This is the sixth part of a nine-part series telling the stories of all the prisoners currently held in Guantánamo (174 at the time of writing). See the introduction here, and Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
This sixth article tells the stories of 14 prisoners seized in two house raids in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002, which led to the capture of the supposed “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah.
Of the hundred or so prisoners seized in Pakistan — mostly in house raids, but also in random raids on mosques, on buses and in the street — all but these 27 (and 13 more profiled in Part Seven) have been released. The cases of those released reveal, in general, how US intelligence was often horrendously inaccurate, and how opportunism often played a part in the actions of the Pakistani authorities, who were being rewarded financially. As President Musharraf admitted in his 2006 autobiography, In the Line of Fire, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects to the US, “We have earned bounty payments totaling millions of dollars.”
Moreover, of the 14 men whose stories are described in this chapter, many appear to be victims of the same failures of intelligence or opportunism as those already released. This is particularly true of nine men seized not with Abu Zubaydah (although there are, of course, serious doubts about his significance, as described below) but in a guest house close to a university, as five others seized in that raid have been released, two of whom won their habeas petitions in rulings that were notable for the level of criticism leveled at the government by the judges in question. In addition, one of the remaining nine also won his habeas petition (although the government is appealing that decision), and another has been cleared for release and, recently, came close to being offered a new home in Germany.
The following five men were seized in the house raid in Faisalabad that led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, the alleged “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA’s torture program was initially developed. Zubaydah’s case reveals the true horror at the heart of the “War on Terror,” because, despite being waterboarded 83 times and held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years, he was not a senior al-Qaeda operative at all, and was, instead, the mentally troubled gatekeeper of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. Even so, the five men seized with him have, for the most part, been accused of having connections to al-Qaeda, although one other, an Algerian named Labed Ahmed, was released in November 2008, and all appear to be more fortunate than three others seized in the same raid — two young men named Omar Ghramesh and Noor al-Deen, and an unidentified teenager — who were rendered to Syria as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, and who have never resurfaced in any form.
ISN 682 Al Sharbi, Ghassan (Saudi Arabia)
Al-Sharbi, who speaks fluent English and graduated in electrical engineering from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, is one of very few Guantánamo prisoners to have publicly declared membership of al-Qaeda. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he accepted all the allegations against him, which included claims that he received specialized training in the manufacture and use of remote-controlled explosive devices to detonate bombs against Afghan and US forces, that he “was observed chatting and laughing like pals with Osama bin Laden,” and that he was known in Guantánamo as the “electronic builder” and “Abu Zubaydah’s right-hand man.” Charged in the first incarnation of the Military Commissions, he appeared at a pre-trial hearing on April 27, 2006, and was equally open about his activities, telling the judge, “I came here to tell you I did what I did and I’m willing to pay the price,” “Even if I spend hundreds of years in jail, that would be a matter of honor to me,” and “I fought the United States, I’m going to make it short and easy for you guys: I’m proud of what I did.” Perhaps surprisingly, al-Sharbi, who was a member of the short-lived Prisoners’ Council in the summer of 2005, along with Shaker Aamer (ISN 239) and four others who have been released, was befriended by Guantánamo’s warden, Col. Mike Bumgarner, despite his avowed allegiance to al-Qaeda, and despite the fact that he later became one of Guantánamo’s most persistent hunger strikers. In June 2008, he was again put forward for a trial by Military Commission, along with Sufyian Barhoumi, Jabran al-Qahtani and Noor Uthman Muhammed (see below), but the charges were dropped by the Pentagon in October 2008, after their prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned, stating that the trial system was designed to prevent the disclosure of evidence essential to the defense. New charges against all four men were filed in January 2009, in the dying days of the Bush administration, but with the exception of Noor Uthman Muhammed, have not been revived under President Obama, perhaps because, as in the majority of cases involving Abu Zubaydah, the government has stepped back from its discredited claims about his significance.
