November 17, 2010
Delayed by a month due to other demands (primarily, a visit to the US and the trial by Military Commission of Omar Khadr), this is the eighth 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, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven.
This eighth part tells the stories of 15 prisoners seized in Afghanistan. Following on from those described in Part Two, the prisoners in this article were seized in 2002 or 2003 (when the last of the regular prisoners were sent to Guantánamo from Afghanistan), with the exception of two men described at the end of the article, who were seized in 2007, and are among the six prisoners who were transferred into Guantánamo between March 2007 and March 2008. All but one — the former child prisoner Omar Khadr — are Afghan, and, including Khadr, five have, at various times, been put forward for a trial by Military Commission. In addition, two of the 15 recently lost their habeas corpus petitions, including one who was previously put forward for a trial by Military Commission.
Quite why most of these men are still held remains a mystery — as does the reason for putting any of them forward for trial — because, with one possible exception, they were, at best, minor players in a conflict in Afghanistan that could only have been skewed into a conflict that was legitimate on one side (the US) but illegal on the other by the Bush admininistration, which turned both criminal activities (terrorism) and war into a nebulous global "War on Terror," in which America’ s enemies — or perceived enemies — were all declared to be "enemy combatants" without rights. Sadly, however, this point of view has, essentially, been preserved by the Obama administration, as the recent trial of Omar Khadr showed.
ISN 753 Zahir, Abdul (Afghanistan)
Zahir, who was captured in July 2002, was accused of being a translator for al-Qaeda member Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi (ISN 10026, see Part Nine) and a money courier for members of al-Qaeda and Taliban, and of taking part in a grenade attack on a vehicle carrying Toronto Star journalist Kathleen Kenna, her husband Hadi Dadashian, photographer Bernard Weil, and an Afghan driver in Zormat on March 4, 2002. Zahir was put forward for a trial by Military Commission in January 2006, when he stated that he did not take part in the grenade attack, and was the only one of the ten prisoners charged in the first incarnation of the Commissions who was not charged again after the Commissions were ruled illegal by Congress in June 2006, and were revived by Congress later that year. On December 27, 2009, Kenna, who was seriously injured in the attack, wrote an op-ed for the Toronto Star in which she wrote, "For almost eight years, we have all waited for justice. We don’t seek retribution. We’ve made it clear we cannot identify our attackers. We seek real justice, not a contrived justice. My conscience is divided: As a woman committed to social justice in everyday life, I want a public trial at a court where the defendant would enjoy the same rights to which we’re entitled under American and international law. As someone horribly wounded, then disabled, by the explosion, I want as fair a trial as possible at a time of war … We know nothing about Zahir’s arrest, but he was held at Guantánamo without charges for almost four years — far longer than is normally allowed under peacetime law. Unlike those awaiting criminal trials, Zahir was held without access to a lawyer of his choice, without a chance to tell his family his whereabouts. He wasn’t charged with war crimes until Jan. 2006: attacking civilians, aiding the enemy, and conspiracy. I don’t believe in indefinite detention without trial … The Pentagon has assured us, almost annually since his arrest, that this would be the year of Zahir’s trial. My husband and I hoped this meant true justice would be served, and also hoped it brought us all closer to the shutdown of Guantánamo … We’re not lawyers, nor armchair arbiters of how the men of war from Afghanistan should be treated by the United States. After living in a war zone for months in Afghanistan, and closely following the war’s progress since then, we have strong convictions that any prisoner-of-war should be treated with dignity, and afforded all the rights guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and international human rights laws. It’s what we would demand for any Canadian, American or other citizen — whether combatant or aid worker — captured and held in a country of war. It’s what we want for Zahir and all the Guantánamo detainees."
