This is the seventh installment 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, Part Five and Part Six.
This seventh article tells the stories of 13 prisoners seized in Pakistan between February and September 2002, which, as I explained in Parts Five and Six (which told the stories of another 27 men seized in Pakistan), was part of a process of capturing prisoners that was, if anything, even more alarmingly random, opportunistic, or reliant on dubious intelligence than the well-chronicled seizure of Arabs in Afghanistan or crossing the border into Pakistan that I chronicled in Parts One to Four of this series.
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 40 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 13 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. It is unknown what conclusions President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force reached about these men, but only two were cleared for release under the Bush administration. One of these men subsequently lost his habeas corpus petition, and two others have also lost their habeas petitions, and it is a fair presumption that many of these men were recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the Task Force.
ISN 695 Abu Bakr, Omar (Omar Mohammed Khalifh) (Libya)
Khalifh, a Libyan amputee, lost his habeas corpus petition in April this year, despite doubts about where he was captured, and what he had been doing in Afghanistan, as well as disturbing revelations about his treatment in Guantánamo. According to the US authorities, he had worked for a trucking company owned by Osama bin Laden in Sudan, had worked as an explosives trainer at various training camps in Afghanistan from 1996-98, had been “identified” as a trainer and the leader of a Libyan training camp near Kabul, visited by bin Laden, where he was “identified as someone whom others would approach to receive explosives training if they wanted to commit a terrorist attack,” and had also been “identified” as “a military leader in charge of many Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Gulf States while on the front line” in 2001, who “would meet with other Taliban leaders to plan military operations.” The US authorities also allege that he was seized in the house raids in Karachi on February 7, 2002, which I described in Part Five of this series, but his lawyer, Edmund Burke, explained that he had worked for the Taliban as a mine cleaner until 1998, when his right leg was severely damaged by a land mine, and had then spent years moving from hospital to hospital in Afghanistan to receive treatment for his leg, which was eventually amputated. Burke added that he moved to Pakistan in 2001, and was living in a school for boys when it was raided by Pakistani police. The most disturbing revelations about Khalifh came from former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, who told me that that Khalifh’s status had been exaggerated by the authorities in Guantánamo. “They call him ‘The General,’” Deghayes told me, “not because of anything he has done, but because he decided that life would be easier for him in Guantánamo if he said yes to every allegation laid against him.” Even so, as Deghayes also explained, this cooperation has been futile, as Khalifh has been subjected to appalling ill-treatment, held in a notorious psychiatric block where the use of torture was routine, and denied access to adequate medical attention for the many problems that afflict him, beyond the loss of his leg. As Deghayes described it, “He has lost his sight in one eye, has heart problems and high blood pressure, and his remaining leg is mostly made of metal, from an old accident in Libya a long time ago when a wall fell on him. He describes himself as being nothing more than ‘the spare parts of a car.’” Despite these contradictory claims, Judge James Robertson denied his habeas petition, finding the government’s version of events generally convincing (although it was not reassuring that, in his unclassified opinion, he muddied the waters still further by incorrectly stating that Khalifh was seized in Jalalabad in March 2002).
ISN 708 Al Bakush, Ismael (Libya)
Apparently a former mujahid in the dying days of Afghanistan’s Communist regime, al-Bakush reportedly stated that he returned to Afghanistan “to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance,” and the US authorities allege that he “and his group would fight sporadically whenever there was a fight between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.” However, al-Bakush also provided a detailed explanation for doing so, stating that “the reason he decided to help fight with the Taliban was because he lived in Afghanistan both prior to Taliban control and after Taliban control. Prior to Taliban control there were robberies, thefts, and fights between groups. After the Taliban took over the area became safe.” Beyond these claims, there was nothing to indicate that he took up arms against the United States, or had any desire to do so. He stated that he “had never met bin Laden,” said that “at no time did he conduct any operations against the American Forces,” and, moreover, “said he had no feelings towards the United States and considered the United States like any other country.” “His main concern,” he explained, “is Libya and the overthrow of [Colonel] Gaddafi.” Much of the evidence against Bakush consisted of allegations about his involvement with Libyan groups opposed to the Gaddafi regime, and the question of Bakush’s continued detention, therefore, seems, as with other Libyans held in Guantánamo, to hinge on whether it is acceptable to hold dissidents opposed to a regime that, until the “War on Terror” began, was regarded as a terrorist dictatorship by the very government that has been holding Bakush for the last eight and a half years.
