The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (4) – Escape to Pakistan (The Saudis)

The Guantanamo Files

This article was originally published on July 12, 2008. For updated information, please check out the links (by prisoner name and number) in my four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, last updated on April 25, 2012.

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

In addition to the prisoners discussed in Chapter 6, a further 23 Saudis, 21 Yemenis and an Afghan of Saudi origin were also captured at this time. To keep these additional chapters manageable, the stories of the Saudis are examined in this additional chapter, and the Yemenis will follow in Website Extras (5).

In keeping with the vast exodus of Saudi prisoners from Guantánamo in 2006 and 2007, after the Saudi government instigated a rehabilitation program — involving religious retraining and support in finding wives and employment — which met with the approval of the US authorities, almost all the Saudi prisoners discussed in Chapter 6 and in this additional chapter have been released from Guantánamo. At the time I completed the manuscript for The Guantánamo Files, in May 2007, 19 of the 29 men discussed in Chapter 6 had been released, and a further seven have been released since. Two are still held, although one, Ayman al-Shurafa, has been cleared for release, but cannot be repatriated because his parents are Palestinian, and the Saudi government regards him as a resident, and is refusing to act on behalf of its residents in Guantánamo. The final man, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a long-term hunger striker, died in Guantánamo on May 30, 2007, apparently by committing suicide.

Of the 24 prisoners discussed in this chapter, all but two have been released. Some of their stories were initially reported in articles I wrote at the time (in July, September, November and December 2007), but I am presenting them again as part of my project to present the stories of all the prisoners either in The Guantánamo Files or in these specific online chapters, and also because in some cases additional information was made available by the Pentagon in September 2007.

As with the stories reported in The Guantánamo Files, they are a mixture of humanitarian aid workers and missionaries, caught up in an undiscriminating dragnet, Taliban foot soldiers, recruited in their home countries to help the Taliban establish a “pure Islamic state” by defeating their Muslim rivals in the Northern Alliance, and, in one case, a man who traveled to Pakistan for medical treatment, decided to make an ill-advised trip to visit Afghanistan, and was then imprisoned by the Taliban as a spy.

The missionaries

Of the four men who were working as missionaries, two were released in December 2007. The first, Jamil al-Kabi, a taxi driver who was 28 years old when he was captured, explained that, in 2000, he “sold his taxi and decided to devote more time to the Dawa, or ‘the call.’” After starting his mission in Mecca, by “going out and finding young Muslims who were not following the word of Islam and trying to get them to the mosque,” he then spent six months in Lahore, the home of Jamaat-al-Tablighi, the vast, worldwide missionary organization whose annual meetings in Pakistan and Bangladesh attract millions of followers.

Despite the size of the organization and its avowedly non-political manifesto, the US authorities have persistently maintained that it was actually “used as a cover to mask travel and activities of terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda.” In al-Kabi’s case, his subsequent missionary ventures in Indonesia and Malaysia attracted equally tangential allegations that Tablighi “recruits” from both countries traveled to militant training camps in Pakistan.

Describing the circumstances of his capture, al-Kabi said that, after traveling to Karachi, where he stayed at the Tablighi mosque for a month, he met four men and traveled with them to Kabul, where he stayed for four months at the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque and continued the Dawa, with the help of one of the men he had traveled with, who “helped him translate with people who did not speak Arabic.” When Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance, in early November 2001, he said that “word began to spread” that the Alliance soldiers “were killing all of the Arabs.” He and his companions fled to the eastern city of Jalalabad, where they stayed for a month before walking through the mountains to the Pakistani border, where he was captured.

Jalalabad, November 2001

Post-Taliban Jalalabad, November 2001.

The status of the other purported missionary, 21-year old Abdul Rahman al-Hataybi, had not been satisfactorily explained by the time of his release, even after nearly six years of interrogation. According to the allegations against him, after failing his military entrance exam he was “immediately contacted by a recruiter for al-Qaeda”, and was sent to Afghanistan, with all his expenses paid, to train at al-Farouq, a camp for Arab recruits, established by the Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in the early 1990s, but associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11.