ISN 762 Obaidullah (Afghanistan)
In September 2008, Obaidullah (also identified as Obaydullah) was put forward for a trial by Military Commission, even though, as I explained at the time, he was "charged with 'conspiracy’ and 'providing material support to terrorism,’ based on the thinnest set of allegations to date: essentially, a single claim that, '[o]n or about 22 July 2002,’ he ’stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment’; that he 'concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices’; and that he 'knew or intended’ that his 'material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.’" As I also explained, "It doesn’t take much reflection on these charges to realize that it is a depressingly clear example of the US administration’s disturbing, post-9/11 redefinition of 'war crimes,’ which apparently allows the US authorities to claim that they can equate minor acts of insurgency committed by a citizen of an occupied nation with terrorism." Although he was charged under the Obama administration, in January 2010, no further developments took place in his case, and it seems that the administration then lost interest, as his habeas corpus petition was allowed to proceed to the the US District Court in Washington D.C. Obaidullah’s case is tied in with that of Bostan Karim (ISN 975, see below), who seems to have been the subject of false allegations made by Obaidullah while he was being abused by US soldiers in Khost and Bagram. As he explained in Guantánamo, "The first time when they [US soldiers] captured me and brought me to Khost they put a knife to my throat and said if you don’t tell us the truth and you lie to us we are going to slaughter you … They tied my hands and put a heavy bag of sand on my hands and made me walk all night in the Khost airport … In Bagram they gave me more trouble and would not let me sleep. They were standing me on the wall and my hands were hanging above my head. There were a lot of things they made me say." Despite this, Karim is still held, and, on October 19 this year, Obaidullah lost his habeas petition, when Judge Richard Leon ruled (PDF) that his account was full of evasions and inconsitencies, and that the government had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he had been involved with an insurgent cell — wrongly described, it seems to me, as an "al-Qaeda cell" — planning IED attacks on US forces, and had driven some of his colleagues to a hospital after they had been injured in an accidental explosion. As when he was charged in a Military Commission, however, nothing about this story indicates to me that, as an Afghan fighting an insurgency in his own country, he was any kind of terrorist.
ISN 766 Khadr, Omar (Canada)
The most famous child prisoner in Guantánamo (out of at least 22 juveniles held at the prison throughout its history), Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was just 15 years old, and, although severely wounded, was interrogated as soon as he left the hospital at Bagram airbase, and was then threatened with rape and subjected to abuse. He arrived at Guantánamo in October 2002, just after his 16th birthday, where he was also subjected to abuse, through a variety of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" introduced at the time — including prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, and short-shackling for long periods in painful positions, which typically lasted until prisoners were obliged to urinate or defecate on themselves. On one such occasion, he reported that the guards used him as a mop to clean up his own urine. Despite the obligations of both the US and Canadian governments to rehabilitate rather than punish juvenile prisoners, under the terms of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the US authorities never treated Khadr with appropriate care, and, in 2006, put him forward for a trial by Military Commission, and the Canadians, ignoring their obligations, sent agents to interrogate him in 2003, and never sought his return to Canada, despite court rulings confirming that his rights had been violated. After the Commissions were ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court in June 2006, and were revived that fall by Congress, Khadr was charged again in 2007, and was charged again in November 2009, after the Obama administration revived the Commissions. In October 2010, he was persuaded to accept a plea deal, giving him an eight-year sentence (one more year in Guantánamo, followed by seven in Canada) in exchange for admitting that he had thrown a grenade on the day of his capture that killed a US soldier (a charge he had previously denied) and also, outrageously, accepting that he was an "alien unprivileged enemy belligerent," who had no right to be in a combat situation at all. After a week of hearings, a military jury delivered its own verdict, giving him a 40-year sentence. This was irrelevant because of the plea deal, but it helped the Obama administration look tough on terrorism, even though the proceedings were a disgrace, as the US was alone in thinking it appropriate to try a former child prisoner for war crimes which are not recognized by the rest of the world, and which were, instead, dreamt up by Congress in 2006, and maintained under President Obama last year.
ISN 782 Gul, Awal (Afghanistan)
A former mujahideen commander against the Soviet Union, and a former military commander for the Afghan warlord Younis Khalis (who had ties with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda), Gul was at one point suspected of providing assistance to Osama bin Laden during his escape from Tora Bora in December 2001 (after a showdown between al-Qaeda and US forces), although it is not known where this allegation came from, and it was denied by Gul himself. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he explained that, after the Taliban took over Jalalabad in 1996, he had worked for them, but had tried to resign on several occasions in the years before the US-led invasion, because he was "unhappy" with their policies. After the US-led invasion, he said, he had begun working with the pro-US warlord Hazrat Ali, one of three Afghan commanders who had fought at Tora Bora on the Americans’ behalf. He said that, on Ali’s advice, he handed himself in to Northern Alliance commanders in Kabul in February 2002, in an attempt to quell rumors about his involvement with the Taliban, but was then handed over to the Americans. From this, it is unclear why he is being held, but what was remarkable about his tribunal was that the Tribunal President failed to recognize Mullah Omar’s name. When Gul stated that he had tried to resign from the Taliban, but that this was something that only Mullah Omar could approve, the Tribunal President asked him, "What was his position?" and Gul was obliged to attempt to explain Omar’s role in the Taliban. "He was just like the King of Afghanistan," he said, "all of the military was under him."
