October 3, 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 24 of the 70-part series.
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, before they were returned to Libya and imprisoned by Colonel Gaddafi. This fourth part tells eleven more stories, of prisoners seized, for a variety of reasons, crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001.
The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Four of Ten)
Mohammed Al Asadi (ISN 198, Yemen) Released December 2006
In "The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (5) – Escape to Pakistan (The Yemenis)," I explained how Mohammed al-Asadi, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, was seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and was one of six prisoners transferred to Yemeni custody in December 2006 (and the only one of the six who was cleared for immediate release by the US authorities).
At Guantánamo, he was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in March 2001 "to fight the jihad," serving as a guard at a Taliban center, and fighting for a month and a half with a Taliban group consisting mainly of Pakistanis, but in response, having agreed to attend his tribunal hearing to make a statement, he proceeded to say, "I do not wish to make a statement because there’s no use in making a statement or defending myself." He added, "I have many statements and evidence and information that I could present, but there is no use in presenting them because you have classified information that I cannot see or look at to defend myself against them. There is no point in me saying anything."
After this succinct demolition of the tribunals’ inbuilt bias, he said, "I don’t have any response" to all the allegations in the Unclassified Summary, and it was left to his Personal Representative (the military official assigned to the prisoners in place of a lawyer) to state that he had been "very cooperative" and had "exhibited very good behavior" during his pre-CSRT interviews, that he had stated that he had never fought against the United States, and that he wished to point out that "he was with the Taliban before they fought against the US or the Northern Alliance."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Asadi was a "Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country (TR)," dated September 17, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in July 1979, and had "a history of renalithasis," but was otherwise "in good health."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that, after graduating from high school in 1999, he worked for four months as the assistant manager for a real estate company, then quit and drove a bus owned by his family for another six months, until that vehicle was sold. While unemployed, he attended a lecture at a mosque in which a man named Muktar spoke about "the living conditions of Muslims worldwide, specifically regarding the Palestinian situation," and afterwards, when he "expressed his interest in helping Muslims," Muktar told him "it was impossible to help the Palestinians," and "instructed [him] to travel to Afghanistan, to fight in a jihad against [Ahmed Shah] Massoud’s [Northern Alliance] forces and to assist the Taliban government in the construction of an Islamic state."
Having arranged his transport, Muktar sent al-Asadi on a well-worn route to Afghanistan, via Karachi and Quetta in Pakistan, despite his family’s objections, at the end of March 2001. After arriving at a guesthouse behind the front lines in Kabul, he said that he told the man in charge of the guesthouse, Abu al-Laith (possibly Abu Laith al-Libi, a veteran of the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet Union, who was reportedly killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in January 2008), that he had "handled weapons in Yemen, that he was experienced with the Kalashnikov rifle, and that he intended to stay in Afghanistan for about four months." He added that the Taliban "used simple and unorganized tactics, which did not require him to have had prior training," and that the center he was staying in "was never attacked and was basically used for support."
In his six weeks at the center, he said that he was frequently given guard duty to perform, and, interestingly, added that a "group of Arabs performing charity missions would periodically visit the guesthouse" and "talk with [him] about the Taliban fighting against other Muslims." After a number of these meetings, he said, "the group convinced [him] to leave the center and join their mission." He said that he "was permitted to turn in his weapon, join the charity group, and move to an abandoned house, where he loaded trucks and moved supplies." It was there, he said, that he heard about the 9/11 attacks, and he then traveled to Jalalabad, "where he was arrested by the Northern Alliance and taken to Kabul, AF, only to be released later."
He then left for Pakistan with an unidentified "group," traveling with a guide who "informed them that a group in the mountains of Tora Bora, AF, could provide safe passage to Islamabad," and said that, despite heavy US bombing in the mountains, he and approximately 20 others "arrived in an unidentified Pakistani village, where they rested," but were then "taken to a large mosque in the village, where the Pakistani police detained the group and transported them to a jail outside of Peshawar." They were then supposed to be taken by bus to another prison, but "passengers of one of the buses rioted" and "some of the prisoners escaped," so the buses returned to Peshawar. The prisoners were then taken to a Pakistani military prison, where al-Asadi stayed for 15 days, and was then handed over to US forces and taken to the US prison at Kandahar airport.
He was sent to Guantánamo on May 6, 2002, apparently because of his "ability to provide information on: A possible Al-Qaida or Taliban recruiter and travel facilitator named Muktar, A Taliban safehouse in Quetta, PK, The area of the front located north of Kabul, AF [and] Taliban and Al-Qaida activities in the Tora Bora Region in Afghanistan."
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.
In assessing his story, the Task Force noted that, although he "participated in jihad, obtained false passports [for his travel to Afghanistan], and trained with the Taliban," he had been "cooperative and consistent." It was also noted that his "intelligence value ha[d] been substantially, if not fully, exploited," and that JTF GTMO had assessed that there was "little or no additional relevant information to be gained" from him, and had determined that he was "of low intelligence value."
It was also noted that, in Guantánamo, his "overall behaviour ha[d] been generally non-compliant and aggressive," and he "only had a limited number of passive-aggressive incidents," and, moreover, that "further confinement may only lead to greater disdain for the US and its allies."
The Task Force concluded that he had been assessed as "not a member of Al-Qaida and/or its global terrorist network," adding that his "youth, unemployment, and uncertainty about his future goals allowed him to be easily influenced, making him a prime candidate for jihad." It was also noted that he "apparently had high expectations of the Taliban, only to discover that it did not offer what he expected." The Task Force also expressed some doubt about his claim that the Taliban allowed him to leave the front lines to do charitable work, noting that, according to other accounts, "individuals who fled the front lines were shot," although it was also noted that "this was prior to 11 September 2001, and the detainee’s role in the Taliban was not of great importance." As a result, he was determined to pose "a low risk, as he is not likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," and Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended that he be "released or transferred to the control of another country."
On his release, two years and three months later, he was the only one of the six prisoners returned to be freed immediately, and he told Gulf News that "he was released because there was no charge against him and that his file was found 'clear.’" He also said that, "[b]efore being released, he signed a paper here that he would not participate in any armed activity," and explained, "Now, I’m going to start a normal life, to find a job, to get married, and generally settle down."
In January 2007, he spoke to Gulf News again, explaining that a new hunger strike has started at Guantánamo just before his release, and that it had started "mainly because of harassment while praying or while reading the Quran." Al-Asadi added, "The soldiers interrupt the brothers from time to time even while praying, they inspect the Quran, they inspect their private organs, only to create psychological pressure on them." He also explained that "the treatment in general [had] become very bad in terms of food, clothes, medicines, blankets," as Gulf News described it. "They take the blankets at dawn when it’s extremely cold," he said.
Finally, when asked "why the Americans released him and the other five inmates," he said, "They told us your release is a special favor to the six of you." He added that "he refused to sign a US paper pledging he would not join Al-Qaida or the Taliban," and explained, "They told me that I no longer pose a threat to them but they asked me to sign a paper, which says if you join Al-Qaida and or Taliban, then US has the right to arrest you once again. But I refused to sign that paper. I said I’m now like anyone outside the prison, I’m innocent." He also said that "the US government had asked the Yemeni authorities to put them in prison," noting, "There was an agreement between them and our government that we be sent to a prison not to our homes, but I don’t know about how long they agreed we should stay in prison before being released." This was interesting, as it did not apply to him, but it was probable that the US authorities tried to putt pressure on the Yemeni government to keep the other five in prison, as had happened with the few men released previously.
In conclusion, he explained, in a version of the article in the Yemen Observer, that "he was exposed to less abuse than others during investigations in Guantánamo. "They used to interrogate me every month, but for the last year and a half I have had no more interviews at all," he said. "The reason for that is that they collected information about me from other various sources and found I did nothing. I told them explicitly that I came to Afghanistan for Jihad. I did not kill Americans; I went there before Americans came. So they had nothing against me to say that I had killed Americans or any of their allies. They had no hard evidence to bring me to court."
He added, "They care for the truth, yes, but they do not believe the man — any man – - was not fighting. They do not believe he entered for anything else. They have an idea that any Arab in Afghanistan or Pakistan is a terrorist." He also explained that, before leaving Guantánamo, the prisoners "were allowed to call lawyers, but he "did not call any because he had never organized any lawyer before as he thought the issue was only political and could not be solved by courts." "I told them the lawyer is American, the judge is American, the jailer is American, and the opponent is American," he said.
Abdullah Al Yamani (ISN 206, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 2 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Yamani, who was 34 years old at the time of his capture, was accused in his review board at Guantánamo of knowing both Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in 2006) and the torture victim and CIA "ghost prisoner" Abu Zubaydah. He denied the allegations, and spoke very little about his time in Afghanistan, much of which was apparently spent in a safehouse in Kabul.
