October 20, 2011
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 28 of the 70-part series. 348 stories have now been told.
In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.
The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to "exploit" the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for "actionable intelligence."
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. Part Six involved 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. Part Seven featured more Saudis, a Yemeni, two Kazakhs, an Iranian and some Afghans, including some prisoners with serious mental health issues (and one juvenile prisoner), and the sad — and unresolved — story of Mani al-Utaybi, another of the three prisoners who died in June 2006, and this part features more mental health issues, another juvenile, three men sent to live in Albania because it was not safe for them to be returned to their home countries, and the last of the three prisoners who died in June 2006.
The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Eight of Ten)
Abdullah Al Qahtani (ISN 652, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, after his release, Abdullah al-Qahtani, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, told the newspaper Asharq Alawsat that, in Afghanistan, he had taken part in the Taliban’s military conflict, which he described as "skirmishes with the Russians and allies such as Ahmed Shah Massoud," and also said that, after the US-led invasion began, he and a number of other Arabs negotiated a surrender with the Northern Alliance, and were surprised when they were handed over to the Americans." In contrast, the Pentagon’s limited allegations are here.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Qahtani was a "Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated December 3, 2004, in which he was also identified as Abdulla Hamid al-Qahtani and Abdullah Mohammed, born in 1979, and it was also noted that he had latent TB, in common with many of the prisoners, but refused therapy "after three treatments." It was also noted that he had "been seen for tooth decay" and "had a left 5th metatarsal fracture (foot) noted on x-ray after ankle injury," for which he "received therapy" — for "chronic ankle pain."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after one year of high school, "he worked for his father in a family owned business," and then, in January 2001, met Abdallah Aiza al-Matrafi (ISN 5, released in December 2007, and also identified as Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi) who was identified as "the national director of Al-Wafa in Afghanistan/Pakistan." A Saudi-based charity which was demonstrably involved in humanitarian work in Afghanistan, Al-Wafa was also regarded as a front for terrorism, and was blacklisted by the US, and defined by the Intelligence Interagency on Counter Terrorism (IITC) "as a Tier 2 NGO," meaning an organization that has "demonstrated the intent and willingness to support terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests."
Al-Matrafi apparently recruited al-Qahtani, and his cousin Jabir al-Qahtani (ISN 650, released in November 2007), "to establish an Al-Wafa organisation in Lahore, Pakistan," and in early February 2001 gave him $200 for travel expenses. After he and his cousin took a three-week vacation in Egypt, they met al-Matrafi in Lahore in April 2001, and "were driven to a large storage facility in Lahore," where al-Matrafi told them "they would be accountable for all goods received from the United Arab Emirates and take regular inventories." They apparently "lived on the second floor of the storage facility and were told by [al-Matrafi] to keep a low profile and not to be seen by the local populace." Al-Jabrani explained that he "was told this [was] because he was a foreigner and it would make people in the area suspicious," and said that he was also "introduced to a local Pakistani, Muhammad Gola, who was the acting director of the Al-Wafa office in Lahore, PK, and was told if he needed anything [to] talk to Gola."
In September 2001, having not been paid, al-Qahtani said that he asked al-Matrafi "to pay him so he could travel back to Saudi Arabia," and al-Matrafi told him that "if they travel[ed] to Afghanistan they would be paid the back wages plus any time worked while in Afghanistan." He and his cousin agreed and traveled to Kabul, where they met al-Matrafi "in his villa" in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul, and where, according to al-Qahtani, he "was only paid $3000.00 USD." He and his cousin then "continued working for Al-Wafa in the Wazir Akbar Khan District until captured by Northern Alliance on [sic] November 2001."
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 3, 2002, allegedly to "provide information on the following: Activities of the Al-Wafa organisation under Abdul Aziz aka Abdallah Aiza al-Matrafi, Aspects of Al-Wafa funnelling financial support to illicit purposes, Lahore, PK, and Kabul, AF, offices of Al-Wafa [and] Recruitment procedures and network for Al-Wafa in Mecca, SA."
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-Qaeda and Taliban suspects" were widespread.
Given what he said after his release, it may be worth considering that, in this latter period, he may not have been working for Al-Wafa as he stated, but I see no reason to dispute the whole of the story of his humanitarian work with Al-Wafa, although this is what the Task Force did. Noting that he was assessed as being "affiliated with Al-Wafa" and "a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network," the US authorities were deeply suspicious about al-Qahtani’s claim that he "was promised over $6000.00 USD for working six months in Pakistan," which was regarded as "an excessive amount of money since the average employee of Al Wafa was paid between $250- $300 USD per month." It was claimed that Al Wafa "was known for providing money transfers for Al-Qaida" (although this allegation was never actually tested in an objective manner), and that, as a result, it was "possible that [al-Qahtani] was involved in that activity or distributing money to Mujahideen as they were exiting Afghanistan."
In addition, it was noted that it had been "assessed that he [was] possibly a higher-ranking employee in the Al-Wafa or other extremist organization and received weapons training at Al-Wafa’s training camp in Kabul, Afghanistan (AF), and did not work in an alleged 'warehouse’ in Lahore, PK, which research has proven to be non-existent."
As a result of all these doubts, al-Qahtani 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." It was also noted that he was "assessed as a high force protection threat," with "a past history of aggressive behaviour," and "multiple acts of assault on his disciplinary record," who had "routinely been aggressive and ha[d] two incidents of forced cell extractions," had "incited disturbances on many different blocks and fail[ed] to act within the detention facility SOP." As a result, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia, although he was not released for another 17 months, when he was repatriated to be put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Khudaidad (ISN 655, Afghanistan) Released February 2006
In Chapter 14 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Khudaidad (aka Khudai Dad), who was 45 years old at the time of his capture, was seized in a night-time raid by Afghan soldiers in Uruzgan in April 2002. It was alleged that his compound was used by Mullah Berader, a senior figure in the Taliban, that he himself was a Taliban official and that he was supposed to "assume a prominent leadership role in Kandahar," but he said that he was actually just a poor farmer.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Khudaidad was an "Update Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control," dated March 6, 2004, in which he was identified as Kudai Dat, born in 1957, and it was noted that he had been "diagnosed with Schizophrenia," although it was also claimed that he was "otherwise in good health."
In fact, Khudaidad had severe mental health problems, as was revealed in an attachment from the "JTF GTMO Behavioral Health Service and the Behavioral Science Consultation Team," who reported that he "began to report symptoms of anxiety in November 2002, which resulted in his being hospitalized for acute symptoms of psychosis." In January 2003, "he was referred to the transfer assessment team, which conducted a final interrogation," and "was not interrogated again" for several months "while his file was being processed." According to JTF GTMO’s daily incident reports, "he often refused his medication during this period," but "[h]is condition improved, and he was cleared for a polygraph examination." However, when this was to take place, he "began to have hallucinations again, and the polygraphers determined he was mentally unfit to examine." It was also noted that it was "consistent with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, controlled with medication, for an individual to react to increased stress with psychotic symptoms."
In July 2003, "he was started on a monthly dose of an antipsychotic to assist with compliance with his medication regimen." It was noted that he then "responded well" to monthly does of Haldol Decanoate, and was "free of psychosis." However, it was also noted that he could "be expected to experience intermittent difficulties related to psychosis over time without constant supervision of medication compliance," and would "require continued psychiatric follow-up upon return to his native country." Regarding his planned repatriation, it was noted that he would "require a mental health escort and supplemental medications 'as needed’ in-flight," and it was also noted that "[h]is long-term prognosis appear[ed] poor."
Despite this, the "Update Recommendation," following up on a recommendation that he be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another movement," which was based on an assessment that he "was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader" (dated March 22, 2003), included "New Information," which led to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller’s recommendation that he be retained in DoD control, and was "contrary to his statements that he [was] nothing more than a farmer."
According to "sensitive reporting," which was not specified, Khudaidad was "referred to as a Mullah," and "was possibly involved in negotiations between Mullah Omar and other Pashtun commanders for control of Kandahar during the disintegration of the Taliban regime." According to this account, he "would have been acting in a leadership position," but this was not convincing, given the use of the word "possibly."
It was also noted that, "according to new information," his claim that "he had only two brothers," was untrue, as "he may have as many as seven brothers," although, again, this was not presented as a hard fact. Related to this was a claim that he "supplied biographical information on a senior Taliban facilitator by the name of 'Zainullah,’" who was regarded as a "possible brother" of his.
In addition, although it could not be confirmed that there was any significance to the claim that the compound where he was seized was "identified as the last known location of Mullah Berader and other top Taliban commanders," and Khudaidad "denie[d] any knowledge of these individuals or of Taliban involvement in his town," it was noted that his home "remain[ed] the center of Taliban resistance to the current government of Afghanistan," and the authorities were deeply suspicious about that.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being "of medium intelligence value," and of posing "a medium risk as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies." It was also noted, evidently by the guard force, and evidently without having ever been apprised of his severe mental health issues, that he had "shown by his actions in the cell that he ha[d] little regard for himself and [would] not listen to authority," and that he had "refused medications, banged his head against the floor, exposed himself to others, and in general ha[d] been non-compliant." Most alarmingly, given what was indicated elsewhere about his mental health, it was also noted that, "at many times, [he] trie[d] to make it appear that he [was] suffering from a mental breakdown," when, in fact, he probably was.
As a result of the Task Force’s intelligence and threat assessments, Maj. Gen. Miller made his recommendation, although the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) disagreed, having assessed him as a low risk. 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." CITF’s opinion may eventually have prevailed, but not for another 23 months.
Rashid Al Uwaydah (ISN 664, Saudi Arabia) Released May 2006
In "The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (9) – Seized in Pakistan (Part One)," I explained how Rashid al-Uwaydah, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, said in Guantánamo that he arrived in Pakistan in July 2001 "to escape possible arrest by the Saudi authorities for drug dealing," but hoped nevertheless to buy drugs in Pakistan to sell in Saudi Arabia. After losing his passport, he was arrested in Islamabad with some Libyans he had met, who, he said, were from an official group recognized by the Libyan government, but who the Americans claimed were "helping Arabs get out of Pakistan." It has not, to date, been possible to identify what happened to the Libyans seized with al-Uwaydah.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Uwaydah was a "Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated October 15, 2004, in which he was also identified as Rashid Awwad Rashid al-Uwaydha, born in 1976, and it was noted that he was "in good health, although he complain[ed] of acid reflux."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he said, as he did in his review board at Guantánamo, that he "left Saudi Arabia to avoid being arrested for selling and smuggling pills in Saudi Arabia," and "was advised by a Pakistani hashish smuggler" to go to Pakistan, where he was provided with a contact. He apparently arrived in Pakistan in June 2001, and planned to stay for a month before returning to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Uwaydah said that "he never attended any Taliban or Al-Qaida (AQ) affiliated training camps," either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, where, he said, he had never set foot. On approximately January 20, 2002, he was arrested by the Pakistani police "while residing at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Islamabad." He was transferred to US custody on April 5, 2002, and the circumstances of his transfer to Guantánamo were not known to the Task Force, as it was stated that he was sent to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002, which was obviously impossible, and, in addition, it was "not documented in [his] file why he was sent to JTF GTMO."
In assessing his story, the Joint Task Force noted, bluntly, that his "cover story of going to Pakistan to buy drugs and never entering Afghanistan [was] untrue," although there was little information provided to establish if this was indeed the case. The Task Force noted that it was "unclear if [he] was arrested with a group of Libyans that were operating in the same hotel," as he claimed, but the US authorities had no witnesses to any of his activities, only a few dubious claims that his name was found on Al-Qaida-related documents recovered from house raids.
Particularly significant was the fact that his name "was listed as one of 77 Saudi nationals whom a visiting Saudi Delegation considered to be of low intelligence value," and "indicated the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to have these 77 detainees transferred to Saudi Custody for possible prosecution."
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being "of medium intelligence value," and of posing "a medium to high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," although it should be noted that he was assessed as being a high risk, and the words "medium to" were added in a hand-written note. In assessing the risk he allegedly posed, the Task Force claimed that he "appear[ed] to be well connected to key facilitators in the Al-Qaida’s [sic] intemational terrorist network, ha[d] probably participated in terrorist training and hostilities against the US and coalition forces, and maintain[ed] the capability to continue to do so if released," and therefore, it was "imperative" that he be "retained in the custody of the US Government or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Govenment," because his "continued detention [would] allow for further exploitation of his past affiliation with various terrorist groups and prevent him from engaging in further terrorist activity."
The Task Force also declared him to be "an extremely hostile, radical Islamic," whose threat assessment was "high," because he had "a past history of aggressive behaviour," had "aggressively assaulted the guards and ha[d] made many threats towards the guards." As a result, it was perhaps surprising that Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for transfer to continued detention in Saudi Arabia, although it was noted that this decision only applied "if a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence," and that, "If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached for his continued detention in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he should be retained under DoD control."
The Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) disagreed, having assessed him as "a medium risk on 7 May 2004," but CITF deferred to JTF GTMO’s assessment that he posed "a medium to high risk," in "the interest of national security and pursuant to an agreement between the CITF and JTF GTMO Commanders," but even with the Task Force’s conditions, he was not released for another 19 months, and was then put through the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program.
Zakirjan Asam (ISN 672, Russia) Released in November 2006 (in Albania)
In The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Zakirjan Asam (aka Zakirjan Hassam), from Saratov Oblast, part of the Russian Federation bordering Kazakhstan, who was 27 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three prisoners released in Albania in November 2006 because the US authorities feared for their safety if they were returned to their home countries, although he was actually cleared for release in 2005. He was one of the 38 prisoners cleared of being "enemy combatants" after the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo which took place from July 2004 to March 2005, and which led to the swift release of all 38, except a Uighur and Saudi resident, Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani (ISN 491, profiled here), and those who could not be safely repatriated — five Uighurs profiled in Part Four and Part Five, and the two others released in Albania in November 2006, who are profiled below — the Egyptian Ala Salim (ISN 716), and the Algerian Fethi Boucetta (ISN 718).
In Chapter 14, I explained how Asam, a refugee, said in Guantánamo that he was deported from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan in spring 2001, and was betrayed, after the US-led invasion began, by Afghan villagers anxious to avail themselves of the reward money offered by the Americans for vulnerable individuals who could be passed off as members of Al-Qaida or the Taliban. He explained that the inhabitants of two villages in Kunduz province negotiated between themselves and asked him to pay them a $3,000 bribe or they would hand him over to the Americans. He said that "they knew they could sell me to the Americans for $5,000," and that they explained to him that "because I am a Muslim they lowered the price for me."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Asam was an "Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated March 25, 2005, in which he was misidentified as an Uzbek, and it was noted that he was born in May 1974. It was also noted that he "was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder with psychotic features and a non-specific psychosis," and that he "suffer[ed] from migraine headaches." It was also noted that he was taking "three psychiatric medications to control his illness," and that the only restriction on his ability to travel (in other words, to be released from Guantánamo) was the requirement "to have his migraine and psychiatric medications available for the flight."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, according to his own account, after working as an auto mechanic, he moved to Kazakhstan in 1999, where he "was employed as a wheat farmer and construction laborer" until the spring of 2001, when Kazakh officials arrested him "due to lack of identification paperwork." He was then apparently turned over to Tajik government officials "and was housed for two and a half months in a house with two unarmed guards," before being "placed on a helicopter with a 'Red Crescent’ emblem on the side and flown to Afghanistan," where he was "put in a truck and transported to Kunduz."
There, he said, he studied in a mosque, and, from May to November 2001, shared a house outside of the city "with eight women and three other males," where he "maintained the generator for room and board." When the US-led invasion reached Kunduz, he "fled to the mountains where he stayed for three days," until Northern Alliances forces captured him "while he and two Uzbek-ethnic Afghans were sitting by a fire," although "he was the only individual arrested."
He was then taken to Dasht-e-Archi, where he was held in a house with "a group of unidentified Afghans for 25 days," and where his captors said that, if he could raise $300, he would be freed. They then "released him to be able to acquire the funds," but he "was later recaptured and jailed for one month before being turned over to US forces." He was sent to Guantánamo on June 14, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to "provide information on the following: IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] and their activities in Tajikistan and Afghanistan."
