July 6, 2011
In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for their detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.
Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to cotton allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.
I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners.
As a result, the stories of these prisoners are particularly important in demonstrating how many innocent men or insignificant foot soldiers for the Taliban, engaged in combat with the Northern Alliance before the 9/11 attacks, and unconnected with international terrorism, were held at Guantánamo (and specifically how this latter category included many unwilling Afghan recruits).
What is also worth bearing in mind (and which is not spelled out in these documents) is that many prisoners were pointlessly rounded up because the Bush administration ordered the military not to screen the prisoners on capture, leading to a dragnet of "Mickey Mouse" prisoners, as was noted by Maj. Gen, Michael Dunlavey, a commander of the prison in 2002, and also offered substantial bounty payments for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects to the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies.
In a five-part series, "WikiLeaks and the Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo," I began analyzing, transcribing and condensing the stories revealed in the documents released by WikiLeaks, looking at 84 stories of prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004 that had never been told before. The work of extracting information from the files and presenting it in edited form, with commentary based on my extensive research and experience, is a project that will take up the rest of the year. The next step is this ten-part series revisiting the stories of the 114 other prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004. That was the point at which the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) began, a military review process that, in turn, led to the first official release of documents relating to the prisoners in 2006, providing the material that I analysed and transcribed for my book The Guantánamo Files.
While this ten-part project is underway, I also propose to begin examining closely the files relating to the 171 prisoners still held, supplementing the series of articles that I produced last fall, entitled, "Who Are the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo?" This is important not just because the remaining prisoners have largely been abandoned by the mainstream media, even though 89 of the 171 have been cleared for release, and only 36 were recommended for trials by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but also because, in the US, attorneys for the prisoners have only just won the right to look at the files (and not to download, save or print them), and the media in general is unwilling to subject them to much scrutiny because of how they became public in the first place.
So with thanks to WikiLeaks — and whoever leaked these documents — the second part of my ten-part analysis of the 114 prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004 (in addition to the 84 stories covered in my previous series) is below. When lies and distortions are covered up on this scale, and an experimental prison built on torture and abuse remains open, even under a Democratic President who promised to close it, everyone who believes in justice should publicize what has been revealed, and, if you agree, I hope that you will share this information widely.
Shafiq Rasul (ISN 86, UK) Released March 2004
Shafiq Rasul, who was 24 years old at the time of his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, is one of three British citizens held in Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004 and known as "the Tipton Three," from the area of the West Midlands in which they lived (the others being Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, profiled below). Their story is one of the better known in the whole of Guantánamo’s history, because they were featured in the 2006 film, "The Road to Guantánamo," and also because, after their release, their testimony, to their lawyers, was compiled in a 115-page composite statement (PDF), in which the three provided a detailed, powerful and harrowing analysis of their treatment in Afghanistan and Guantánamo," which I drew on extensively for my book The Guantánamo Files.
According to their accounts, in their composite statement and in the account they gave to the Guardian after their release, the three childhood friends, and a fourth friend, Monir Ali (who disappeared in Afghanistan and has never been seen or heard from since), traveled to Pakistan in September 2001. Asif Iqbal was making arrangements for his forthcoming wedding, Ruhal Ahmed was his best man, and Shafiq Rasul was planning to do a computer course once the wedding was over. After deciding to make an unwise but adventurous diversion to Afghanistan, they were trapped in the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, and seized by the Northern Alliance after the Taliban-held city fell at the end of November 2001. They then survived what has become known as "the convoy of death," in which thousands of Northern Alliance prisoners died, mostly through suffocation, in containers used to transport them to the prison at Sheberghan, near Mazar-e-Sharif, run by the notoriously brutal Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum.
Having survived horrendous overcrowding in Sheberghan, the three were then handed over to US forces, who took them first to the prison at Kandahar airport, where abuse was rife, and then to Guantánamo, where they were eventually subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques," including isolation, sleep deprivation, the use of loud music and noise, and the use of extreme heat and cold, until they falsely confessed to being jihadists in a grainy video that the US authorities had discovered, featuring a meeting attended by Osama bin Laden and 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta in the winter of 2000/01. The three were only finally released after the men’s lawyers discovered that, at the time that Shafiq had admitted that he was in the video, he was actually working in an electrical store in the West Midlands.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2003, it was stated that he was born in 1977, and had been "diagnosed with musculoskeletal knee pain and psoriasis," but was "otherwise in good health." In contrast to the men’s own story, the Task Force drew on statements made by Shafiq, many of which, I have to say, sound like lies made under duress. According to the Task Force, for example, Shafiq and his friends were "encouraged … to fight Jihad" at a Muslim community center in Tipton, and, after 9/11, decided "to go to Afghanistan to defend the Taliban regime."