Although the US administration claimed that he had been “identified as a member of al-Qaeda by a foreign government service,” and reported that his name had been found on various documents recovered in raids on suspected al-Qaeda safe houses, al-Hataybi’s own story was consistently at odds with the American version. The authorities acknowledged that he was a member of Jamaat-al-Tablighi, but largely overlooked his insistence that he had worked only as a missionary. In a number of comments listed under factors favoring release or transfer, al-Hataybi said that he “traveled to Pakistan for the sole purpose of providing missionary work to those individuals in need of assistance.” He claimed “never to have set foot in Afghanistan,” having conducted all his missionary work in Karachi and Lahore, and also claimed that “a Pakistani police intern tortured him, and forced him to say that he was part of al-Qaeda and that he had traveled to Afghanistan for the purpose of jihad.” He added that he “lied because he wanted the torture to stop.”

The other two missionaries were released in February 2007, and their stories have not been reported until now, because the documentation relating to them was not released by the Pentagon until September 2007. According to the US allegations, the first of the two, 21 year old Majid al-Harbi, had met a representative of Jamaat-al-Tablighi over a two-month period at a mosque in Jeddah, and had then traveled to Karachi, where another Tablighi representative took him to a mosque in Lahore. In late September and early October 2001, he stated that the missionary organization “announced a jihad,” which he decided to support by traveling to Afghanistan and “teaching the Hadith” (the oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammad’s actions and customs). This suggests, of course, that Jamaat-al-Tablighi’s interpretation of “jihad” was in its meaning of a religious struggle rather than the armed variety, but in al-Harbi’s case the distinction was irrelevant, as numerous other allegations were presented that were at odds with his story.

With a typical disregard for the authenticity of the unnamed sources cited, the US authorities chose to ignore al-Harbi’s Jamaat-al-Tablighi narrative, and claimed instead that he “was identified as attending the al-Farouq training camp,” that he was “identified as a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban,” and that he “was identified as the Emir for a group of fighters in Tora Bora.”

Little is known of the second man, 23-year old Rashid Balkhair, because the page containing the main set of allegations against him is missing from the documents released by the Pentagon in September 2007. What exists instead contains no hint of militancy whatsoever. In September 2000 or early 2001 (there is no indication as to which date is correct), Balkhair apparently traveled to Pakistan, “with 1,000 Saudi Riyals and his ATM card with approximately 12,000 Saudi Riyals in the bank” (a total of around $3,500), and then “stated that he spent nine months around Karachi” and “four to six months around Peshawar,” before traveling to Jalalabad (around 15 September 2001), “where he stayed for three months, including at a Taliban house for a short period,” which would have been enough to brand him as being associated with the Taliban. He added that he fled Jalalabad “due to anti-Arab sentiment” and made his way to the Pakistani border, where he “went to the police,” who duly handed over to US forces. If released, Balkhair said that he “plan[ned] to apply for admission to King Khaled University in Saudi Arabia to study religion.”

The humanitarian aid workers

Of the three humanitarian aid workers, the first, Saleh al-Oshan, was repatriated in July 2005 (and released on bail in May 2006), although his story has not been reported until now, because, like Majid al-Harbi and Rashid Balkhair, the documentation relating to him was not released until September 2007. Al-Oshan was an aid worker with the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a vast Saudi-based international charity which was blacklisted by the US because of alleged terrorist connections, and closed down by the Saudi government as a result of US pressure in 2004. Whatever connections with terrorism some parts of the organization may have had, it was nothing to do with al-Oshan, who was working in a refugee camp in Spin Boldak, on the Afghan-Pakistani border. In the course of his work, he stood on a landmine and was taken to a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, where he was seized by the Americans as one of the so-called “Quetta Five.” All that the US authorities could come up with as allegations against him were that one of his “name variants” was found on two lists associated with al-Qaeda, that he “was identified as having relationship (sic) to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan,” and that he “was captured without proper identification.”

Refugees at a camp in Spin Boldak

Refugees at a camp in Spin Boldak. Photo by Asif Chaudry.

The second of the three, Fahd al-Fawzan (known to the US authorities as Fahd al-Fouzan), was released in September 2007. Just 17 years old when he was captured, he, like Saleh al-Oshan, had also been working for al-Haramain. Unwittingly tarred as a terrorist because of this association, what counted against him more was an allegation that he had been “identified by a senior al-Qaeda member,” who was probably also responsible for the claim that he had trained at a military camp, and that he had previously been in Afghanistan for ten months in 1999, when he was only 15 years old. In his defense, al-Fawzan stated that he wished to return to Saudi Arabia “to continue his laundry business and raise his family,” that Osama bin Laden was a “bad man,” and that “those types of attacks [9/11] are not a good reflection on Muslims.”