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that Asam was "assessed as being a probable member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," although no witnesses were found who had identified him, and all that the Task Force had to go on were similarities to the stories of others, which is hardly very convincing. It may be that he was an IMU recruit, as his story was full of holes, although there were certainly also a number of other strange stories circulating, concerning Afghanistan, the IMU and the countries to the north, indicating that men like Asam had been deported to Afghanistan, or deported and pressed into military service, meaning that his willingness, if he was indeed recruited, was difficult to gauge.
Above all, though, his mental health problems plagued his case, and, it seems to me, made any kind of objective assessment impossible. He was assessed as being "of medium intelligence value," and of posing "a medium risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," but part of that assessment involved a claim that his "psychological disorders may make him vulnerable to recruitment or manipulation by Islamic extremist organisations, who would exploit this vulnerability to utilize him to conduct terrorist activities." It was also noted, in an analysis of his conduct (presumably submitted by the guard force) that he was "extremely violent and ha[d] been labeled as a psychiatric patient," that he had "a past history of aggressive behaviour," and that he had "six self-harm incident reports on record."
Although it had been recommended that he be retained in DoD control on December 20, 2003, Brig. Gen. Hood drew on "information obtained since [his] previous assessment" to recommend that he be transferred to another country for continued detention, although this "information" was not specified. Of course, as the government evidently regarded it as unsafe to return him to Russia, the transfer recommendation was meaningless, as no third country would accept a former prisoner and then imprison them on America’s behalf. As a result, the trigger for his release was the decision, by his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, that he was not an 'enemy combatant," although it still took over a year and a half for a country to be found — Albania — that was prepared to accept him.
Since his release, no information has been provided regarding his mental health issues or how he has coped with his new life in a country that has offered him shelter, but very little in the way of support.
Salah Ahmed Al Salami (ISN 693, Yemen) Died in Guantánamo June 2006
As I explained in Chapter 19 of The Guantánamo Files, al-Salami (generally identified in Guantánamo as Ali Abdullah Ahmed), who was 25 years old at the time of his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, was one of three prisoners who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006. having allegedly hanged themselves in a coordinated suicide pact. The other two were Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi (who was just 17 at the time of his capture), and Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and all three were long-term hunger strikers, who had been force-fed on a daily basis for many months before their deaths.
The administration’s response to the deaths was extraordinarily callous. Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo, said, "This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us," and Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, described the suicides as a "good PR move to draw attention." Stung by international criticism, the administration rapidly back-tracked, and Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, was put forward to say, "I wouldn’t characterize it as a good PR move. What I would say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own life, because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our country."
In an attempt to stifle further dissent, and to bolster their view that the three men were hardened terrorists, the Pentagon released details of the allegations against them, which served only to highlight almost everything that was wrong with the system at Guantánamo. In the case of al-Salami, one of 15 men seized in a raid on a student house in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the same night that Abu Zubaydah, who was later tortured and became one of the CIA’s most notorious "ghost prisoners," was seized. After al-Salami’s death, the Pentagon alleged, without providing any evidence at all, that he was "a mid- to high-level Al-Qaida operative who had key ties to principal facilitators and senior members of the group."
Although none of the men had taken part in any tribunals, more detailed allegations against al-Salami surfaced in the alleged evidence against him in his CSRT, although a close inspection of the allegations reveals that they were mostly made by unidentified "members" of Al-Qaida, either in Guantánamo or in other secret prisons: "a senior Al-Qaida facilitator" identified him, another senior Al-Qaida figure — a "lieutenant" — identified him as being "associated with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and the "Al-Qaida weapons trainer from Tora Bora" allegedly identified him from his time in Kabul and at the Khaldan training camp. He was also identified as "an Al-Qaida courier," and as someone who "worked directly for Osama bin Laden’s family." Shorn of these allegations, which summon up images of various supposedly "significant" prisoners being shown photos of tier fellow prisoners — in what was known as the "family album" — in painful circumstances, the only other allegation was that the "Issa" guest house received the equivalent of jihadi junk mail: apparently, the residents of the house "routinely received endorsement letters from a well-known Al-Qaida operative" to attend the Khaldan camp.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Salami was a "Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control," dated October 1, 2004, in which he was not identified by his real name, but only as Ali Abdullah Ahmed and Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it was noted that he was born in August 1979, and was "in good health," although it was also noted that he had "a history of hunger striking and nephrolithiasis (kidney stones)."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, according to his own account, he "was a street vendor who sold clothing," but "had been thinking about religious education for a long time and was prompted to travel to Pakistan to receive this education upon hearing God’s calling." Around May 2001, "he quit his job, left his young wife, spent $500 USD on a passport, visa, and plane ticket," which "was good for a return trip up to one year after purchase," and flew from Sana’a to Karachi."
