As described in The Guantánamo Files, al-Khalaqi stated that he “went to Pakistan with a friend to preach with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, but decided to go to Afghanistan after discovering that there were too many Tablighi representatives in Pakistan. He explained that he and his friend were successful in their mission, but everything changed after 9/11, when his friend ‘went one day to go eat lunch and didn’t return home.’ He then met an Afghan, who advised him to leave because Arabs were being killed, and explained that this man took him in his car to the foothills where he joined a group of Arabs crossing the mountains to Pakistan and handed himself in to the army on arrival.” The US authorities allege that he undertook military training and was on the front lines at Bagram.
According to a summary of evidence at Guantánamo, Suleiman “identified himself as a trained imam in Jeddah,” and stated that various sheikhs “would frequent his facility to solicit money for other countries and to address jihad.” He added that the majority of the sheikhs’ talks “focused on Chechnya.” Although he was accused by unknown sources of training to make poisons at Kandahar airport and of being in Tora Bora, he maintained that “he had no military service and he had no desire to serve in such a capacity,” stated that he was “never trained on the use of weapons,” and “denied any connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.”
In Guantánamo, Latif, who was cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000. On July 21 this year, Latif won his habeas corpus petition, but he has still not been released. This is partly because of President Obama’s unprincipled moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo, even though it has been repeatedly established that Latif is suffering from schizophrenia, and has attempted to commit suicide on numerous occasions, and partly, as Lette Taylor of Human Rights Watch explained in a recent article for Global Post, because the US government “informed the court shortly after the ruling that it [was] giving ‘serious consideration’ to appealing his release.” I need hardly add that, in light of Latif’s serious mental problems, even entertaining an appeal marks out the Obama administration as fully capable of plumbing depths of cruelty that are, essentially, no different from the brutal innovations of the Bush administration.
Little is known of al-Qadasi, because, as the authorities at Guantánamo have explained, “he claims that he is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison and has emphatically stated that he would rather die than answer questions.” The authorities have apparently ascertained that he served in the Yemeni army as a young man and traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, and al-Qadasi has apparently stated that he “left Yemen for Pakistan to obtain medical treatment,” and has also said that he “never possessed any weapons in Afghanistan, as he was unable to fight due to his bad back.” The only evidence against him is a claim by an unidentified source that he was a mujahideen fighter who came to Tora Bora, and other claims that he stayed in a guest house in Kabul and traveled on a truck from a guest house in Jalalabad to Tora Bora.
Al-Busayss, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, apparently “traveled to Afghanistan in late 2000, attended a Taliban training camp and fought on the front lines until his unit withdrew, when he was given the option of staying or escaping. Choosing the latter, he fled to Pakistan, where he ‘surrendered his weapon and was arrested by Pakistani police,’” as I explained in The Guantánamo Files.
Al-Raimi, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, was just 17 at the time of his capture, and has stated that he didn’t want to go to Afghanistan, because he had a job in a restaurant in Yemen, but his parents, who were living in Afghanistan, forced him to visit. He added that, once he was there, his father and brother told him that he could only return to Yemen if he agreed to attend al-Farouq (the main camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) for two months’ training. He said that he got sick at the camp, went to a clinic in Kabul, and then returned to resume training, but added that this was four days before 9/11, after which “the training stopped and the camp was closed down.” After the US-led invasion began, he said that he was unable to contact his family, so he crossed the mountains with some friends, and was in Pakistan for a few days before he was arrested in a car by Pakistani soldiers. In the unclassified summary of evidence, one of the factors justifying his detention was, “The detainee’s country of origin does not participate in joint enforcement of the global war on terrorism.”
Before traveling to Afghanistan, Hakimi had lived in Belgium, and for eight years in Italy, where, as I explained in an article in 2008, he had worked as a chef’s assistant in several hotels in Bologna. “I lived with Italians in their homes,” he told Cori Crider of Reprieve (his London-based lawyers) during a visit at Guantánamo in May 2008. “I am used to their culture. The Italians worked alongside me, they respected me, they treated me as their brother.” According to Reprieve, he traveled to Pakistan to get married and was living in Jalalabad, near his wife’s family, when the US-led invasion began in October 2001, and was then seized crossing the border like most of the other men described in this article. Although he was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review board under the Bush administration, both the US authorities and investigators in Europe still seem to regard him as a member of a group of Tunisians who joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and who helped recruits cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan, according to a Belgian police report produced at the 2003 trial in Belgium of Sliti’s uncle, Amor Sliti, when he and Hisham Sliti (ISN 174) were sentenced in absentia. His lawyers argue that the allegations are false, and are based on testimony extracted through torture, but since last summer, there have been rumors that he and Sliti might be extradited to Belgium.