A more shocking set of allegations was leveled against 35-year old Abdullah al-Wafi al-Harbi (known to the US authorities as Abdullah al-Wafti), who was released in November 2007. He told his interrogators that he traveled to Afghanistan via Iran, approximately three weeks after 9/11, and that, when he reached the border and told the guards that “he had come to Afghanistan to assist in humanitarian efforts,” they “informed him about a group called al-Wafa and advised him to join the group if he wished to help the poor.” After two weeks in Kabul –- in other words, when the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began –- he said that “he was told by the Afghanis that they had to leave because there was a problem with Arabs,” and explained that representatives of al-Wafa provided him “with directions on how to leave Afghanistan.” He then traveled by taxi, with three other men, to Khost, where they stayed for a month before crossing into Pakistan, where he was arrested.

Ranged against this account was a bewildering array of unsubstantiated allegations: that he “was identified as an experienced fighter who allegedly fought against the Russians in Afghanistan and Bosnia (sic),” and that a “source” –- or various sources –- claimed that he “was in Bosnia with a known al-Qaeda operative,” that he attended the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, that he was “well known by clerics and imams in Saudi Arabia as a recruiter and fundraiser for jihad,” and that he, along with others from Mecca, who were known as “the Mecca Group,” “ate with Osama bin Laden while at Tora Bora.” Another unidentified “individual” made the astonishing claim that al-Harbi told him that several of the 9/11 hijackers “stayed at his house during Haj, possibly in 1999.” It was also stated that a “source” said that al-Harbi “told him he had lied to interrogators” in [the US prison in] Kandahar, claiming to work for al-Wafa “rather than admitting to fighting in the jihad,” even though this was directly contradicted by the next allegation from another “source,” who stated that he was “ranked high in al-Wafa.”

The Taliban foot soldiers

Of the 15 men who had traveled to Afghanistan before 9/11 to help the Taliban fight their fellow Muslims in the Northern Alliance, all but two have been released. None were accused of having any knowledge of al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, and references to Osama bin Laden were fleeting, even though several of the man had been holed up in the Tora Bora mountains during what was supposed to be the last stand of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Majid al-ShammariThe first to be freed, in November 2005, was Majid al-Shammari, who was 27 years old when he was seized. Al-Shammari was a soldier in the Kuwaiti Army from 1992 to 2000, who “had only primary education,” according to a Cageprisoners report. His brother Saif explained, “When he lost that job he became depressed as he did not know how to meet the daily expenses of his family.” He added that Majid then traveled to Afghanistan to do charity work and stayed there because it was cheaper to live than Kuwait, but was arrested after the US-led invasion and taken to Guantánamo. According to a one-page Summary of Evidence for his CSRT, al-Shammari trained at two camps including al-Farouq, fought on the Taliban front lines, “carried an AK-47 on the battlefield,” and “participated in the battle of Tora Bora.” He did not take part in his tribunal, and his Personal Representative explained that, although he was “respectful and courteous,” he was also “distrustful of the tribunal process.” Responding to the allegations, he reported that al-Shimri “stated that he did not carry an AK-47 on the battlefield and that he did not fight in Tora Bora, although he was there.”

When he was transferred from Guantánamo, the Saudi authorities stated that he would be interrogated by the authorities who would decide whether to hold him or release him. In the meantime, he was transferred to al-Hair prison in Riyadh and allowed to meet with his mother, brothers, sisters, wife and two daughters. It is not known when — or if — he was finally released from Saudi custody.

Two more foot soldiers followed in May 2006, when 15 Saudis were released. Saud al-Shaibani al-Otaibi (known to the US as Said Shayban) was 20 years old when he was seized, and appears to have been a rather feeble soldier. He did not take part in any hearings at Guantánamo, and all the authorities managed to come up with were claims that he arrived in Afghanistan in April 2001 and spent two months in a Taliban mosque, and that he and eleven Afghans then spent six months protecting troop bunkers and holding a defensive line near Kabul, until he left his position and fled to Pakistan.

