This is the fourth part of an eight-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 and Part Three.
Al-Hamiri, who was 19 when he was seized, claimed that he “left Yemen for medical treatment and was tricked by a British resident into going into Afghanistan where he did nothing for six months.” An unidentified source — or sources — claimed that he had trained at al-Farouq (the main camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) and had spoken to bin Laden at a guest house in Kabul, but al-Hamiri denied the allegations, and only conceded that, in Kabul, he had stayed in the home of someone he “felt may have been associated with the Taliban.” His most critical comments were delivered in a statement that was read out in his absence during his tribunal. All the charges, he said, “were made up in order to keep him and other Muslims at the camp,” because he “never had a weapon, never carried one and never even killed a chicken.” According to weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, he weighed 122 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, but his weight dropped to just 102 pounds in February 2003, probably during one of the many hunger strikes that have punctuated Guantánamo’s history (PDF).
In a particularly thin set of allegations, the US authorities claim that bin Salem, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan in July 2001, and received training at al-Farouq. Noticeably, he is not accused of having taken part in combat against the Taliban (let alone US forces), as it is only alleged that he “supported al-Qaeda and Taliban forces by serving as a cook at a rest and relaxation facility for front line troops at Bagram,” and that he was captured by Pakistani forces after retreating directly from Bagram to Pakistan.
In Guantánamo, Khenaina has stated that he went to Afghanistan in August 2001 “to teach the Koran in Arabic,” although he admitted that he “did not actually teach the Koran.” After staying in a guest house in Kabul, he said that he heard of the 9/11 attacks and was “concerned about retaliation by the Americans and wanted to get out.” He explained that the owner of the house arranged for him to travel to Logar and then Khost, where he stayed with an Afghan, and then traveled through the mountains to Pakistan with five other Arabs and an Afghan guide. After joining up with another group of 19 men who were also fleeing Afghanistan, he reached the border, where he was detained by the authorities. Throughout this story, the only claim of militancy against Khenaina was an allegation that the manager of the guest house “arranged transportation for guests to a Taliban training area 35 minutes north of Kabul,” but Khenaina insisted that “he was not in Afghanistan to participate in jihad,” and that he “did not have a weapon while in Afghanistan.” He also condemned the 9/11 attacks, and explained that, if released, “he would return to Yemen and marry a cousin who has been betrothed to him and never leave again.”
In December 2009, Hatim won his habeas corpus petition, but it did not lead to his release. In fact, the Obama administration has appealed the ruling, even though the judge in Hatim’s case, Judge Ricardo Urbina, clearly established that the government’s allegations — that he trained at al-Farouq, stayed in al-Qaeda and Taliban guesthouses, “operated under the command of al-Qaeda and the Taliban at the battlefront against the Northern Alliance,” and fought at the battle of Tora Bora — “rest[ed] almost entirely upon admissions made by the petitioner himself,” which he made “only because he had previously been tortured while in US custody” in Kandahar. In addition, Judge Urbina discredited the Tora Bora allegation, because it was made by a fellow prisoner who had made false allegations against dozens of other prisoners (first exposed publicly in 2006), and “whose grasp on reality,” as Judge Urbina explained, “appears to have been tenuous at best.” Distressingly, the Obama administration’s appeal has been filed despite knowledge that Hatim has suffered from what Judge Urbina described as “severe psychological problems” in Guantánamo, and has tried to commit suicide on several occasions. Indeed, in May 2002, an interrogator stated, “I do not recommend [Hatim] for further exploitation due in part to mental and emotional problems [and] limited knowledgeability.”
