Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.
This is Part 26 of the 70-part series. 326 stories have now been told.
My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released.
This, as I explained, was the period in which, after the prisoners won a spectacular victory in the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, when the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights (in other words, the right to ask an impartial judge why they were being held), lawyers were allowed to meet the prisoners for the first time, and the secrecy that was required for Guantánamo to function as an interrogation center beyond the law was finally broken.
However, although the Bush administration allowed habeas petitions to proceed, Congress attempted to strip the prisoners of their habeas rights in the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005, and the administration also responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling with its own inferior version of habeas, the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, a sham process designed to rubber-stamp their designation as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely.
With just 38 prisoners cleared for release after the CSRTs, another review process — the annual Administrative Review Boards — took over, reviewing whether prisoners still had ongoing intelligence value, and whether they still posed a threat to the US. These were essentially the decisions being taken by JTF GTMO and CITF, and they reveal how, in the “War on Terror,” prosecuting criminals (the few genuine terror suspects in Guantánamo) and holding soldiers off the battlefield until the end of hostilities had largely given way to the strange mixture of threat assessments and intelligence assessments that fill the Detainee Assessment Briefs.
With 260 prisoners profiled in the first 20 parts of this project, this latest ten-part series covers the stories of the 111 prisoners released in 2006 (and the three who died at the prison in June 2006) and readers will, I hope, realize that almost all of these prisoners were freed because of political maneuvering rather than anything to do with justice. The largest groups released by nationality in 2006 were Saudis (45 in total — 15 in May 2006, 14 in June and 16 in December) and Afghans (35 in total — 7 in February, 5 in August, 16 in October and 7 in December).
I also hope that readers will reflect on the problems of over-classification that have been thoroughly chronicled in the preceding series analyzing the Detainee Assessment Briefs. My analysis to date has established repeatedly that even patently innocent prisoners seized by mistake were regarded as a “low risk,” rather than as no risk at all, and it is important for readers to bear in mind that the entire process of detaining and processing prisoners and exploiting them for their supposed intelligence was shot through with a drive to conclude that they were all a threat, and to overlook the distressing fact that most of them were seized in a largely random manner, mostly by America’s Afghan and Pakistan allies, at a time when substantial bounty payments were widespread, and were never subjected to anything that resembled an adequate screening process.
For further information, also see Part One (which contained eleven stories about prisoners from a variety of countries, mostly captured in Afghanistan, and including Yasser al-Zahrani, who died in Guantánamo in June 2006), and Part Two (which featured another eleven stories, mostly of prisoners who survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in northern Afghanistan in November 2001). Part Three featured another eleven stories, including some examples of prisoners who “returned to the battlefield” after their release, and the story of a Libyan prisoner whose fie is full of statements made by other Libyans, including Abdelhakim Belhaj, now active as a commander of the Libyan rebels, who were subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in secret CIA prisons. Part Four told eleven more stories, of prisoners seized, for a variety of reasons, crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001, and Part Five featured more of those stories, including four accounts of the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, who persuaded the US they were held by mistake, but had to wait until 2006 to be freed, when they were resettled in Albania, and not in the US, which accepted that it could not return them to China, but refused to allow them to live in America. This latest part tells more stories of Saudis and Afghans, including the particularly unfortunate story of a Saudi-born Uighur, who was tortured by Al-Qaida for allegedly plotting to assassinate Osama bin Laden, liberated from a Taliban prison, and then sent to Guantánamo.
The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Six of Ten)
Wasim Al Omar (ISN 338, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Wasim al-Omar, a teacher who was 38 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three humanitarian aid workers arrested in Pakistan, despite only traveling to Afghanistan for charitable purposes. After watching TV footage of refugees fleeing to the Iranian border after the US-led invasion began, he and school principal Rashid al-Qa’id (ISN 344, see below), and another teacher, Anwar al-Nurr (ISN 226, see Part Four), decided to travel to the border to provide humanitarian aid. After spending a few days in Afghanistan, when they distributed money in refugee camps, they were not allowed back into Iran “due to prejudice; we were Sunni and they were Shiite.” They then stayed for a month in a hotel on the border, “trying and failing multiple times” to re-enter Iran, before deciding that their only hope was to cross into Pakistan.
Al-Omar explained in Guantánamo that when they reached the border, the police told them to “go in an unofficial way, by bribing them,” but they refused because they wanted their actions to be legal. As a result, when they passed through a checkpoint, “They took my passport and that’s when [we were] put in prison for no reason.” Describing his feelings about being sold, he said that he heard that the going rate was between $5,000 and $8,000 a head, and explained, “It’s a hard truth when human beings are sold and bought. That makes us go all the way back, when humans had no value. It’s a shame for all human beings in general, and all the people who believe in human rights.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Omar was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated February 17, 2006, in which he was identified as Hussein al-Wassim, Wasm Awad al-Omar and Wasm Awwad Umar al-Wasm, born in November 1963, and it was noted that, although he was “in good health,” he had a raft of medical issues, although he also had “a history of noncompliance with medications.” These included latent TB (like many of the prisoners), for which he “refused therapy,” dental cavities, for which he “was evaluated and treated by dentist,” a history of hemorrhoids, “intermittent episodes of musculoskeletal pain involving the lower back,” a history of allergic rhinitis, an ingrown toenail, a history of bilateral pterygium, a history of acute sinusitis in May 2003, a history of constipation, and a history of GERD [gastroesophageal reflux disease] and helicobacterpylori, which was treated in January 2005.” It was also noted that he “went on a hunger strike in September 2002.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after graduating, he taught in schools from 1984 onwards, and had been a teacher at an elementary school from 1994 until the time of his capture. He said that, after “learning from the media that refugees from Afghanistan would possibly travel to Iran, [he] decided to travel to Iran to assist them.” He then “heard about a trip to Afghanistan” from Anwar al-Nurr (identified as Anwar al-Nur), who “was already planning to go,” and he “agreed to accompany him,” and, as has been explained, the two also traveled with Rashid al-Qa’id (identified as Rasheed Kaid), “to distribute aid to the poor and refugees in Afghanistan.” As the Task Force explained, “Their intent was to go to Afghanistan for a few days for humanitarian reasons and then return to Saudi Arabia and their homes and work.”
According to the Task Force’s report, al-Omar and his companions waited at the Iran/Afghanistan border for two days, entering Afghanistan on September 30, 2001 and spending two days “distributing alms.” It was also noted that, before entering Afghanistan, he “asked the border guards whether the border would remain open or not,” and “was told that the border was open and would remain open.” That, however, was apparently not true. Although he “hired an individual named Abdul Hafiz or Hamid who spoke ‘Afghani’ and Arabic to help him provide money to the refugees,” when al-Nurr left him and al-Qa’id “at an unknown location within Afghanistan,” and they then “attempted to cross back into Iran on 3 October 2001, they were denied entry.”
He said that a group of smugglers then “offered to assist [him] in getting across the border, but he refused their help, citing that he believed this to be illegal.” He then spent a month waiting to re-enter Iran, and “stayed at a hotel next to the customs building.” At one point, apparently, “the customs officials told him to go cross farther south in Nimruz province, AF, because the border was still open in that area,” but he “refused, saying that he wanted to cross from his current location.”
After this, al-Omar and al-Qa’id “decided that their only way out of Afghanistan was through Pakistan due to their inability to re-enter Iran,” and al-Omar said that they “took a two-day taxi trip across Afghanistan, presented valid Saudi Arabian passports to unidentified Pakistan authorities, and were summarily arrested without explanation.” Unidentified “[r]eporting” indicated that al-Omar “was arrested 15 December 2001 for charges of trespassing on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, then transferred to the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency.” He added that he and al-Qa’id spent two months in a Pakistani prison, after which they were transferred to US custody and held for four months in the US prison at Kandahar airport. He also said that he was held in Bagram, and he was sent to Guantánamo on May 3, 2002, allegedly to “provide information on the Al-Haramayn [Al-Haramain] NGO.”