ISN 713 Al Zahrani, Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
Apparently seized in a house raid in Lahore (around the same time as the house raids in Faisalabad, described in Part Six), al-Zahrani (also identified as Mohammed Muti Zahran) is one of several amputees held at Guantánamo, having apparently lost a leg in Afghanistan. According to the US authorities, he “admitted to being proud that he was a low-level Taliban fighter,” and “stated he was proud that he came to Afghanistan to be a Mujahedin [sic], and stated that if he had not lost his leg, he still would have fought.” These admissions — plus a detailed list of statements, attributed to al-Zahrani, relating to his training at al-Farouq (the main training camp for Arabs in the years before the 9/11 attacks) and at an Algerian guest house in Afghanistan — suggest that he was indeed a foot soldier, and that he had undertaken advanced military training, but, as in other cases, they may not be reliable. Noticeably, however, the US authorities have also come up with other allegations indicating that he was a member of al-Qaeda. These include allegations that he was friends with one of the 9/11 hijackers, that he swore bayat to Osama bin Laden, that he “met [Ayman] al-Zawahiri [al-Qaeda’s second-in-command] three or four times and they had a very good relationship,” that he “met with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [the future leader of “al-Qaeda in Iraq”] several times about logistics and personnel issues for the fight against the Northern Alliance,” and that he was involved in planning the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, who was murdered on September 9, 2001. Again, it is impossible to know how much truth there is to these allegations. They may be as they appear, or they may have been produced through the dubious interrogations of other prisoners connected with al-Qaeda. What is certain is that there are holes in al-Zahrani’s jihadist CV: in another statement attributed to him, for example, he “stated that he doubted the viewpoints of al-Qaeda because some of their operations contradict Islamic principles and go against Islamic laws.”
ISN 717 Bin Hadiddi, Abdulhadi (Hedi Hammamy) (Tunisia)
Like many Tunisians, Hammamy, who was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review board under the Bush administration, had traveled to Italy from Tunisia in search of a new life. After arriving in 1987, he settled in Bologna where he worked as a hotel porter, and later in a restaurant. In 2000, he moved to Pakistan, where he married the daughter of another Tunisian he met while applying for asylum, and had a daughter, Marwa. He then worked alongside his father-in-law, but one evening, in April 2002, as he went with a Pakistani friend to look at a house to rent, he was seized by the Pakistani police, presumably for the lucrative bounty payments available for vulnerable Arabs in Pakistan. Despite being cleared for release, his habeas corpus petition reached the US District Court in April 2009, when Judge Richard Leon denied his petition, choosing to believe an allegation submitted by the Italian authorities — that he was “a member of an Italy-based terrorist cell that provided support to various Islamic terrorist groups” — as the basis for presuming that he had therefore arrived in Pakistan in connection with terrorism, even though the charges leveled against him in Italy — of “supporting terrorism, in part, by furnishing false documents and currency” — had not been tested in a court of law. Judge Leon was partly persuaded to regard the unsubstantiated Italian allegations as trustworthy, because he concluded that they tied in with another claim put forward by the government, regarding Hammamy’s identity papers, which were apparently “found after the Battle of Tora Bora in the al-Qaeda cave complex.” As with the Italian allegation, which he has persistently refuted, Hammamy has always denied being in Tora Bora, and has claimed that his papers were in fact stolen from him, and that the government has evidence that this is the case. The result of this ruling was that, for the first time, a prisoner cleared under President Bush had his detention justified by a judge, and as one of his lawyers, Cori Crider of Reprieve, explained, “While this doesn’t change the military’s opinion that Hedi Hammamy is transferable, it certainly isn’t going to help him in the political context. Being found subject to military detention is not remotely the same thing as a criminal conviction, but that won’t stop right-wing elements in potential resettlement states from conflating the two issues.”