It also transpired that he was a survivor of what has become known as the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, when, he said, he was shot in the leg. The massacre took place in an ancient fort in northern Afghanistan, where hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers (and some civilians swept up by mistake) were taken by General Rashid Dostum’s Northern Alliance forces after surrendering as part of the fall of Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north, at the end of November 2001. Most of these men died after some staged an uprising, which was put down with savage force, and the 86 survivors huddled underground in a basement, as the Northern Alliance and their US allies bombed them, attempted to set them on fire, and finally flooded the basement. 100 to 130 prisoners died in the flooding, and, in total, it is estimated that at least 360 prisoners in total were killed in the massacre.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Yamani was a "Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD)," dated December 16, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abdullah Muhammed Abdel Aziz and Abdullah Mohammad Mohammad Yahia al-Edaini, and it was noted that he was born in 1976. It was also noted that he was "in good health," although he had a "history of GSW [gunshot wound] to left foot prior to his detention," had been "evaluated by orthopaedic surgery and podiatry," had "a history of haemorrhoids," and "went on hunger strike in July 2005."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he had left secondary school without graduating, had worked for a while as a receptionist, and had then secured work with his father, and that, while obviously unsure about his future, he met a man named Ibrahim at a mosque in Medina who "explained verses of the Koran, which mandated that a Muslim’s duty was 'to prepare himself to stand against anyone who is against Islam,’" and told him "he could get free training, specifically on the Kalashnikov, in Afghanistan." He said that he left for Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, "with travel instructions from lbrahim," but "no contact information," because, he said, the "Arabs would provide him with the guidance he needed."
Taking a land route via Iran, rather than flying to Karachi, he arrived in Kabul, via Herat and a guesthouse in Kandahar, and undertook training at a camp outside Kabul that was identified as the Malek Center, where he stayed between four and six weeks. He claimed he was taken to the front lines twice, "but was not issued a weapon, remained in the rear, and did not fight," and also claimed that, after training, he stayed in the Kabul guesthouse until "he heard that Kabul was to be bombed by US forces," when "he reportedly fled to Kunduz," and stayed in another guesthouse, before surrendering to General Dostum’s forces at Mazar-e-Sharif.
Describing the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, and al-Yamani’s experience of it, the Task Force noted, "A riot erupted; detainee was shot in the leg and then escaped to the basement of the castle to hide. He denied taking an active role in the uprising. After several days [actually a week], the group was allowed to surrender and the Red Cross treated detainee. He was taken to a jail in Sheberghan, AF, and delivered to US custody on 01 January 2002″ in Kandahar. He was sent to Guantánamo on January 21, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to "provide information on the following: Taliban safe house used for mission planning and rest in the city of Kunduz, AF [and] Taliban controlled farm on the outskirts of Kabul, AF, where small arms training was conducted."
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he had "provided incomplete accounts of his activities," which made it "difficult to assess his true role within the jihadist network." It was assessed that he had probably attended a basic training camp before the Malek Center, but facts were elusive. He was, however, assessed as being "of medium intelligence value," even though it was acknowledged that there was "no evidence" to indicate that he "had direct access to leadership" (which perhaps helps to evaluate how generally insignificant "medium" is in this context) and of posing "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," primarily because he was assessed as "an Al-Qaida member who received militant training at an Al-Qaida supported training camp in Afghanistan and resided in several Taliban/Al-Qaida guesthouses." He was also assessed as being "a moderate threat from a detention perspective," because his "overall behavior ha[d] been non-compliant, yet non-hostile to the guard force and staff."
However, what probably counted most in his favor was that, "After the July 2002 Saudi delegation visit, detainee was identified by the Saudi Ministry of Interior, General Directorate of Investigations (Mabahith) as one of the seventy-seven Saudi nationals of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US Government but of whom [sic] the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from JTF GTMO."
This, in turn, presumably led to the Task Force observing that, although Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for "Continued Detention Under DoD Control," updating a similar recommendation on May 21, 2004, "If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO). A visiting Saudi delegation indicated that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution."