In Guantánamo, it was reported that Masud traveled to Afghanistan “because he heard that the Afghan leader led by Islamic ways” and that he supported the Taliban, but “did not travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban … because it was Muslim versus Muslim.” He stated that he “left Kabul because the Afghans were trying to kill Arabs in the market,” took a taxi back to Jalalabad, and then joined a group of people walking to the border, where he was arrested after asking to be taken to his embassy. There are no allegations that he took part on any kind of combat — only claims that he stayed in guest houses for four months — and a ludicrous allegation by a “senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,” who “noted the detainee looked familiar and that he may be a Tunisian with connections to Italy.”
According to the US authorities, Alahdal “served as a fighter for the Taliban Arab forces” at Bagram, but then “contracted malaria and some other unidentified illness” and was sent to a hospital in Kabul, where he spent two months recuperating. He then made his way to Jalalabad, where he “waited to be recalled to the front lines,” but “withdrew to a village on the outskirts of Jalalabad,” from where he made his way to Pakistan, where he was turned in by villagers. In Guantánamo, he has been a long-term hunger striker. Although he only weighed 99 pounds on arrival, his weight dropped at one point to just 81 pounds, and he was force-fed daily from the end of August 2005 until the publicly-released weight records ended in December 2006, when he still weighed only 101 pounds (PDF).
In January 2009, Sliti, who had lived in various countries in Europe, including Belgium and Italy, lost his habeas corpus petition, when Judge Richard Leon ruled that he was “part of or supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces,” based on claims made by the government that he traveled to Afghanistan as “an al-Qaeda recruit … at the expense of known al-Qaeda associates and on a false passport provided to him by the same,” that he stayed in a guest house and a mosque, and attended a training camp, which also had connections to al-Qaeda, and that he was “instrumental” in “starting a terrorist organization with close ties to al-Qaeda.” As I explained in an article at the time, “The problem with all of these allegations is that Sliti’s story actually suggests that all these conclusions are based on guilt by association. He may well have been connected with others who were involved in or interested in terrorism, but his own trajectory is that of a junkie rather than a jihadist, or, if you prefer, a tourist rather than a terrorist.” Judge Leon disregarded Sliti’s own claim that he went to Afghanistan “to kick a long-standing drug habit and to find a wife,” but it was certainly true that he had been a drug addict in Europe (where he had been imprisoned on several occasions), and he also has a worldly cynicism that is fundamentally at odds with the fanatical rigor of al-Qaeda. In a review board at Guantánamo, he explained that he only ended up in Afghanistan because he had begun attending mosques in Belgium, where the country had been portrayed as “a clean, uncorrupted country where he could study Sharia and further his religious education,” but that what he found instead was that “I didn’t care for the country. It was very hot, dusty and [the] women were ugly. The atmosphere and environment didn’t agree with me.” Despite this, he, like Adel Hakimi (ISN 168, above) faces possible extradition to Belgium, where he was sentenced in absentia in 2003.
In Guantánamo, it was alleged that Baada, who denied being a member of al-Qaeda, trained al-Farouq, and that he and a group of fighters were then assigned to the third line, about 4 km south of the front line near Kabul. It was also alleged that, after the fall of Kabul, he fled to Tora Bora, where he was put on guard duty. One of the most persistent hunger strikers at Guantánamo, he weighed 121 pounds on arrival at the prison, but in January 2006, when he was one of a handful of hunger strikers to continue after the prison-wide strike of 2005 was largely halted, he weighed just 94 pounds (PDF). In March 2007, Sami al-Haj (the al-Jazeera cameraman released in 2008) mentioned that he was one of three prisoners who had been on hunger strike — and force-fed — for the previous year.
Little is known of Gherebi. Initially, it was alleged that he arrived in Afghanistan in 1995, having lost most of the fingers of his right hand in an explosives accident in Tajikistan the year before, and that he was an al-Qaeda operative in Kabul, who had “reportedly” trained at an al-Qaeda training camp in 1996 (an allegation that borders on the implausible, as Osama bin Laden only returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996). By 2006, the US authorities had dropped the claims about losing his fingers and being an al-Qaeda member in exchange for a new set of allegations, most of which centered on his purported links with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Deciding that his name was actually Rafdat Muhammed Faqi Aljj Saqqaf, the authorities alleged that he had lived in Pakistan in the early 1990s and then, fearing that talks between the Libyan and Pakistani governments would lead to the deportation of all Libyans from Pakistan, had moved back to Afghanistan, where he stayed in refugee camps.