ISN 832 Omari, Mohammed Nabi (Afghanistan)
At Guantánamo, Omari refuted allegations that he was involved with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (the militia of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an anti-US warlord who, ironically, had received the lion’s share of US funding as a mujahideen leader favored by Pakistani intelligence during the Soviet occupation). According to the US authorities, he was a Taliban official in Kabul (first as the chief of communications, and then as chief of the border department), and was then "identified as an operative and a sub-commander in a group called the Union of Mujahedin," which was "supported, guided and funded by al-Qaeda," and involved the discussion of "operations designed to discredit and undermine the Afghan transitional administration." It was also alleged that, in meetings with HIG officials, Taliban officials and al-Qaeda members, he was involved in planning attacks in the Khost region on US and coalition forces. In response, Omari told a rambling and incoherent story about working in an office for an American called Mark. He admitted that he had worked for the Taliban and had been "in charge of the border," but insisted that "that was before the Americans came to Afghanistan." He also indicated that he had only ended up in Guantánamo because someone had told lies about him to US forces, "There are lots of good people and bad people that are in Khost," he said. "You asked all of the bad people and did not ask any of the good people in Khost about me."
ISN 899 Khan, Shawali (Afghanistan)
As I explained in a recent profile of Khan, who lost his habeas petition in September, he was seized on November 13, 2002, while riding his motorcycle from his home in Kandahar to the market, by Afghans working for Gul Agha Sherzai, the US-backed governor of Kandahar, who had assisted US forces in seizing Kandahar from the Taliban in November 2001, but had then established a regime that was noted for its corruption. Described by one of his lawyers, Len Goodman, as "a small man with sad eyes … who comes from a small farming village near Kandahar, Afghanistan," and is now in his mid-40s, Khan had moved with his father and brother to Kandahar City after a drought afflicted their farm in 2000, and had opened a shop selling petrol products. When US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, he continued to run his oil shop and even worked, for a short time, for the Karzai government as a driver, but after his capture one or more unidentified Afghan informants told US intelligence officials that he was "an active member of a local insurgent group [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin] that was plotting to bomb Americans in and around the Kandahar region." Even though his defense team "had nine affidavits from his rural village and from Kandahar where he drove for the Karzai government before he supposedly started an HIG cell in an area hundreds of miles from any HIG cells," the judge in his case — Judge John D. Bates — preferred to rely on classified documents provided by the Justice Department than on the copious evidence demonstrating his innocence, and Khan must now appeal if he is to have any chance of being released from Guantánamo.
ISN 928 Gul, Khi Ali (Afghanistan)
At Guantánamo, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, Khi Ali Gul, who was captured in Khost and accused of taking part in a bomb plot and being part of a Taliban assassination team, said that he fought with US forces in Tora Bora, and described one occasion when "the Americans were sleeping and we were guarding them." He added, "If I were their enemy, I would have killed them all." He was captured at a checkpoint, where, he said, "there were some people that I had a dispute with," and he added that they "told the American soldiers a lie," and he was then arrested.
ISN 934 Ghani, Abdul (Afghanistan)
Ghani was the 23rd prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission (after the Commissions were revived by Congress in the fall of 2006), and was charged on July 28, 2008 with conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and attempted murder in violation of the rules of war. It was alleged that he had "fired rockets at US forces and bases," had transported and helped plant "land mines and other explosive devices on more than one occasion for use against US and coalition forces," had "participated in an attack on Afghan soldiers with small arms fire, in which one Afghan soldier was wounded," and had "accepted monetary payments, including payment from al-Qaeda and others known and unknown, to commit attacks on US forces and bases." As I explained after he was charged, "Apart from the inclusion of the magic words 'al-Qaeda,’ there was nothing in Abdul Ghani’s charge sheet to indicate that he should find himself in the same trial system as those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the African embassy bombings of 1998 or the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, or even, in fact, that he should have been sent to Guantánamo at all. Perhaps, if his case goes to trial, more will be revealed about this alleged al-Qaeda connection (which Ghani denied in his tribunal at Guantánamo), but in the meantime he joins an ever-growing list of, at best, minor Afghan insurgents … who would never, at any other time in American history, have found themselves on trial as terrorists, having already endured four to five years of almost total isolation in an experimental prison half a world away from home." In December 2008, the charges against him were dropped, and he has not been charged again under President Obama.
