, even though, in December 2014, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program was published, which revealed shocking new information about the program, including “rectal feeding,” which was as horrible as it sounds.

As the Committee explained, the CIA’s torture program was, amongst other findings, “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” In addition, the agency’s justification for torture techniques “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness,” and “[t]he interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.”

As for the rest of the 14, although one of them, Majid Khan, agreed to a plea deal in February 2012, the details of that deal have never been fleshed out, and in the meantime the other six men remained largely hidden — even, in most cases, forgotten — until the last few months, when they were given Periodic Review Boards, a parole-like process designed to allow men who were not already approved for release or facing trials to make a case for why they should be released.

See Somali “High-Value Detainee,” Held in CIA Torture Prisons, Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Review Board, Two Malaysian “High-Value Detainees” Seek Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards, Guantánamo “High-Value Detainee” Abu Faraj Al-Libi Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board, “High-Value Detainee” Hambali Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board and Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah, Seen For the First Time in 14 Years, Seeks Release from Guantánamo — although bear in mind that it is unlikely that any of them will be approved for release, even though, overall, the PRBs have, since January 2014, approved 33 men out of 52 for release.

Ten years on, then, as we look at the cases of the “high-value detainees,” it is only appropriate to conclude that justice remains as elusive for them as it did when they were hidden from the world before their arrival at Guantánamo — in the CIA “black sites” that should never have existed.

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

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

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posted from, looking at America’s ten-year shame: the 10th anniversary, yesterday, of the arrival at #Guantanamo of 14 “high-value detainees” from CIA “black sites,” where they had been held for up to four and a half years – and tortured. Only one of the 14 has been tried – on the US mainland, until Congress shut the door on that particular route to justice – and the rest are either mired in endless pre-trial hearings in the broken military commission trial system, or are “forever prisoners,” held without charge or trial, and only recently given Periodic Review Boards that can – but almost certainly won’t – recommend their release. The injustice continues, and we have to ask, on this sad anniversary: will it ever end?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Yes Andy it will – it cannot be sustained and things will change. Your work has been and continues to be crucial – letting us know what is happening in that cruel, criminal and shocking place.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Lindis, for the supportive words – and for your belief in Guantanamo closing one day. Hopefully the same will also be true of Menwith Hill eventually. I saw your mention of the Intercept article:
    “INSIDE MENWITH HILL: The NSA’s British Base at the Heart of U.S. Targeted Killing”

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    One day…Andy – please would you post the article above round your networks – all connected.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Will do that soon, Lindis.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    This is my song about the torture program, performed with my band The Four Fathers and written after the Senate Torture Report was published in December 2014, calling for its architects – James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were paid $81m – to be held accountable, along with all those who authorized and facilitated the torture – inc. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, David Addington, John Yoo and many more, all name checked in the song’s climax. Enjoy!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Nancy Vining Van Ness wrote:

    Thank you, Andy, for your work. It is because of you that we know what we do about these men. That prison is an atrocity.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your kind words, Nancy. Your support is very much appreciated.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Here’s a press release from lawyers for two of the “high-value detainees,” Ammar al-Baluchi and KSM:

  10. Andy Worthington says...

Leave a Reply



Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo