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The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Five of Ten)


October 6, 2011 - ....Abu Bakker Qassim was one of the 22 Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo, who, as I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, were Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had fled persecution, or the lack of opportunities, in their homeland, and had ended up in a rundown settlement in the mountains of Afghanistan. They had then been bombed by US forces and had fled to Pakistan, where they were seized and handed over to US forces....

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The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Five of Ten)

Andy Worthington

October 6, 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 25 of the 70-part series. 315 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 this part features 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.

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Five of Ten)

Ibrahim Al Nasir (ISN 271, Saudi Arabia) Released June 2006

In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Ibrahim al-Nasir, who was 19 years old at the time of his capture, traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001, with his brother Abdul Aziz al-Nasir (ISN 273, see below), and his cousin Abdul Aziz al-Baddah (ISN 264, see Part Four of this series) to help Afghan refugees with donations of their own money. In Guantánamo, he acknowledged being in Kabul and doing some work for the Saudi charity Al-Wafa (which was regarded in Guantánamo as a front for terrorism, although this was never proved), but insisted that he "had no responsibilities while he stayed in Kabul other then to assist in distributing sugar and milk to the poor and to read the Koran."

Although al-Nasir did not take part in his tribunal or review board at Guantánamo, al-Baddah did, and he explained that, when the bombing of Kabul began, he and his cousins went to Logar, where they stayed in an Al-Wafa house for a week, but when they attempted to return to Kabul to retrieve their passports the city had fallen to the Northern Alliance, and they decided to return home via Pakistan, where they turned themselves over to the police.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Nasir was an "Update Recommendation for Transfer to the Control of Another Country with Conditions (TWC), Subject to the Conclusion of an Acceptable Transfer Agreement," dated August 25, 2005, in which it was noted that he was born in 1982 and was "in good health."

In telling his story, the Joint Task Force noted that he stated that he dropped out of high school, and "consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana," and then worked for his uncle (or possibly his father) as the manager of two furniture stories in Mecca, until he was approached and encouraged to travel to Afghanistan to perform charity work by Wael al-Jabri, an employee of his uncle (or perhaps his father), who was also described as "a possible Al-Haramain facilitator supporting Al-Wafa in Saudi Arabia."

As well as regarding Al-Wafa, which had offices in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a front for terrorism, the US authorities also regarded the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as a front for terrorism as well. Formerly one of the largest Islamic NGOs in the world, devoted to charitable deeds and education and with a turnover of $50 million, several of its offices worldwide were accused of being fronts for terrorist funding and were condemned by the US. Although US officials "privately conceded that only a small percentage of the total was diverted" and that few of those who worked for the organisation knew that money was being funnelled to Al-Qaida, the Saudi government was put under enormous pressure to shut down the entire organization, which it did in February 2004.

In this particular file, it was explicitly spelled out that Al-Haramain was "a Tier 1 Counterterrorism NGO target, defined as those that have demonstrated sustained and active support for terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests," and that Al-Wafa was "a Tier 2 Counterterrorism NGO target, defined as those that have demonstrated the intent and willingness to support terrorist organisations willing to attack US persons or interests."

After traveling to Iran, and meeting up with al-Jabri, who apparently claimed that he "paid off the border guards to allow them to cross without question or documentation," the al-Nasir brothers and their cousin then traveled to Kabul, as Abdul Aziz al-Baddah had stated, staying at a guesthouse run by Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi (ISN 5, released in December 2007), the director of Al-Wafa.

Al-Nasir said that he "remained in Kabul for a month," and that, during that time, he "worked as a volunteer for Al Wafa," and "unloaded flour, oil, rice, jackets, dates, and sugar off the delivery trucks at the facilities near the guesthouse in Kabul." When he was not unloading the truck, he said, "he stayed at the Al-Wafa house," and "never attended a mosque in Kabul because ISN 005 told him to pray at the Al-Wafa house."

When the bombing began in Kabul, as Abdul Aziz al-Baddah had also said, al-Nasir, his brother, al-Baddah and Abu Zaid (aka Abdullah Abd al-Mu’in, or Abdullah al-Wafti, ISN 262, released in November 2007) went to a house outside Khost that was owned by Al-Wafa employee Mohammed Agha. Some time in late November 2001, they left Khost for the Pakistani border with an Afghani guide, arriving in Pakistan around December 15. It was noted that the Pakistani Army captured him "when he approached them and asked to be taken to the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad." He was transferred to US custody on January 3, 2002, and taken to the US prison at Kandahar airport, and was sent to Guantánamo on February 11, 2002, allegedly to "provide information on the following: Al-Wafa organization including its recruitment techniques."