Prior to traveling to Afghanistan, Hintif, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he had spent many years working as a farmer on his family’s land, and had then moved to Sana’a to look for work. There he met a man at a mosque who asked him about “going to Afghanistan to help poor Afghans,” and he “felt this would be a chance to do something good in memory of his deceased father, so he thought it was a good idea.” He then apparently sold his car to raise funds for his trip, received some money from his brother and set off for Afghanistan. In Kabul, he “began living with an individual who previously taught the Koran in Afghanistan,” and when he asked him how he could help the Afghans, was told that “he could either work with the Afghani Red Crescent or he could help distribute food supplies.” Having decided to work for the Red Crescent, he said that he traveled with the instructor to Logar province, south of Kabul, but stopped his work after the US-led invasion began, when he was escorted to the Pakistani border. There, he said, he surrendered to the Pakistani police, who took him to a prison in Peshawar. He was then transferred to a larger prison in Kohat, and was eventually turned over to the Americans. Throughout his whole story, Hintif maintained that he “did not receive any training in Afghanistan” and “did not fight in Afghanistan because he was not convinced of the causes that were being fought for.” He explained that he “felt that the groups there were fighting for power, and that there was no reason to fight a jihad.” Disturbingly, apart from vague allegations about the guest houses in which he stayed, the only allegations that the US authorities have been able to come up with are that his name was on a document “recovered from a safe house raid associated with al-Qaeda in Karachi, Pakistan” (which is not necessarily reliable, as it may not have been his name, but a kunya or alias that does not necessarily refer to him) and a much-derided claim that his Casio watch was the same model as one used in improvised explosive devices “in bombings linked to al-Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorist groups.”
Sultan, who is accused of being a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (opposed to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi), training at various camps in Afghanistan, and fighting at Tora Bora, has denied the allegations, stating that he left Libya because of religious persecution, and lived with other Libyan refugees in Jalalabad. He has also stated that he was not a member of the LIFG (or of al-Qaeda), and was not at Tora Bora, and has declared that he traveled to the Pakistani border, where he was seized on December 18, 2001, with an Afghan guide, and not with a group of soldiers. His disdain for the betrayal of justice at Guantánamo was revealed in his appearance at his tribunal in 2004, when he stated, “I know my fate is already predetermined and the judgment has been pronounced already. So this Tribunal is just for show and it is not real. Everybody is reading from papers that are already printed and everything is already predetermined. I know for sure my destiny is already predetermined. The judgment against me is already made up. My presence, me defending myself or not defending myself, will have no importance whatsoever.”
Abbas 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. He is one of 17 of the men who were living in a rundown settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains when the US-led invasion began in October 2001, and who, after the settlement was destroyed in a bombing raid, made their way to the Pakistani border, where they were seized and later sold to US forces. 21 years old at the time of his capture, Abbas was a farmer, who, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “learned about the oppression of his people as he was growing up, and was determined to leave to find a better life, but could find little information about other countries, except through broadcasts that were made by a covert US radio station. Having finally obtained a passport, he decided to try to get to America. Taking $600 with him, he went first to Kyrgyzstan, where he was warned that the police planted false evidence on Uighurs and handed them over to the Chinese authorities, but where they took $300 from him instead, and laughed at him when he told them that he wanted to go to America. He then went to Pakistan, where a Uighur businessman, who befriended him at the airport, encouraged him to go to an Uzbek house in Jalalabad, where another Uighur took him to the camp in the Tora Bora mountains.” Five of the Uighurs were released in Albania in May 2006, and the remaining 17 — including Abbas — won their habeas corpus petitions in October 2008. However, although 12 of these men have been resettled in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, Yusef Abbas 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.
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), little is known of Khalik’s story, as he refused to engage with the tribunal process at Guantánamo. In his absence he was accused of being in Afghanistan during the US bombing campaign, and, in a sign of how information was twisted in a ridiculous manner to come up with anything that officials might find a way of using, of receiving “wounds to his face and arm as well as other flesh wounds” during the bombing. Like the other four remaining Uighurs, he is currently in legal limbo, as he awaits an offer of a new home.