After traveling to Pakistan, on October 5, 2001, they allegedly met a member of the Pakistani militant group Harakat Ul-Jihad Al-Islami, who arranged for their transportation to Afghanistan, where they reportedly "stayed for about ten days in caves located outside of Kabul, with other Pakistanis, while coalition forces bombed the area," and then "decided to return home to England because it was too dangerous." According to the Task Force, which neglected to mention the men’s ordeal on "the convoy of death" and in Sheberghan, Shafiq was seized by the Northern Alliance on November 26, 2001, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 5, 2002 on the spurious basis that it was "because of his knowledge of Al-Qaida recruiting efforts in England and knowledge concerning the Arab units fighting for the Taliban." However, as I explained in a recent 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 a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, 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-Qaeda and Taliban suspects" were widespread.
In its assessment, the Task Force stated that Shafiq was "generally cooperative but has not been forthright or truthful during his interviews." This was in contrast to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller’s recommendation, on August 16, 2003, that he should "be considered for release or transfer to the control of another government … based on the assessment that [he] was not a member of the Taliban or affiliated with Al-Qaida or other extremist organisation [sic]." However, presumably because of the false confessions the men made about the video with which they were confronted, it was claimed, under "New Information," that Shafiq was "assessed to be a probable Al-Qaida recruit who traveled to Afghanistan to fight in the Jihad against the US, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001," who "pose[d] a high threat to the US, its interests, or its allies." As a result, it was recommended that he "be retained under DoD control."
Asif Iqbal (ISN 87, UK) Released March 2004
Asif Iqbal was seized in Afghanistan with Shafiq Rasul (see above) and Ruhal Ahmed (see below). In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 28, 2003, it was stated that he was born in 1981, and had been "diagnosed with musculoskeletal back pain," but was "otherwise in good health." As with Shafiq Rasul, the Task Force’s assessment was extremely dubious. It was claimed that Asif "became interested in the Jihad in 2000″ and 'listened to and watched a lot of Islamic extremist propaganda." Ignoring his Pakistani roots and his planned wedding, the Task Force tried to suggest that there was something suspicious about his previous visits to Pakistan (and, reportedly, one prior trip to Afghanistan), but it was thoroughly unconvincing when it was noted that "his first trip was with his mother and sister to visit family in Lahore, Pakistan around 1986-87 time frames" — in other words, a family trip when he was five or six years old.
In contrast to Shafiq Rasul’s account, it was stated that Asif "left England on 27 September 2003 [sic] to go and fight against the 'crusades’ [sic]." It was also stated that he then met up with his "mates" in Afghanistan, and that they then "traveled to Kandahar, AF via a Taliban truck," where "he and his friends were taken to a training camp just outside of town (probably Al-Farouq) and he was there for approximately four weeks during which time he was 'bored’ with the training." This is totally implausible, although the Task Force did not seem to realise it, as Al-Farouq closed immediately after the 9/11 attacks, and it is also improbable that anyone would have been training for a month after the US-led invasion, when anything resembling a training camp was the object of remorseless bombing raids.
In this account, Asif then left the camp and returned to Pakistan for a few weeks of "sightseeing," before returning to Afghanistan "to rejoin the Jihad," traveling to Kabul and then Bagram to "go to fight," but returning to Kabul a week or two later, "bored, sick and not having seen any fighting." They were then reportedly taken to the frontline near Kunduz, where they allegedly spent three or four days and "witnessed some light fighting," before US bombers attacked, and they retreated to Kunduz for another four weeks prior to surrendering. Flown to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, the spurious reason given was "because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter and possible member of Al-Qaida."