ISN 722 Diyab, Jihad (Syria)
The story of Jihad Diyab (or Deyab) is spotted with unsubstantiated allegations. A former driver for the Syrian Air Force, he has stated that he left Syria with his family in May 2000 and traveled to Kabul, via Iran and Pakistan, “to start a business selling honey,” and has maintained this story throughout his imprisonment. When he arrived at Bagram in June 2002, the following comments were made by the interrogators who first spoke to him (these were reproduced by Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of one of the interrogators in the US prisons in Afghanistan, in his book The Interrogators, in which he also noted that Diyab and the other prisoners who arrived with him had already been interrogated in Pakistani prisons with the assistance of the CIA): “31 years old; Lebanese; speaks Arabic well, English. Was in the Syrian Air Force. Severe kidney problems. Think he is lying. Says he was a honey trader. Captured in Lahore. Doctor says good to go. Watch him.” With seven and a half years to come up with another story, the US authorities have certainly managed to do that, but it is impossible to know how accurate the allegations are, and very little information has come from Diyab himself, who, as the authorities noted under the sub-heading “Intent,” “would not talk; he spent the entire interrogation looking at the floor.” The allegations accrued from the interrogations of other prisoners include a claim that he was “identified as having fled to Afghanistan where he joined al-Qaeda’s military training camps,” a claim that he “allowed a senior al-Qaeda operative to stay in his house,” and other allegations made by two unidentified “senior al-Qaeda operatives”: one claimed to have met Diyab in the 1990s, when he noted that he was an expert in passport and document forgery, and added that he had met him again in Kabul in 2000 or 2001, and in Lahore in 2002, and another claimed that he had “showed up in Afghanistan in 2000 expecting to be able to attend Khaldan training camp because he had known another individual from their time together in Syria.” This source apparently “disapproved” of him, because he “expected to be accepted into the camps without prior vetting.”
ISN 757 Abdul Aziz, Ahmed Ould (Mauritania)
A Mauritanian seized in a house raid on June 25, 2002, Abdul Aziz is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, even though the US government has failed to come up with a single piece of evidence to support the claim. Evidently an educated and articulate man (his first lawyers at Guantánamo noted hat he studied literature and philosophy, and speaks French and English, in addition to Arabic), Abdul Aziz, according to the government’s account, traveled to Afghanistan in September 1999 to support the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, and undertook training in 2000. At the time of his capture, however, he was working as an Arabic language teacher at an institute in Pakistan, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, and there is no evidence that he ever took up arms against anyone, and certainly no evidence that he was ever involved in any activities against the United States. Instead, he is quoted in the government’s documents as saying that he “believed his direct supervisor was more affiliated with the Taliban than with al-Qaeda,” that he “visited [the] supervisor’s house but never discussed things such as al-Qaeda,” and that, although “a man he worked for told him that al-Qaeda needed a good administrator and approached him on al-Qaeda’s behalf,” he turned down the offer. Set against this are an array of unsubstantiated al-Qaeda allegations, which are in marked contrast to Abdul Aziz’s own account, in which he admitted that he “spoke with Osama bin Laden about the Institute … for approximately five minutes in October 2000.” The claim that he was a member of al-Qaeda came from an unidentified “source,” who also claimed that he had sworn bayat (an oath of loyalty) to Osama bin Laden. It was also claimed that he had been recruited to join al-Qaeda by “a personal adviser of Osama bin Laden, who leads the Mauritanian al-Qaeda cell,” and had attended the wedding of one of bin Laden’s sons in 1999 or 2000.
ISN 894 Abdul Rahman, Mohammed (Lotfi Bin Ali) (Tunisia)
Abdul Rahman (also identified as Lotfi bin Ali), who was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review under the Bush administration, had been living in Italy before traveling to Pakistan, and was essentially an economic migrant. In Guantánamo, he explained that he went to Pakistan for medical treatment and to find a wife. “I have told my story five hundred times,” he said. “I went to Pakistan for drugs. I was sick and I wanted to heal myself, so I went to Pakistan.” He also traveled, he said, “to get married and relax and to get out of what I was in.” Although the US authorities compiled an array of allegations that purported to undermine his story, including claims that he was involved in various North African terrorist groups, and a claim by “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” that he attended the Khaldan training camp in 1998 or 1999, he refuted all the allegations, and insisted that, although he had traveled to Afghanistan from Pakistan, he had only done so because the Pakistani government had started a campaign against Arabs. In his last review before he was cleared for release, he also retracted a confession, “admitted some time ago,” that he associated with “various amounts” of terrorists while in Jalalabad, saying, “I do not pose a threat. I am against terrorism … I am against the killing of innocent people … I live a normal life. I do not like problems. That’s it.” Like the majority of Tunisians in Guantánamo, bin Ali received a prison sentence in Tunisia in absentia (on dubious charges of belonging to a terrorist organization), with the result that, in 2007, when the US authorities were planning to repatriate him against his will, Judge Gladys Kessler of the US District Court in Washington D.C. intervened to prevent his repatriation. Judge Kessler was particularly concerned because two Tunisians repatriated in June 2007 — Abdullah bin Omar and Lotfi Lagha — received prison sentences on their return, after trials denounced by observers as show trials, and in her ruling, in October 2007, Judge Kessler ruled that he “cannot be sent to Tunisia because he could suffer ‘irreparable harm’ that the US courts would be powerless to reverse.” Since Judge Kessler’s ruling, Lotfi bin Ali has been stuck in Guantánamo, while the State Department has tried to find a third country prepared to accept him.