Anwar Al Nurr (ISN 226, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006
In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Anwar al-Nurr, a teacher who was 24 years old at the time of his capture, was one of three humanitarian aid workers arrested in Pakistan without setting foot in Afghanistan. After watching TV footage of refugees fleeing to the Iranian border after the US-led invasion began, he and school principal Rashid al-Qa’id (ISN 344, see Part Six of this series), and another teacher, Wasim al-Omar (ISN 338, also see Part Six), decided to travel to the border to provide humanitarian aid. After spending a few days in Afghanistan, when they distributed money in refugee camps, they were not allowed back into Iran "due to prejudice; we were Sunni and they were Shiite." They then stayed for a month in a hotel on the border, "trying and failing multiple times" to re-enter Iran, before deciding that their only hope was to cross into Pakistan.
Al-Omar explained that when they reached the border, the police told them to "go in an unofficial way, by bribing them," but they refused because they wanted their actions to be legal. As a result, when they passed through a checkpoint, "They took my passport and that’s when [we were] put in prison for no reason." Describing his feelings about being sold, he said that he heard that the going rate was between $5,000 and $8,000 a head, and explained, "It’s a hard truth when human beings are sold and bought. That makes us go all the way back, when humans had no value. It’s a shame for all human beings in general, and all the people who believe in human rights."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Nurr was a "Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD)," dated April 28, 2006, in which he was identified as Anwar al-Nur and Anwar al-Shammeri, and it was noted that he was born in November 1969, and, if this was correct, was therefore not 24 years old when he was seized, but 32 years old. It was also noted that, in common with many of the prisoners, he had latent TB," and it was also noted that he had "a hernia repair and nose surgery, both prior to detainment," and that, in Guantánamo, he was being "followed by psychiatry for adjustment disorder," and he "went on a hunger strike in September 2005." Elsewhere, it was stated that he "participated in the July and August to September total voluntary fasts," and, on August 13, 2005, "turned in all of his comfort items declaring, 'I want to live like my brothers,’ referring to the non-compliant detainees in Camps 2/3."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he "graduated from the Islamic University of Medina, SA, in 1994 and taught religion in Al-Jawf, SA" until 1997, when he "left teaching and went to work in an administrative position at the AI-Jawf Board of Education," until, in 2000, he "took a leave of absence to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to do charity work."
Al-Nurr said that, in July 2001, after meeting Ziyad al-Harbi, a humanitarian aid worker in his hometown, who worked with the organization Al-Ighatha ("Aid," in Arabic, and almost certainly Al-Wafa, the Saudi charity regarded as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved), he confided in this man that he had "decided to take a leave of absence from his job and travel abroad to do charity work in accordance with the mandates of the Koran." This man told him about his work as an Al-Ighatha volunteer, and he decided to go to Khost, in Afghanistan, to volunteer on behalf of Al-Ighatha In October 2001, traveling with al-Harbi and two other friends, identified as Otaibi (not identified further) and Wasem (presumably Wasim al-Omar).
The men arrived in Herat, Afghanistan, via Iran, and al-Nurr then left Otaibi and Wasem in Herat to do charity work with Al-Ighatha, while he and al-Harbi traveled to Khost, where they met a man named Muhammed al-Harbi who was not identified further, but may have been a relative of Ziyad’s. Al-Nurr and Ziyad then stayed in a house rented by Muhammed and another man, Abdallah al-Juhani, "working with orphans for a little over a month," until, sometime on November 2001, he "departed Khost because it had become too dangerous to work there any longer."
He said that he and approximately eight other people then traveled to the border with Pakistan, where they "encountered a Pakistani Army Unit and gave themselves up." He was then turned over to US forces in Kohat on January 2, 2002, and flown to Kandahar, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to "provide information on the following: Activities in Ceuta, Spain [and] Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmd ISN US9SP-000267DP [aka Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmad or Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, ISN 267, released in February 2004, and profiled here].
This should have been a straightforward story, but as the reasons for transfer noted above indicate, al-Nurr’s story was regarded as deeply suspicious by the Task Force, which assessed him as "a probable member of Al- Qaida," who used "a standard Al-Qaida cover story to explain his presence in an area highly populated with jihadists." It was also claimed that his name "was found on Al-Qaida associated documents," that "he was captured with a senior Al-Qaida operative and other Al-Qaida members," and that he had "a history of support to violent jihad."