ISN 685 Ali, Abdelrazak (Algeria)
The story of Abdelrazak Ali is so confusing that I have no idea what to believe, and can only hope that the truth will emerge when the supposed evidence is examined by a District Court judge in his habeas corpus petition. In the Summary of Evidence for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004, he was identified as Abdelrazak Ali Abdelrahman, a Libyan, but by the time of his second Administrative Review Board in 2006, he was identified as Abdullah Azak, and in the third round of the ARBs, in 2007, he was identified as Said Bin Brahim Bin Umran Bakush, an Algerian. This led to the US authorities accusing him of having “lied for a period of two years eight months prior to revealing his real name and actual place of birth,” and using this as part of the evidence against him, even though, as I have stated, this “may not have been advisable, but was understandable.” According to the US authorities, he was accused, by an unidentified “source,” of staying in various guest houses in Afghanistan from July to October 2001, and of attending the Khaldan training camp “circa 1996/1997,” and by an unidentified “al-Qaeda operative” of being “a member of his Martyrs’ Brigade.’” In response, he has stated that he traveled to Pakistan “to go to school to learn how to read and write,” and has also claimed, like Labed Ahmed (released in November 2008), that he was taken to Abu Zubaydah’s house by other people, and did not know the inhabitants. Given that the allegations against him are such clear examples of unverifiable hearsay, it may well be that this is the case.
ISN 694 Barhoumi, Sufyian (Algeria)
Barhoumi, who lost his habeas corpus petition in September 2009, was accused of being a trainer for the bomb-making group in the house rented by Abu Zubaydah, but has strenuously denied the allegations against him. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he admitted traveling to Afghanistan for military training in 1999, but pointed out that this was long before 9/11, and insisted that, having been shown a video of atrocities in Chechnya at a mosque in the UK, where he lived for two years, his intention was to train to fight in Chechnya. He explained that, after leaving Afghanistan, he traveled “from house to house,” ending up at the safe house in Faisalabad where he was seized with Abu Zubaydah. He added, however, that he was only there for ten days before the raid, and claimed that the allegations were the result of “hearsay” and of “people testifying against me.” He claimed that his interrogators told him, “people are talking about you a lot,” and suggested that, because he was arrested with Abu Zubaydah, “they dumped everything on me and said I was al-Qaeda also.” In 2006, at a pre-trial hearing after he had been put forward for a trial by Military Commission, he, like Ghassan al-Sharbi, refused legal representation, but was primarily concerned with showing the courtroom his hand, which was severely damaged after a land mine accident in Afghanistan, and complaining about the conditions of his imprisonment. Although he was charged for a second time in June 2008, and the charges were dropped in October 2008 and refiled in January 2009, he has not been charged under President Obama, and the fact that his habeas petition proceeded to a ruling may indicate that he is one of the 48 men that the Guantánamo Review Task Force recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Noticeably, when his habeas appeal was denied by the D.C. Circuit Court in June this year, and the reasons for the denial of his habeas petition were first publicly revealed, it became apparent that, although the judge in his case (Judge Rosemary Collyer) noted that Barhoumi “said that he is not now and has never been a member of al-Qaeda,” and added, “I have no reason not to believe that,” she nevertheless concluded that “he was with an associated force that was engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners and therefore was properly detained.” That “associated force,” it transpired, was an alleged militia associated with Abu Zubaydah, whose existence was apparently revealed in the diary of another of Zubaydah’s associates, Abu Kamil al-Suri, (someone previously unheard of, and whose current whereabouts are unknown). It also became apparent that, in the absence of any other evidence, the government was using this not only as a new way of justifying Abu Zubaydah’s detention, but also to implicate others like Barhoumi.
ISN 696 Al Qahtani, Jabran (Saudi Arabia)
As I explained in June 2008, when al-Qahtani, a graduate in electrical engineering from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, was put forward for a trial by Military Commission with Ghassan al-Sharbi, Sufyian Barhoumi and Noor Uthman Muhammed, he has had little to say about the allegations against him: that he traveled to Afghanistan after 9/11 “with the intent to fight the Northern Alliance and the American forces, whom he expected would soon be fighting in Afghanistan,” and that he was part of a group at Abu Zubaydah’s house who were provided with money to buy the components to make remote-controlled explosive devices. He refused to take part in his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004, and spoke very little in April 2006, during the pre-trial hearing for his first, aborted Military Commission, when he was concerned only to refuse the services of his military lawyer. As with the other three men, the charges against him were dropped in October 2008, and new charges were filed in January 2009, although he has not been charged under President Obama.