ISN 975 Karim, Bostan (Afghanistan)
Karim’s story is intimately tied to that of Obaiduallah (see above). A preacher and a shopkeeper, he was seized on a bus that traveled regularly between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was reportedly "apprehended because he matched the description of an al-Qaeda bomb cell leader and had a [satellite] phone." In a demonstration of the thinness of so many of the allegations that make up the "evidence" in Guantánamo, it was also alleged that he was "possibly identified as an al-Qaeda associate, planning landmine attacks in Khost," and was "possibly identified as a person likely to have communicated with Arab al-Qaeda members operating in Peshawar, Afghanistan [sic], and working directly for Arab al-Qaeda in the Khost province." However, Karim maintained that the allegations had been made by Obaidullah, who tried to clear his name, explaining in Guantánamo that, although he was a partner in Karim’s shop, and had fallen out with him in a dispute over money, he only made false allegations against him because of the abuse to which he was subjected by US soldiers in Khost and Bagram.
ISN 1008 Sohail, Mohammed Mustafa (Afghanistan)
21 years old at the time of his capture, Sohail was working as a translator and a clerk for DynCorp, an American private contractor in Kabul, and accused Gul Chaman (who was also held at Guantánamo, but was released in December 2007) of stealing a computer from the Americans. Sohail himself was accused of handing information from the computer, regarding Hamid Karzai’s Security Detail, to a member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, but he denied the allegations, and, in Guantánamo, he explained that he accused Chaman and made up false confessions after being interrogated for 68 hours in Kabul, when an interrogator "tortured and threatened me with a gun to my mouth, to try to make me say something."
ISN 1045 Kamin, Mohammed (Afghanistan)
Kamin is one of 30 prisoners originally put forward for trials by Military Commission under President Bush, even though, like the other Afghans charged, the decision was almost incomprehensible. As I explained after his arraignment in May 2008, he was "accused of 'providing material support for terrorism,’ specifically by receiving training at 'an al-Qaeda training camp,’ conducting surveillance on US and coalition military bases and activities, planting two mines under a bridge, and launching missiles at the city of Khost while it was occupied by US and coalition forces. He was not charged with harming, let alone killing US forces, and were it not for his supposed al-Qaeda connection — he apparently stated in interrogation that he was 'recruited by an al-Qaeda cell leader’ — it would, I think, be impossible to make the case that he was involved in 'terrorism’ at all." At his arraignment, after he refused to leave his cell and was dragged to the courtroom by guards, he refused to be represented by a US military lawyer, called the charges against him "a lie and a forgery," and added that he had no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he "did not recognize the court’s legitimacy and would not attend future hearings." In a brief statement, he said, "My judge is the god that has created the sky and the land. He will be my lawyer and represent me. I wait for his decision. That’s enough." On October 23, 2008, as I explained in a follow-up article, a pre-trial hearing took place, although Kamin was not present. Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU noted, "The officer who had been responsible for bringing him to court said that when she went to Kamin’s cell to notify him of the hearing, he ripped up the notice, began kicking and hitting the cell door and stated that he was innocent and it was President Bush who should be on trial." She added that a prosecution motion "to compel Kamin’s presence by 'forcibly extracting’ him from his cell was denied after defense lawyers objected on the grounds that it would put Kamin and others at risk," although it was clear that the motion was denied in particular because the judge did not want a repeat of May’s proceedings. In December 2009, the Commissions’ Convening Authority, Susan Crawford, dismissed the charges against Kamin "without prejudice," meaning that they could be filed again, although, to date, the Obama administration has not done so.