After a week in Karachi, he took a bus to Faisalabad, where he "enrolled in Jamea Salafia University and began religious studies." He said that he "was living in on-campus dormitories for five to six months," but, about one month after the 9/11 attacks, "was asked to move out of the dorms on-campus," and, "with several other Arab students, moved to an off-campus safehouse ran [sic] by a man named Issa." He explained that, by the end of March 2002, he "was planning on staying in Pakistan until his plane ticket was just about to expire (another month and a half), but his plans were cut short" when Pakistani authorities raided the house, which was identified as the Crescent Textile Mill, on March 28, 2002.
He was then turned over to US authorities, and was sent to Guantánamo on June 19, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to "provide information on: The safehouse in Faisalabad, PK, which was used to house foreign students who were attending the Jamea Salafia University [and] Routes of ingress between Yemen and Pakistan."
In assessing his story, the Task Force stated its belief that he was "using the guise of studying Islam at the Jamea Salafia University while residing at the Issa safehouse as a cover story to conceal his true activities in Pakistan/Afghanistan." An analyst pointed out that the Jamea Salafia University was "a religious madrassa (school) and not a state-funded or state-regulated school," and that "[r]eligious madrassas in Pakistan are perceived to encourage militancy, religious extremism, and intolerance while thriving on anti-Western sentiment," which may well have been true, but it did not mean that al-Salami was not a student.
It was also noted that he was captured "with fifteen others, many of whom have been identified by senior Al-Qaida personnel," although this claim was extremely difficult to corroborate. What was clear was that Abu Zubaydah had some sort of connection with the house, but it was unclear exactly what that connection was, beyond being a place where, on occasion, men fleeing Afghanistan — whether as combatants of civilians was unclear — could be housed.
It was certainly not appropriate for the Task Force to declare that "The Issa safehouse was under the control of Abu Zubaydah, an Al-Qaida top lieutenant and aid to Osama bin Laden," as the house was under the control of the Pakistani named Issa, and the claims about Zubaydah were and are wildly exaggerated.
As a result, it was worth regarding with skepticism an analyst’s note that, although "[s]everal Arabs captured at the Issa safehouse ha[d] used the same rigid cover story that they were merely educating themselves and studying Islam," it was possible that "the house could have been used as a collection point for Al-Qaida members seeking and returning from Al-Qaida terrorist training."
There are also grave doubts about the legitimacy of a raft of other claims made by Zubaydah and others seized with him in another house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002. Zubaydah, for example, allegedly "identified" al-Salami, claiming that he had seen him in Kandahar with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that "he might have seen detainee in Kandahar three or four times," but there is no reason to trust this statement, and nor is there any reason to trust a statement made by Abu Yasir Al-Jaza’iri, described as "a senior Al-Qaida facilitator," who "identified" al-Salami, and made a number of outlandish claims about him, as al-Jaza’iri was a "ghost prisoner," also seized in Pakistan in March 2003, whose whereabouts have never been explained by the US government. Either held in secret CIA torture prisons, or in Pakistani custody, his testimony is, therefore, probably as unreliable as that of Abu Zubaydah.