However, as I explained in my article, “How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files” (originally published on WikiLeaks’ website when the Guantánamo files were first published, as part of my work liaising between WikiLeaks and its media partners):
[T]he “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression given in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As Chris Mackey, a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan, explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences (The Interrogators), every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “Al-Qaida and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
In assessing his story, the Task Force was deeply suspicious, claiming that it contained contradictions, that there was a gap in his timeline, and that it “lack[ed] pertinent details, which preclude[d] accurate evaluation of threat and intelligence value.” There were also doubts about his employment prior to his capture — although that ought to have been verifiable through the Saudi government — and also expressed doubts about his claim that he had “donated money to the Al-Haramain [Foundation] to support two orphans in Bangladesh,” because “he could not identify the orphans,” although that does not prove anything.
Furthermore, and with obvious suspicion, it was also noted that “two of [his] older brothers, Ahmed and Umar, studied in the US in the 1980′s and worked for the Texaco petroleum company in Kuwait,” and “[o]ne of his nephews was attending an unidentified university in the US at the time of [his] capture.”
Assessing him as “a probable member of the Al-Qaida global terrorism network who traveled to Afghanistan for the purpose of jihad,” the Task Force also noted, suspiciously, that Hamdan al-Wadi, the director for Al-Haramain, was “a colleague of his and a teacher in Riyadh.” Al-Haramain, a huge Saudi charity, was regarded as a front for terrorism by the US authorities, although, to my knowledge it has never been ascertained that al-Wadi was involved in any way with the alleged wrongdoing. Several of its offices worldwide were accused of being fronts for terrorist funding and were condemned by the US, but although US officials “privately conceded that only a small percentage of the total was diverted” and that few of those who worked for the organisation knew that money was being funnelled to Al-Qaida, the Saudi government was put under enormous pressure to shut down the entire organization, which it did in February 2004.
Despite these suspicions, al-Omar was assessed as being only of “low intelligence value.” He was also assessed as “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” although it was noticeable that, although al-Nurr and al-Qa’id “were high-priority targets for a Saudi interrogation team in summer 2002,” while al-Omar “was considered low value.” He was also “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been compliant and non-aggressive with the guard force and staff.” In conclusion, although it was recommended that he be retained in DoD control on October 22, 2004, Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood recommended him for transfer out of DoD control, “[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment,” although that particular information was not spelled out.
Khalid Al Morghi (ISN 339, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Khalid al-Morghi, who was 31 years old at the time of his capture, was married with five children, and was a clerk for the Saudi air force and the son of a Saudi general who fought with US forces during the first Gulf War. After taking a month’s leave to help refugees and the poor, in response to TV reports and a fatwa urging support for the people of Afghanistan in peaceful ways, which he read on the internet, he said in Guantánamo that he traveled to Herat, but after the first week, in which he “went to see how to help the people there,” he didn’t dare leave the house, because of the violence between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. He then paid a smuggler $1,000 to help him escape to Pakistan, and, after staying with families in Khost and Spin Boldak, crossed the border and was arrested by Pakistani soldiers, who sold him to the Americans.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Morghi was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated September 17, 2004, in which it was claimed that his real name was Khalid Abdallah Abd al-Rahman Salim al-Mawraqi, born in April 1970, and that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he worked with missile systems for the Royal Saudi Air Defense in Jeddah, and an analyst noted that, although he claimed to be a civilian employee of the Anti-Aircraft Institute, he had actually gone Absent Without Leave (AWOL) from the Royal Saudi Air Defense on September 29, 2001, when, after hearing the fatwa urging support for the Taliban “through financial assistance, prayer or personal travel to Afghanistan,” he “sought the assistance of an unknown Afghan living in Saudi Arabia,” who told him to travel to Herat via Meshad, Iran, and set off for Afghanistan, flying to Meshad and then taking a taxi to the border.
After changing taxis at the border, he traveled to Herat, where, he said, he “stayed at a Taliban guesthouse for Arabs in Herat, AF, for approximately 25 days.” He added that “he did not work or train during his stay in Herat, AF. All he did was attend an unknown Taliban mosque.” He said he “became disillusioned with the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam and sought a way to return to Saudi Arabia.” After speaking to a man named Mohammad Aslaam, he was informed that the Iranian border was sealed, but that he could leave via Pakistan. Claiming, as he later did in his tribunal, that Aslaam introduced him to Fadl al-Rahman, and that he paid al-Rahman $1,000 for his help, he said that he took him to Khost, took his passport, and left him with a relative, Shafiz Khan, for 17 days, while he arranged appropriate stamps for his passport to facilitate his travel.
Upon al-Rahman’s return, they traveled to Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, where al-Morghi was left with an unknown friend of al-Rahman for three days. He then traveled by motorcycle with al-Rahman and an unknown friend to Chaman, in Pakistan, where he caught a bus to Quetta. There, however, he was removed from the bus at a checkpoint, searched by the Pakistani authorities and taken into custody. He was later turned over to US forces, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on: A Taliban safehouse in Herat, AF [and] Websites used to recruit personnel for the Taliban and various unidentified Islamic fundamentalist groups.”
In assessing his story, there were a number of alarming claims made — firstly, that “Saudi military security officials commented that one or more officers in a directorate of the Royal Saudi Air Force Headquarters [we]re principal suspects in the surveillance of US persons,” to which an analyst explained that it was assessed that al-Morghi was “one of the individuals mentioned,” and, secondly, that, in a Pakistani jail, al-Morghi had adopted the cover story of Majid al-Frih (ISN 336, see Part Five of this series), “in fear that he would be sent back to Afghanistan and be killed if he told his true story.” I’m not sure that either of these claims sound plausible.
It was also, more worryingly perhaps, noted that the was put on “Saudi Arabia’s Watch List by Ministerial Decree as of 28 December 2001 for his trip to Afghanistan,” and that the Saudi authorities believed that he visited Afghanistan “while still on active duty,” and felt that he was “somehow connected to Al-Qaida.”
Nevertheless, these are vague claims when scrutinized, and in the end the Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he was assessed as “a member of Al-Qaida or its global terrorist network,” even though he did “not appear to have participated [in] or directly supported terrorist acts, or to have been a key member of a terrorist network,” and even though he had been “cooperative during interrogations,” because “his veracity may be questioned.”
It was also noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been generally compliant and non- aggressive,” and that he had “tried to be helpful to the guards and provide his fellow cell block members aid with their prayers.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended his transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia, although this did not happen for another 20 months.
Bessam Al Dubaikey (ISN 340, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 12 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Bessam al-Dubaikey, who was 23 years old at the time of his capture, was one of five prisoners — known as “the Quetta Five” — who were seized from the Saudi Red Crescent hospital in the city; two who were moved there at the request of the Saudi authorities, and three who were severely wounded. Al-Dubaikey was one of the two apparently moved to the hospital, the other being Abdullah al-Utaybi (ISN 243, released in December 2007), another Saudi, who was 29 years old at the time of his capture.
The two were captured at a checkpoint, and al-Dubaikey, who traveled to Pakistan in November 2001 to look for rare books and old coins, refuted various allegations about attending Al-Qaida guest houses in Afghanistan, insisting that he had not set foot outside of Pakistan, and explaining to his tribunal why he was critical of religious fanatics. “I faced a lot of animosity in my own country,” he said. “If I flirt with a girl or listen to [certain] songs I face a lot of animosity from these people that grow long beards. They have a lot of authority in my country.”
Captured with al-Utaybi, who was accused of being the director of the Herat office of Al-Wafa, the Saudi charity regarded by the US authorities as a front for terrorism (although that was never proved), and of “possibly” having trained at the Khaldan training camp, al-Dubaikey expressed surprise. He said that he only met al-Utaybi a few days before, and the two men decided to stick together because they were both carrying money, and explained that he traveled to Quetta with al-Utaybi so that he could donate his money to the Saudi Red Crescent, which he thought was rather odd if he was working for a charity himself.