However, as well as failing to mention "the convoy of death" and Sheberghan, this account is fundamentally at odds with Shafiq Rasul’s account, and riven with internal inconsistencies. Even so, the Task Force stated that he had "failed to be forthright or cooperative in his interviews," and described him as "firmly committed to Jihad," including, as a reason, the discredited allegation that he appeared in a video with Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta. TheTask Force noted that he was "suspected (along with two others) of having attended a rally in Afghanistan in the winter 2000/2001) in which Bin laden himself spoke and where several of the 911 highjackers [sic] were identified as having been present." Although it was noted that Asif denied the allegation, the Task Force claimed that "he was tentatively identified as being at this rally by [Ruhal Ahmed, ISN 110, below], who himself was tentatively placed at this rally."
As a result of these allegations, Asif was "assessed as being a probable member of Al-Qaida," who "pose[d] a high threat to the US, its interest, or its allies," and it was recommended that he "be retained under DoD control."
Said Mohammed Alim Shah (ISN 92, Afghanistan) Released March 2004
As I explained in a footnote to Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files (and also in an article entitled, "If the US administration had behaved intelligently, ex-Guantánamo inmate who blew himself up would never have been released"), Said Mohammed Alim Shah was reportedly the name used by Pakistani Taliban leader Abdullah Mehsud as part of his successful ploy to fool the US authorities into releasing him. Captured in Kunduz, he apparently had a false Afghan ID card and claimed that he was an innocent Afghan tribesman, and after his release he reportedly became the commander of a group of militants who kidnapped two Chinese engineers in South Waziristan in October 2004. He was killed by the Pakistani army in March 2006.
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 18, 2003, it was stated that he was born in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 1978 and had "a properly fitting prosthesis on his left lower leg." It was also stated that he had "multiple dental caries," but had "refused treatment." It was also noted, based on statements he had made, that he was conscripted by the Taliban as a driver and clerk, because he could not fight, "having lost his lower left leg when he stepped on a land mine ten years earlier," but that in October 2001, when his younger brother was conscripted, he "consider[ed] it his duty" to rescue him, and so he traveled to Kunduz to find him. Instead, he was seized when the city fell to the Northern Alliance, and subsequently survived "the convoy of death." In his DAB, it was noted that he and others "were transported to Sheberghan Prison in shipping containers, many dieing [sic] in transit." After about a month in Sheberghan, he was transferred to US control, and he arrived in Guantánamo on February 7, 2002, the spurious reason given being that it was "because of his knowledge of Taliban locations and general biographic information on Taliban personnel."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with al-Qaida or as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government."
Noticeably, however, as was revealed in a "Non-Concur Assessment" on November 20, 2003, which was also included in the documents, the Criminal Investigative Task Force’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) recommended him for "continued detention" pending "further investigation" of his case on May 9 2003, and on November 12, 2003, CITF informed the Task Force that they still "require[d] additional investigation before making a threat assessment." It is known whether, in the end, CITF concurred with the Task Force’s assessment, or if the decision to release him was taken at a higher level. Additionally, the US authorities have never provided any evidence of how they were able to claim that the man identified as Said Mohamed Alim Shah was actually Abdullah Mehsud.
Tariq Aziz Khan (ISN 97, Pakistan) Released July 2003
In "The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (7) – From Sheberghan to Kandahar" (one of 12 additional online chapters, telling stories that were not available in The Guantánamo Files, either for reasons of space, or because they were not known at the time), I told his Tariq Aziz Khan’s story by focusing on an interview with him that was conducted by Tom Lasseter for a major McClatchy Newspapers report on 66 released prisoners in 2008, in which it was explained that he was a survivor of the "convoy of death" in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, when thousands of prisoners, who had surrendered after the fall of the city of Kunduz, died, mostly of suffocation, in containers while being transported to Sheberghan prison, which was run by Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum.
23 years old when he was seized, Khan was working as real estate agent in Karachi. A "large man with broad shoulders," who "gave everyone a big hug" when he arrived for the interview, he wore a baseball cap that said, "I Feel Good," but as his story unfolded a far grimmer story emerged.
According to Khan, in November 2001 he had traveled to Quetta, near the Afghan border, "to buy black-market cigarettes to take back and sell in his hometown of Hyderabad," but, on impulse, when he met a group of missionaries who invited him to come and help them spread the word of God at the start of Ramadan, he decided to travel with them. "When we reached the Afghan border I knew, in my heart, that we were going too far," he said, adding, "Most Americans don’t know the difference between missionary work and going on jihad."
Eight or nine days into the trip, Khan said, he and his group were in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, when people began fleeing, shouting that the Northern Alliance and the Americans were coming. "One of the missionaries said it had been a mistake to bring me," he explained. "He advised me to try to go back to Pakistan. There were a lot of cars going in one direction, toward Kunduz; I jumped in one of them." He said that he then spent the night in a hospital courtyard in Kunduz, "with American bombs booming in the distance," but that the next day, as the convoy of vehicles headed for the Pakistani border, they were stopped and seized by Northern Alliance soldiers. It was then that his nightmare began.
"Before putting us into the containers they stripped us naked," he said. "We were all stacked on each other." He added, "I don’t want to remember it. I don’t want to talk about it." Like other survivors of the convoy, he recalled how Alliance soldiers shot at the containers, ostensibly to make holes so that the suffocating prisoners could breathe, but often aiming low so that they killed those inside. "It was random," he said. "Some people were shot in the eye; some were shot in the neck. The only thing running through my mind was that I wasn’t going to survive." When the container arrived at Sheberghan, he said that Dostum’s men "began pulling the bodies out and checking the bodies with clothes still on them to see if they had money … Then they threw the bodies into a ravine." Out of 200 to 250 men in the container, he added, he was one of only three survivors.
He then explained that he had spent 33 days in Sheberghan, and that there was "no food for the first six or seven days." He also said that he had hidden a small amount of money in his clothes, but that when one of the guards found it, he stabbed him in the head and hand. One day, he said, US forces arrived to pick out prisoners they regarded as significant, and when one of the soldiers asked what he was doing in Afghanistan, and he replied, "I preaching Islam," he was hooded and shackled and flown to Kandahar, where he stayed for six months. "They accused me all the time," he said, "saying I was a dangerous man, saying that I went to Afghanistan for jihad. I told them I wasn’t so afraid of them that I would lie. I told them that if I went to jihad I would tell them."
When Tom Lasseter asked Khan if he ever saw US soldiers abusing the Koran, he fell silent. He explained that Pakistani intelligence officers "had questioned him many times since he got back home, and he was worried about being sent to jail for talking with a Western reporter." "I have to check with (Pakistani) security officers every day," he said. "It’s not possible for me to speak about that." And with that, the interview effectively came to a close. Asked about Guantánamo, he said only, "Some guards would for no reason tease people, and other times detainees did this to the guards, and they would react. The soldiers would scream, the detainees would scream, but no one could understand what anyone was saying."
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated January 18, 2003, the story Khan told his interrogators matched that which he later told to Tom Lasseter. He explained that, on November 1, 2001, he left his home in Hyderabad for Quetta, "where he regularly purchased inexpensive cigarettes in bulk." There he was approached by member sofa Jamaat al-Tablighi, the vast missionary group, who "invited him to go to Afghanistan with them to teach Islam,"leading to him agreeing to join them for four months. Two weeks later, the group was in Mazar-e-Sharif "when the allied bombing campaign began," and he "was advised to flee the area and return to Pakistan." He then boarded a bus, but when he found that it was largely full of Pashtun Taliban members, he disembarked at a hospital, where he sought refuge, and then, after a week, "joined a caravan of vehicles fleeing Afghanistan," but was seized by the Northern Alliance and sent to Sheberghan on 'the convoy of death," in a container "with about 250 otter individuals," as he told Tom Lasseter. After approximately a month in Sheberghan, he was transferred to US custody, but was not sent to Guantánamo until "approximately" August 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "because of his knowledge of the conflict in Mazar-e-Sharif and the conditions surrounding the surrender of Taliban and pro-Taliban fighters to General Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government." It was also noted that, "During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [ISN 97] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government."
Hafiz Ehsan Saeed (ISN 98, Pakistan) Released September 2004
As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, Saeed, a tailor from Lahore, was one of 17 men transferred to Pakistani custody in September 2004. Released in June 2005, when he was 23 years old, he told Pakistan’s Daily Times that, although his father died while he was in Guantánamo, he would "go for jihad again if given the chance." "I was quite upset when I heard the news of my father’s death," he explained, "but I will sacrifice anything for Islam." It was also reported that "most of the other freed men reiterated Saeed’s resolve to 'go for jihad again.’"
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 13, 2003, he was described as Hafiz Ihsan Saeed and it was noted that he was born in 1978. It was also stated that, as well as having latent tuberculosis, in common with a large number of the prisoners, he also had " a Chronic wound (right posterior back)," but was "otherwise in good health." It was also noted that he "stated that he went to Afghanistan (AF) to purchase leather for his family business and because he was curious about the Taliban system of Islamic law." In Afghanistan, he apparently "became concerned with what he felt was an attack on Islam by the West, so he decided he would join the Taliban and fight." He then undertook training for a few days in Dasht-e-Archi, near Kunduz, and was then sent to the front lines, where he "saw little fighting" before the US began bombing. He "stated that he and his friends starting running away and while running he was shot, after which he passed out," which corresponds with the wound he received. He then "awoke in an ambulance on its way to Kandahar," where he "spent some time in the hospital," and was then sent to Sheberghan before being taken by US forces, who sent him to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious bias that it was "because of his affiliation with the Taliban as a foreign fighter."
Although the Task Force regarded him as "generally cooperative and forthright," it was also noted that he was "assessed to have traveled to Afghanistan for the sole purpose of becoming involved in the Jihad against the US." It was also noted that he was "suspected of having extremist group ties in Pakistan, however no conclusive evidence has surfaced to confirm these suspicions." In addition, it was stated that, although he had "renounced his dedication to extremism," he was "still considered a threat to the government of Afghanistan because of his fundamentalist views and his potential willingness to become re-involved in the Jihad, should he be released outright." This seemed to be reflected in what he said after his release, and the Task Force recommended that he "be considered for transfer to the control of another government for controlled detention," on the basis that, although he was "assessed as not being a member of Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader," and as being "of no intelligence value to the United States," he was assessed as "a medium threat risk to the US, its interests or its allies." It was, however, also noted that the Criminal Investigative Task Force was not convinced, and disapproved his transfer on August 27, 2003, leading, presumably, to the delay in transferring him to Pakistani custody for another year.
Abdul Razaq (ISN 99, Pakistan) Released July 2003
Abdul Razaq was a 31-year old English teacher, and as I explained in Chapter 8 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing on a report by James Meek in the Guardian:
Swept up during the fall of Kunduz, where he was on a preaching mission, he was singled out in Sheberghan because he spoke English. "One thing I’ve learned about the Americans," he said, "is they are very harsh when they transport people around. They had tied up my hands so tight that for two months I couldn’t use my right hand … For a long time we didn’t know it was Kandahar. We thought they were going to kill us there." Released from Guantánamo in July 2003, he added, "I don’t know what made them suspect me, but there were rumours that they arrested me because they thought I was a very senior Taliban official."
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated February 8, 2003, he was described as Abdur Raziq, born in April 1972, and it was noted that, on July 27, 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan from the headquarters of the vast missionary organisation Jamaat al-Tablighi in Raiwand, Pakistan, after he had "received four months of training, consisting of travel to nearby towns in Pakistan, preaching, and discussing the six principles" of Jamaat al-Tablighi. After training, seven elders "assigned [him] to a region to work as a missionary based on his financial capabilities," because recruits "were responsible for providing their own traveling expenses." He was seized by Northern Alliance forces "while he sat in the Tan Durak Mosque in Meymaneh, Afghanistan" (the capital of Faryab province, near the border with Turkmenistan — and far from the war zone to the east). He was sent to Guantánamo on June 15, 2002, probably because of the reason he was told, but also on the spurious basis that it was "because of his knowledge of hostilities in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Meymaneh and on the Tablighi Jamiat [sic] organisation."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as being neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be "considered for transfer or release to the control of another government."
Mohammed Khan Achezkai (ISN 104, Afghanistan) Released March 2004
As I explained in Chapter 15 of The Guantánamo Files, Achezkai, also known as Haji Mohammed Khan Achezkai, but identified on his release as Mohammed Khan Achakzai, was an Afghan businessman, sold to the Americans by the Northern Alliance after the fall of Kunduz. Born in Kabul, and 24 years old at the time of his release, he said that some prisoners had been deprived of sleep for up to 45 days at a time — as part of a process of sleep deprivation that, it was later revealed, was known as the "frequent flier program".
This was an important observation, but nothing else is known about him. Although he was mentioned in the files released by WikiLeaks, it was only as part of a 26-page document entitled, "JTF-GTMO Assessment Afghanistan/Pakistan Detainee’s" (sic), released on March 29, 2004, in which it was noted only that he was released on March 14, 2004, and no further information was provided — "N/A" was the response to all the categories of data listed: "Health Assessment," "Background and Capture Data" etc.
Jan Mohammed Barakzai (ISN 107, Afghanistan) Released October 2002
As I explained in Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files:
The case of Jan Mohammed, a 34-year old baker from Helmand province (who was one of the first to be released, in October 2002) exemplified all that was wrong with the process [of capturing prisoners and transporting them to Guantánamo without anything resembling adequate screening]. Mohammed explained that he was forced to serve with the Taliban, and was captured by the Northern Alliance after the fall of Kunduz. After languishing in Sheberghan for several weeks, he said that the decision to transfer him to Kandahar came about because some of Dostum’s men "told US soldiers that he and nine others were senior Taliban officials." "They came and took ten strong-looking people," he told the journalist David Rohde. "Only one of those ten was a Talib."
In 2008, he was one of 66 former prisoners interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers for a major series on Guantánamo. After speaking to Tom Lasseter in Kabul, Lasseter concluded that his problem was that he was poor, having "lived most of his life in houses without electricity, without a radio, without any connection to the world outside." When the Taliban came to his house, where he lived with his wife and his seven-year old son, and demanded a conscript, "he didn’t have the money to bribe the young men with AK-47s into leaving him alone." As Lasseter added, "If he didn’t go, he would have been killed or beaten to the point of being crippled." Lasseter called him part of "a rarely discussed class of Guantánamo prisoners: those who were fighting for the Taliban but had no choice in the matter." This may have been true in 2008, but the files released by WikiLeaks contain numerous stories of unwilling conscripts.
Describing his treatment in Sheberghan, Mohammed said, "Some died because of lack of food; others were killed by Dostum’s soldiers." He added, "When one of his soldiers thought that someone looked like they were with the Taliban, they would take him outside and beat him with big pieces of wood until he died." Mohammed, however, "was interrogated only a handful of times, and after he explained that he was a conscript … the sessions ended quickly." He was then taken to Kandahar by US forces, where he was held for just five days before being sent to Guantánamo.
"He was asked whether he knew Taliban commander Mullah Omar," Lasseter explained. "No, Mohammed said, Mullah Omar didn’t spend time with illiterate wheat farmers in rural Helmand." In Guantánamo, Mohammed said, "he wasn’t interrogated for his first 20 days," and when he was, he explained that "he hadn’t known what al-Qaida was before he was captured," because "[h]e lived in a small house without a radio," and "spent his days thinking about how to irrigate his land better." He added, as Lasseter put it, "The interrogators looked through their notes, smiled at him and said he’d probably be released soon … After that, he was taken for questioning once a month or every two months." Mohammed told him, "When I told them, look, the Taliban made me fight, they forced me to, the interrogators seemed to believe me." Mohammed also explained that he "didn’t mind being in his cell," because "[t]here was clean water, something that wasn’t a given at home," and added that, when the willing Taliban members in Guantánamo fought their interrogators, "I told the Taliban, look, we have food, we have water; there’s no need to make trouble."
On his release, he said, "it was great to be home," but then, as the Taliban returned to Helmand, "he began to receive death threats," because "[h]e’d been released from Guantánamo so quickly that some people whispered that he was a spy for the Americans or that he’d given them information about Taliban fighters imprisoned at Guantánamo." In 2006, he said, "a group of Taliban fighters came to his house and said that anyone seen working on [his] farmland would be shot on sight." As a result, he "moved to another town in Helmand, where the Taliban weren’t as prevalent, and hoped that no one tortured his family members to find out where he was."
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, he was described as Jon Muhammed Barakzai, born in 1967, and it was noted that, as he stated, "[t]he Taliban conscripted [him] and took him to Kunduz for two months until the city was overrun." As was also noted, he "neither participated in fighting nor received training, and was ordered to return home." Seized at Yanghareq, outside Kunduz, where almost everyone in Kunduz surrendered to the Northern Alliance, he was presumably part of "the convoy of death," although he didn’t mention it. Transferred to US forces after being held at Sheberghan, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 17, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "because of his knowledge of Taliban conscription, Taliban leadership in Helmand, and Taliban leadership in prisons at Takhar and Kunduz."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government."
Rhuhel Ahmed (ISN 110, UK) Released March 2004
Rhuhel Ahmed (or, more accurately, Ruhal Ahmed) was seized in Afghanistan with Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal (see above). In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 28, 2003, he, like his friends, was subjected to a false narrative based on statements he or the others had made under duress, and the decision taken by the US authorities to claim, erroneously, that he and the others appeared in a grainy video in Afghanistan featuring a rally attended by Osama bin Laden and 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.
In Ruhal’s assessment, it was claimed that, after becoming interested in jihad, he traveled to Pakistan in September 2000. There he allegedly met Asif Iqbal, and together they reportedly traveled to Afghanistan, attending a training camp for 40 days before visiting the front lines for "a frontline tour," lasting a few weeks, which "mainly consisted of guard duty." On November 26, 2000, according to this account, he "and his friends returned to the UK."
After these allegations, which were not mentioned in the Detainee Assessment Briefs of Asif Iqbal or Shafiq Rasul, the Task Force put together a narrative based around the visit in 2001, when he and the others were seized by the Northern Alliance. In this account, he traveled with Shafiq, met Asif in Afghanistan, and the three ended up undertaking military training at "an old Russian military camp," before being sent to the mountains outside Kabul, where they "wanted to leave and return to England because it was getting to [sic] dangerous." However, they were seized by General Dostum’s forces on November 28, 2001, and were "put into metal containers" and sent to Sheberghan, where he spent 27 days before being transferred to US control.
The key allegation — about being in a video with Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta — doesn’t even fit with this largely unconvincing narrative, as it involves the three men being present at a camp in Afghanistan with bin Laden and Atta in the winter of 2000/2001, when, according to the other account outlined above, they supposedly attended a camp in October 2000 and then returned home on November 26. Nevertheless, the Task Force concluded that Ruhal had "lied repeatedly during interviews," and stated, "The totality of evidence strongly suggests the detainee was an Al-Qaida recruit who traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Jihad against the US and who still has information concerning Al-Qaida operatives in the UK." He was "assessed as being a member of Harakat Ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HUJI) and probable member of Al-Qaida," and was also described as being "of moderate intelligence value to the United States," and of posing "a high threat to the US, its interests and allies." As a result, it was recommended that he "be retained under DoD control."
In 2008, Ruhal (like Jan Mohammed, above) was one of 66 former prisoners interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers for a major series on Guantánamo. This was a useful interview, not only for humanising Ruhal, but also for adding a concise explanation of how it was that the three men ended up in Afghanistan in the first place. While they were in Pakistan, Ruhal told the journalist Matthew Schofield, a cleric "called for people to help deliver food, medicine and clothes to Afghanistan." "We were bored, and it sounded exciting," he said, adding that he knew that, "to an outsider and with the benefit of hindsight, the reasons for going seem weak and suspicious," and telling Lasster, "Come on, man, if we knew how it was going to turn out, of course we wouldn’t have done it. Back then it seemed like a good idea." As the McClatchy article explains:
The United States began its invasion of Afghanistan, and one week turned into many weeks. The group from the mosque boarded buses and crossed into Afghanistan, where it switched to vans. After days with little to do, the three Britons asked to return to Pakistan. Instead, they were driven to Kunduz, near a Taliban camp that soon was surrounded by Afghan northern alliance fighters allied with the US While he was there, he said, he learned how to use an AK-47. He and his friends then joined hundreds of fighters in a mass surrender, thinking that this would be their best chance of getting into Western hands.
Instead, of course, it was the start of a nightmare that lasted for more than two years.
Suleiman Shah (ISN 119, Afghanistan) Released March 2003
As I explained in Chapter 3 of The Guantánamo Files, drawing on a BBC report following the release of Shah, along with 17 other Afghans:
24-year old Sulaiman Shah, an Afghan used car dealer, was another of the many innocents swept up by the Northern Alliance. On his release in March 2003, he mentioned his time at Sheberghan, where, he said, "life was inhuman, all the prisoners had diarrhoea, some had tuberculosis, there was no food for days at a time and we were subjected to beatings and torture."