To reach these conclusions, the Task Force claimed that "[a]ctual events" (whatever that means) "place[d]" al-Nurr as part of "a group of individuals who crossed in the Nangarhar region of the Afghani-Pakistani border in mid-December 2001," which was "assessed to be the group of AI-Qaida affiliated fighters led out of Tora Bora by Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi [aka Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a CIA "ghost prisoner" who was eventually returned to Libya, where he died in May 2009, and who was given the ISN number 212, even though he was never officially held at Guantánamo].
According to the Task Force, this was the group welcomed by Pakistani villagers, but then told to congregate in a mosque, "where they were immediately surrounded by Pakistani forces and hauled away in large trucks," although it is unclear how, in the chaos of capture, US forces could be clear that al-Nurr was in that particular group, as no one in Guantánamo could be persuaded to claim that they had been with him. In fact, the only person in Guantánamo who claimed to have seen him anywhere was Yasin Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni renowned as the most prolific and unreliable informant in Guantánamo, responsible for providing false information about many dozens of his fellow prisoners, who identified al-Nurr as Anwar al-Joyfey (aka al-Jawf or al-Joufi) and claimed that he had been in Tora Bora (the site of a showdown between Al-Qaida and US forces in November and December 2001) with another prisoner, Khalid al-Barakat (ISN 322), who was released in September 2007.
As an example of how difficult it is to be sure of the truth when it comes to the capture of the prisoners sent to Guantánamo, al-Nurr’s file also noted that, from the mosque, a prisoner on one of the trucks "attacked a guard leading to a struggle in which six Pakistani guards were killed and some prisoners were able to escape," but this was simply not true, as this incident took place on a bus, and also took place several days after the men’s initial capture, when the intention was to transfer them to another prison.
Primarily, the Task Force’s suspicions about al-Nurr were aroused because the Saudi authorities claimed that his statement that "he took a leave of absence from work to perform humanitarian work" was not true, and that "his leave of absence was denied and he simply left his job and the country." Even if true, this does not prove that he left for jihad, but what also caused consternation to the Task Force were claims that his name was found on various documents associated with Al-Qaida, and that "his pocket litter contained numerous names and phone numbers that require further exploitation, although some are known to belong to Al-Qaida members."
The reference to his name being found on documents (from computers seized in house raids) surfaces in many other prisoners’ files, and is problematical primarily because some of these involve lists of alleged fighters compiled after the prisoners’ capture, presumably based on information that was leaked by the Pakistani authorities, and that was then made available by pro-jihadi sites on the Internet, even though the decision to describe them as fighters may only have been propaganda by those seeking to use the captured men for their own ends.
As for the pocket litter, that was superficially more troubling, as it was alleged that al-Nurr had pieces of paper with the names of some of his fellow prisoners, who were identified by the Task Force as having connections to Al-Qaida. The prisoners were Abdullah al-Wafti (ISN 262, released in November 2007), Ziyad al-Bahuth (ISN 272, released in December 2007, who was misidentified as Ziad Il Bihawith), Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269, a former child prisoner released after winning his habeas corpus petition in 2009, and misidentified as Yousef al-Qarani), and, as noted above, Ahmad Abd al-Rahman Ahmad, (ISN 267), the Spanish prisoner also identified as Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, who was released in 2004.
All of these men were described either as "assessed Al-Qaida operatives" (al-Wafti and al-Bahuth), "an assessed Islamic extremist with close ties to Al-Qaida (El-Gharani), and an Al-Qaida recruit who was "groomed to lead an Al-Qaida cell in Spain" (Ahmad), but all of the above is nonsense. The first two men claimed that they were in Afghanistan for humanitarian aid, Mohammed El-Gharani’s alleged Al-Qaida ties consisted of being involved in an Al-Qaeda cell in London when he was eleven years old and had never left Saudi Arabia, and Ahmad was cleared by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2006.
Nevertheless, despite having nothing resembling evidence to confirm that al-Nurr was a threat, the Task Force assessed him as being "of medium intelligence value," and "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies." It was also noted that he was "a moderate threat from a detention perspective," because his "overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant and sometimes hostile to the guard force and staff."
The Task Force also noted that, although the Saudi Mabahith had "provided information on thirty-seven detainees whom they designated as high priority," creating a list on which he "was twenty-second," Saudi intelligence then revised their opinion, and it was noted, "After the 2002 Saudi delegation visit detainee was identified by Mabahith as one of the 77 Saudi nationals of low intelligence and law enforcement value to the US Government but whom the Saudi Government would attempt to prosecute if transferred to their custody from Guantanamo Bay." Crucially, however, an analyst noted that "JTF GTMO does not concur with the Saudi Government assessment of detainee’s threat and intelligence value."