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 reiterated the case conjured up against Abdul Aziz al-Baddah, centered not just on the entrenched suspicions about Al-Haramain and Al-Wafa (which, it must be repeated, came to nothing), but specifically on a claim made by Adel al-Zamel (ISN 568), a Kuwaiti released in November 2005, who was the manager of the Kabul office but who resigned before al-Baddah and the al-Nasir brothers arrived in Afghanistan, who claimed that al-Baddah "collected funds for Al-Haramain in Saudi Arabia and transported them to his home in 50 kg rice bags with the assistance of detainee and ISN 273."

Al-Zamel also "claimed five people in Al-Haramain knew that the funds were being diverted to Al-Wafa, but that only one knew ISN 264 was the contact." It is unknown how reliable al-Zamel’s testimony was, although I have previously noted (in commentary on al-Baddah’s file) that "my fear is that he was prevailed upon to make a number of false allegations against his fellow prisoners, as he also made an unsubstantiated allegation about Abdullah Kamel al-Kandari" (ISN 228, also see Part Four). It was no comfort that an analyst noted that, although al-Nasir "claimed he spent his time in Kabul unloading various items from a truck, including rice bags," it was "likely that if he was not the individual in Al-Haramain who knew of [al-Baddah's] activities, he became aware of the connection between the Al-Haramain organization and Al-Wafa while unloading the bags." The analyst added, "Either way, he knew that Al-Haramain was a financial front for Al-Wafa in Saudi Arabia," although how that was established was not explained.

The Task Force also noted that al-Nasir’s name was found on various documents retrieved from computers seized in raids on houses associated with Al-Qaida. These types of allegations surface in many other prisoners’ files, but they are problematical primarily because some of them 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.

The only direct allegation against al-Nasir came from Yasim Badardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni well-known as the most prolific and unreliable informant in Guantánamo, who said that al-Nasir’s uncle, Abu Azam Abdel Rahman al-Itabi, "attended training at Al-Farouq [the main training camp for Arabs in Afghanistan] in late April 2001 and then traveled with [him] to Jalalabad." Noticeably, no suggestion about the uncle came from any other source.

The Task Force concluded that al-Nasir was "of medium intelligence value," and "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," because he was "assessed to be an extremist with links to Al-Wafa and possible links to Al-Qaida." He was also assessed as "a low-moderate threat from a detention perspective," because his "overall behaviour ha[d] recently been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff." As a result, although it was previously recommended that he be retained in DoD control (on an unknown date), Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for transfer with conditions (which I had not come across before in these files), "[b]ased upon information obtained since [his] previous assessment" — although this information was not specifically discussed.

Abdul Aziz Al Nasir (ISN 273, Saudi Arabia) Released December 2006

In Chapter 6 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how Abdul Aziz al-Nasir, who was 21 years old at the time of his capture, traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001, with his brother Ibrahim al-Nasir (ISN 271, see above), and his cousin Abdul Aziz al-Baddah (ISN 264, see Part Four of this series) to help Afghan refugees with donations of their own money. In Guantánamo, he repeatedly denied being part of Al-Wafa, saying he went to Afghanistan only to provide humanitarian aid, and not to work for an organization, and also made a point of denying that he was involved in any way with Al-Qaeda. He also spoke repeatedly about how he had voluntarily turned himself over to Pakistani forces, hoping that they would help him return home, only to find that he was handed over to US forces instead and taken to Guantánamo.

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to al-Nasir was a "Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD)," dated December 1, 2005, in which he was also identified as Abd al-Aziz al-Nasir, born in February 1981, and it was noted that he was "in good health," although he had latent TB, in common with many of the prisoners, but "refused treatment" for it.

In telling his story, the Task Force noted that he had graduated from high school in approximately February 2001, but did not have "any specialised training or higher education" and had "limited computer knowledge," and reiterated much of his brother’s story — that he was approached by Wael al-Jabri, "who asked him if he would be wiling to contribute to the relief effort in Afghanistan."

