Afghan Moneychanger Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board


Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 25, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, Haji Wali Mohammed, who was born in February 1965 or 1966, became the 62nd prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — whose closest analogy are parole boards — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release and were not facing trials, and in total 64 men have had their cases reviewed. The last two reviews took place on September 1 and September 8, and I’ll be writing about them very soon.

Of the 64, 12 decisions have yet to be taken, but of the 52 cases decided (see my definitive PRB list here), the board members — comprising representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — approved 33 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 19 others. That’s a success rate for the prisoners of 63%, which is a rather damning indictment of the caution exercised by the previous review board, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and made the recommendations for the ongoing imprisonment of the 64 men who have ended up facing PRBs.

23 of the 64 had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commissions largely collapsed as a result of a number of devastating appeals court rulings in Washington, D.C., in which judges dismissed some of the handful of convictions secured in the commissions, and concluded that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress.

The 41 others were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though the task force also admitted that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in others words, the supposed evidence used to justify their ongoing imprisonment was dubious, to say the least, consisting, in large part, of untrustworthy statements extracted from the prisoners themselves, or from their fellow prisoners, when the use of torture and other forms of abuse — as well as bribery (with better living conditions) — were widespread.

Haji Wali Mohammed was one of the 41, even though, as I recognized when researching his story ten years ago, there was no good reason for suspecting that his story indicated that he bore any malice towards the US. A moneychanger, he had lost a large amount of money in a deal, and had been blamed by the Taliban. Quite how this made him any sort of enemy of the US was beyond me.

As I explained in The Guantánamo Files:

Mohammed, a 35-year old money exchanger, was captured at his home in Peshawar, on 24 January 2002. Married with two wives and ten children, he was born in Afghanistan, but his family fled to Pakistan in 1978 and lived in refugee camps for the next ten years until he established himself as a successful moneychanger and moved to Peshawar in 1988. All was well until 1995, when he first lost a significant amount of money, and in 1998, after entering into a business deal with the Bank of Afghanistan that also failed, he ended up being blamed by the Taliban, who made him responsible for the whole debt — around one million dollars — even though he only had a 25 percent stake in the deal.

He explained to his tribunal that the ISI took his car in November 2001 and then returned in January, because they knew he was “a very famous money exchanger” and assumed that he would pay them a bribe of at least $100,000. When he said that he actually owed a lot of money to other people and was unable to pay, he was told, “If you don’t have a car and you don’t have the cash, sell your house and give us half of it to save you from the bad ending.”

Three days later, he was handed over to the Americans, purportedly as a drug smuggler, although his new captors soon decided that he bought surface-to-air missiles for Osama bin Laden and — despite his abysmal financial record since 1995 — was entrusted with a million dollars by Mullah Omar. Explaining that he did not know bin Laden and had no time for the Taliban, who had ruined his life, he said, “We were businessmen, their ways and our ways were different. That’s why they didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. Because a businessman does not have a beard and listens to music in his car, and he watches television and they didn’t like that.”

Describing his appearance at his PRB, Courthouse News, in an article entitled, “Gitmo Parole Hearing Goes Well for Afghan,” reported that he “wore a white, short-sleeved tunic,” and his “hair was cut short, especially on the sides of his head. His beard appeared long and full, though, graying as it neared his chest.” Courthouse News added that “[a] closed-circuit feed at the Pentagon of the hearing in Cuba showed Mohammad glancing down at papers on the table in front of him while an unnamed government representative read his detainee profile.”

At his PRB, the US authorities seemed to recognize that Mohammed might not have been the bigshot they had spent years pretending he was.

In the unclassified summary for his PRB, the US authorities described Haji Wali Mohammad as “an Afghan money changer who operated a currency exchange business and conducted financial transactions from the mid-to-late 1990s for senior Taliban officials before he fell out of favor with the group.” It was also noted that he “reportedly had ties to other extremist organizations, such as Hezb-e lslami, and may have made some transactions related to the narcotics trade.”

Those compiling the summary also noted that the authorities “assess with moderate confidence” that Mohammed “conducted financial transactions for Usama Bin Ladin [sic] in 1998 and 1999, either directly or through his ties to the Taliban, and was probably motivated by financial gain.” That latter point seems certainly to be true — and was confirmed by his attorney and his personal representative (a military officer appointed to help him prepare for his PRB), whose initial statements are posted below. However, it is worth noting that the connection with Osama bin Laden has not been confirmed.

Not only was it called into doubt by Mohammed’s attorney and his personal representative, but the authorities also noted that, although “identifying details for [Mohammed] have been corroborated … there has been minimal reporting on [his] transactions completed on behalf of Bin Ladin.” Crucially, the summary added, “Efforts to link [Mohammed] to Bin Ladin are complicated by several factors, including incomplete reporting, multiple individuals with [his] name — Haji Wali Mohammad — and lack of post-capture reflections.” As a result, it is, I think, acceptable to conclude that Mohammed actually had no connection with Osama bin Laden at all.