As a result, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo at the time, recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a previous assessment to retain him under DoD control, which was dated August 23, 2005, although it was noted that, "If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO)." Of significance was the Saudi delegation’s indication "that the Government of Saudi Arabia would be willing to take custody of detainee for possible prosecution."
Salah Al Balushi (ISN 227, Bahrain) Released October 2006
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Salah al-Balushi (also identified as Salah al-Blooshi), who was 20 years old at the time of his capture, went to Afghanistan on a humanitarian mission, although, in Guantánamo, he was obliged to fend off all manner of allegations about his purported associations with al-Qaeda. I also noted that he had not spoken since his release.
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Balushi was a "Recommendation to Release or Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated November 17, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in December 1981, and was "in good health."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he "played guitar for a Reggae band in Bahrain prior to his conversion to the strict Salafi sect of Islam in the second year of high school, aged 17," and that, in 2001, he was a student at a religious college in Medina when he became interested in the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddha statutes in Bamiyan province, and decided to visit the country. Using money saved from his student allowance, and having informed his father of the trip, he set off for Balochistan province (via Karachi) in July 2001, staying with a friend for three weeks, and then traveling on to Kandahar, where he had been given a contact, and then Kabul, where he had been given another contact.
According to his account, he then "became very sick and required hospitalization for approximately 1.5 months." When he was discharged, he "made the decision to leave because of the dangerous atmosphere in Kabul." However, although he had left his passport for safekeeping at the house where he had been staying, another patient told him that he had heard that this man, Muhjin Al-Taifi, had left for Jalalabad. After traveling to Jalalabad, he said, "he became sick again," and "spent another month in a hospital," and then made his way with another man, Abu Yayha al-Masri, to the Pakistani border "without reacquiring his passport," and was "captured in a village just inside Pakistan by the Pakistani army," and "turned over to US custody on 2 January 2002 from Kohat, PK." After being held in Afghanistan for five months, he was sent to Guantánamo on May 1, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "to provide information on the following: Various safe houses throughout Afghanistan and the persons who ran them [and] General information on routes of ingress and egress for Afghanistan."
In assessing his story, the Task Force claimed that he was "a probable member of Al-Qaida," whose "[f]ew admitted associates ha[d] significant roles and responsibilities within Al-Qaida," and it was also claimed that his name "was found on several documents recovered from Al-Qaida safe houses which list detainee among other Al-Qaida members." I highlighted the problem with this latter claim in the profile of Anwar al-Nurr (above), and when it comes to the claim that al-Balushi was "a probable member of Al-Qaida," the main grounds for this presumption were the alleged Al-Qaida connections of the people he stayed with in Balochistan, Kandahar and Kabul, which does not establish much about al-Balushi himself, especially as there are no claims that he undertook training or ever took up arms against US or coalition forces.
With nothing else to go on, the Task Force assessed al-Balushi as being "of medium intelligence value," and of posing "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies." He was also "assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective," as his "overall behaviour ha[d] been non-compliant, but rarely hostile to the guard force and staff," and, after pointing out that he had previously been recommended to be retained under DoD control (on February 18, 2005), Maj. Gen. Hood noted that, based upon unspecified information obtained since his previous assessment, it was now recommended that he be "Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," but only "[i]f a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence." It was also noted, "If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached for his continued detention, he should be Retained under DoD control (CD)."
Prior to his release, on July 23, 2006, one of his lawyers, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, described his "last interrogation" in an article in Gulf Daily News. After stating that "the camp authorities acknowledge[d] that 75% of the detainees [we]re no longer interrogated," he "estimated that even fewer detainees [we]re currently being interrogated than US spokesmen acknowledged," and explained that al-Balushi had "not been interrogated at all in 2006," and that, during his last interrogation, he "was asked about his activities in the war in Bosnia in 1995. Salah responded that he had been aged 14 in 1995 and wasn’t anywhere near Bosnia. When Salah refused to get into a long discussion in response to such a silly question, his interrogator said that he didn’t want Salah to stay at Guantánamo until his hair turned white. Salah understood this statement as a threat."
Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari (ISN 228, Kuwait) Released September 2006
In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdullah al-Kandari, who was 28 years old at the time of his capture, was an engineer for the ministry of water and electricity and a father of four, and was also a well-known figure in Kuwait, as he played volleyball for the national team.