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantánamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), Abdulghupur told his tribunal at Guantánamo, when asked about the “training camp” in the Afghan mountains, where he and 16 others had lived before the bombing raid that destroyed the settlement, “They called this place a camp but that’s way too much of a name for that place we stayed. They did not have enough bathrooms to use or housing or anything. That is way too big of a name for the place where we stayed.” He added, “the conditions were really bad and stressful and there was lots of hard work, [but] I decided to stay there because our goal was to be against the Chinese government and I wouldn’t give up my goal even in the bad conditions to live.” After the bombing raid that completely destroyed the settlement, so that, as Abdulghupur explained, “it looked like no one ever even stayed in that place,” the men’s journey to Pakistan (and their betrayal by Pakistani villagers) was also described by Abdulghupur. “After that there was no stopping,” he said. “There was constantly bombing all the time. In the mountain we stayed in a cave because we didn’t know where to go … We were waiting for our leaders to come and tell us to go to the city or somewhere else but no one showed up and we decided to go to Pakistan. When we got to Pakistan, the local people came to us with tea, bread and meat, really good stuff. In the middle of the night they came to take us to the mosque. We went to the mosque and then they turned us over to the Pakistani authorities … They put us in cars and took us to jail. After that they turned us over to the US.” Like the other four remaining Uighurs, Abdulghupur is currently in legal limbo, as he awaits an offer of a new home.
One of five Algerian prisoners facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, Saib (also identified as Mutaj Sayab), had been living in Jalalabad prior to his capture (like many of the Algerians held at Guantánamo), and had traveled to Afghanistan via France and London. Throughout nearly nine years of detention, he has only been accused of “receiving small arms training” near Jalalabad. In relation to plans for his release from Guantánamo, his lawyers explained, in a court filing in July 2008, that in February 2008 the Department of Defense notified them that he had been “approved to leave Guantánamo,” but stated obliquely that “such a decision does not equate [to] a determination that your client is not an enemy combatant, nor does is it a determination that he does not pose a threat to the United States or its allies. I cannot provide you any information regarding when your client may be leaving Guantánamo as his departure is subject to ongoing discussions.” As his lawyers noted, “Saib has serious concerns that this ambiguous and damaging language will prevent his safe release from Guantánamo” to a third country, and these fears have only heightened after the involuntary repatriation of another Algerian, Abdul Aziz Naji, in July this year.
Another of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, Belbacha was cleared for release in March 2007, and has repeatedly appealed to the US courts to prevent his return to Algeria — although in September 2009, the notoriously Conservative D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the lower courts were no longer able to grant injunctions preventing their forcible repatriation. A former footballer in Algeria, Belbacha then worked as an accountant for a government-owned oil company, but after receiving death threats from Islamist militants, fled to the UK in 1999, where he sought asylum and secured work in Bournemouth. During the Labour Party conference in 1999, he received a thank-you letter and a tip from Deputy Prime Minster John Prescott, whose room he was responsible for cleaning. In June 2001, he decided to take a holiday in Pakistan with a friend, and then traveled to Afghanistan to see the country, staying for several months in a guest house in Jalalabad, and then fleeing to Pakistan after the US-led invasion, where he was seized by opportunistic villagers and sold to US forces. Despite being cleared for release in 2007, the British government has persistently refused to accept Belbacha, so that his lawyers at Reprieve, and other organizations, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Cageprisoners, have sought help from the governments of Ireland and Luxembourg as well, although to date all these efforts have been unsuccessful. He has also been offered a home in Amherst, Massachusetts, although a law passed by Congress, banning any Guantánamo prisoners from being brought to the US mainland except to face a trial, has prevented him from taking up this offer. In case any doubt remains about the legitimacy of Belbacha’s fears of repatriation, it should be noted that, in November 2009, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in prison, for what his lawyers can only conclude was the crime of speaking out about his fears of being repatriated. As Reprieve explained, “In a disgraceful show trial, the court sentenced Ahmed to 20 years in prison for belonging to an ‘overseas terrorist group.’ Despite repeated requests and extensive investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what exactly Ahmed is supposed to have done. No evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction,’ which appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about human rights abuses in Algeria.”