Asked about the circumstances of his arrest, al-Dubaikey stated, “They said that you are Arabs. Even when I talked to one of them in English, they said there is nothing against you, but he asked for $5,000. He said that the United States will buy you for $10,000; $5,000 per person.” After his arrest, he and al-Utaybi were held by the ISI (the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate) for five days, and were then taken to the hospital while the Saudi authorities tried to secure their release. A week later, they were taken to a Pakistani prison instead. Al-Dubaikey explained, “The Saudi Arabian embassy representative apologized. He said we couldn’t do anything. The United States wants you. The United States is bigger than Saudi Arabia so you will be going with the Americans. They assured us that we would be free in a very short time.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Dubaikey was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated May 12, 2006, in which he was identified as Bassam al-Doubaykhi, born in 1978, and it was noted that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after dropping out of university after one semester in 1999, he was “a self-employed produce trader” for two years, and then started an antiques business, which, as he claimed in his tribunal, provided the reason for his travel to Pakistan In November or December 2001 — “to purchase rare books and coins to sell for a profit in the UAE.”
According to his account, he arrived in Islamabad, where he met Abdullah al-Utaybi at a mosque, and they traveled together to Karachi. Al-Utaybi apparently told al-Bubaikey that “he was carrying $28,000 USD worth of various currencies and was concerned about the possibility that he might get robbed,” and “offered to pay [him] to travel with him and protect him while he distributed money to charities.” The two “then continued on to Quetta, PK to find a good charitable organization.”
Continuing with essentially the same story he later told in his tribunal, the Task Force noted that he explained that, on December 17, 2001, “Pakistani forces stopped the taxi that [he and al-Utaybi] occupied at a checkpoint in Quetta,” and “discovered the money they were carrying and arrested them.” He said that “the soldiers took his money (approximately $9,000 USD), passport, video camera and laptop computer,” and that, after about two weeks in jail, he was turned over to US forces who took him to Bagram.
He was sent to Guantánamo on June 8, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Non-government organizations (NGOs), specifically the Red Crescent, operating within Pakistan [and] The treatment of prisoners while in Pakistan custody awaiting transfer to US custody.” This latter point is worth noting, as, of course, it does not even have any bearing on any possible perceived threat to the US or its interests.
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was “affiliated with Al-Qaida,” for a variety of reasons, although none were necessarily convincing. A major claim, on the authorities’ part, was that, “According to a senior Al-Qaida member, [he] promised to help finance Al-Qaida operations in the Middle East.” However, the alleged “senior Al-Qaida member” was actually the torture victim and CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah, who was not a member of Al-Qaida, but the gatekeeper for another training camp, Khaldan, which was not affiliated with Al-Qaida.
Zubaydah apparently said that, while al-Dubaikey “was not a member of Al-Qaida,” he met him at a Kuwaiti guesthouse in Kabul in 2000 or 2001, when he promised “to provide money for operations against Israel.” It was also noted that there was “NFI” (no further information) about this alleged plan, but in fact it was so vague and unsubstantiated that there was no reason to believe it in the first place. Nevertheless, it was probably the source of a claim, used in assessing al-Dubaikey’s threat level, that, “While he admitted to traveling to Pakistan with [al-Utaybi] in late 2001, reporting has placed detainee in Afghanistan as early as 2000.”
Other suspicions were based on doubts about the source of his money (even though it was noted at one point that he was from a wealthy family), and about his relationship with al-Utaybi, who apparently “claimed he traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan with detainee to perform relief work for the Afghan people” — although that, of course, was regarded as a cover story, because Al-Wafa’s genuine and verifiable charity work was discredited in Guantánamo.
It was also claimed that he “applied for entry to an undetermined paramilitary training course,” and there were a few other claims that looked possibly significant although there was no way of verifying if they were accurate. A case in point is a claim that al-Dubaikey himself said that, in early to mid-2001, supporters of Osama Bin Laden “asked him to help smuggle weapons out of a military base in Saudi Arabia,” and targeted him “because his family’s affluence gave him access to the necessary transportation required for the operation.” He also apparently said that he “received two days of training on techniques and procedures for transporting various surface-to-air missiles,” and that he “was to transport the missiles to one of two locations in Yemen,” but an analyst noted that he “never identified either of the locations,” and the whole story has the ring of a story al-Dubaikey invented under pressure.
The Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a high threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for continued detention, updating a similar recommendation on September 6, 2005, although it was also noted, “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).”
Said Ali Al Farha (ISN 341, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One),” I explained how Said al-Farha (also identified as Said al-Farha al-Ghamidi), was 22 years old at the time of his capture, and appeared to have been seized randomly. The US authorities acknowledged that he had traveled to Pakistan in November 2001 and had taught at a mosque in Quetta that was run by Jamaat-al-Tablighi, the vast worldwide missionary organization, which was generally slandered by the authorities in Guantánamo as a front for terrorist activities.
However, despite this non-military explanation for his presence in Pakistan, he was also accused of having “recruited at least two individuals for Al-Qaida,” and of having “facilitated travel for individuals traveling to Afghanistan for Al-Qaida.” In his last review, in April 2006, the unsubstantiated nature of these allegations — which plague the so-called evidence against numerous prisoners — was spelled out in full. An unidentified “source” identified al-Farha as “a recruiter for Al-Qaida,” and another “source” — allegedly “an Al-Qaida recruit” — said that he had “assisted him with travel to Afghanistan.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Farha was a “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD),” dated February 10, 2006, in which it was noted that he was born in November 1979, and that he had a complicated medical history, with latent TB, in common with many of the prisoners, for which he “refused therapy,” a “history of frostbite involving feet including toes L>R noted during a 2002 in-processing exam,” a “history of malaria (per detainee report) s/p treatment with Primaquine in November 2002,” and a “history of viral gastroenteritis in November 2002.” It was also noted that he had chronic ear pain, which was resolved in June 2004, a “history of constipation,” and a “history of intermittent musculoskeletal pain involving multiple areas: low back, ankle and feet.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after attending “an unidentified college from 2000 to 2001, he saw an advertisement in a mosque “regarding the need for teachers” in Pakistan, and decided to apply. He subsequently left Saudi Arabia for Lahore in early November 2001, and then flew to Quetta. There, he proceeded to a designated mosque, where his contact, a Pakistani who was the head of the mosque, told him that it would be two weeks before another mosque “would be prepared for [his] arrival.”
While waiting, al-Farha said, he stayed at this first mosque and “spent his days teaching, reading the Koran, and praying.” When his mosque was ready, a man named Mullah Mohammed Rasul took him there, and told him to contact Maulawi Mohammed Othman, the administrator for Jamaat al-Tablighi, who “was in charge of the mosque.” He said he then taught religion to Pakistani students at the mosque for approximately one and a half weeks, and was then driven to the airport so that he could return home.
The Task Force noted that there was “no official reporting” on his capture, but according to al-Farha’s own account, “Pakistani police stopped him at a checkpoint on his way to the airport.” He then apparently realized that he had “left his passport, money, and airline tickets” at the mosque, and “sent the driver to get Mohammed Rasul,” who “showed up to try to clear the situation, but was unable to stop the Pakistani police from taking [him] into custody.”
Al-Farha “claimed he was moved to three different Pakistani prisons,” and also “claimed he was taken before a judge,who sentenced, imprisoned, fined, and extradited him for failing to have proper documentation.” He also “stated he knew five other JTF GTMO detainees” who “had identical experiences,” although this strange sounding story was not investigated further, as “NFI” (no further information} was noted regarding these other prisoners.