Turning to his behavior at Guantánamo, the authorities noted that he “has been highly compliant with the staff,” and “has committed a low number of infractions relative to other detainees, according to a Joint Task Force-Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) compliance assessment.” The authorities added that he “appears to have been met semi-regularly by interviewers, based on the number of interviews in which he has participated, and has provided information on camp dynamics as well as on his fellow detainees. According to interviewers in 2005, [he] had a record of providing information on events that were about to take place within the camps at Guantánamo, and judged his reporting to be completely reliable and honest.”

This level of cooperation can only have helped Mohammed in his efforts to persuade the review board to recommend him for release, as is the assessment that, “during his detention [he] has never made statements clearly endorsing or supporting al-Qa’ida or other extremist ideology, but probably has a pragmatic view of the role the Taliban held in Afghanistan. He most likely judged that it was prudent to work with, rather than against, the Taliban Government in the 1990s.” The authorities also noted, “During his detention, [he] appears to have formed a more liberal view of politics in Afghanistan and has said the Taliban will have to change if they want to remain viable in the country, including changing their policy on women’s rights and education.”

Regarding his family situation, the authorities noted that he “probably has a complicated family situation — he has multiple wives and multiple children — split between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Should [he] be repatriated to Afghanistan, we assess he would attempt to return to Pakistan and reunite with his family who still resides there, possibly trying to return his Afghan-based family to Pakistan at the same time.”

The authorities noted that he “has communicated extensively with his family, and does not have current communications with any known or suspected terrorists.” Although those compiling the summary stated that they “judge that [his] familial connections to Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — his half-brother, Haji Wakil, was married to Hekmatyar’s niece and his half-sister was married to Hekmatyar’s nephew — may serve as a potential avenue for him to be drawn back into extremism,” it was also noted that “[t]here are no indications that [his] family members are engaged in terrorist activity.” Hekmatyar, for anyone not familiar with Afghan politics, is the founder and leader of Hezb-e Islami, a political party, but is also regarded as a terrorist by the US. Funded lavishly by the US during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he then became a major player in Afghanistan’s disastrous civil war, in the early 1990s, was briefly president, and spent six years in self-imposed exile in Iran after the Taliban came to power in 1996. He became an implacable opponent of the US after the US-led invasion of October 2001, and is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

Below, I’m cross-posting the initial statements made by Mohammed’s personal representative and his attorney, both of which are revealing. The personal representative stated that he was “never a member of the Taliban and was never an extremist,” and was obviously impressed by him, noting that, “Although he has been through many difficult times, he still maintains an excellent  attitude and his personality shines vibrantly. In each meeting our conversations always included a story from him ending in laughter for us all. This is because he allows his true self to be known, which is a jovial person that enjoys the company of others.”

Mohammed’s attorney also spoke of his honesty, and emphasized the importance of the mistake made regarding his identity, noting that two US intelligence experts had called his identification “problematic.”

Below are the statements, and I hope, after reading them, you agree with me that Haji Wali Mohammed should be released — and, of course, I sincerely hope that the members of the review board accept that he should finally be freed.

Periodic Review Board, 25 August 2016
Haji Wali Mohammed, ISN 560
Personal Representative Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the board. I am the Personal Representative for ISN 560. Thank you for the opportunity to present the case for Haji Wali Mohammed.

Wali Mohammed was a businessman since a very young age. His interests and relationships back home were always very focused on his career as a currency exchanger, which is a common occupation in that region. In this capacity, he executed an investment with the Afghan Central Bank while the Taliban were in power. However, he was never a member of the Taliban and was never an extremist. At times in the currency exchange you may have competitors, creditors, and others that owe you money. Unfortunately for Wali Mohammed, he made an investment that turned out poorly. At that same time there were others that owed him a significant amount he would then use for paying debts. This was all understood by the tribal elders, which spurred a tribal council to determine the outcome. During this council period, just as the results looked favorable for Wali Mohammed, he was quickly arrested at his home.

It is no surprise that Wali Mohammed has been a highly compliant detainee. Although he has been through many difficult times, he still maintains an excellent attitude and his personality shines vibrantly. In each meeting our conversations always included a story from him ending in laughter for us all. This is because he allows his true self to be known, which is a jovial person that enjoys the company of others. His detention has been truly difficult in this regard as he longs to reunite with his family. His children are the light in his life and their memory occupies his thoughts.

It is not Wali Mohammed’s nature to hide his feelings, which makes me confident he plans to do what he says after detention. The rest of his days will consist of significant family time and watching the Afghanistan cricket team he is so very proud of. He will certainly use the knowledge he gained at Guantánamo such as the value of healthy living and an open world view to instill in his children. Although he could support himself, he has a family that pledged to allow him to retire upon his return, which he plans to do. His family members are peaceful and he also desires a non-political and peaceful existence.

Wali Mohammed is open to any country for transfer and would attempt to relocate his family as necessary and permitted by the host nation. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.