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated September 27, 2002, he was described as Solaiman Dur Mohammed Shah, born in 1971, and his story was confirmed. "Subject detainee was in the business of buying and selling cars," the Task Force wrote. "While driving in Mazar-e-Sharif to sell a car, [he] was captured by General Dostum’s forces. [He] bought vehicles in Kandahar and sold them in Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. He had no military experience and no affiliation with the Taliban." Captured by Afghan forces and then transferred (or sold) to the US, he was sent to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "because of his alleged general knowledge of a possible Taliban official in Kandahar named Mala Sharjijen."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that he "was unable to provide any terrorist biographical information in response to the collection requirement," and that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," adding, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida and as not being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey recommended that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government."
Fawaz Al Zahrani (ISN 125, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2003
In Part One of this series, I told the stories of two Saudis released in May 2003 — Mishal al-Shedoky, and Fahd al-Shabrani — and also explained how, in "The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (1) – The Qala-i-Janghi Massacre," I had previously reported that it was probable that these two, plus two others released at the same time — Fawaz al-Zahrani and Ibrahim al-Shili — were survivors of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, but that nothing at the time was known of the circumstances of their capture, only what happened to them after their repatriation.
I also noted that, in 2006, Human Rights Watch reported that in May 2005, after a four-day closed trial in which the men were not allowed legal representation, the Greater Riyadh Court sentenced them to six months in prison for "leaving the country without permission," although they were all released for time served. As a condition of their release, the Saudi authorities apparently "prevented them from speaking openly about their experiences in Guantánamo and their time in Saudi custody."
In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated November 20, 2002, it was noted that his full name was Fawaz Abdullah al-Aziz al-Zahrani, and that he was born in May 1979. It was also stated that he had responded to a fatwa "directing him to go to Afghanistan to help the Muslims fight against Moussoud" (actually, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader assassinated on September 9, 2001). In Afghanistan, he received some basic training on the Kalashnikov, and spent four months "without any fighting" on the front lines at Khawaja Ghar, in northern Afghanistan. After retreating to Kunduz as the Northern Alliance advanced, he surrendered and was taken to Qala-i-Janghi, where he survived the massacre. As the Task Force explained, "While [he] sat in the prise courtyard with about 400 other prisoners, an explosion occurred about thirty yards from him. During the ensuing commotion, another prisoner was able to untie [him], however [he] was shot in the back as he stood up but the wound was not serious. [He] crawled to the side of the courtyard where he stayed out of sight until nightfall and managed to return to his cell where he remained with other prisoners for seven days."
After a month in Sheberghan, he was transferred to US control in late December 2001, and flown to Guantánamo on May 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of "his knowledge of Taliban personnel manning the front line near Khawaja Ghar, Afghanistan as well as biographic information on Abdul Salam, the commander of several units located near the front lines."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on all the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests." As a result, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government." It was also noted that, "During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 1 to 12 July 2002, Saudi Intelligence officers interrogated [him] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [ISN 125] if released by the US government."
According to a report in the New York Times in July 2004, al-Zahrani and the other three men were released as part of a prisoner swap, in which five British prisoners and two other prisoners were released from Saudi jails.
Ibrahim Al Shili (ISN 127, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2003
Released in May 2003, like Fawaz al-Zahrani (ISN 125, see above) and two others, al-Shili was, like the others, sentenced to six months in prison for "leaving the country without permission" in May 2005, although all four were released for time served. In his Detainee Assessment Brief, dated October 29, 2002, he was described as Ibrahim Rashdan, and it was stated that he was born in 1981. It was also stated that, in July 2001, he and an "associate," Khalid Mohammed, traveled to Afghanistan via Pakistan, after receiving a fatwa from a sheikh who told them "it was criminal not to participate in the Jihad against the Northern Alliance." After receiving small arms training in Kunduz, they were moved to the front lines at Dasht-e-Archi, and then to Mazar-e-Sharif, which was "under heavy fire from the Northern Alliance," where "Khalid Mohammed was killed in an explosion, and [al-Shili] was wounded in the right leg and foot." He was then seized by Northern Alliance soldiers, and, with no mention of where he was held, was apparently treated by the Red Cross for his wounds before being handed over to US custody. He was flown to Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was because of "his knowledge of extremist recruitment in Medina, Saudi Arabia."
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it "consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable," and added, "Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes." The rest of his assessment is missing from the file, but it is clear, from the heading of the DAB, which stated, "Transfer Recommendation," that his transfer to Saudi Arabia was approved.
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, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.