The following six men were seized in house raids in Karachi on or around September 11, 2002, around the same time that the “high-value detainee” Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized in a separate house raid. Also seized with bin al-Shibh, who was immediately rendered to the CIA’s network of secret prisons, was Hassan bin Attash, the 17-year old brother of Waleed bin Attash (another “high-value detainee” seized six months later), and the children of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Bin Attash was held for a week in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul (a medieval torture dungeon with the addition of 24-hour music and noise), and his torture was then outsourced to Jordan, where he was held for 16 months before his return to Afghanistan in January 2004 and his transfer to Guantanamo in September 2004, and KSM’s children were held for a unspecified amount of time, although it is believed that, at the time of writing, they are no longer in US or Pakistani custody (see Part Nine for more on these stories). Although the six men below were not captured with bin al-Shibh, the US authorities have been content to allow observers to infer that they were somehow connected to bin al-Shibh, even though, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, they seem, at most, to have been “nothing more than recent Taliban recruits who ended up in Karachi as part of an extended safe house system that was sheltering all Arabs from arrest, and not just those who were committed to al-Qaeda.”
ISN 836 Saleh, Ayoub Murshid Ali (Yemen)
All six of the men described here were probably rendered, after their capture, to the “Dark Prison,” but only two — Musa’ab al-Madhwani and Hail al-Maythali (see below) — have spoken about their experiences. Saleh, who is accused of traveling to Afghanistan “to join the jihad” in 2000, and of training at al-Farouq, appears, like all the men, to have been an extremely peripheral figure in the Afghan conflict. He has stated that he learned first aid as well as receiving weapons training at al-Farouq, and that his training was cut short because he contracted malaria, and, like Shawki Balzuhair and Musa’ab al-Madhwani, he was only seized in Karachi because a plan to return home via Iran was thwarted by the Iranian authorities, obliging him to return to Pakistan.
ISN 837 Al Marwalah, Bashir (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, al-Marwalah, who had studied nursing in Yemen, admitted traveling to Afghanistan in September 2000 and training at al-Farouq and another camp, but he added that he then returned to Yemen to see his family, and especially his father, who was ill. He said that he then returned to Afghanistan in August 2001 and attended al-Farouq for a second time, but refuted an allegation that he had participated in military operations against the US-led coalition, and said that he had fled to Pakistan after the US-led invasion began. When the tribunal asked him why he had gone to Afghanistan, he said that he wanted to train to fight in Chechnya, and when he was asked, “Are you a member of al-Qaeda?” he said, “I don’t know. I know I am an Arab fighter” (although he also noted that he had not engaged in any actual combat). In the government’s most recent publicly available allegations, it was noted that, unlike other men who had traveled to Tora Bora, al-Marwalah “and about 400 others” were evacuated to Khost, after “approximately four weeks moving back and forth between two guest houses, one in Kabul, and the other in Bagram,” and that, after traveling through Pakistan, he “stayed in a safe houses” [sic] in Karachi “from July to September 2002.”
ISN 838 Balzuhair, Shawki Awad (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, Balzuhair was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in April or May 2001, attending al-Farouq, and serving on the Taliban front lines near Bagram. In the most recent publicly available documents, it was noted that he “decided to go to Afghanistan after viewing a video about Chechnya, and became concerned about the Palestinian struggle for independence.” Balzuhair’s route out of Afghanistan apparently involved staying, in a variety of house with “about 20 others” from September to December 2001, and then living “wth a group of about 60 Arabs in the mountains of Afghanistan near Zormat.” From there, he ended up in Karachi, where, after an ill-fated diversion in Iran (as with Ayoub Saleh and Musa’ab al-Madhwani), he was seized after also staying in a house in Quetta for a month and “another house near a rail road track for another month.” As with the other five men, there were no allegations that he had engaged in combat at any point in his travels.