Al-Jaza’iri apparently said that al-Salami’s cousin was arrested on arrival in Karachi in 1999 "due to visa violation issues," and al-Salami "was sent by the family to secure his cousin’s release from jail." He also said that he first met al-Salami at a guesthouse in Kandahar in the spring of 2000 and "place[d] him back in Pakistan in late 2000 assisting in efforts to release his cousin." It was also al-Jaza’iri who claimed that he was "an Al-Qaida courier," and he also claimed that he "was the younger brother of Assadallah al-Sindhi, a popular Al-Qaida member killed in 1996," and also, most outrageously, it seems to me, that al-Salami "and his cousin Nadim were responsible for caring for the logistics of the families of [Osama bin Laden]'s son-in-laws, Awa al-Madani and Abdallah al-Madani, that included travel arrangements, lodging, and healthcare arrangements." An analyst noted that this claim "establishe[d] the detainee’s stature in relation to UBL and adds validity to Zubaydah’s statements identifying that detainee associated with Senior Al-Qaida Operational Planner KSM," but it does no such thing, as there is no indication that any of it is true.
Other dubious claims were made by Noor Uthman Muhammed (ISN 707, captured with Zubyadah), and described as the "Al-Qaida trainer from Tora Bora," who allegedly identified al-Salami as having been in Kabul and at the Khaldan camp, although no further details were provided to corroborate his claims, and Walid bin Attash (ISN 10014), another "high-value detainee" held in secret CIA prisons, and sent to Guantánamo in September 2006 with Zubaydah, KSM and 11 others. Bin Attash, described as a "senior Al-Qaida operational planner," said that he "recognized detainee by his distinct birthmark, but cannot remember any details," which is also meaningless as an allegation.
In conclusion, the Task Force assessed him as being "of medium to high intelligence value," and of posing "a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies." It was also noted that he had "a history of aggressive behaviour in the camp, often defiantly failing to comply with instructions." As a result, Brig. Gen. Hood recommended that he be retained under DoD control, and he went on to resume the "history of hunger striking" and resistance to his detention identified in his file until his death 20 months later. What is particularly sad, reading through this file, is that, although JTF GTMO notified the Criminal Investigative Task Force of its recommendations on October 1, 2004, CITF did not agree, having "assessed [him] as a low risk on 12 April 2004."
In spite of the government’s official account of the men’s deaths, the claim that they committed suicide was doubted by their fellow prisoners at the time, and also by other commentators, although it was not until December 2009 and January 2010 that serious doubts were expressed in a concerted and thoroughly researched manner.
In December 2009, the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey published a 136-page report, "Death in Camp Delta" (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the official investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and in January 2010, Harper’s Magazine published an extraordinary article by law professor Scott Horton (which I discussed here), revealing the story of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, and a number of other soldiers — the tower guards who "had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, [but] were not interviewed" by the NCIS — who suggested that, earlier in the evening on which the men allegedly committed suicide, they had been taken from the cell block in which they were held to a secret facility outside the main perimeter fence of Guantánamo — known to the soldiers as "Camp No" — where they had either been deliberately killed, or had a died as the result of particularly brutal torture sessions. "They didn’t die in their cells," Sgt. Hickman explained to me in March 2010.
Despite these claims, the Justice Department shut the door on a proposed inquiry in November 2009, and an attempt by family members (including al-Zahrani’s father) to pursue accountability in the US courts was turned down in September 2010, and is currently being appealed.
Jamal Kiyemba (ISN 701, Uganda) Released February 2006
In Chapter 13 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Jamal Kiyemba, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, was born in Uganda, but had been a British resident since the age of 14, when he was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK following the death of his father and came to live in the UK with his mother, eventually embarking on a degree in pharmacy at Leicester De Montfort University that he never completed.
Although he lived in the UK for eight years, Kiyemba never claimed British citizenship, and on his release, he was sent to Uganda, and home secretary Charles Clarke prohibited him from setting foot in the UK again. As was reported in an article about him in the Mail on Sunday after his release, he told his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, "I may not be British according to some bit of paper but in reality I am a Brit and always will be. My doctor, my local mosque, my teens, my education, employment, friends, taxes, home and above all else my family — it is all in Britain." In contrast to this account, the limited allegations against him in Guantánamo are available here.
Kiyemba was arrested in March 2002 in Pakistan, where he went to study Arabic and the Koran because it was "very cheap," without ever having set foot in Afghanistan, although he admitted that he was taught how to use a Kalashnikov by a Pakistani he met, and that he "left England with the intention of finding a way to fight jihad" in Afghanistan, "to defend the Muslims who were being killed." After his arrest, he was held for two months, beaten by Pakistani intelligence officers, threatened with torture and then transferred to Bagram.
