This story was written by Jason Leopold and originally published on Truthout.
A video released by the Pentagon showing several Guantanamo detainees praying, exercising and playing soccer has angered Kuwaitis, who believe one of the prisoners is a citizen of the country and is being used by the US government as a “propaganda” tool in an attempt to demonstrate the humane conditions of nearly a decade of indefinite detention, according to attorneys representing the man.
The one-minute-and-19-second video, according to a Defense Department spokesman, is “B-roll footage” that was shot on November 4 by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo personnel and provided to the media covering the arraignment at the prison of high-value detainee Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
The video, which does not show the detainees’ faces, was shot in Camp 6, which houses “cooperative” detainees. The detainees, some of whom are wearing sneakers, shorts and beige and white prison garb, are also seen taking what appears to be a leisurly stroll on the prison grounds.
Air Force Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, a military lawyer who is defending Kuwaiti Fayiz al-Kandari against war crimes charges before the military commission at Guantanamo, told Truthout that it took “all but a couple of seconds to identify my client in the video” through other identifying features that the Pentagon did not obscure. Wingard said al-Kandari is the detainee kicking a soccer ball.
Wingard suggested the Pentagon released the video in an attempt to sabotage his work on al-Kandari’s case. He said the video was posted on the Internet a few days before he arrived in Kuwait to meet with government officials to discuss ways to “facilitate [al-Kandari’s] release back to Kuwait’s state of the art rehabilitation center built at the request of the Bush administration, which is currently vacant.” [A previously classified State Department cable, released in September by WikiLeaks, says planning for the rehabilitation center began in September 2008, following a discussion between Prime Minister Nasser Al-Sabah and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington “on the possible role of such a center with respect to Kuwait’s four [at the time] remaining Guantanamo detainees.”]
“I first saw the video of my client, Fayiz al-Kandari, when I touched down in Kuwait for a scheduled visit,” Wingard said. “My first thought was that there is no way the United States government sank so low as to show my client to the world, caged like a circus animal. Still, there he was, standing in a chain link, kennel-like enclosure, where he has essentially spent the last ten years without every having been charged with a crime.”
Wingard said word quickly spread in Kuwait that one of the detainees in the video was al-Kandari. He said the message that the US government was trying to disseminate – that al-Kandari and the other detainees featured in the video were in “good health” – has backfired.
“As I traveled around Kuwait, I discovered that people were not seeing the positive image the spin doctors had engineered,” Wingard said. “Instead, they saw a man in a dog cage, cut off from his country, and subjected to injustice for a decade without trial. Thus truth has shone through – and it has had an amazing impact on the steadily declining support the United States had taken for granted here in Kuwait. I can tell you without a doubt, this video puts the inhumanity of Guantanamo into motion unlike any still picture I could have shown.”
A State Department spokesperson did not return calls for comment.
The issue of al-Kandari’s indefinite detention and the other Kuwaiti detainee imprisoned at Guantanamo, Fawzi Al-Ouda, was reportedly one of the talking points during a meeting that took place at the White House in September between Vice President Joe Biden and Prime Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
A statement released to the media in September by Kuwaiti Ambassador to Washington Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber said the prime minister called on Biden to take immediate steps to secure al-Kandari and Al-Ouda’s release. The prime minister also discussed the case with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and told her it is a priority issue for the Kuwaiti government, according to the ambassador’s statement.
Adel Abdulhadi, al-Kandari’s Kuwaiti-based attorney, told Truthout that the video “has angered every single person I’ve spoken with.”
“Whoever thought it might be a good idea to show our son in a dog kennel should be fired,” he said. “When I saw the video I thought, we must do something after ten years without a trial. As a result I’m organizing a protest outside the US Embassy” on Sunday.
Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told Truthout the government’s only agenda in releasing the video is to show the world that “Defense Department personnel working in detention facilities operate under a high level of scrutiny and consistently provide the most humane and safe care and custody of individuals under their control.
“It’s important to us and to the global community that we continue to be as transparent as possible in all that we do – while still maintaining very necessary operational security – to show current conditions” at Guantanamo, Breasseale said.
But Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate at Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program, also likened the video released by the Pentagon to propaganda and said it is not a realistic portrayal of the detainees’ lives.
“For years, Human Rights First and other human rights observers have refused to take the [Department of Defense] prison press tours for exactly this reason – because it allows the US government to portray the prison as a great place to live where detainees get lots of exercise, take art classes and work on their resumes,” Eviatar said. “Such tours, and the B-roll video, are designed to distract observers from the fact that these men are being imprisoned indefinitely, most without charge or trial, in a faraway prison where they’re completely cut off from their homes, families and communities. Neither the video nor the prison tours reveal the suffering that they or their families endure.”