Mohammed al-SubaieThe story of Mohammed al-Subaie (known to the US as Mohammed Sebai), who was just 18 when he was seized, was unknown until the September 2007 release of documents. In another thin one-page summary it was alleged that he traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001, trained at a camp run by the Taliban, and then “traveled to Tora Bora with other Jihad/Taliban fighters,” where he “spent 1-2 months.” Noticeably, there were no allegations that he had actually engaged in combat at any point, which is probable, given that he was in Afghanistan for such a short time before the 9/11 attacks, when the entire training camp system began to unravel.

Haji Hajaj al-Sulami (whose name was extremely confusing to the US authorities, who referred to him as Al Silm Haji Hajjaj Awwad al-Hajjaji) was one of 16 prisoners released in December 2006. 21 years old at the time of his capture, he was extremely uncooperative during his CSRT hearing, and was appalled at what he perceived to be the injustice of the proceedings. “Is this court true or is it a lie?” he asked. Although he was accused of traveling to Afghanistan “to join the jihad and fight with the Taliban,” and acknowledged that he had attended al-Farouq, he maintained that he had not engaged in any kind of hostilities (and he was not, in fact, accused of taking part in combat). “I did carry a weapon, but not in battle,” he said. “A lot of people went to the mountains. I was given a weapon to protect myself and five others. Each person had to guard the group of people for one hour. We were in a burrow approximately the size of this room.”

Three more prisoners were released in July 2007, and the case against the first of these, 28-year old former airline steward Humoud al-Jadani, was particularly weak. Al-Jadani explained that, like several other Guantánamo prisoners, he had traveled to Afghanistan to undertake military training in the hope that it would enable him to fight against the Russians in Chechnya, but that, although he had attended al-Farouq and had attended two lectures by Osama bin Laden, he had been too ill even to complete his training.

Mohammed al-QurashiThe case against Mohammed al-Qurashi (identified as Muhammad al-Kurash), who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, was little better. He did not take part in any hearings, but was accused in his absence of traveling to fight with the Taliban after his high school graduation in May 2001, and of training at “a facility used to train and house Taliban soldiers who fought on the Bagram front lines.” It was also alleged that his name was found “on an undated letter which listed probable al-Qaeda members incarcerated in Pakistan, along with materials linked to al-Qaeda.” This meager fodder was supplemented by claims relating to his behavior in Guantánamo: that he had “struck guard force personnel on multiple occasions,” had threatened an officer by saying, “I will cut your throat,” and had “encouraged other detainees to harass guard force” — which, to my mind, is not exactly an excessive response to five and a half year’s incommunicado imprisonment without charge or trial.

The story of the third prisoner released in July 2007, Khalid Mohammed al-Zahrani (also identified as Khalid al-Zaharni) was unknown at the time of his release, and was, like others in this additional chapter, not made available until September 2007. Apparently a typical Taliban recruit, al-Zahrani, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture, “volunteered to travel to Afghanistan to fight against the Northern Alliance in May 2001,” inspired by “a fatwa issued over the internet.” It was alleged that he trained in a camp in Kabul, fought on the front lines in Kabul and Bagram, and then retreated to Tora Bora, where he was “in a fighting position from 23 November 2001 until 18 December 2001.” It was also alleged that his name and other details were found on various documents recovered in raids on suspected al-Qaeda safe houses, but it is impossible to know how accurate these allegations are, as his is a very common name.

Three others were released with Fahd al-Fawzan in September 2007. Bakri al-Samiri, who was 24 years old when he was captured, was accused of training in a camp run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), fighting on the front lines against the Northern Alliance, and retreating from Bagram to Jalalabad, where he was wounded by shrapnel. Although he admitted that he met a man in Mecca who told him about the work of LeT, he insisted that he only went to Afghanistan for a few weeks’ vacation “to help others any way I could help.” In Guantánamo, al-Samiri took part in one of the many hunger strikes in protest against the prisoners’ conditions and abuse of the Koran, and at one point, in May 2006, his weight dropped to just 103 lbs (7 stone 5 lbs).

Less is known about Khalid al-Sharif (known to the US as Khalid al-Barakat), who was 26 years old when he was captured. Al-Sharif denied an allegation that he had attended al-Farouq, but admitted that he had attended another military training camp. He refuted an allegation that he was second-in-command of a group of fighters in Tora Bora, however, insisting that he had never been to Tora Bora, and also refuted an allegation that he met Osama bin Laden, saying, “All I did was see a photograph of him. If I see a photograph of President Bush does that mean I met President Bush?”