In Chapter 14, I explained how, in describing Bagram, Kiyemba recalled a 48-hour period, when he was "hung on the door for two hours and then allowed to sit for half an hour but never allowed to sleep," and was then taken for interrogation for two hours at a time, adding, "I had to kneel on the cold concrete throughout the interrogations with my cuffed hands above my head." He was also interviewed by MI5 officers, who showed him photos of supposed terrorists in the UK and told him they would only be able to help him if he helped them, but he didn’t know any of them. He recognized Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, but had only ever seen them on TV.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Kiyemba was an "Administrative Review Board Input," dated November 3, 2004, in which the Joint Task Force recommended that he be "transferred to the control of another country for continued detention," following his last assessment, dated August 2, 2004, in which he was actually recommended for "Release or transfer to the control of another country for continued detention (TRCD)." The full details of this assessment were not included , although it was noted that he was assessed as being of low intelligence value, and of posing a medium risk.
In assessing his threat level, the Task Force claimed that he was "an admitted jihadist who attempted travel to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks," and that he was "committed to defending Islamic nations against aggression, citing any system like democracy which tries to end Islamic law is worthy of Jihad against it," and "adding that such systems are ultimately oppressive."
It was also claimed that he "had acquired support in the UK and abroad from tiered organisations" including the vast, apolitical missionary organization Jamaat al-Tablighi (which was regarded by the US authorities as a front for terrorism), and the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and, additionally, it was claimed that he "received military training in the use of the AK-47 while in Peshawar, PK, from support members belonging to the LET."
It was also noted that "Pakistani police arrested [him] near Peshawar where he was attempting to enter Afghanistan with three other men who also ended up in Guantánamo — Mohammed al-Amin (ISN 706, a Mauritanian released in September 2007, but described as having been "assessed as a low level jihadist"), Mustafa al-Hassan (ISN 719, a Sudanese prisoner released in October 2008, but described as "a suspected Al-Qaida operative"), and Amir Yacoub al-Amir (ISN 720, another Sudanese prisoner, released in May 2008, but "assessed as a probable Al-Qaida operative").
On his return to Uganda, Kiyemba was "confined to a 'safe house’" for two months, according to the Ugandan press, although it would seem fairer to explain that he was held under a form of house arrest for this period. On April 17, 2006, he told a reporter, Emmy Allio, "I am now a very happy man because I am free to live my life. I have visited all my relatives. This is the first time I am free since 2002." He also said, "I did not expect anything good in Uganda but I was instead treated quite fairly. I thank the Uganda security for being good to me. I thank all Muslims in Uganda and elsewhere who have been praying for me."
He added, "Last week, the Uganda security told me that I am a free man. The officer told me, 'You are free to go out and live your life but be careful with wrong groups out there.’" A security source told the reporter that the Ugandan government "did not find any cause to continue to detain him," although the official added, "He is a free man, but we shall nab him if he falls in wrong groups."
Even so, as the reporter described it, "his joy upon being released has quickly brought misery. Kiyemba is afraid of the future, saying he does not know what to do, having dropped out of university in 2001 to join 'an Islamic cause against western imperialists in Afghanistan’ after the Taliban fell." At the time, he said, "I was ready to assist my brothers there in any possible way, financially or by holding a gun, to defend them," but now, he said, "I am looking for a job. I want to complete the university course. I want to be independent. I need help. I am determined to complete my studies but I need my independence. I need to sustain myself, not be a burden to relatives."
He was unwilling to speak about his experiences in US custody, stating only, "In Guantánamo Bay, it was more of psychological torture. As a Muslim, you must be prepared to suffer and die for your religion. Being in Guantánamo Bay taught me one thing: to be patient and to put my trust in God."
There have been no recent reports about Jamal Kiyemba.
Ala Salim (ISN 716, Egypt) Released November 2006 (in Albania)
In The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ala Salim (aka Allah Saleem), a religious scholar who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three prisoners released in Albania in November 2006 because the US authorities feared for their safety if they were returned to their home coun