The US authorities allege that al-Shumrani left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan in June 2001, because he “wanted to fight in Chechnya, but was told he would need military training that could best be obtained in Afghanistan.” It is also claimed that he “stated he attended a training camp,” and then spent about five months on the front lines. In what seemed to be an attempt to beef up the allegations, it was also claimed that he “stated that while he was fighting in Afghanistan, he tried to see Osama bin Laden,” and that he “operated a hand-held two-way radio, which he used to request additional supplies” in the Tora Bora area.
Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.”
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, al-Qahtani attended a training camp in Pakistan in 2000, when he also spent some time (possibly a day, possibly a week) with Abu Zubaydah, the alleged “high-value detainee,” seized in Pakistan in March 2002, 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. However, although the US authorities have steadily distanced themselves from making grand claims about Zubaydah, al-Qahtani’s brief association with him has probably counted against him in Guantanamo. In his tribunal in 2004, he said that he didn’t know that Zubaydah was allegedly involved with al-Qaeda, and asked, “just because somebody stays at someone’s house, who may not be the best person in the world, does that make the people who stayed at that house bad people?” After returning home, he spoke to an imam who explained that he should help the Taliban because, after the Soviet occupation and the civil war, “they brought peace to 95 percent of the country, except the places where the Northern Alliance were at the time. I don’t think there was anything wrong with helping to make peace after 30 years of fighting.” Returning to Afghanistan in April 2001, he served as a guard on the front lines near Kabul before fleeing to Pakistan with around 15 other people, but pointed out that he was in Afghanistan before 9/11, and insisted, “Even if you say I am right or wrong, I don’t think I did anything wrong. At the time I didn’t think I did anything wrong, and I still don’t. I didn’t do anything illegal or bad to anyone. I want you to understand this.”
Razak is one of 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who had fled persecution in their homeland, and had ended up in Afghanistan, either because they had been thwarted in their attempts to reach Turkey or Europe, or because they nursed futile hopes of rising up against the Chinese government. 17 of the men were living in a rundown settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains when the US-led invasion began in October 2001, and after the settlement was destroyed in a bombing raid, they made their way to the Pakistani border, where they were seized and later sold to US forces. In The Guantánamo Files, I described Abdul Razak’s story as follows: “Yusef Abbas, who was injured in the raid, said that one man died and ‘we were covered in half a bucket of his body meat.’ After the bombing, he was taken to a hospital in Jalalabad, where Abdul Razak, a Uighur who worked at the hospital and occasionally brought food to the camp, took care of him, until ‘there was a riot in the city’ and he returned to the other Uighurs in the mountains, taking Razak with him.” Five of the Uighurs were released in Albania in May 2006, and the remaining 17 — including Razak — won their habeas corpus petitions in October 2008. However, although 12 of these men have been resettled in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, Abdul Razak and four others remain in Guantánamo. Having turned down offers of a new home because of fears about the suitability or security of the countries offered, they are back in legal limbo, as the US courts have ruled that they have no right to be accepted in the US, and no other offer to rehouse them has yet been made.
On July 21 this year, Sulayman lost his habeas petition. In Guantánamo, he explained that a man identified by the US authorities as a known recruiter for al-Qaeda had facilitated his travel to Afghanistan, although he added that he had been recruited under false pretences and that the man “promised me that I’d be able to get married in Afghanistan. He may have had different intentions for me other than the marriage, but I didn’t know.” This was not the whole story, as Sulayman also conceded that, after arriving in Afghanistan in March 2001, he stayed in Kabul for seven months, and then, when given the opportunity to go to the front lines or the second lines or to return home, he went to the second lines because he didn’t want to fight but he also didn’t want to return home. It was there, he said, that he received some weapons training, and later, after the US-led invasion began, he fled to Pakistan in the company of men that he didn’t know, where he was seized and handed over to US forces. This was enough for him to lose his habeas petition, although it fails to demonstrate that he was a threat to the US, and what his case reveals most of all is how much of the supposed evidence was demonstrably false, and almost certainly produced by unreliable witnesses, either in Guantánamo or in other US-run prisons. These included ludicrous allegations that he was identified as a mortar instructor from a video made in the Tarnak Farms training camp in 2000 (before he arrived in Afghanistan), that he “was identified as an al-Qaeda spokesman and was part of Osama bin Laden’s entourage … during the escape from Tora Bora,” and, most alarmingly, that he was identified as a Taliban prison guard “who used torture techniques on inmates under his control.”
Muhammad, who was just 19 when he was seized, said that he initially traveled to Karachi to look for work, and stayed for three months with a Yemeni friend. He then visited the Taliban’s office in Quetta, in July or August 2001, “seeking a teaching job in Afghanistan,” but was told that there was “no work in Afghanistan.” After returning to Karachi, he decided to try again, and this time paid for a guide to take him to Kandahar, where he stayed in a madrassa for ten days. After the 9/11 attacks, he said that “the people at the madrassa” sent him to a “known Taliban house” near Kabul, and from there he eventually made his way to the Pakistani border, where he was seized. Although the US authorities came up with an impressive list of documents seized in raids, on which Muhammad’s name and details were allegedly recorded, there is no way of knowing how accurate these records are, as many featured supposed “aliases” that were notoriously generic, and others appear to record the names of prisoners that were leaked to al-Qaeda sympathizers, who duly described them in online postings as al-Qaeda members. For his part, Muhammad “denied that he received any weapons [training] during his one-month stay in Kabul.”