Eviatar added that the Defense Department has refused to allow human rights observers and journalists to speak to detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo, many of whom have already been cleared for release or transfer, or Bagram, “the other official and much larger detention center” in Afghanistan and “ask them what their lives are really like there.”
“That in itself negates the positive spin they’re trying to put on an inherently deplorable situation,” she added. “The military shouldn’t be surprised to hear that its video is outraging people in other countries who have lost family, friends and community members due to the US indefinite detention scheme.”
Breasseale said the last time B-roll footage was “updated” was more than one year ago, and he noted the Defense Department works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, “which has access to all detainees interned by the Department of Defense.”
Wingard, however, does not believe al-Kandari’s presence in the video is coincidental. He said al-Kandari was transferred to Camp 6 a week or so before the Pentagon said the video was shot. Al-Kandari had spent the past five months in solitary confinement for taking part in a hunger strike to protest the seizure of his “personal belongings,” which included” his “attorney/client information folders,” Wingard said.
“I believe he ended up in the video so the US government could show the Kuwaitis that he was in good health after spending months in isolation,” Wingard said.
Al-Kandari, who speaks English, was previously housed in Camp 1 along with ten other detainees who speak English, are well-educated and whom the DoD had segregated because the agency believed they were “troublemakers” and an “influence” on other Guantanamo prisoners, according to several Guantanamo guards.
Guantanamo officials began the process of permanently shuttering camps 4 and 1 in January and moved all of the detainees interned there to camps 5 and 6 in preparation for an executive order signed by President Obama in March establishing a policy of indefinite detention for dozens of Guantanamo detainees.
Wingard, who holds a top-secret security clearance, said since al-Kandari was moved to Camp 6 he was told by Guantanamo officials that prison personnel “will now be doing a ‘cursory’ review of all written correspondence between [al-Kandari] and me, which even under the Bush administration was treated as off limits.”
Wingard said, in the past, when he sent mail to al-Kandari at Guantanamo it was received by a Defense Department liaison who “printed it off and put it in sealed envelope which was then given to the government.”
“The government would then unseal the envelope in the presence of Fayiz and hand him the confidential mail,” Wingard said. “Now, instead of opening the mail in front of him, they do a ‘cursory’ review before delivering the mail to him and decide what he should and shouldn’t get. Additionally, they have taken all all our past correspondence to conduct a ‘review’ of each item. I have instructed Fayiz, and my other client, [Afghan] Abdul Ghani, to destroy all our legal correspondence going forward to prevent the government from taking it in the future.”
Breasseale was unavailable to respond to follow-up questions about Wingard’s claims.
In the lead up to al-Nashiri’s military commission trial, the new commander of the Guantanamo, Navy Rear Adm. David B. Woods, authorized the seizure and review of high-value detainees’ legal mail and other materials from the top-secret camp where they reside. The military judge presiding over Nashiri’s tribunal has since ordered an end to the practice.
Al-Kandari, a humanitarian aid worker, who said he was in Afghanistan in 2001 to help repair a mosque and build two wells, was captured by the Northern Alliance in December 2001 and sold to US forces for a bounty. US government officials claimed in a November 2008 military commission charge sheet that al-Kandari was was an adviser to Osama bin Laden, training al-Qaeda recruits and “produced recruitment audio and video tapes which encouraged membership in al-Qaeda and participation in jihad.”
US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied al-Kandari’s petition for habeas corpus last year, citing inconsistencies in his statements about his reasons for being in Afghainstan even though she said the reliability of the government’s evidence against him was questionable.
The government’s entire case against al-Kandari, who Wingard said was subjected to “hundreds of ‘enhanced interrogation’ sessions, which included “physical assaults,” sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music and temperature extremes, is based almost entirely on hearsay evidence obtained from other detainees.
Al-Kandari appealed Kollar-Kotelly’s decision. Oral arguments in the case was scheduled to be heard Friday in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but was canceled by the court.
UPDATE: Wingard claims this is another video clip of al-Kandari, seen standing in a cage hanging laundry, that the Pentagon released within the past two weeks. The one-minute, thirty-one second video was posted on YouTube November 7, and has has been viewed more than 18,000 times. According to Wingard, this video has also caused an uproar among Kuwaitis who believe the detainee is al-Kandari. Neither Breasseale nor another Defense Department spokesperson was available Saturday to confirm whether the clip was produced by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo and if it was part of the same B-roll footage provided to the media during Nashiri’s arraignment.