On his release in September 2007, I described Abdulhadi al-Sharikh (aka al-Sharekh or al-Sharakh), who was 19 years old at the time, as someone who “had been in Pakistan for a year, on a mission to help the poor, when he too was seized without setting foot in Afghanistan.” At the time, this was all I knew of his story, but when the Pentagon released another batch of documents relating to the prisoners later that month, al-Sharikh’s story emerged in greater detail, and it became apparent that he had actually been recruited to “assist the Taliban in jihad against the Northern Alliance,” and that he “claimed that it was his duty to assist the Taliban in preserving the correct form of Islam.” He apparently “stated firmly that the Taliban were correct and the Northern Alliance and its followers were wrong.”

Although there were unsubstantiated allegations from “a senior al-Qaeda operative,” who claimed that al-Sharikh had trained at the Khaldan camp, his own admissions — that he trained in Kabul and also at al-Farouq — and his apparent admission that he was “a committed member of the Taliban regime,” mark him out as, at best, a zealous foot soldier rather than anything more sinister, although it is not known whether he actually participated in combat, as he was only in Afghanistan for three months. He was captured after fleeing from Kabul to Jalalabad, and then crossing the mountains to Pakistan with an Afghan guide.

Turki al-AsiriThree more releases followed in November 2007, although little was known of the first two, 26-year old Turki al-Asiri (see photo) and 19-year old Nayif al-Nukhaylan, as they did not take part in any tribunals or review boards. Al-Asiri was accused of answering a fatwa urging support for the Taliban, of training at al-Farouq, and of fleeing, via Tora Bora, from Jalalabad to Pakistan, where he was arrested, and al-Nukhaylan, who was also accused of attending al-Farouq, allegedly received additional training at a Moroccan camp in Jalalabad, where he was wounded in a US air strike and spent some time in a coma in an Afghan hospital.

The story of Murtadha Makram, who was 25 years old when he was captured, is rather better documented, as he was a particularly committed long-term hunger striker. A Taliban recruit who spent 16 months in Afghanistan, “was identified as having fought at Tora Bora,” and was seized after crossing into Pakistan, Makram was force-fed at least once a week from October 2005 onwards, and daily from December 17, 2005 to January 27, 2006, when his weight, which had been 142 pounds (10 stone 2 lbs) when he arrived in Guantánamo, fell at one point to just 87 pounds (6 stone 3 lbs). After resuming his hunger strike later in the year, he was then force-fed on a daily basis from November 16, 2006 until the records ended on December 10.

In March 2007, when detailed notes about the ongoing hunger strikes — compiled by imprisoned al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj — were cleared by the Pentagon’s censors, al-Haj explained that Makram “has tried to kill himself many times. He last tried to do this on May 18, 2006. Now he is on a hunger strike to try to kill himself. He has been without food for three months and is being force-fed.” Although no one in the administration admitted it, I wrote in November that it “was plausible that Makram was released … because of fears that his desire to kill himself was close to becoming another PR-damaging reality.”

Inexplicably, two of the foot soldiers are still imprisoned in Guantánamo at the time of writing, even though there is little to distinguish them from their companions. Mohammed al-Shumrani, who was 26 years old when he was captured, declined to attend his CSRT hearing, but prepared the following statement: “I tell you I don’t believe in the American Justice Department and your Supreme Court. So judge me the way you like. I’m looking forward for God to judge between me and you.”

In his absence, it was alleged that he left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan in June 2001, because, like Humoud al-Jadani, he “wanted to fight in Chechnya, but was told he would need military training that could best be obtained in Afghanistan.” It was claimed that he “stated he attended a training camp,” and then spent about five months on the front lines. In what seemed to be an attempt to beef up the allegations, it was also claimed that he “stated that while he was fighting in Afghanistan, he tried to see Osama bin Laden,” and that he “operated a hand-held two-way radio, which he used to request additional supplies” in the Tora Bora area.

The case against Abdullah al-Shabli, who was 24 years old when he was captured, does not seem to be any stronger. It was alleged that he was “recruited to go to al-Farouq camp by a mujahideen fighter who had fought in Afghanistan,” that he was “supplied with a false Yemeni passport, travel funds, tickets and the locations of guest houses in Afghanistan,” and that he trained at al-Farouq, and at another camp in Kabul. The authorities made attempts to link him with Osama bin Laden, but they were not entirely convincing. It was alleged that, in Kabul, he stayed at a house run by Hamza al-Ghamdi, described as “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted people,” who reported directly to bin Laden, and it was also alleged that he stated that he “saw Osama bin Laden passing by in the Tora Bora mountains.”