The Pakistani authorities apparently transferred him to US custody on January 21, 2002, and he was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Personalities involved with mosques in Pakistan [and] Makeup and locations of persons involved with the JT [Jamaat al-Tablighi].”
In assessing his story, the Task Force refused to accept that he was a teacher. It was claimed that the Saudi government had “banned him from foreign travel for seven years (1998-2005),” and that therefore he had traveled on a false passport, and, as later noted in his tribunal and review board, he was also “assessed to have recruited at least two individuals into Al-Qaida and facilitated the travels of one to Afghanistan.” The problem with this claim is that, although the Task Force claimed that ”Yusif Hamid Muhammad al-Khursh al-Ghamdi and Hamad Yusif al-Alqama al-Amri reported that an individual with detainee’s name, tribal affiliation, date and place of birth, and general descriptions recruited them into Al-Qaida,” and that “Alqama also stated detainee assisted him with travel to Afghanistan,” it is impossible to gauge whether these allegations are at all accurate, as neither man appears to have been held at Guantánamo, and it is unknown where they were therefore held, and how they were treated when they made these claims.
The Task Force was unable to confirm its doubts about al-Farha, noting that he had “not been forthcoming with interrogators and ha[d] not provided the full details of his associates, activities, and locations,” and that he “refused to answer questions and declared his innocence shortly after his detention,” but he was not only “assessed to be an Al-Qaida recruiter and facilitator,” but also regarded as a religious leader in Guantánamo. He “denied he was a religious scholar,” and “also denied he had the authority to issue fatwas,” claiming that “he only led prayers in the camp and answered questions pertaining to the Koran.”
Two prisoners claimed he had issued fatwas against them, but neither is necessarily reliable. Abdul Hakim Bukhary (ISN 493, released in September 2007) stated that he issued fatwas, but he was known as a dubious informant, who was frequently in conflict with other prisoners, and although Jowad Jabar (ISN 433, released in June 2009, and also identified as Jawad Sadkhan) stated that al-Farha “issued a fatwa against him,” which gave “permission for any detainee to kill him,” he was an Iraqi Shiite, and there was conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites in Guantánamo, who regularly made false allegations against each other.
Despite these doubts, the Task Force also noted that, in reports, he “appear[ed] frequently as a prayer leader/teacher and ha[d] been noted on several occasions preaching faithfulness and consistency to the teachings of the Koran, and confidence that God will give victory to his faithful.” It was also claimed that there were several examples of him leading others, as, for example, in January 2005, when he “showed his influence when he incited a disturbance and claimed to be the block leader.” It was also noted that he “made a supporting effort towards the August/September  Total Voluntary Fast accepting only one meal a day for four weeks” at the height of the prison-wide hunger strike that year.
The Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and that he posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that he was “assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour ha[d] been often compliant with the guard force and staff, however his jihadist preaching and negative influence, as well as his martial arts training [in his cell] result in his Moderate assessment.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation to retain him in DoD control (on October 22, 2004), recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo. He was, however, freed ten months later.
Abdullah Al Rushaydan (ISN 343, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Rushaydan, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he took a vacation from his job as a cleaner for the International Islamic Relief Organization to visit Damascus, Tehran and an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and was regarded as a threat because the IIRO — a global charity, backed by the Saudi government and established in 1978 to help refugees and victims of famine and other disasters — was regarded as an organization that channelled funds to Osama bin Laden. He said he was arrested in Pakistan without having set foot in Afghanistan.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Rushaydan was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated September 10, 2004, in which he was identified as Abdallah Ibrahim al-Rushaydan and Abdallah al-Rashidan (and it was noted that he was initially identified as Abdullah Ibrahim Arachidan). It was also noted that he was born in January 1967, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Task Force noted that, from 1993 to 1995, he worked for the international Islamic Relief Organization, “and was responsible for setting up donation boxes in Khobar, SA, and collecting money from them.” Despite the fact that this was before Osama bin Laden declared a jihad against the US, and despite the fact that the IIRO was a large and legitimate relief organization, an analyst noted that it was “a Tier 1 Non-Government Organization (NGO) that has demonstrated sustained and active support for terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests.” This was, essentially, not only an entirely disproportionate response to the charity as a whole, but also revealed how associations with charities were perceived, in Guantánamo, as proof of associations with terrorism.
The Task Force also noted that, in 1994, he said that he “started buying cars at auctions to resell them for profit, so he could raise extra income,” and, moving on to the circumstances that led to his capture, stated that, in October 2001, he “decided he wanted to visit and see the conditions of refugee camps in Pakistan,” and so flew first to Syria, and then traveled on to Iran. While in Tehran, he said that he “heard of refugee camps near Zahedan, IR, and decided to travel there.” However, he spent ten days looking in vain for refugees, until he met a man named Habib Allah, who agreed to take him to a refugee camp in Chaman, PK.
Al-Rushaydan said that “he only spent half an hour at the camp, due to being ill,” and that, after he left Chaman the next day, intending to return to Iran, he “was stopped at a checkpoint en route to Quetta, PK, and was arrested by Pakistani police,” who “did not give him a reason for his arrest.” He was then held for a month in a Pakistani prison before being turned over to US forces. He was sent to Guantánamo on June 17, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he was “assessed to be able to provide information on the following: Refugees and camps along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border [and] Treatment of prisoners while in custody of Pakistani authorities, prior to transfer to US custody,” and this latter point, as with Bessam al-Dubaikey, above, is worth noting, as it does not have any bearing on any possible perceived threat to the US or its interests.
In assessing his story, the Task Force struggled to find any reason to hold him, as there were no allegations whatsoever that he had been involved in militant activity or terrorism. Instead, there was a feeble, unsubstantiated claim, from an unknown source, that he had been “linked” to a safe house in Kabul owned by the head of the NGO Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, “consisting of nuclear scientists and military officers from Pakistan,” whose “real objective,” as described by the US authorities, “was to build a nuclear program for Al-Qaida and the Taliban.” As al-Rushaydan said he had never been to Afghanistan, and no other information was provided to establish that he had, this feels like the most dismal sort of scaremongering, and the most feeble attempt to implicate a prisoner in something with which they obviously had no connection.
The Task Force also resorted to sweeping, paranoid descriptions of the IIRO that had absolutely nothing to do with al-Rushaydan, who had merely raised funds for the organization from 1993 to 1995, claiming that, since 1996 (in other words, after al-Rushaydan’s involvement), “the IIRO has been linked with providing financial assistance, funds transfers and legitimate cover for moving money in support of Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden (UBL), under the cover of humanitarian relief.” It was also noted that the IIRO office in the Philippines that financed the Abu Sayyaf Group [another alleged terrorist organization] was headed by Ahmad Jamal Khalifa, the brother-in-law of UBL,” even though there was no suggestion that al-Rushaydan had anything to do with this, and in a further act of desperation on the part of the authorities, it was noted that al-Rushaydan’s involvement in buying and selling cars was suspicious, because, as an analyst described it, “Terrorist organizations will buy vehicles at automobile auctions, ship them to other countries, and use the profits to finance terrorist operations.”
With absolutely no case against al-Rushaydan, it was disproportionate that he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and also that he was assessed as “connected to Al-Qaida.” It was also noticeable that he was “assessed as a low level threat to detention personnel,” with “no recorded disciplinary history,” who “does not engage in hostile acts directed at detention personnel.”
In addition, it was significant that the Criminal investigative Task Force disagreed with the Task Force’s conclusions, having assessed al-Rushaydan “as a low risk on 18 June 2004,” although, “In the interests of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF [deferred] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a medium risk.” Despite all this, al-Rushaydan was not freed for another 19 months.