ISN 1103 Zahir, Mohommod (Afghanistan)
Zahir, who was 48 years old at the time of his capture in July 2003, and said that he was sold for just $100, stated in Guantánamo that he taught maths and languages at a secular school in Ghazni set up by the Karzai government, but received threatening night letters from Taliban sympathizers, who arranged for his arrest by telling lies to the US forces. In contrast, however, the US authorities decided that it was significant that he had been employed by the Taliban in the Secret Information Office in Ghazni, and claimed that he "possessed information associated with weapons caches, arms dealings and Taliban personalities."
ISN 1119 Hamidullah, Haji (Afghanistan)
The son of a Mullah and someone who evidently had some kind of political influence, Hamidullah was accused of having ties to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, but he explained that he had only been a member of the group 15 years before, during the Russian occupation. He added that, when the Taliban came to power, he cut all ties to the group, but was then imprisoned by the Taliban, for at least a year and a half, until he escaped and went to Pakistan, where he stayed until the US-led invasion. "I was happy to go home when I learned the US was there," he said. Although he was also accused of controlling a cache of weapons and of leading "a group of 30 men who conspired to attack coalition forces in the vicinity of Kabul," it appeared that he had been seized by US forces because he had agitated for the return of former King Zahir Shah (who was living in exile in Italy) and had run up against an opponent in the Northern Alliance (the head of the Secret Police in Kabul), who arranged for his capture by Americans. As he explained in his review, "Be careful with Afghani people and their personal disputes. We badly need you, and want you in Afghanistan until we stand on our own feet." Or, as he also explained, when discussing why he ignored the advice of a friend who warned him to stay away from Kabul because his personal enemy had arranged for him to be taken to Guantánamo, "I heard that American laws and courts want evidence, and follow someone a long time before they arrest them; they will not just arrest people on the street. If I knew what I know now, I would’ve run again from Kabul or Afghanistan to somewhere else. The majority of Afghanistan is happy you are there. It’s OK, and I’m smart enough to understand, but be careful of doing wrong things and not considering evidence seriously, because people will get upset with you and not support you."
ISN 10028 Al Afghani, Haroon (Afghanistan)
Al-Afghani is one of five prisoners who arrived in Guantánamo between March 2007 and March 2008, none of whom were subjected to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal to ascertain whether they were correctly designated as "enemy combatants." As a result, little is known of al-Afghani beyond the statements made by the Pentagon on his arrival at Guantánamo in June 2007, when he was described as a "dangerous terror suspect," who was "known to be associated with high-level militants in Afghanistan," and had apparently "admitted to serving as a courier for al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL)." The Pentagon also reported that there was "significant information available" that he was a senior commander of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, and claimed that he "commanded multiple HIG terrorist cells that conducted improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Nangarhar Province" (centered on Jalalabad) and was "assessed to have had regular contact with senior AQ [al-Qaeda] and HIG leadership."
ISN 10029 Inayatullah (Afghanistan)
Also described as "a dangerous terror suspect," Inayatullah arrived at Guantánamo in September 2007. Captured, according to the Pentagon, "as a result of ongoing DoD operations in the struggle against violent extremists in Afghanistan," it was claimed that he had "admitted that he was the al-Qaeda Emir of Zahedan, Iran, and planned and directed al-Qaeda terrorist operations," and that he "collaborated with numerous al-Qaeda senior leaders, to include Abu Ubaydah al-Masri and Azzam, executing their instructions and personally supporting global terrorist efforts." (Al-Masri and Azzam were not identified by the Pentagon but the former is apparently an Egyptian-born al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, and the latter is probably the American Adam Gadahn, known as Azzam the American, who produced al-Qaeda propaganda with Ayman al-Zawahiri). In further unwieldy prose, the Pentagon noted, "Inayatullah attests to facilitating the movement of foreign fighters, significantly contributing to trans-national terrorism across multiple borders," claiming that he "met with local operatives, developed travel routes and coordinated documentation, accommodation and vehicles for smuggling unlawful combatants throughout countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq." In October 2010, Cageprisoners explained that Inayatullah’s full name is Inayatullah Nassim, that he is married with six children, and that before his capture he ran a telephone shop in Zahedan. Cageprisoners also reported that he was concerned about the whereabouts of his brother Hidayatullah, who was apparently seized in Quetta, Pakistan some years ago, and transferred to Bagram.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.