After entering Afghanistan with his brother and cousin — in late August 2001, according to the Task Force’s calculations — he traveled to Kabul as stated in the others’ accounts, worked with Al-Wafa, and left via Khost for Pakistan, where, he said, they "decided to go [and] turn themselves in." The Task Force claimed that he "was in a group that entered Pakistan in the Nangarhar region of the Afghan-Pakistani border on 14 December 2001," who "gathered in a mosque where they were immediately surrounded by Pakistani forces and hauled away in large trucks."

In fact — inadvertently revealing how even straightforward facts could be misinterpreted or reinterpreted — it took some time for those who had crossed the border to be tricked into visiting the mosque by Pakistani villagers, and to be handed over to the Pakistani army, and the Task Force’s additional claim that some of the prisoners in this truck convoy fought back against their captors, leading to the death of six Pakistani guards and the escape of some of the prisoners, actually took place later, and took place on a bus that was being used to transport the prisoners from one prison to another.

As the Task Force also explained, al-Nasir was "transferred to US custody on 3 January 2002 in Kohat," and was sent to Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, on the spurious basis that it was "to provide information on the following: NGO Al-Wafa Organization for Humanitarian Relief."

In assessing his story, the Task Force was suspicious of perceived inconsistencies in his timeline, and also had him listed on various documents recovered in house raids, whose dubious nature I discussed above. As with his brother, the only witness to speak directly about him was Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni well-known as the most prolific and unreliable informant in Guantánamo, who identified him "as a fighter in Tora Bora and having two brothers and a cousin." Basardah "identified one of the other brothers as SA-271″ (which was accurate), "could not identify the other" (because there wasn’t another brother), "and identified the cousin as SA-206." This was Abdullah al-Yamani (ISN 206, see Part Four of this series), but actually al-Nasir’s cousin was Abdul Aziz al-Baddah, as previously mentioned, and it should therefore have been obvious that Basardah was lying, although this conclusion was not reached. Instead, an analyst noted that al-Nasir had "discussed no relationship" with al-Yamani, and nor had al-Yamani stated anything about being related to him, his brother or his cousin.

Basardah also made further unsubstantiated claims about al-Nasir’s uncle, as he had in his brother’s file, claiming that the uncle was "associated with known Al-Qaida members (to include Al-Qaida explosives expert Abu Ahmed)," and also claiming, again, that he (Basardah) actually traveled with him to Jalalabad in July 2001.

In conclusion, al-Nasir was regarded as being "of low intelligence value," and of posing "a medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies," although he was also "assessed as an extremist with links to Al-Wafa and possible links to Al-Qaida." It was also noted that he was "assessed as a moderate threat from a detention perspective," because his "overall behaviour ha[d] been mostly compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff," and that he had "offered minor support to the voluntary total fast [hunger strike] during the summer" of 2005.

It was also noted that his "name was twenty-sixth on the 2002 Saudi Delegation’s listing of thirty-seven high-priority detainees because of his suspect travel to Afghanistan," and as a result, Maj. Gen. Hood recommended him for continued detention, updating a previous recommendation that he be retained in DoD control (dated August 6, 2004), although it was also noted, "If a satisfactory agreement can be reached that ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO)," and this was evidently what happened a year later.

Akhdar Qasem Basit (ISN 276, China) Released May 2006 (in Albania)

In Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, I explained how, of all the wrongfully detained men captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the most woeful group were the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province. There were 22 Uighurs in Guantánamo in total, mostly in their twenties, who had fled from Chinese oppression in their homeland, and 18 of them had made their way, between May and October 2001, to a small, isolated, rundown settlement in the Tora Bora mountains, where they spent their days reading the Koran and repairing its broken-down buildings (five simple houses and a mosque), and dreamed of hitting back at their oppressors — or finding a way to get to Turkey or Europe, or even the US — in search of work. Occasionally, they fired one or two bullets from the camp’s only gun, an aging AK-47.

The men arrived at the camp in varied ways. Some went there deliberately, while others ended up there while seeking a new start in life, but their isolated, subsistence-level existence came to an end in October 2001, when the camp was hit in a US bombing raid. Yusef Abbas (ISN 275, still held), who was injured in the raid, said that one man died and "we were covered in half a bucket of his body meat." After the bombing, the men spent a month dodging bombing raids, staying, on one occasion, in a place that "even had monkeys that were also screaming at us," according to another of the men, Dawut Abdurehim (ISN 289, released in Palau in October 2009). Finally, they saw a large group of Arabs making their way to the Pakistani border, and decided to follow them at a distance.

On arrival, they were among the many dozens of men who were welcomed and then betrayed by villagers. Yusef Abbas explained, "It was the third day of a Muslim holiday … the local people there welcomed us since it was a holiday. They gave us meat and good food." Abu Bakker Qassim (ISN 283, see below) took up the story: "In the middle of the night, the villagers told us they would take us to another place. We walked two to three hours away to a mosque. The tribe people tricked us and turned us over to the Pakistani authorities." Ahmed Adil (ISN 260, see Part Four of this series) concluded the story, explaining, "At the mosque there were a lot of people, Uighurs, Arabs and others as well. There weren’t any Pakistani soldiers or anyone with rifles or weapons to capture us. When we were in the mosque, they told us to get out. We went out in groups of ten and we were taken to a car. They drove us for a couple [of] hours and we ended up in the Pakistani prison."

In his tribunal, Akhdar Qasem Basit did not speak very much. He explained how he had arrived in Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, and responded to an allegation about the "camp" he stayed in by saying, "It was a little Uighur community where Uighurs went. I do not know what you mean by the place called camp." In addition,when his Personal Representative (one of the US officers assigned to the prisoners instead of lawyers) asked him, "Did you ever fire a weapon or help someone fire a weapon at US or coalition forces?" he replied, "That is a funny question. When we were in that place we did not see any US or coalition forces. We did not see anyone we could fire at."

In the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Akhdar Qasem Basit was one of the 38 prisoners, out of 558 prisoners in total, to succeed in convincing their tribunals, and the authorities overseeing the tribunals, they they were not "enemy combatants" — or, as the administration insisted, that they were "no longer enemy combatants." The Pentagon’s document listing the 38 (PDF) describes them as "Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of 'Enemy Combatant’ during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantánamo." 30 of these men were released in 2004 and 2005 (as I explained in "WikiLeaks and the Guantanamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005"), but Basit, four other Uighurs and three other men were not freed until 2006, when another country — Albania — was found that was prepared to take them.

Cynically, the Bush administration waited until the last moment to free Basit and his compatriots. They were sent to Albania, where they were housed in a refugee center, on May 5, 2006, just three days before a habeas corpus petition filed by two of the men, Abu Bakker Qassim (ISN 283, see below) and Adel Abdul Hakim (ISN 293, also see below), was due to be heard by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington D.C. For a report on how they were adapting to their new lives after their first 16 months, see "Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania."

In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, Matthew Schofield visited Tirana to speak to Akhdar Qasem Basit and his companions. In Basit’s case, he found a man shattered by his experiences at the hands of Americans, whose "dark eyes never leave the floor when he talks," and whose "walk is a strained shuffle, his voice a combination of coughs and whispers." He "wasn’t always this way," Schofield noted.

"Even in Guantánamo, I was strong," Basit told him, in a cafe in Tirana. "Look up the records: I did not need doctors. But now, everything has changed. I am sick every day; I am in pain every day. It is no secret why. I have lost hope. I have not seen my daughter since she was 4 months old. When I arrived, I had hope, but it is clear I will never see her again. I will never again see my wife. I have no dreams for the future."

As Schofield also explained, Basit and his companions were now living in "a suburban Tirana refugee camp," but he wasn’t there "because he has any connection to the country or any desire to live in Albania." Instead, he was sent here so that the Bush administration could avoid having to deal with him in a court room. His lawyer was "convinced" that his planned refugee status hearing "would have ended with him moving out of an American prison and onto US soil."

In Albania, however, he and his companions "room together in a college dorm-like setting." Unlike at Guantánamo, he was "free to walk the city, to come and go as he pleases." For Basit, however, the freedom clearly meant little. He said that, in Guantánamo, "he knew that he was innocent [and] thought there would be justice, and that gave him strength." Now, however, it was clear to him that he had been "dumped in an out-of-the-way corner of the world where he can be forgotten easily," and "surrounded by a culture he doesn’t understand and a language that baffles him."

He added that, "When he was first told that he’d be released to Albania, he had to search his memory for any scrap about the place," telling Schofield, "All I could think was that it was communist. They told me it had changed." His parting words revealed the extent of his disappointment. "It’s sad, isn’t it?" he said. "We grow up believing America is the land of hope. And yet, that is who killed hope for me."

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Akhdar Qasem Basit was an "Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated February 14, 2004, in which he was identified as Akhadar Qasem Basit (and also as Niyas Muhammed), born in November 1973, and it was also noted that he was "in good health."

The assessment preceded his success in his CSRT, but obviously made no sense, as the US government was not prepared to send any of the Uighurs back to China, and therefore could not expect another country to detain them on America’s behalf, but this was just another example of the illogical mess created at Guantánamo. This update was particularly nonsensical given that, in the previous assessment on June 25, 2003, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller had at least recommended that Basit be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government" (emphasis added), based on an assessment that he "was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader."

Nevertheless, this subtle upgrading of his supposed threat level was based on a slew of "New Information" regarded as significant by the Task Force, whose mission was evidently to find any reason not to allow prisoners to leave Guantánamo, even if it was not acknowledged as such. This "New Information" consisted of the alarmist rhetoric about the Uighurs’ settlement in Afghanistan that was designed to placate the Chinese government; namely, that Basit was "a probable member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)," described as "a Uigher [sic] separatist organization dedicated to the creation of a Uigher [sic] Islamic homeland in China, through armed insurrection and terrorism." These were high claims for an "organization" that barely existed, and was certainly not any kind of credible threat to the Chinese government.

However, what was also noticeable about the file was an additional claim, which I had not come across before, whereby it was stated, without a shred of evidence to back it up, that "[s]ensitive reporting" indicated that "ETIM and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have unified their efforts to form a larger and more capable terrorist organization, which is now directly affiliated and supported by Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups." It was also noted that further unspecified "[r]eporting" indicated that "both ETIM and the IMU ha[d] expanded and focused their efforts on the United States and ha[d] made attacking Americans their main priority," which was another piece of startling propaganda, produced in Washington and/or Beijing, that bore no resemblance to the truth when it came to the purported activities of ETIM — although the IMU, it has been clearly established, was closely aligned with the Taliban.

Accompanying this were allied claims that Basit had "received training in an ETIM training camp in Afghanistan," and that he "was captured in Pakistan along with other Uigher [sic] fighters and Al-Qaida members," even though it is clear that the Uighurs only joined up with a group of Arabs leaving Afghanistan because they were lost.

In its assessment, the Task Force noted that he had been "fully exploited" as far as  his intelligence value was concerned, and that, in Guantánamo, he had "shown minimal signs of non-compliance and non-aggressiveness." He was, however, assessed as posing "a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies," because of the ETIM allegations, which led to an absurd declaration that he "had some level of terrorist training" (on the Uighurs’ one and only gun), which, it was claimed, was "confirmed by associations with known terrorist group(s)," and it was also claimed that he was therefore "highly vulnerable to future recruitment by terrorist groups targeting the US and its allies," even though, like all the other Uighurs, it was clear that he only ever had one enemy — the Chinese government.

As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller made his recommendation about transferring Basit to detention in another country, although it was clear that the Joint Task Force was alone in its opinion, as the Criminal Investigative Task Force had "assessed [him] as a low risk on 30 May 2003." However, "ln 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."

Haji Mohammed Ayub (ISN 279, China) Released May 2006 (in Albania)

Mohammed Ayub (or Haji Mohammed Ayub) was one of the 22 Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo, who, as I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, were Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had fled persecution, or the lack of opportunities, in their homeland, and had ended up in a rundown settlement in the mountains of Afghanistan. They had then been bombed by US forces and had fled to Pakistan, where they were seized and handed over to US forces. Ayub, as I also explained, was so unfortunate that he didn’t even arrive at the settlement until after it was bombed.

However, like Ahmed Adil (ISN 260, see Part Four of this series), and three others profiled in this article, he was one of the 38 prisoners, out of 558 prisoners in total, to succeed, after three years in Guantánamo, in convincing their Combatant Status Review Tribunals, and the authorities overseeing the tribunals, they they were not "enemy combatants" — or, as the administration insisted, that they were "no longer enemy combatants." The Pentagon’s document listing the 38 (PDF) describes them as "Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of 'Enemy Combatant’ during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantánamo." 30 of these men were released in 2004 and 2005 (as I explained in "WikiLeaks and the Guantanamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005"), but Ayub and the other four Uighurs, as well as three other men, were not freed until 2006, when another country — Albania — was found that was prepared to take them. This was because the Bush administration accepted that it could not return them to China, where they faced the risk of torture, but was not prepared to offer them a new home in the United States.