The spy and the Afghan

One of the strangest stories from this time was that of Adil al-Nusayri, a 27-year old police officer, who was neither a fighter, a teacher or an aid worker. In his tribunal, he said that he had been injured in a car crash in Saudi Arabia, and had gone to Pakistan for treatment, but had then decided to spend ten days in Afghanistan to “see the Taliban religion.” He explained that the Taliban arrested him as a spy, kept him in jail for two and a half months, and then detained him on a bean farm, before taking him with them to Pakistan where he was taken prisoner by local people and handed over to the US authorities.

The final story, that of 22 year old Umar al-Kunduzi, is only tangentially connected to the other Saudi stories, as he was born in Afghanistan, and was returned to the country of his birth in December 2007. Although he had been living in Saudi Arabia since the Soviet invasion, when he was just one year old, he returned to Afghanistan in September 2001, because, as he told his lawyer, Kent Spriggs, he wanted to fight in Chechnya (like the two other prisoners mentioned above), and he added that Chechen representatives had told him to undertake military training in Afghanistan. Although he conceded that he had trained at al-Farouq, he insisted that he had a distaste for both the Taliban and al-Qaeda on religious grounds, and explained that both groups were responsible for killing Muslims, which he thought was wrong. In this he was not alone, as numerous other prisoners — some of whom stated that they had been tricked by those who had recruited them in their home countries — were appalled to discover that they were involved in an un-Islamic civil war against other Muslims.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, al-Kunduzi gave some insight into the situation in Afghanistan for a young man with connections to the country who was inevitably caught up in the resistance to the US-led invasion. He said that he was staying at a house in Jalalabad when the city fell in November 2001, and explained that everyone in the house got into a pick-up truck and drove to the Tora Bora mountains, where they stayed in a cave for a month. No mention was made of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri or any other senior figures in al-Qaeda or the Taliban, who were also in Tora Bora at this time, and who all escaped safely to Pakistan. Instead, al-Kunduzi explained that he left for Pakistan with a group of Arabs, Pakistanis and other Afghans, and was arrested on the border, which surprised him. “I did not expect them to hand me over to the Americans,” he said. “I thought they would treat me like an Afghani.”

Defenders of the Guantánamo experiment like to declare that the United States is still at war, and that all the prisoners described above should be held until the end of hostilities. This is farcical for a number of reasons, but primarily because, if this was indeed the case, then the discussions we would now be having would center not on the cruel novelties of Guantánamo, but on the definition of “war.” Specifically, we would be discussing whether it was legitimate to be holding Prisoners of War, protected by the Geneva Conventions, in a spectral war without end that has lasted longer than the Second World War, rather than as part of a specific conflict, in 2001-02, that resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban and the legitimate election of a new government under Hamid Karzai.

As it is, of course, the prisoners at Guantánamo have never been treated as Prisoners of War, protected from interrogation and from cruel and inhuman treatment, and no attempt has ever been made to ascertain, impartially, whether they should ever have been held in the first place. After 9/11, the US administration abandoned the Geneva Conventions’ battlefield tribunals, held close to the time and place of capture, which were designed to separate soldiers from civilians caught up in the chaos of war, paid bounties for alleged “terror suspects,” stipulated that all Arabs who ended up in US custody were to be sent to Guantánamo, and then came up with allegations based on hearsay, coercion and torture to justify their extra-legal imprisonment.