In Guantánamo, he said that he was moved by the plight of refugees fleeing to Iran after the US-led invasion began. He took a ten-day vacation and traveled to the Afghan border, where he gave $15,000 to a humanitarian aid worker who bought food and blankets for the refugees, but when he tried to return to Iran he was told that the borders were closed to Arabs. His Afghan guide then took him to Jalalabad, to look for a way into Pakistan. Describing what happened next, al-Kandari said, "He put me in a home and he went back to the border. They told him, no, I couldn’t leave the country because I am Arabic. I was then moved from home to home. The problems got worse. The people there wanted to kill Arabs. I was told to be careful and don’t go anywhere. I was always stuck in a small room and never went out.
When his guide gave up on the legal approach, he found two men to take him to the border, who seem to have betrayed him for money. After keeping him in a house for a few days, they took him to the mosque where dozens of others were taken by local villagers, and it was here that he was handed over to the Pakistani army.
In an article based on an interview with al-Kandari for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, it was noted, by Tom Lasseter, that, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, he "listened to three pieces of evidence that, combined with classified information that he wasn’t allowed to see, formed the US government’s case that he was an enemy combatant who could be held indefinitely." Lasseter noted that, although some prisoners were accused of "having ties to al Qaida leaders, working with charities that funded terrorist attacks, taking part in battles against American forces in Afghanistan, having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, training at terrorist camps," al-Kandari "wasn’t one of them."
He added, "It isn’t possible to be certain why he went to Afghanistan in September 2001 — he claims it was for charity — but the evidence against him that day was thinner than what was presented against men who were released months, sometimes years, before he was."
He also explained that the first piece of evidence was that al-Kandari "traveled to Afghanistan, via Iran, in late September 2001 with $15,000 in cash," which he acknowledged as true, but stated that he had traveled to Afghanistan "to fulfill his Islamic duty to charity and had given all but $2,000 of the money to Afghan families."
The second and third allegations were even more ridiculous. One involved a claim — aired against many prisoners — that he "wore the same model Casio watch that Al-Qaida members used to detonate bombs," and the third was that an alias of his "was found on a computer owned by a senior Al-Qaida leader." In attempting to unravel this mystery, al-Kandari asked, "Can you tell me the name that was found in the computer?" but was told, "We don’t have that information in the unclassified evidence," by the tribunal president, a US Air Force colonel.
As Tom Lasseter described it, al-Kandari "tried to guess what the alias might have been, but he got no response from the three officers, according to the transcript. 'Why he put my name in the computer, I don’t know. They don’t know me; I swear they don’t know me … The problem is the secret information; I can’t defend myself,’ Kandari said."
The tribunal, of course, duly ruled that al-Kandari was an enemy combatant, and, as Lasseter noted, in his review board hearing the year after, more unsubstantiated and irrefutable allegations were made: that "he attended basic training held by Libyans in Afghanistan in 2000, that he had connections to Al-Qaida members and that he knew someone in Kuwait who’d been described as a legal adviser and friend of Osama bin Laden." As Lasseter also explained, it wasn’t clear where the additional charges came from, and Tom Wilner, his lawyer at the time, "said that when he saw the new allegations from the review board he went to review classified intelligence files that should have had information substantiating the charges. But, he said, there was nothing new in those files. Wilner said he was left to assume that the charges were the result of other detainees who were trying to gain favor with interrogators — and quicker release — fabricating stories about their cellmates."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Kandari was a "Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD)," dated December 27, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abdullah Kamel Abdullah, and it was noted that he was born in September 1973. It was also noted that his "in processing BMI [body mass index] on 11 Feb 02 was 20%," that he had an allergy to soybean oil, peanuts and corn," and that he "went on hunger strike in October 2002 and September 2005."
In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he "was employed at the Kuwaiti Electric and Water Institute, where he supervised employees conducting potable water line repair and monitoring the mineral composition of the water," but that, after September 11, 2001, he decided that "he wanted to help the children and the poor in Afghanistan," and visited a mosque where an Afghan man, Kulaam, provided him with a letter of introduction and an address in Herat. He then traveled to Afghanistan with the $15,000 mentioned above, flying to Iran, and then traveling by taxi to Herat, where, he said, he spent two weeks "purchasing and distributing 13,000 USD worth of humanitarian supplies to nearby refugees," using "rented vehicles to distribute the supplies to refugees on the Afghanistan and Iran border."