Cynically, the Bush administration waited until the last moment to free Ayub and his compatriots. They were sent to Albania, where they were housed in a refugee center, on May 5, 2006, just three days before a habeas corpus petition filed by two of the men, Abu Bakker Qassim and Adel Abdul Hakim (ISN 283 and ISN 293, see below), was due to be heard by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington D.C. For a report on how the five Uighurs were adapting to their new lives after their first 16 months, see "Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania."

As I explained in "The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo," and "WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo," Mohammed Ayub was also one of at least 22 prisoners at Guantánamo who were juveniles, defined as those under 18 at the time their alleged crimes took place, and who — with the exception of three Afghan boys discussed here — were not held separately from the main prison population, and rehabilitated rather then punished, as stipulated in the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, Matthew Schofield visited Tirana to speak to Mohammed Ayub and his companions, finding a young man who, as he described it, was still fascinated by America. Even though, as Ayub said, he spent four years at Guantánamo "being insulted, stripped and belittled by the first Americans he’d ever met, the prison guards," whenever he "dreams about his future, he sees himself studying to prepare for a better life. [He] doesn’t dream about a specific subject. He doesn’t dream about a specific university. But there’s one constant: He’s always in the United States."

It seems astonishing that Ayub’s fascination with America survived his ordeal — after all, he described how, on a daily basis, he wondered "why the guards — the same ones who told him that they knew he was innocent — treated him so badly," and why he was still imprisoned after he was found to be no longer an "enemy combatant" in 2004. He also spoke about how, on one occasion, the guards "stuffed him in a near-freezing, dark room for 10 days when he demanded to see a doctor."

He also said that "he dropped from 164 pounds to 105 in prison and was so hungry that he devoured pieces of orange rind and banana peel," and said that "[s]leeping on hard metal slats ruined his back," and that "he was denied food, clothing and light when he was found with an extra napkin, a piece of soap or toilet paper." This, Schofield noted, accurately, conformed with tales of weight loss told by other prisoners and "what they described as an obsession by guards to make sure there was no communication between detainees and that they didn’t have any non-approved items in their cells."

And yet, in spite of all this — in spite of "every cruel, heartless little thing that Ayub says the Americans did to him" — "America remained an ideal in his mind. It embodied freedom, and hope."

Providing another example of how his faith in America was tested throughout his time at Guantánamo, he said, "Sometimes, the soldiers, they would come into my cell at night and spray a burning chemical into my eyes. I do not understand how they could do this, coming from America, from a land that should show the world the value of justice. Yet, from day to day, it got worse."

Schofield also explained — which was not known before — that Ayub actually planned to fly to the US before his capture. He said he "had a visa for the United States … He had money. He had relatives he planned to call on. He had dreams." However, he also had "a Uighur friend who didn’t have a visa yet, and they decided they’d wait together." Waiting in Pakistan, but fearing the Pakistani government, which, they had heard, would, on occasion, "round up Uighurs and turn them over to the Chinese government," which "meant jail, or worse," he and his friend "went north to Afghanistan and found a small hotel to wait for the visa to be issued."

After the 9/11 attacks, Ayub said, his friend "panicked and fled." He then "decided to return to Pakistan to go to the United States" alone, but, when he left his hotel, "he was mugged and lost his money, his passport, his spare clothes, everything." He then "accepted a ride to a village where other Uighurs had sought refuge in the Tora Bora mountains, a village that the US government later called a terrorist training camp."

Ayub also told Schofield about the visit to Guantánamo by Chinese interrogators in the fall of 2002, describing the interrogation as "nothing more than threats. They told me they knew my family, where I’d lived, when I’d left China, where I’d traveled. I would be imprisoned if I ever tried to return to China. It was frightening, they got to us inside that place." Further information about the Chinese visit can be found in my articles, "House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantánamo" and "Three Uighurs Talk About Chinese Interrogation At Guantánamo," published in July 2009.