One of Guantánamo’s least-known prisoners, al-Satter is ostensibly from the United Arab Emirates, although the UAE claims not to know who he is, and his Unclassified Summary of Evidence also states that he “has a Pakistani passport and originally went to Pakistan on vacation in September 2001.” All that is known of this man — listed by the US authorities as Muieen A Deen Jamal A Deen Abd Al Fusal Abd Al Sattar — is contained in this slim document, released in September 2007, but it makes clear that al-Sattar taught at the Private Holy Koran School in Mecca, that he paid for his own travel, that he was “convinced by a friend to go to Afghanistan and teach the Five Pillars of Islam,” and that he “thought if he traveled to Afghanistan that he would get credit from God and that, since the trip was only going to be for a week, there would be no harm in going.” This seems fairly straightforward, and is certainly more comprehensible than other claims from unattributed sources: that he “was identified as a trainer at the al-Farouq training camp in Afghanistan” (which would have been impossible if he arrived in Pakistan in September 2001, as al-Farouq closed after the 9/11 attacks), and that he was “a fighter in Tora Bora who moved around encouraging people to fight and be religious.” Perhaps what actually happened, as was indicated in other passages in the Unclassified Summary, was that the “friend” who convinced him to travel to Afghanistan — a Syrian whom he had met in Karachi — tricked him into traveling to Tora Bora. According to the allegations, al-Sattar “advised that if he saw al-Moaz again, he would be very upset with him and would want to do him physical harm for getting him into so much trouble.”
Ameziane, another of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, had also been living in Jalalabad. A Berber, he left Algeria in 1992 “in order to escape persecution and make a better life for himself,” and unsuccessfully sought asylum in Austria, where he worked legally for three years, becoming the top chef at an Italian restaurant in Vienna, until a new government clamped down on immigrants, and his work permit was denied without explanation. From there, he moved to Canada, where he obtained a temporary work permit and worked for an office supply company and for various restaurants in Montreal. In 2000, after five years in Canada, his asylum claim was denied, and, as his lawyers explained, “Fearful of being forcibly returned to Algeria, and with few options, [he] went to Afghanistan, where he could live freely without discrimination as a Muslim man, and where he would not fear deportation to Algeria.” Apart from an allegation that he stayed in a guest house in Kabul that was associated with the Taliban, before traveling to Jalalabad, the US authorities failed to come up with a shred of evidence against him, with the exception of an evidently unreliable claim, by an unidentified “source,” who said that he “met the detainee” at al-Farouq. In relation to plans for his release from Guantánamo, Ameziane fears returning to Algeria because of the stigma of Guantánamo and the instability in his hometown of Kabylie, where, as his lawyers have explained, practicing Muslims are “targeted for arrests and detention by the government based solely on their religious practices” and “The stigma of having spent time at Guantánamo would alone be enough to put him at risk of being imprisoned if he is returned.”
Bin Mohammed, who is 50 years old, is one of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. In his case, uniquely, he was also cleared for release by a US judge after winning his habeas corpus petition in November 2009. A former conscript in the Algerian army, bin Mohammed had traveled around Europe for many years, working as a laborer in the UK, France and Italy, before traveling to Afghanistan in 2001, apparently in search of a wife. Although the US authorities alleged that he had undertaken military training in Afghanistan, the judge in his case, Judge Gladys Kessler, ruled that the government’s evidence was unreliable because it came from statements made by Binyam Mohamed, the British resident and torture victim, who had been subjected to torture in Pakistan, Morocco and at the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul from April 2002 to May 2004. In an attempt to prevent his enforced repatriation, and to uphold the United States’ obligation, under the UN Convention Against Torture, not to “expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Judge Kessler issued a temporary order barring bin Mohammed’s transfer to Algeria in June this year, following up on his lawyers’ request for her “to order the government to carry out his release, but to bar his transfer to Algeria, where he fears persecution or even death from either the Algerian government or from armed terrorist groups there.” After protracted wrangling with the notoriously Conservative judges of the D.C. Circuit Court, Judge Kessler’s temporary order was overturned, and the Circuit Court’s decision — which drew on previous rulings preventing the lower courts from interfering in the Executive branch’s right to decide how and where to dispose of prisoners — was upheld in July this year, when the US Supreme Court sided with the Circuit Court, just a few hours before the Supreme Court also approved the repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji, who was immediately sent home. As SCOTUSblog noted, the ruling was “the first indication that the Supreme Court will not allow federal judges to interfere with government controls on who leaves or stays at Guantánamo Bay.” Despite the ruling, bin Mohammed remains at Guantánamo, still desperately hoping that a third country will offer him a new home, although he could, of course, be sent back to Algeria any time the Obama administration feels like doing so.