Al-Kandari said that "he tried returning home to Kuwait several times, but was repeatedly denied entrance at the Iranian border despite having entered Afghanistan legally." He then gave up, travelling to Jalalabad,where he stayed for up to two months, and then "paid 100 USD to Afghani guides to smuggle him into Pakistan," and was "arrested at a mosque on 17 December 2001″ with others caught fleeing Afghanistan. As the Task Force noted, he "was captured without documentation, which he claim[ed] was lost during his travels," and he also "denied he was acquainted with the individuals with whom he was captured."
The Pakistani authorities subsequently transferred him to US custody on January 2, 2002 at Kohat, and he was then flown to the US-run "Kandahar Detention Center." He was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was to "provide information on the following: Safe houses in Jalalabad and Herat [and] Additional information on his activities in Afghanistan between 1 September and 30 December 2001 in Afghanistan."
In assessing his story, the Joint Task Force refused to accept the thinness of the allegations against him, claiming that his story of "performing charity work in Afghanistan [was] a common cover story for Arab fighters," and also noting that he had "omitted details of places and individuals met during the approximately 100 days spent in Afghanistan, especially his time in Jalalabad."
In attempting to defend this position, the Task Force claimed that Adel al-Zamel (ISN 568, released in November 2005) said that al-Kandari had traveled to Afghanistan previously, in 2000, allegedly for "training," but there is no way of knowing how accurate this was. Certainly, the Task Force suggested, as they did with most of the Kuwaitis, that they had all "possibly brought funds to the Al-Wafa non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kabul," which was regarded as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved. Probably the most troubling allegation against al-Kandari was an unattributed claim that he "was with his cousin Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari [ISN 552, still held] in Tora Bora in November 2001 when they requested to meet and possibly travel with UBL [Osama bin Laden]," although this also seems dubious, as does further information — an analyst’s note, for example, claiming that the al-Kandari cousins "were possibly being looked at as bodyguards of UBL’s entourage as they traveled through Tora Bora."
In its assessment, the Task Force decided that he was "of medium intelligence value," and that he posed "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies." It was also noted that he was "assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective," because his "overall behaviour ha[d] often been compliant with occasional hostility to the guard force and staff." As a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention at Guantánamo, updating a recommendation for him to be retained in DoD control, which was dated April 17, 2004, and his release became dependant on pressure exerted by the Kuwaiti government, a staunch US ally, of course, as a result of the first Gulf War in 1991.
Mohammed Laalami (ISN 237, Morocco) Released February 2006
In "The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras (2) – Tora Bora," I explained how Mohammed Laalami, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of training at the Al-Farouq military training camp in Afghanistan, but said in Guantánamo that this was something that he had admitted "when I was captured and being beaten and threatened with death." He added, "I have spoken with a lawyer here and the Red Cross in Kandahar. I and others were being beaten and admitted to things that were not true."
According to his version of events, he went to Afghanistan for two months "as a pilgrimage" with his family, although he later admitted that he was captured alone, and was not asked to explain what had happened to his family. Refuting an allegation that he was captured by Northern Alliance soldiers in Tora Bora, he said, "I was captured in a small village in Jalalabad by Afghans. I did not have a weapon."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Laalami was a "Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control (CD)," dated December 27, 2003, in which he was identified as Suleiman M. al-Alami, born in January 1976, and it was noted that he apparently "claimed he was recruited in Morocco by Ahmed Rafiki, who was a leading member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (MIFG), to travel to Afghanistan (AF) to train and fight Jihad on behalf of the Taliban." He apparently moved his family to Kabul, where he was apparently supposed to train with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (opponents of Colonel Gaddafi), but "his training was delayed," so he allegedly "shifted his affiliations to Al-Qaida," which sounds like an implausible shift of allegiance, and trained at Al-Farouq.
In late November 2001, as the Northern Alliance took Jalalabad, he and others apparently "fled towards the Tora Bora Mountains where they took refuge before fleeing over the Pakistan border." Laalami "was captured by Pakistani Army units and turned over to US control," and was sent to Guantánamo on February 2, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "because of his knowledge of Taliban recruitment, training, and tactics as well as his possible affiliation with Al-Qaida."
In assessing Laalami, the Task Force claimed that he was "a self-admitted mem