Rashid Al Qa’id (ISN 344, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Rashid al-Qa’id (also identified as Rashid Qayed), a school principal who was 42 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three humanitarian aid workers arrested in Pakistan, despite only traveling to Afghanistan for charitable purposes. As he explained in Guantánamo, after watching TV footage of refugees fleeing to the Iranian border after the US-led invasion began, he and Wasim al-Omar (see above), and another teacher, Anwar al-Nurr (ISN 226, see Part Four), decided to travel to the border to provide humanitarian aid. After spending a few days in Afghanistan, when they distributed money in refugee camps, they were not allowed back into Iran, and were then arrested when they tried to cross into Pakistan instead.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Qa’id was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated May 13, 2005, in which he was identified as Rashid al-Qaid, born in 1959, and it was noted that he was “in fair health,” but had “diabetes (non-insulin dependent) controlled by oral medication,” and also had “a history of hypothyroidism,” for which he was on medication. It was also noted that, in order to travel, he would need “sufficient quantities of diabetic and thyroid medications.”
In telling his story, which was largely similar to that of Wasim al-Omar, above, it was noted that, as he stated, he “was a school principal/manager and taught geography for two years” at a school in Saudi Arabia, and that, after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, when he “heard from a variety of media sources [that] there were massive refugee problems on the Iranian border,” he and a friend, Ibrahim al-Masrood, set off for Meshad, Iran on September 30, 2001. On arrival, he said, “they were told that the refugee problems were in Afghanistan,” and were “granted permission to enter Afghanistan and later traveled on to Herat.” He said that he didn’t know how long he was in Herat, but that he exchanged his money and “gave approximately 9000 SR (approximately $2400 USD) to the poor.”
Describing his capture, he said that he “was forced to travel south through Pakistan because the Afghan-Iranian border closed soon after he crossed into Afghanistan,” and that “Pakistani border guards arrested [him] for not having a Pakistan visa on 15 December 2001.” It was also noted, “No further capture information is available,” indicating that the US authorities had no other source of information. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: financial support to refugees and refugee camps along the Iran/Afghan border.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force regarded it as suspicious that he had initially failed to mention that he also traveled with al-Omar and al-Nurr, although he then conceded that they were “good friends of his and that he knew them for three and four years.” However, it may be that he knew they were also in US custody, and was trying to keep his own story separate to avoid problems for anyone, himself included. The Task Force also noted that he “ha[d] been on the Saudi Arabia watch and arrest list since 29 October 2001,” although an analyst explained that he was only on this list “due to his travel to Afghanistan” — which may not have actually have been suspicious — and because of “Saudi Arabia’s suspicion of his involvement in terrorist activities.”
This latter claim was more troubling, of course, as was a claim that, in September 1994, he “was arrested and detained for one month and remained under government surveillance for one year in Saudi Arabia,” although no further information was provided to ascertain whether there were any grounds for regarding the 1994 events as suspicious in the context of alleged terrorist activities.
In conclusion, the Task Force concluded that al-Qa’id was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” because he was “assessed as a probable member of Al Qaida.” It was also noted that his “behavior ha[d] been generally compliant,” with just a few examples of “non-aggressive behaviour.” As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be transferred for further detention in Saudi Arabia, dated April 26, 2003, updated that recommendation, although, of course, it took three years and two months from the time of the original recommendation until he was eventually released.
Said Al Shaibani (ISN 346, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (4) – Escape to Pakistan (The Saudis),” Saud al-Shaibani al-Otaibi (also identified as Said Shayban), who was 20 years old when he was seized, appears to have been a rather feeble foot soldier for the Taliban. 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.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Shaibani was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated October 1, 2004, in which he was identified as Sa’ud Baz’an Ashak al-Shaybani and Said Bezan Ashek Shayban, born in October 1981, and it was noted that that he was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he said that he “traveled to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia after hearing a radio advertisement to join the jihad,” arriving in Pakistan in December 2000, and staying first in a mosque in Chaman, for approximately 60 days, and then in the Taliban’s guesthouse, also located in Chaman, for another 60 days.” Around April 2001, therefore, he “was taken from the guesthouse by an unknown Afghan to join a 12-man rifle brigade in [the] Wadi Banshir area north of Kabul,” which was apparently on the front lines.
According to his account, however, he “did not want to fight anymore and was attempting to flee to Pakistan,” when he “was captured in December 2001 after being stopped by Pakistani border guards.” He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that he “may be able to provide general information on activities at the Quba mosque in Chaman, PK, and Taliban activity in the Kabul, AF, area.”
In assessing his story, the Joint Task Force claimed that it was “fabricated.” It was assessed that his two 60-day stays in Chaman were actually periods in which he undertook military training, and it was also claimed that he “attended an Al-Qaida supported training camp,” on the basis of one statement made by another prisoner. This was troubling, because the other prisoner, Muhammad al-Qahtani (ISN 63, still held), more generally identified as Mohammed al-Qahtani, was regarded as an intended hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and was specifically subjected to a torture program in Guantánamo, making his statements thoroughly unreliable. The Task Force noted that, “After being shown a photo of the detainee, [al-Qahtani] identified him as a man named ‘Omar’ whom he met at the Al-Farouq training camp.” Despite the obvious doubts about this identification, the Task Force later declared, with unwarranted confidence, “Detainee’s observed attendance at Al-Farouq training camp proves he has provided debriefers with false information from the moment of capture.”
It was also noted that al-Shaibani had been “extremely uncooperative during interviews,” and had “not been fully exploited,” and the Task Force concluded that he was “of medium intelligence value,” and posed “a medium risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” It was also noted that his “overall behaviour has[d] been generally compliant,” albeit “with some passive-aggressive behaviour.” As a result, and bearing in mind the Task Force’s alarmist claim that it was “imperative [that he] be retained in the custody of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” and that his “continued detention will allow for further exploitation of his past affiliation with various terrorist groups and prevent him from engaging in further terrorist activity,” Brig. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention in Saudi Arabia, although he was not actually released for another 19 months.
Abib Sarajuddin (ISN 458, Afghanistan) Released October 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, along with Mohammed Gul (ISN 457, released in April 2005), three members of a family of farmers — 59-year old Abib Sarajuddin, his 39-year old son Khan Zaman (ISN 460, see below), and another son, 30-year old Gul Zaman (ISN 459, also released in April 2005) — were captured by US soldiers in a village near Khost in January 2002, allegedly because someone had fired on them, although the men said that the soldiers, who arrived at night by helicopter, broke into their houses and arrested them for no reason.
It was not the first time they had heard from the Americans. Two months previously, twelve of Sarajuddin’s family members — and 16 other villagers — died when US forces bombed his family compound, believing, incorrectly, that he was harboring the pro-Taliban warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani. In his tribunal, he insisted that he had never met Haqqani, and Gul Zaman and his brother suggested that a rival provided false information to the Americans. On the night of their arrest, it seems they were betrayed again. Sarajuddin was accused of working as a recruiter for Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord who had been initially trusted by the Americans, but who had his own agenda, and seems to have been responsible for sending many of his rivals to Guantánamo. Gul Zaman and his brother explained that what had actually happened was that, when Zadran was working for the Americans, he approached the local commanders for support, and they in turn asked Sarajuddin to recruit other villagers to fight against the Taliban, indicating that there had been a serious failure of intelligence on the part of US forces.
In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, Sarajuddin was described as appearing to be “a pitiful figure,” who was “about 65 years old in a country where the life expectancy for a man is 43.6 years.” Tom Lasseter continued, “Despite dying his hair and beard brown, he looked old and tired. He said that he had mental problems, and that his body ached.”
Lasseter also took note of Sarajuddin’s story in Guantánamo, noting that he told his military review board that “he’d been trying to help recruit local men to fight against the Taliban in the months before an American airstrike demolished his home and killed 12 of his relatives. Among the jumble of bodies, he said, were his wife and five of his granddaughters.” He also reiterated that he was not seized until later, in January 2002.