Al-Kabi (ISN 216): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 33-6; al-Hataybi (ISN 268): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 39-41; al-Harbi (ISN 158): ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 35-7; Balkhair (ISN 186): ARB 2 Factors Set 3, pp. 77-8; al-Oshan (ISN 248): CSRT Factors Set 3, pp. 78-9; al-Fawzan (ISN 218): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 37-9; al-Wafi al-Harbi (ISN 262): ARB 2 Factors Set 5, pp. 27-9; al-Shammari (ISN 181): CSRT Factors Set 2, p. 86; al-Shaibani al-Otaibi (ISN 346): CSRB Set 3, pp. 82-3; al-Subaie (ISN 319): CSRT Factors Set 4, p. 54; al-Sulami (ISN 245): CSRT Set 37, pp. 1-19; ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 97-8; al-Jadani (ISN 230): CSRT Set 47, pp. 117-9; Set 48, pp. 1-2; al-Qurashi (ISN 214): ARB Factors Set 3, pp. 63-4; al-Zahrani (ISN 234): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 72-4; al-Samiri (ISN 274): ARB Set 18, pp. 86-91; ARB Factors Set 2, pp. 75-8; al-Sharif (ISN 322): CSRT Set 24, pp. 32-3; al-Sharikh (ISN 231): ARB 2 Factors Set 4, pp. 62-6; al-Asiri (ISN 185); CSRB Set 3, pp. 203-4; al-Nukhaylan (ISN 258): ARB Factors Set 1, pp. 97-8; Makram (ISN 187): ARB Factors Set 1, pp. 56-7; al-Shumrani (ISN 195): CSRT Set 3, pp. 66-7; CSRB Set 3, pp. 196-7; al-Shabli (ISN 240): ARB Factors Set 2, pp. 25-7; al-Nusayri (ISN 308): CSRT Set 33, pp. 112-124; al-Kunduzi (ISN 222): CSRT Set 33, pp. 75-7.

Additional note

This online chapter was published on July 12, 2008. On February 6, 2009, the story of Abdulhadi al-Sharikh (ISN 231) was added.

Abbreviations used in the Notes (amended April 2012)

“CSRT” and “ARB” refer to the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which were held at Guantánamo from July 2004 to March 2005, and the first round of Administrative Review Boards, annual reviews held from December 2004 onwards. The transcripts of these hearings, released by the Pentagon in March and April 2006, can be found here. In addition to the transcripts of the CSRT and ARB hearings, this page also provides access to the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for over a hundred ARB hearings.

“CSRB” refers to the Combatant Status Review Boards. These documents, which comprise the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for 517 of the 558 CSRT hearings, were released by the Pentagon in 2005 under Freedom of Information legislation, although they are no longer online. For these transcripts, I have chosen a numbering system similar to that used for the CSRT and ARB hearings, so that, for example, “March 2005 Release” becomes “CSRB Set 3.”

“ARB 2” refers to the second round of Administrative Review Boards. The transcripts of these hearings, released by the Pentagon in September 2007 (after I completed The Guantánamo Files) can be found on the same Pentagon page as linked to above, under the heading “Administrative Review Board (ARB) Documents –- Round Two” and the sub-heading “Transcripts and Certain Documents from Administrative Review Boards (ARB) Round Two (held at Guantánamo in 2006).” Also included are the Unclassified Summaries for all the second round ARB hearings, under the sub-heading “Summaries of Detention-Release Factors for Administrative Review Boards (ARB) Round Two (held at Guantánamo),” which are referred to in the Notes as “ARB 2 Factors,” and below these are heavily redacted documents explaining decisions relating to the release or transfer of detainees. Also included are links to detailed and very useful indexes.

The documents released in September 2007 also augmented the information contained in previously released documents. This release has now been incorporated into the Pentagon page linked to above, but in the Notes above there are references to all the Unclassified Summaries from the CSRT process (with names and ISN numbers) — only 517 of which had been previously issued without names or numbers (see “CSRB” above) — which were included in this release of documents, and references to these documents are labeled as “CSRT Factors.” This release also included all the Unclassified Summaries from the first round ARBs, instead of the limited number released in 2006 (see “ARB Factors” above), and references to these documents in the Notes are labeled “ARB Factors Sep 07.” Also included are heavily redacted documents explaining decisions relating to the release or transfer of detainees.

“ISN” refers to “Internment Serial Numbers,” the unique number assigned to each prisoner in Guantánamo. A list of the 558 prisoners (identified by name, nationality and ISN) who went through the CSRT process can be found here. A list of 759 prisoners, including the 201 released or transferred before the CSRT process began (identified by name, nationality, date and place of birth and ISN), can be found here.

Some of the references in the Notes will not correspond to the files on the Pentagon’s current CSRT/ARB page, and if this is the case, then readers are directed to the New York Times‘ excellent project, The Guantánamo Docket, where all the CSRT and ARB documents can be searched for using the prisoners’ names or ISN numbers.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, 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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