ISN 707 Muhammed, Noor Uthman (Sudan)
Muhammed was put forward for a trial by Military Commission on May 23, 2008, accused of serving as the deputy emir and a weapons instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000, when the camp was closed. Noticeably, these charges do not relate to the 9/11 attacks, and in his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004, Muhammed insisted that Khaldan was “a place to get training” that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “People come over to that camp, train for about a month to a month and a half, then they go back to their hometown,” he said, adding that what the people did with the training they received was their own business. Muhammed’s case ought to raise troubling questions about Khaldan — and, specifically, about how his claims about the camp’s lack of affiliation with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban echo the US authorities’ belated conclusions about Abu Zubaydah, and how his alleged role as the camp’s deputy emir ought to raise troubling questions about the camp’s emir, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The CIA’s most notorious “ghost prisoner,” al-Libi died in a Libyan prison in May 2009 after being rendered back to the country, having served his purpose when, in 2002, under torture in Egypt (where he had been flown by the CIA), he falsely confessed to connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. However, despite these problems, Muhammed is one of five prisoners put forward for a trial by Military Commission under the Obama administration, and although there are serious doubts about whether the court is empowered to try him for his alleged involvement with terrorism before the 9/11 attacks, prosecutors made a point, in a pre-trial hearing on September 21 this year, of stating that, “for a number of years,” Muhammed “was the principal trainer and in charge of all training at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan that provided numerous individuals who went on to serve for al-Qaeda.” His trial is scheduled to begin in February 2011.
The following nine men were seized in a separate house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, at the Crescent Mill guest house, also known as the “Issa house,” after its Pakistani owner (who was not seized) or the “Yemeni house,” because most of its inhabitants were Yemenis. Although the house was purported to have a connection to Abu Zubaydah, the majority of the 15 prisoners known to have been seized in the raid have always maintained that they were students at the nearby Salafia University, or that they had traveled to Pakistan for cheap medical treatment, and that the house was a student guest house. One of the prisoners, Salah Ahmed al-Salami, died in mysterious circumstances in Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 (on the night that two other men died in what was described as a triple suicide), and five others have been released. In May 2009, Judge Gladys Kessler, ruling on the habeas corpus petition of one of the five, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, who described himself as a student, savaged the government for drawing on the testimony of witnesses whose unreliability was acknowledged by the authorities, and for attempting to create a “mosaic” of intelligence that was thoroughly unconvincing, and she also made a point of stating, “It is likely, based on evidence in the record, that at least a majority of the [redacted] guests were indeed students, living at a guest house that was located close to a university.” Ali Ahmed was finally released last September, and in the meantime another student in the house, Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee, a Saudi who stated that he had traveled to Pakistan to receive cheap medical treatment for a back problem, was released last June, following the deliberations of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force. In addition, two other Yemeni students, Mohammed Tahir and Fayad Yahya Ahmed, were released last December. Since then, one other man has also won his habeas petition (although the government is appealing that decision), and another has been cleared by the Task Force, and is seeking a third country to offer him a new home.
ISN 680 Hassan, Emad (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, Hassan has repeatedly stated that he never set foot in Afghanistan (until the US took him there after his capture), and that he was near the end of a seven-month trip to the university to study the Koran when he was seized. He has also explained that, while in Pakistani custody, “the person who was in charge came and told us we didn’t have anything to worry about,” and that “our sheet was clean.” Nevertheless, he has been subjected to numerous allegations made by unidentified individuals, who have claimed that he trained at al-Farouq, where he was one of 50 men chosen to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards, that he swore bayat to Osama bin Laden, and that he was present in Tora Bora, at the showdown between al-Qaeda and US forces in December 2001. These dubious sounding allegations have not been tested in court, of course, and it may be that Hassan has simply aroused the wrath of the authorities in Guantánamo because of his refusal to accept the conditions in which he and the other prisoners are held. In 2006, one of his lawyers, Douglas Cox, explained how he was “regarded as a leader by other detainees,” and how he “went on a hunger strike. A few months into it, military doctors started force-feeding him by inserting a tube through his nose. The process was so painful that Hassan felt he couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t want to quit, though, because he thought he would be letting down the other detainees.” Weight records released by the Pentagon show that, although Hassan only weighted 113 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, his weight dropped at one point in December 2005 to a skeletal 85 pounds (PDF).