ISN 839 Al Mudwani, Musab (Musa’ab Al Madhwani) (Yemen)
Al-Madhwani is the only one of the six whose habeas corpus petition has been ruled on by a District Court judge, and the outcome was not entirely satisfactory. In December 2009, when Judge Thomas F. Hogan denied his petition, he said that, although the government had “met its burden” in establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that al-Madhwani was connected to al-Qaeda, he “did not think Madhwani was dangerous.” Noting that he had been a “model prisoner” since his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002, he explained, “There is nothing in the record now that he poses any greater threat than those detainees who have already been released.” Moreover, Judge Hogan refused to rely on any statements that al-Madhwani had made to interrogators at Guantánamo, ruling that they were “tainted by abusive interrogation techniques,” to which he was subjected in the weeks after his capture in the “Dark Prison,” although he did accept statements that al-Madhwani made during his Administrative Review Board at Guantánamo in 2005, which, he said, were not tainted because they were made years after the abuse took place. Al-Madhwani’s lawyers had argued that these statements should also have been excluded, because they were “contaminated because he was still worried about upsetting his captors,” but the judge refused to accept this argument, even though one of his attorneys, Darold W. Killmer, explained, “He was threatened that if he changed his story, he would be sent back to a place worse than at the ‘Dark Prison.’” According to al-Madhwani’s own account, he arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, and trained briefly at al-Farouq, until it closed immediately after the attacks. After spending a few months in guest houses in Afghanistan, he made his way to Pakistan via Khost, traveling with other Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghans, and then, after trying unsuccessfully to return home via Iran, where, he said, he was “beaten and questioned” before being refused entry, spent ten months being moved around various houses in Lahore, Quetta and Karachi, waiting for an opportunity to return home that never came. Moreover, when he explained the situation in Karachi at the time of his arrest, an even less militant picture emerged. “The group I was arrested with were staying in two apartments,” he said. “One person from each apartment refused to surrender and fought the Pakistani forces sent to arrest us. I was in the group that chose to surrender.” He added that the Pakistanis were “thankful for our cooperation and surrendering without fighting.” He then explained that there were seven men in his apartment, including one who was killed, who had only been there for about five days, and that two other men shared the other apartment with a family. In his Review Board, he spoke only briefly about the “Dark Prison,” but it was easy to understand why Judge Hogan, who also spoke to him by video-link from Guantánamo, concluded that his “allegations about abusive interrogations were credible,” and, noticeably, added that they “were not challenged by government lawyers.” In 2005, when a Board Member asked him, “Are you holding anything back from the interrogators?” he replied, “That is impossible, because before I came to the prison in Guantánamo Bay I was in another prison in Afghanistan, under the ground [and] it was very dark, total dark, under torturing and without sleep. It was impossible that I could get out of there alive. I was really beaten and tortured.”
ISN 840 Al Maythali, Hail Aziz Ahmed (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, al-Maythali stated that he went to Afghanistan in November 2000 to “fight in the jihad,” and admitted ferrying supplies on the back lines near Kabul, but he added that he was only on the front lines for a week because he had no military experience. He denied allegations that he trained at al-Farouq, and explained that these allegations had only arisen because of his torture in the “Dark Prison,” where, he said, “there was very bad torture conducted on people,” including himself, which was “so bad that he knew by making up and agreeing to the training it would stop the torture.” He added that “his testicles were disfigured to the point where they cannot be repaired.” Like Ayoub Saleh, Shawki Balzuhair and Musa’ab al-Madhwani, he was only captured after returning to Pakistan following an abortive attempt to return home via Iran.
ISN 841 Nashir, Said Salih Said (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, Nashir was accused of attending al-Farouq from July to September 2001, when the camp closed. He then apparently served as a guard at Kandahar airport until November 2001, when he traveled to a valley between Zormat and Khost, Afghanistan, where he stayed in caves for approximately ten days, before moving on to Pakistan. In “factors favor[ing] release or transfer,” it was noted that he “stated he would never kill innocent women or children in the United States because it was against his religion.”
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.