Airing the allegations about harboring the veteran warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, Lasseter noted that Sarajuddin responded to US allegations by stating, “I do not know him. I am a poor man.” He also noted how he “later told told a reporter that his detention was the result of tribal rivalries, of informants from another tribe who were trying to get him killed or arrested by telling the Americans that he was close to Haqqani.”
However, as Lasseter was able to establish (which the US authorities did not even attempt to do), Afghan officials “said that Sarajuddin was what the Americans said he was, an ally of Haqqani.” Ismail Khosti, the local head of the Afghan Commission for Peace and Reconciliation in Khost, “said that Sarajuddin’s links with Haqqani were widely known in the area, a fact that Mohammed Mustafa, a former Interior Ministry security chief for Khost, backed up.”
Lasseter also noted that, soon after Sarajuddin’s capture, family members told a New York Times reporter that Haqqani was staying at Sarajuddin’s house the night the Americans bombed it. The New York Times article stated, “The origin of Mr. Serajuddin’s problems appears to go back to Nov. 16 . It was then, relatives say, that he and his family gave shelter to Jalaluddin Haqqani, the commander of Taliban forces in the southern provinces of Afghanistan who was fleeing from Kabul. Mr. Serajuddin’s family and neighbors insist he did not know the commander, who was high on the list of America’s most wanted men in Afghanistan, and his act was merely hospitality.”
Despite his apparent involvement with Haqqani (who, it should be noted, was supported by the US in the 1980s, as an anti-Soviet Afghan leader), the McClatchy reporter who met him in September 2007 said that ”Sarajuddin’s voice frequently rose with rage when he spoke about the experience, then dropped to a murmur as he sank back in his chair.” The reporter cited, as an example, his discussion of Guantánamo:
“When we got off the plane, we had hoods on. The soldiers took us like someone would load a box; they threw us on the truck. The soldiers were screaming in a language we did not understand. We were very, very angry that they had brought us there.” Finally, he slammed a fist on the table and said: “The Americans should grab the neck of the bastard who gave them the information that made them bomb my house and then send him to Guantánamo.” Shortly after that, he put his head on the edge of the table, and said he couldn’t talk anymore. He walked outside and lay down on a cot in the shade of a tree.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Sarajuddin was an “Update Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country With Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement,” dated August 15, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1942, and was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, apart from a ten-year period, from the 1980s to the 1990s, when he went to Miram Shah, Pakistan, with his family, he lived in Zanikhel, “a village of 5 or 6 houses,” for “his entire life.” He explained that there were “approximately 6,000 members in his tribe that came from six families/fathers, all of whom live in the village of Zanikhel.”
He also said that, approximately a month before his capture, he “worked for a man named Haji Nazim,” who “recruited personnel for the ‘militia’ of Pacha Khan, the Governor of the Paktia Province, to fight against the Taliban.” He said that he helped because his tribe “did not like the Taliban and wanted them out of power.”
The story of his capture — and the reasons for it — were also revisited, with the Task Force noting that it “was reported that Haqqani and other Taliban members attended a Shura (meeting) in the village of Zanikhel when US/Coalition forces bombed the detainee’s compound on 16 November 2001,” in an attack in which the compound “was destroyed and Haqqani was seriously injured.” It was also noted that he was seized on January 20, 2002, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on Pacha Khan Zadran, governor of Paktia province, who holds the provincial seat in Khost, and his brother Amanullah Khan Zadran, Minister of Borders for Afghanistan.”
What is particularly interesting about the above is Sarajuddin’s claim that he provided assistance, via Haji Nazim, against the Taliban. It is not known if there was any truth to his claim, but it certainly conflicted with the claim that he was “closely tied” to Haqqani, who was a Taliban supporter.
In assessing Sarajuddin’s story, the Task Force noted that, although he “stated that he ha[d] no knowledge of Taliban in the area where he lives,” and “even though Haqqani [was] widely recognised and comes from the same village,” he “ha[d] not been completely honest and forthright with the interrogators,” who assessed that he knew “a great deal of information concerning Haqqani and his son, Sarajuddin, who remain highly involved in ACM [anti-coalition militia] activities in the Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces.” The Task Force also noted the New York Times article, stating, “It is imperative to note that the detainee’s relatives reported that [he] was harboring Haqqani when the compound was bombed.”
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” and of posing “a medium risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” because his “overall behaviour pattern ha[d] been compliant and non-hostile.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a previous recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (dated June 18, 2004), updated the recommendation (with conditions), although he was not released for another 14 months.
Khan Zaman (ISN 460, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, along with Mohammed Gul (ISN 457, released in April 2005), three members of a family of farmers — 59-year old Abib Sarajuddin (ISN 458, see above), his 39-year old son Khan Zaman, and another son, 30-year old Gul Zaman (ISN 459, also released in April 2005) — were captured by US soldiers in a village near Khost in January 2002, allegedly because someone had fired on them, although Zaman said in Guantánamo (as did the others) that the soldiers, who arrived at night by helicopter, broke into their houses and arrested them for no reason.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Zaman was an “Update Recommendation for Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR),” dated August 30, 2005, in which he was identified as Zaman Khan, born in 1962, and it was noted that he had been diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, in common with many of the prisoners, and “a functional heart murmur,” but otherwise was “in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force copied and pasted what had been written in Sarajuddin’s file — that, apart from a ten-year period, from the 1980s to the 1990s, when he went to Miram Shah, Pakistan, with his family, he lived in Zanikhel, “a village of 5 or 6 houses,” for “his entire life.” He explained that there were “approximately 6,000 members in his tribe that came from six families/fathers, all of whom live in the village of Zanikhel.”
The circumstances of his capture were, of course, the same as Sarajuddin, but it was also noted that he had “no formal education,” that he “claimed no recruitment into, or participation in extremist activity,” and that he he had “no idea why he continue[d] to be detained by the US.” He “stated that he ha[d] no information concerning Taliban, Al-Qaida, ACM [anti-coalition militias], Tablighi Jamat [the vast missionary organization Jamaat al-Tablighi, regarded as a front for terrorism], or opium related activities.” It was also claimed that he was a brother of Sarajuddin, and not one of his sons, and it was noted that he was sent to Guantánamo on June 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to “provide information on the following: Air strikes in his village during Ramadan of 2001.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force was obviously happy that he had not been evasive, and had acknowledged knowing both Pacha Khan Zadran and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Of particular interest was a perceptive note from an analyst, who stated, “The fluid nature of Afghani government factions necessitated that these two tribal leaders resort to an ever-changing list of alliances and adversaries even amongst themselves,” and it may also explain why Haqqani was a house guest in November 2001, but not necessarily someone the family supported. Indeed from the account here, it certainly seemed that the family’s allegiance was to Pacha Khan, described as a “good man.” Zaman also apparently “stated that his tribe was behind Zadran and he had visited [his] house on one occasion.”
Crucially, the Task Force assessed him “as having nominal associations with anti-coalition militants (ACM),” which only “revolve[d] around two individuals who belong to his Khost, Afghanistan (AF) regional tribe, who are associated with criminal and political activities countering Coalition objectives.” It was also noted that his “social and political values are based on cultural tribal lines; thus, [his] loyalties will follow accordingly,” and, in addition, that, because he “is not committed to fundamental radical Islamic beliefs, no substantiated evidence of violent tendencies exists. [He] has very loose connections to ACM personnel and lacks external animosity to US and Coalition interests.”
In conclusion, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value,” and of posing “a low risk, as he is unlikely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” He was also “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behavior has been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.” As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood, updating a recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan (on June 18, 2004), updated the recommendation to approve his release or transfer, although it still took another six months for him to be freed.
Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani (ISN 491, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006
In Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, a Uighur who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was part of a particularly unfortunate group of prisoners — five men who had been held by the Taliban as spies in a prison for political crimes in Kandahar. The others were: Jamal al-Harith, a 35-year old Briton (ISN 490, released in March 2004), Abdul Rahim al-Ginco, a 23-year old Syrian Kurd (ISN 489, released in 2009), Airat Vakhitov, a 24-year old Tatar (ISN 492, released in March 2004), and another Saudi, 46-year old Abdul Hakim Bukhari (ISN 493, released in September 2007). When the Taliban vacated Kandahar, 2,500 prisoners — including 1,800 in the political prison — were released, but the five foreigners were made to stay behind. “We want to release these men,” the prison’s new warden said, “but for their security we are requiring them to stay here as guests. If they walk into the bazaar, the people will think they are from Al-Qaida and will kill them.”
The five men had found themselves on the wrong side of the Taliban in different ways. Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, whose family fled to Saudi Arabia to escape the repression of the Uighurs by the Chinese authorities, claimed that he had been stripped of his right to stay in Saudi Arabia in 1997 after being arrested for possession of marijuana, and had been given fake Afghan ID and deported to Afghanistan by the Saudi authorities, who flew him from Jeddah to Kabul, where Afghan officials detained him for six days before releasing him. He then made his way to Khost, where he made friends with an Iraqi, but they were soon arrested by four Arabs affiliated with Al-Qaida, who accused him of being a Saudi spy and tortured him. After 20 days of severe beatings and sleep deprivation, he made up a story about how the Saudis had sent him to kill Osama bin Laden, and was then handed over to the Taliban, who kept him in prison in Kandahar for four years.
As I also explained in my book, it was deeply shocking that, despite these men’s extremely negative experiences of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, the US authorities decided to send them all to Guantánamo. Ironically, despite the Northern Alliance’s decision to keep them in prison for their own safety, several of them had been presented with opportunities to escape before the Americans got hold of them. Saddiq Turkistani, for example, met with UN officials and took part in a press conference at which he expressed his hatred for Al-Qaida and the Taliban and offered to help the US in any way that he could, as the Washington Post reported in December 2005 in an article entitled, “Detainee Cleared for Release Is in Limbo at Guantánamo,” which is the source of most of the information above, as the allegations against him at Guantánamo were shockingly thin, consisting only of a note that he was imprisoned by Taliban for nearly five years, and was “identified as a drug smuggler” in Saudi Arabia, a claim that was conveniently dressed up with the addition of the words, “with possible ties to Al-Qaida.”
In 2005, his story only surfaced because one of his lawyers, Sabin Willett, had filed a petition with the District Court in Washington D.C. on his behalf, and the Bush administration, in its response, dated October 11, 2005, revealed that he was one of the 38 prisoners officially declared to be “no longer enemy combatants” after their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.
Nevertheless, he was still held. The Post explained that, like the five Uighurs cleared after their tribunals, he “remains incarcerated because the United States simply does not know what to do with him. He does not have Saudi citizenship, and US officials are having trouble getting his home country to take him back. US officials do not want to send him to China, where Uighurs are seeking a separate homeland, saying he is likely to be tortured.”
In limbo, he, like the five Uighurs and three other men cleared after their CSRTs (a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian), was “one of nine detainees who live at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Iguana, a less restrictive area of the prison where detainees have limited privileges including access to television and a few DVDs.”
A former US official, described as being “familiar with detention operations,” told the Post that “mistakes were made in Afghanistan, when some detainees were shipped to Cuba because space at the US facility in Bagram was limited and there was no clear plan on where to house suspected enemy combatants.” The former official said, “It’s possible to get stuck there if you don’t have a state. Particularly at that time, when there were a lot of people getting picked up in Afghanistan, cases people were unsure about tended to end up in Cuba. People did get caught up in the situation.”
This was a frank admission that mistakes were made, but it did nothing to even come close to justifying the detention of men like Turkistani, whose imprisonment made no sense except from the point of view of subjecting anyone who ended up in US custody to interrogation, even those who had been tortured by Al-Qaida. As Sabin Willett said, “The crowning irony is that he is an enemy of bin Laden, who was charged with conspiring to kill him, and we hold him prisoner today. It’s heartbreaking that we throw people into jail to rot.”
In April 2006, Willett wrote an article for the Washington Post about Turkistani, who he said, “likes to draw roses and often asks for gardening magazines,” having discovered that he and the Uighurs had managed to plant a small garden in Camp Iguana, even though the authorities had not given them permission to do so, using seeds saved from their meals, and plastic spoons to dig the hard soil, which they carefully watered to make their project viable. Explaining how they created the garden, he wrote:
For some time we lawyers have been asking the military for a garden. Gardens are commonplace in prisoner-of-war camps, and these men aren’t even enemies. They live in a pen, but it has a small patch of ground. Why not? The military refused.
I was trying to explain this to Saddiq, along with other inexplicable things (such as how it is that innocent men can be held for years in an American prison), when he said, “We planted a garden. We have some small plants — watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe. No fruit yet. There’s a lemon tree about two inches tall, though it’s not doing well.”
“The guards gave you tools?” He shook his head. “Then — how do you dig?” I was struggling to grasp this. “Spoons,” he said. “And a mop handle.”
The soil in Camp Iguana is dry and brittle as flint. And I’ve seen the spoons they give our clients. “But the spoons are plastic — aren’t they?” Saddiq nodded. “At night we poured water on the ground. In the morning, we pounded it with the mop handle and scratched it with the spoons. You can loosen about this much.” He held his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart. “The next day, we did it again. And so on until we had a bed for planting.” He shrugged. “We have lots of time, here.”
“But the seeds?” I asked. “Did they give you seeds?” After four years at Guantanamo, Saddiq rarely smiles, but his face seemed to brighten then. “Sometimes, with the meal, they give us a bit of watermelon or cantaloupe to eat. We save the seeds.”
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Turkistani was a “Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated October 22, 2004, in which he was identified as Sadik Ahmad Turkistani, born in 1974, and it was noted that he was “in good health,” although he He had “a history of chronic left epidydimtits,” and had been treated for an ear infection.”
From the beginning, therefore, the Joint Task Force’s assessment of him (as someone to be transferred to continued detention elsewhere) conflicted with findings of his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which concluded that he was not an “enemy combatant,” and that there was no reason for him to be held — either at Guantánamo, or in Saudi Arabia.
In telling his story, based on his account, the Task Force reiterated that he was born in Taif, but was “not a Saudi citizen,” because his parents emigrated from Turkmenistan, and foreign nationals — and their children — are not granted Saudi citizenship. In 1994, he received a three-year prison sentence for possession of hashish, aggravated assault, alcohol intoxication, and stealing and possession of false documents,” and, when his sentence was complete, he was “taken to the Taif airport, placed on a plane by the Saudi government and deported to Kabul.” He said that he “was deported because he was not a Saudi citizen, but [did] not know why Afghanistan was chosen for his deportation.”
The Task Force also noted that Turkistani said that, on arrival in Kabul, he “was arrested by Taliban Intelligence and taken to a Taliban facility,” where he “was questioned for six days, and was accused by the Taliban of being a Saudi intelligence agent conspiring to kill Osama bin Laden.” He said that he “denied these accusations and told his captors of his deportation from Saudi Arabia due to his lack of citizenship,” and “was subsequently released and decided to travel to Pakistan via Khost,” where he stayed at a hotel with a man named Abdul Amir Mahdi (presumably the Iraqi mentioned above), who, he said, “was killed during interrogation by Abu Hamza and Saif al-Adel [of Al-Qaida] when they hit him behind the ear with a rifle butt.”
The following day, he said, “four men, who he believed were Iraqi nationals, took [him] and Mahdi into custody,” and they “were taken to an Arab camp five minutes from the hotel and were interrogated by two men [he] believes were Egyptian,” who “accused [him] of being a Saudi intelligence agent sent to kill UBL.” He added that he “was interrogated for approximately two months and was turned over to the Taliban who held him in a Taliban government building in Kandahar, AF, for a year and a half.” After that, he “was taken to Sarpooza Prison in Kandahar [actually, Sarposa prison] where he spent the next three and half years incarcerated.”