Back in Tirana, Mohammed Ayub concluded the interview by telling Matthew Schofield that he tried to "pass the time by studying English," stating, "Just in case an opportunity to study in the United States comes again, I want to be ready."

In the documents released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file relating to Mohammed Ayub was an "Update Recommendation [for] Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD)," dated February 14, 2004, in which it was noted that he was born in April 1984 — and was therefore just 17 years old when he was seized — and it was also noted that he was "in good health."

As with the files of all the Uighurs released in Albania in May 2006, the assessment preceded his success in his CSRT, but obviously made no sense, as the US government was not prepared to send any of the Uighurs back to China, and therefore could not expect another country to detain them on America’s behalf, but this was just another example of the illogical mess created at Guantánamo. This update was particularly nonsensical given that, in the previous assessment on January 25, 2003, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller had at least recommended that Ayub be "considered for release or transfer to the control of another government" (emphasis added), based on an assessment that he "was not affiliated with Al-Qaida or a Taliban leader."

Nevertheless, this subtle upgrading of his supposed threat level was based on a slew of "New Information" regarded as significant by the Task Force, whose mission was evidently to find any reason not to allow prisoners to leave Guantánamo, even if it was not acknowledged as such. This "New Information" consisted of the alarmist rhetoric about the Uighurs’ settlement in Afghanistan that was designed to placate the Chinese government; namely, that Ayub was "a probable member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)," described as "a Uigher [sic] separatist organization dedicated to the creation of a Uigher [sic] Islamic homeland in China, through armed insurrection and terrorism." These were high claims for an "organization" that barely existed, and was certainly not any kind of credible threat to the Chinese government.

However, what was also noticeable about the file was an additional claim, whereby it was stated, without a shred of evidence to back it up, that "[s]ensitive reporting" indicated that "ETIM and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have unified their efforts to form a larger and more capable terrorist organization, which is now directly affiliated and supported by Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups." It was also noted that further unspecified "[r]eporting" indicated that "both ETIM and the IMU ha[d] expanded and focused their efforts on the United States and ha[d] made attacking Americans their main priority," which was another piece of startling propaganda, produced in Washington and/or Beijing, that bore no resemblance to the truth when it came to the purported activities of ETIM — although the IMU, it has been clearly established, was closely aligned with the Taliban.

Accompanying this were allied claims that Ayub had "received training in an ETIM training camp in Afghanistan," and that he "was captured in Pakistan along with other Uigher [sic] fighters and Al-Qaida members," even though it is clear that the Uighurs only joined up with a group of Arabs leaving Afghanistan because they were lost.

In its assessment, the Task Force noted that he had been "fully exploited" as far as  his intelligence value was concerned, and that, in Guantánamo, he had been "non- compliance [sic]" but "non-Aggressive." He was, however, assessed as posing "a medium risk, as he may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests or its allies," because of the ETIM allegations, which led to an absurd declaration that he "had some level of terrorist training" (on the Uighurs’ one and only gun), which, it was claimed, was "confirmed by associations with known terrorist group(s)," and it was also claimed that he was therefore "highly vulnerable to future recruitment by terrorist groups targeting the US and its allies," even though, like all the other Uighurs, it was clear that he only ever had one enemy — the Chinese government.

As a result, Maj. Gen. Miller made his recommendation about transferring Ayub to detention in another country, although it was clear that the Joint Task Force was alone in its opinion, as the Criminal Investigative Task Force had "assessed [him] as a low risk on 6 June 2003." However, "ln 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."

Abu Bakker Qassim (ISN 283, China) Released May 2006 (in Albania)

Abu Bakker Qassim was one of the 22 Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo, who, as I explained in Chapter 7 of The Guantánamo Files, were Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had fled persecution, or the lack of opportunities, in their homeland, and had ended up in a rundown settlement in the mountains of Afghanistan. They had then been bombed by US forces and had fled to Pakistan, where they were seized and handed over to US forces. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Qassim said he went to the settlement "to learn to fight the Chinese; to get our independence from China." Explaining that he knew nothing about the settlement’s supposed connection to the Taliban, he said, "I don’t know what they [the Taliban] look like," and added that he was told that the leaders of the Uighur settlement "did not want a lot of people to know about [it] so that the Chinese would not send a spy there."