Periodic Review Board, 25 August 2016
Haji Wali Mohammed, ISN 560
Private Counsel Statement

Over more than 14 years in detention, and hundreds of interrogations since his 2002 arrest in Pakistan, Haji Wali Mohammed’s account of his life and business dealings has never varied. The Detainee Profile states that Mr. Mohammed was judged to be completely reliable and honest in his reporting on events about to take place in the camps at Guantánamo. It would be reasonable for the Board to consider the possibility that Mr. Mohammed has been completely reliable and honest in all that he has said since his arrest. We urge the Board to do so.

Mr. Mohammed made one significant mistake of judgment, and he has been very unlucky — most of all in having an extremely common name. He is, however, an honest man.

Wali Mohammed’s business was currency exchange. He bought and sold currency in Pakistan and the UAE with the aim of capitalizing on differences in exchange rates. As he has freely admitted, in late 1997 and early 1998, he entered into a partnership to pursue such a currency arbitrage with the Central Bank of Afghanistan — then under the control of the Taliban government. As Wali Mohammed has said, and as an expert on his behalf confirmed, such partnerships were commonplace before, during, and after the Taliban regime. Wali Mohammed described, and the expert confirms, the sudden and significant volatility in the value of the Pakistani rupee in 1998.

The result was a catastrophic loss — roughly a half-million of the $1.5 million the Central Bank had invested. After the Taliban government learned of the loss, investigators fired the head of the Central Bank, threatened Wali Mohammed with prison, actually imprisoned his cousin, and forced the entire loss on him — in violation of the terms of the deal. This is not the kind of treatment one would expect of someone who was part of or of any importance to the Taliban.

The disastrous failure of the Central Bank transaction also makes it implausible that Wali Mohammed conducted financial transactions for Osama Bin Ladin thereafter — leaving aside that Mr. Mohammed speaks little Arabic and bin Ladin spoke no Pashto. Two intelligence experts on behalf of Mr. Mohammed — one, the former Director of Human Intelligence Collection for the DIA; and the other, a former DIA intelligence analyst, identities expert, and, after the 9/11 attacks, a CIA contractor and charter member of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the National Counter Terrorism Center, and the Advanced Analytics Team — have shown, consistent with the Detainee Profile, that the identification of Mr. Mohammed is problematic. Even the late Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, reportedly carried a passport bearing the name “Wali Mohammed.”

Mr. Mohammed’s attenuated marital connections to relatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar do not constitute a threat. Mr. Mohammed is deeply devoted to the welfare of his own family and children. He has no interest in politics, or in engaging in dealings in any way connected to the Taliban or any other extremist group. We respectfully ask that the Board find that Wali Mohammed is not a threat to the security of the United States.

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.

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11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Haji Wali Mohammed, an Afghan moneychanger who, I believe, should never have been held at Guantanamo, let alone held as a “forever prisoner” regarded as “too dangerous to release.” No friend of the Taliban, who victimized him for losing money in a deal, he also does not appear to have had any relationship with Osama bin Laden, despite the US authorities’ claims. His name is very common, and his attorney cited two US intelligence agents noting that his identification was “problematic.” I hope the board members agree that he should be freed.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hoohge wrote:

    haven’t thanked you in a while for being who you are, Andy..
    hugses from brussels

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Monique. Great to hear from you. I hope all is well with you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Just updated – my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. I’m hoping to hear that Mr. Mohammed will be approved for release by his review board. I think it’s clear that he had no love for the Taliban, and no dealings with Osama bin Laden, as alleged.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    To the Bush Administration – everyone was “evil” if they happened to be in Muslim country and looked Muslim – sadly, there are people who still believe that…

    ‘Get the f*ck out of America, b*tches’: Crazed Trump fan attacks Muslim women pushing baby strollers

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    An unpleasant incident, Jan. Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s casual and frequent racism can only be helping to increase racism and Islamophobia.
    It’s also now been confirmed that racism has increased in the UK since the EU referendum. An untold number of people who voted Leave, however, continue to claim that they’re not racist.
    A few stories here from the Guardian:
    “Lasting rise in hate crime after EU referendum, figures show”:
    “Politicians fuelled rise in hate crimes after Brexit vote, says UN body”:

  8. Tobias Spears says...

    I wouldn’t jump the gun. Haji Wali Mohammed is claiming innocence which is not what the PRB is looking for. They might end up not being impressed with his behavior and end up calling it “his refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qa’ida and his indifference to the impact of his prior actions.”

    Either way, he might be transferred one day due to his good behavior.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, he’s one of the men placed in a quandary, Tobias, because he is asserting that he isn’t guilty of what the US wants him to be guilty of. We’ll see how it develops. His behavior obviously helps his case, but in the end it may not be worth struggling to make the PRBs be a venue that deals with innocence and guilt when they’re actually set up to assess risk instead.

  10. Tobias Spears says...

    Holy shit. Haji Wali Mohammed has been approved for transfer. You called it Worthington. Now only 40 prisoners will remain by next year.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tobias. Article to follow tomorrow on this and the other recent decisions.

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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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