ISN 684 Tahamuttan, Mohammed (Palestine)
Tahamuttan, who was 22 years old when seized, had been a member, since the age of 14, of Jamaat-al-Tablighi, the vast missionary organization, with millions of members worldwide, which, in Guantánamo, was routinely described as a front for terrorism (a description that is akin to describing the Catholic Church as a front for the IRA). According to his own account, he had traveled to Pakistan in October 2001, and had been part of two missions from the Tablighi headquarters in Raiwand, but in Guantánamo he was subjected to claims that he had traveled to Afghanistan for military training, even though a more plausible explanation of his activities was also provided by the government, in passages in his Unclassified Summary of Evidence in which it was stated that “he met two Afghani men during a lecture at the Jamaat-al-Tablighi headquarters in Raiwand, Pakistan, who pressured him into traveling to Afghanistan … even though the Jamaat-al-Tablighi expressly forbade travel to Afghanistan as too dangerous.” However, although “he traveled with the two Afghan men to Quetta, Pakistan, where he was taken to a compound containing Afghan refugees and Arab men who looked like fighters,” he “was advised not to travel to Afghanistan, and his travel was arranged to Lahore, Pakistan.” Cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, he was recently considered for rehousing in Germany, but at the last minute the German government decided to accept only two of the three prisoners offered. However, on September 27, 2010, the Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, said the government “was going to invite the sole remaining Palestinian detainee in Guantánamo Bay to live a ‘peaceful, free’ life in the Maldives,” and “expressed hope that the parliament would endorse the decision as a gesture of affection to the Palestinian brothers and as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
ISN 686 Hakim, Abdel (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, although Hakim stated in Guantánamo that he had studied the Koran for five months in Lahore, and had then been directed by a religious figure to the guest house near Salafia University, the US authorities alleged that he had trained at al-Farouq. When a tribunal member asked him, “If you were a student studying the Koran, how did you end up here?” he replied, “This is the question I always ask myself … why was I captured there, and why did they bring me here?”
ISN 688 Ahmed, Fahmi (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, Fahmi Ahmed (also identified as Fahmi al-Tawlaqi) “said that he went to Pakistan to buy fabrics, taking $3,500 that he had borrowed from his mother, but explained that he actually spent most of his time in Pakistan ‘like a wild man,’ drinking and smoking hashish. After staying for a year and a half, during which time his visa expired, he was eventually advised to go to Faisalabad, where there was a big Arabic community, and where he was told he would be able to locate people who could tell him how to bribe the government to renew his visa. He said he ended up staying for two months with a Pakistani family, but just as he was planning to call his family to arrange to return home, because the house he was staying in was too small, he met Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami [aka Salah Ahmed al-Salami, one of the three prisoners who died in June 2006], who invited him to stay at a larger house, where he was also staying, and where ‘they were all university students.’” In contrast, the US authorities allege that he trained in Afghanistan, fought with the Taliban, and was a member of al-Qaeda, but this seems unlikely, because, as his lawyers explained in 2006, “Although he says he endured his share of abuse at Gitmo –once, soldiers shaved his head in the shape of a cross — he has also made an amazing discovery: rap music. Al-Tawlaqi adopted the rap name King Daniel, which he drew on his prison jumpsuit. He filled two notebooks with rap lyrics, in English, organized by subject. The lawyers can’t say what the songs are about because Justice Department officials wouldn’t declassify the lyrics, though they assured me they are ‘very lewd,’” and he “asked his lawyers if they could persuade Eminem to perform his songs.”
ISN 689 Salam, Mohammed (Yemen)
Salam, who was reportedly seen by “a senior al-Qaeda member” at al-Farouq, has actually presented a far more coherent narrative, which involved traveling to Pakistan to get treatment on his nose, and then meeting up with a missionary under whose guidance he traveled to Faisalabad to study the Koran, where he stayed for eight months until he was seized in the house raid. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, after explaining that a “generous person” paid for his trip, the following exchange took place, which demonstrated how wide the cultural gap was between the Americans and Muslims from the Gulf:
Tribunal Member: I don’t know your culture very well, but … in our culture people just don’t step up and say, “I’ll pay for the trip for you.”
Detainee: In our culture, in Islam, there is such a thing … Indeed, it is an obligation for any Muslim who is rich to pay for someone who is poor.