Like Ahmed Adil (ISN 260, see Part Four of this series), and three others profiled in this article, Abu Bakker Qassim was one of the 38 prisoners, out of 558 prisoners in total, to succeed in convincing their Combatant Status Review Tribunals, and the authorities overseeing the tribunals, they they were not "enemy combatants" — or, as the administration insisted, that they were "no longer enemy combatants." The Pentagon’s document listing the 38 (PDF) describes them as "Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of 'Enemy Combatant’ during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantánamo." 30 of these men were released in 2004 and 2005 (as I explained in "WikiLeaks and the Guantanamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005"), but Qassim and the other four Uighurs, as well as three other men, were not freed until 2006, when another country — Albania — was found that was prepared to take them. This was because the Bush administration accepted that it could not return them to China, where they faced the risk of torture, but was not prepared to offer them a new home in the United States.

Cynically, the Bush administration waited until the last moment to free Qassim and his compatriots. They were sent to Albania, where they were housed in a refugee center, on May 5, 2006, just three days before a habeas corpus petition filed by Qassim and Adel Abdul Hakim (ISN 293, see below), was due to be heard by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington D.C. For a report on how the five Uighurs were adapting to their new lives after their first 16 months, see "Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania," in which it first became apparent that Abu Bakker Qassim was the most confident member of the group when it came to engaging with the media.

In an interview for McClatchy Newspapers’ major report on 66 released Guantánamo prisoners in 2008, Matthew Schofield visited Tirana to speak to Abu Bakker Qassim and his companions. Qassim was smartly dressed. His "gray suit was pressed, his shirt was bright white and his shoulders were square as he picked a path along the broken sidewalks, among the plastic bags and bottles, on his way to afternoon prayers at a small mosque on the outskirts of Albania’s poor capital," Schofield wrote. He added, "On many days, the 38-year-old makes the walk five times. Although Albanians arriving for prayers avoid him, avert their eyes and leave space around him, it’s a chance for him to see faces other than the four fast friends with whom he shares a college dorm-like apartment in an Albanian refugee center. It’s a chance to chat with the cleric, to hear words that make some sense, half a world away from home."

Explaining his journey from Xinjiang to Albania, via Afghanistan and Guantánamo, Abu Bakker Qassim said that he left his homeland early in 2001 "to find a better life," and "planned to get there by selling cloth bags across central Asia." Leaving his wife, who was pregnant with twins, and a young son, and "promising to call for them when he’d found a better life," he tried to get to Turkey, "where rumor had it that a Uighur had a successful leather-goods factory," but he only made it as far as Pakistan. To get to Turkey involved traveling through Iran, and, as he explained, "it could take months to obtain the necessary papers."

Like Mohammed Ayub, "he was nervous about waiting in Pakistan, where it was rumored that Uighurs often were turned over to Chinese officials." It was then, via a Uighur friend, that "he learned of a village, described merely as a Uighur village, at the foot of some mountains in eastern Afghanistan, where he could find food and shelter." He arrived in July 2001, and it was not until October that "he learned that the nearby mountains, where the villagers fled, were the Tora Bora mountains," where, it was rumoured, Osama bin Laden had fled.

Although the US authorities attempted to portray the Uighur settlement as "a terrorist training base funded by the Taliban," Qassim, like his compatriots, repeatedly pointed out that they had no connection to anybody. Because they had no access to newspapers, television or radio, and did not even speak Arabic, they "knew nothing about the 9/11 attacks," and their rudimentary military training — on an AK-47 — was training "for a potential fight to liberate their part of China." Sabin Willett, one of their lawyers, told Matthew Schofield that "the extent of the Uighurs’ ties to international terrorism" was summed up in the feeble attempts by the Chinese government to persuade the UN that they were terrorists — "because they’d been using 'art and literature’ to 'distort historical facts.’"

After fleeing the settlement and being captured by Pakistani villagers and handed over to US custody, Qassim did not expect to be treated badly because, he said, "America has always helped the Uighurs. The American translators told us not to worry, we were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. We weren’t enemies. We were Uighurs."

And so, again like Mohammed Ayub, "he kept hope, even as guards at Kandahar Airfield kneed him in the chest, taking his breath away, and barked orders in a language he didn’t understand. He said he was stretched out


:: Article nr. 82086 sent on 07-oct-2011 20:36 ECT

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