Although this account raises questions about whether he was indeed a Saudi agent sent to kill bin Laden, an analyst who examined his story noted only that it was “unlikely the Taliban would have kept detainee incarcerated for years upon suspicion of being an assassin sent to kill UBL,” adding, “They more likely would have tortured a confession from him and then executed him.” There appears to be no basis for this assessment, other than a policy, within Guantánamo, of always looking for explanations that would incriminate prisoners in activities that could be described as “terrorism” and actions aimed at America, rather than accepting other interpreatations — in this case, that Al-Qaida did not always kill those it regarded as spies, and it is worth noting that the analyst was also aware of reasons for doubting his own assessment, mentioning that “at least part of his incarceration ha[d] been corroborated by other detainees.”
The Task Force also noted that Northern Alliance forces “liberated” Sarposa prison on November 20, 2001, and that Turkistani and the other four foreign prisoners — “known as the Kandahar or Sarpooza five” — were turned over to US forces on January 24, 2002. He was sent to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because he “was assessed to be able to provide the following information [about]: Two American males detainee claimed were detained, tortured, and possibly killed at the Taliban Sarpooza [sic] prison complex in Kandahar, AF, Sarpooza [sic] prison complex in Kandahar, AF [and] Islam, a fellow prisoner in the Sarpooza [sic] prison complex.”
Islam (aka Islam al-Iraqi) was elsewhere identified as Mohammed Rafil Arkan (ISN 653, released in January 2009, who was also known as Arkin al-Karim), and it was claimed, somewhat improbably, that he was “a member of Al-Qaida,” who “worked for UBL [Osama bin Laden] for 13 years and was an expert in the areas of poisons, explosives, martial arts and weapons,” who even ran his own training camp, but was imprisoned “because of a confrontation with a superior.”
In assessing Turkistani’s story, the Task Force claimed that he had “used counter-interrogation techniques with DoD and law enforcement debriefers,” and that his “cover story contains inconsistencies and requires further exploitation,” which was pretty callous, given the circumstances of his “capture,” although elsewhere it was obvious that at least one opinion suggested to the US authorities that Turkistani was not even who he said he was, as it was noted that “[u]ncorroborated reporting states Sadeeq Ahmed [Turkistani] was killed by the Taliban who claimed he was a Saudi spy sent to assassinate UBL.”
In reality, he was regarded as useful to provide information on the men seized with him, and was assessed as being “of medium intelligence value,” specifically, in part, because of the information he could provide on his fellow inmates. He was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” partly because, even though he was assessed as “not a member of Al-Qaida or its global terrorist network,” his “veracity [was] in question” due to “the multiple inconsistencies in his cover story.” It was also noted that his “overall behaviour ha[d] been aggressive and non-compliant,” and that he had “a vast history of aggressive behaviour ranging from failure to follow the guards’ instructions to assault and battery toward detention personnel.” This explicitly counted against him when the Task Force was considering his status, as it was noted that “his aggressive behavior toward detention personnel in JTF GTMO indicate[s] [he] may pose a risk of violent actions towards the US interests if released.”
As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be transferred to another country for continued detention. Noticeably, however, foreshadowing what would happened when Turkistani went before his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, the Criminal Investigative Task Force disagreed with the Task Force’s conclusion, having “assessed [him] as a low risk on 14 June 2004.” However, “In the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders, CITF [deferred] to JTF GTMO’s assessment that [he] pose[d] a medium risk.”
When Turkistani was finally freed, his release no doubt came about because the US authorities put pressure on the Saudi government to take him back, fearing that he might win his challenge in court. Even so, as he told the Associated Press a year after his release, his ordeal was not over, because he was imprisoned for seven months on his return.
Haji Noorallah (ISN 494, Afghanistan) Released August 2006
As I explained in “The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (8) – Captured in Afghanistan,” a rather confusing story was told by Haji Noorallah, who was 30 years old at the time of his capture. An ethnic Uzbek from northern Afghanistan, he refuted a ludicrous allegation that he joined the Taliban at the age of 16, seven years before they came into existence, and also refuted an allegation that he was a commander in charge of a hundred Taliban soldiers. He explained that, in order to protect his village, he had actually been required to recruit soldiers for the Taliban, and had recruited a total of 42 men. He also said that he had worked as a spy for the Northern Alliance, and was rewarded by General Dostum after the Taliban fell, but his story became rather incomprehensible when he attempted to explain that he was in jail when he was captured by the Americans, having agreed to act as a kind of hostage while his brother raised the money to pay off a business debt.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Noorallah was an “Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),” dated June 13, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1971, and had been “diagnosed with chronic active Hepatitis B that does not require therapy at this time,” although he was “otherwise in good health.”
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he was married with children, and was the son of a tribal elder in his home village, “employed as a store clerk in the family business, selling gasoline and kerosene prior to the Afghan jihad.” It was noted that he was “a foot soldier and personal guard to one of the Afghan commanders” during the resistance to the Soviet occupation, and, in 1998 or 1999, was mobilized “to serve the Taliban under commander Mullah Taj Mohammed,” when, according to his own account, he said that, “under orders from the Taliban, he attacked and burned a Shiite Muslim village around Mazar-e-Sharif.” He also said that, on completion of his service, he returned to his village, but was mobilized again, in 2000 or 2001, when “he was sent to command 100 villagers to fill a request by the Taliban.”
Explaining, once more, the rather confusing circumstances of his capture, and what happened afterwards, he said that he and other commanders who were sent to Mazar-e-Sharif to fight actually “struck a secret deal with General Dostum to hinder the Taliban,” and that, in January or February 2002, Taliban members “captured him and questioned him,” telling him “he could return to his unit if he identified the others in the conspiracy, which he did.” According to this account, the Taliban “seized the money provided by General Dostum and returned him to his unit under the supervision of a Pashtu Commander,” but he and two other commanders later “arranged with General Dostum to surrender their commands.”
As if this was not confusing enough, Noorallah said that “General Dostum then demanded repayment of the money he paid [him] to betray the Taliban,” even though this did not appear to make sense, and an analyst noted that this was “in direct contradiction” of the other account in which he stated that his imprisonment “was due to his brother’s debt to General Dostum,” and that, “since he could not repay the money, General Dostum placed him in Sheberghan prison pending repayment of the debt by his family.”
Concluding his story, Noorallah said that, in Sheberghan, he was “interviewed by some Americans, and was eventually turned over to the US by General Dostum.” He was sent to Guantánamo on June 10, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to provide information on the following: The Burning of Shiite villages by the Taliban in Afghanistan [and] Command structure of Taliban Forces in Afghanistan.”
In assessing his story, the Task Force did not consider the strange permutations of his story regarding deals — or alleged deals — with General Dostum, and these, to the best of my knowledge, remained unexplored. Instead, the Task Force recognized that he had given detailed information regarding his service with the Taliban, including his “chain of command, its rank structure and his placement with regards to commanders and mullahs,” establishing that he “was a ranking commander,” who “was in charge of two other commanders and 100 other soldiers.”
To my mind, his confession about the destruction of a Hazara village was indicative of his ability to tell the truth, but it was understandable why the Task Force would reach the conclusion that he had “not been totally forthcoming,” and “appear[ed] to be downplaying his role in the Taliban,” providing “only enough information to explain his activities.” However, he was assessed as being “of low intelligence value” (which meant that his intelligence value was regarded as negligible or non-existent), although he was also assessed as posing “a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
In addition, he was “assessed as a low threat from a detention perspective,” whose “overall behaviour ha[d] been one of passiveness and compliance,with a lengthy record of being a prayer leader and teacher,” which was an interesting insight into his behaviour in Guantánamo, and was o doubt instrumental in Brig. Gen. Hood’s recommendation that he be transferred to continued detention in Afghanistan, even though he was not actually released for another 14 months.