According to the US authorities, al-Sabri traveled to Afghanistan in summer 2000, lived in Jalalabad for a year, and traveled on occasion to the Taliban lines at Bagram and Kabul. Quite what else he did is difficult to ascertain — not because there are no allegations, but because their trustworthiness is hard to gauge. According to various unidentified sources, in May 2001 he was working as a facilitator for new arrivals at two guest houses in Kabul, and was “well known and well respected as an administrator in the guest houses.” It was also noted that he “was said to facilitate the transfer of weapons and other supplies to the front lines,” and, most worryingly (or most outrageously, depending on your point of view), was accused of working for Osama bin Laden. According to the unidentified allegations, he was “believed to have sworn bayat to Osama bin Laden,” because he and others around him knew bin Laden’s travel dates and routes, and another “source” identified him as “a member of al-Qaeda,” because he was “following Osama bin Laden’s orders to keep the guest house up and running.”
Ahjam is one of four Syrians who had been living in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border. As one of these men, Maasoum Mouhammed (also known as Bilal Abdah Mohammed), was released in Bulgaria in May this year, despite having been accused of running “a safe house,” which was used for “money and document forging operations” for al-Qaeda, it seems likely that Ahmed Ahjam and the other two men, Ali Husein Shaaban (ISN 327) and Abu Omar al-Hamawe (ISN 329) have also been approved for release. Certainly, there is nothing in the men’s story to indicate that they were connected in any way with al-Qaeda. At Guantánamo, Mouhammed described it as “a normal house, a place to eat, drink and sleep,” and, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “The four men certainly matched the profiles of economic migrants, drifting from country to country in search of employment, and drawn to Afghanistan by its Arab-influenced reputation for welcoming Muslims from all around the world. They said that only seven people lived at the house (themselves, the owner, and two other Syrians), and that they all put money in to keep the place running.” According to his account in Guantánamo, Ahjam worked for al-Wafa, a Saudi humanitarian aid charity, which the Bush administration regarded as being tied to al-Qaeda, although no proof of this was ever forthcoming, and, with a few exceptions (including Ahmed Ahjam), the many dozens of prisoners who worked for the charity, including its Saudi director, have all been released.
One of four Syrians who had been living in a house in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border (see the story of Ahmed Ahjam, above), Shaaban, who was just 19 years old when he was seized, came from a poor family in Syria and had been an ironsmith in his father’s store. He told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan because he wanted to move there to seek a new life.
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), and also identified as Hammad Mohammed, he is one of an unknown number of prisoners subjected to “do-over” tribunals at Guantánamo, after the military panels responsible for reviewing their cases in 2004 and 2005 concluded that they were not “enemy combatants” and should be released. These “do-over” tribunals were convened in secret in Washington D.C. — often on more than one occasion — until the military officers delivered the desired verdict, and in Mohammed’s case he was not finally vindicated until a subsequent military review board cleared him for release in 2006. In his initial tribunal, he explained why his desire for military training was aimed at China and not America. “The Chinese people have tortured and pressured the Uighur people really bad,” he said. “The Uighur people are trying to go all over the world now. One sixth of the world’s population is in China. They are a threat to the whole world. If I have such a large enemy, why would I go and fight with another enemy?” Throughout his tribunal, the only explanation for the administration’s determination to continue holding him was an allegation that he was a weapons instructor from May to October 2001. In response, he called one of his compatriots as a witness, who explained, “I saw that he was sick during that time. He has a stomach problem and he was helping with the kitchen work and helping the cook. He was also studying the language.” The allegation was then dropped, but in the meantime ludicrous new allegations were added to his Unclassified Summary of Evidence, in which it was claimed that he “was identified as Abdul Jabar, an al-Qaeda member with the Islamic Movement of Turkistan,” and was also “identified as a visitor to known al-Qaeda guest houses.”
One of four Syrians who had been living in a house in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border (see the story of Ahmed Ahjam, above), al-Hamawe, who was just 20 years old when he was seized, told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he had been working at a store in Kabul, but that he planned to move on to Pakistan when a friend sent him money from Syria, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files. He also stated that the house in Kabul was close to the Pakistani embassy and that their neighbors, who worked for the Red Cross, “knew that all of us were not fighters or Taliban, just refugees.”