Al-Odah, who lost his habeas corpus petition last August, has always claimed that he took a break from work and traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001 to teach the Koran and provide humanitarian aid (which he had done previously in other countries), and has also admitted that he established contact with the Taliban, as they were the government at the time, and spent one day at a Taliban-controlled training camp. He has also stated that, after the US-led invasion, he was sent by a Taliban representative to a safer location outside Kabul, and, from there, traveled to Jalalabad, where he stayed with another family, who gave him an AK-47 assault rifle to protect himself. He then joined other people crossing the mountains to Pakistan, where he handed himself in to the border guards, and was subsequently handed over — or sold — to US forces. However, in what I described as “another shallow victory for the government,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied his habeas petition because she agreed with the government that it was “more likely than not” that he “became part of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan,” basing her ruling, as I described it, “on a dubious assemblage of information that relied more on inconsistencies in al-Odah’s account of his activities than it did on anything resembling concrete evidence, as she herself admitted, when she wrote that there were ‘significant reasons why the Government’s proffered evidence may not be accurate or authentic.’” Al-Odah appealed the ruling, but his appeal was denied by the D.C. Circuit Court in June this year. The result, as I also explained, is that, nine years after the 9/11 attacks, “the United States is still asserting that it has the right to hold a young man who spent just one day at a training camp, who did not flee Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks (perhaps because he feared reprisals if he was found escaping), who traveled with other men to Kabul, and then to Logar and then to Tora Bora and his eventual capture, with no evidence that he ever used the weapon he was given, and no evidence that his training involved anything more than firing a few rounds from an AK-47 in a practice session.”
Salih is accused of training at al-Farouq, and was also “identified”, by an unknown source, as “a jihadist” in Tora Bora, although he maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks because he “felt compelled to go to Afghanistan to teach the Koran to the Afghanis.” He added that “he was not formally trained in the Koran, but wanted to go just recite what he could.” In reports elsewhere in his Unclassified Summary of Evidence, he reported that a particular sheikh had told him that “it was forbidden to fight for the Taliban,” and that “he doesn’t like violence and was not fighting in Afghanistan, but was seeking a job teaching in a mosque.” In Guantánamo, Salih took part in the mass hunger strike in 2005. Although he weighed a comfortable 160 pounds on arrival at the prison, his weight dropped on two occasions, in December 2005 and January 2006, to just 110 pounds (PDF).
The story of Saeed Jarabh is particularly unclear. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004, he stated that he traveled to Afghanistan in August or September 2001 to teach the Koran (and also in the hope of finding gold to trade), and refuted a claim that he trained for a week at a camp identified as Abu Abaida by stating, “This was not military training; it was simply shooting for proficiency with friends.” He also denied allegations that he participated in military operations against the US-led coalition, and was present in Tora Bora, stating that he “was not in Tora Bora” and was “captured under false pretences in Pakistan by the Pakistanis.” He added that he “had made a decision to leave Afghanistan long before the war started,” but that “People in Afghanistan lied to him and told him they would help him go home but [instead] turned him over to Americans.” Whether or not this story was true, it was certainly more credible than other, unsubstantiated allegations made by unidentified sources, including a ludicrous claim that he “was a suicide bomber who had sworn bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden.”
In 2001, Nabil Hadjarab, a 22-year Algerian who had been shuttled between France and Algeria throughout his childhood as his family disintegrated around him, was persuaded to travel to Afghanistan by someone who took advantage of his fears about being caught without papers as he applied for formal French residency. After living in Kabul, he then moved to the eastern city of Jalalabad, but as Afghanistan descended into chaos following the US-led invasion in October 2001 and he tried to flee across the mountains to Pakistan, he was wounded by a bomb and taken to a hospital in Jalalabad, where he was sold to US forces. As I explained in a recent article, Hadjarab was cleared for release from Guantánamo under the Bush administration, but was not freed because of long-standing fears about returning him to Algeria, and also because of inertia on the part of the French government, which has refused to offer him a new home, even though he spent much of his childhood in France and has close family there. Now, however, he is at risk of being forcibly repatriated to Algeria after the US Supreme Court refused to intervene to prevent him and four other Algerian prisoners from being transferred against their will, as happened in July with another Algerian, Abdul Aziz Naji.