ISN 690 Qader, Ahmed Abdul (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, Qader, who was just 18 years old when he was seized, said in Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan “to help the needy and the poor,” and tried unsuccessfully to establish a charity organization. He admitted that he visited the “back line,” encouraged by friends connected to the Taliban, but insisted that he “never participated in any kind of military activities.” After leaving Afghanistan before the US-led invasion began, he said that he ended up in the house in Faisalabad, where he became friends with Fahmi Ahmed (ISN 688, above). “We shared the same vision and he has the same opinions,” Ahmed said of him, adding, “He used to use hashish with me,” whereas the other students in the house “were trying to inspire me to do the religious things, like look at my religion, because most of the students were studying the Koran and all things related to religious studies.”
ISN 691 Al Zarnuki, Mohammed (Yemen)
Although it was alleged, by unidentified sources, including “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,” that al-Zarnuki was seen in various training camps and guest houses in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2001 (and even that, after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, he attended a meeting in Kandahar with Osama bin Laden to plan further operations), he has stated that he took a break from farming to preach with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, and has claimed that he spent four months preaching and then spent a month and a half at the guest house where he was seized, where he became ill.
ISN 702 Mingazov, Ravil (Russia)
A former ballet dancer and Russian army officer, Mingazov, who won his habeas corpus petition in May 2010, has always claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan in search of a new home for himself and his family, after he converted to Islam and faced dangerous discrimination from the Russian military. Following the US-led invasion, he said that he fled with other refugees to a center in Lahore, in Pakistan, run by the vast missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, where he stayed from January to March 2002. Anxious to be reunited with his wife and child, but aware that foreigners in Pakistan were prey for bounty hunters, he then accepted an offer of safe passage to a house in Faisalabad with two other refugees, Labed Ahmed (an Algerian, released in November 2008) and Jamil Nassir (a Yemeni, see below), where, they were told, it would be easier for them to leave the country. After being accidentally delivered to Shabaz Cottage, where Abu Zubaydah was living (and where Ahmed insisted on staying), Mingazov and Nasser were then moved to the Crescent Mill guest house, where they were seized after about ten days. Any doubts about Mingazov’s innocence should have been removed not just by the ruling but also because, during a military review board at Guantánamo, Labed Ahmed had stated that, because he, Mingazov and Nassir “did not have a connection or relationship with Abu Zubaydah,” they “should have been placed in the Yemeni house.” As I have explained previously, “This indicates that, although Abu Zubaydah had some sort of contact with the [Crescent Mill guest] house, it was not a place that had any connection with terrorism, and was, at best, a place where a few foreigners fleeing from Afghanistan could be concealed alongside a group of students.” Despite this, however, the Obama administration recently announced that it would appeal Mingazov’s successful habeas petition.
ISN 728 Nassir, Jamil (Yemen)
The outline of Nassir’s journey to Faisalabad, and the reasons that he should not be regarded as an associate of Abu Zubaydah, can be found in the story of Ravil Mingazov, above. As for what Nassir had been doing prior to his capture, the US authorities initially struggled to find evidence of any anti-US activities. In 2004, at his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, the only information they had about him, beyond the spurious connection with Zubaydah and the house, was a claim that he had stayed in “the Afghani house” in Kandahar, after traveling from Yemen to Pakistan in late July 2001. By 2007, the US authorities had established a much more exciting narrative, but its reliability is, of course, unknown. According to this version of events, Nassir had traveled to Afghanistan with his wife, had rented a house next door to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, and was linked by unknown sources to “the purchase of equipment used to assist al-Qaeda operatives in the production of biological weapons.” According to this allegation, Nassir was working with al-Wafa, a Saudi charity that, for many years, the US authorities believed was working with al-Qaeda on chemical and biological weapons, although these claims appear to have evaporated in every case except Nassir’s, as the director of al-Wafa, Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, and two other prisoners once accused of similar crimes — Ayman Batarfi and Jamal Mar’i — have all been released. Nassir has refuted the al-Wafa allegations, and, in light of his own claim that he traveled from Pakistan to Afghanistan to study and teach the Koran, it may be that the most reliable unidentified source is the one who stated that he was “not a guard nor affiliated with al-Qaeda,” but a civilian who had “moved to Afghanistan with his wife and children.”
Originally published on Cageprisoners.
Andy Worthington, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at andyworthington.co.uk.