[Ppnews] Guantánamo - Eight More Wrongly Imprisoned Men are Quietly Released

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 5 13:20:33 EDT 2007


October 5, 2007

Eight More Wrongly Imprisoned Men are Quietly Released

The Anonymous Victims of Guantánamo


Hot on the heels of the release of Mohammed 
al-Amin, a Mauritanian student who was just a 
teenager when he was kidnapped for a bounty 
payment on a street in Pakistan over five years 
ago, the Pentagon has released another eight 
detainees -- six Afghans, a Libyan and a Yemeni 
-- thinning "the worst of the worst" at Guantánamo from 778 men to just 335.

Of the six Afghans released, the identities of 
three are unknown. This is hardly surprising, as 
the Department of Defense never reveals the names 
of those it releases, and the media long ago 
abandoned turning up in Kabul to welcome back 
another bunch of farmers, shopkeepers and Taliban 
conscripts from their brutal and surreal sojourn 
in a small corner of Cuba that is forever 
America. Of the 163 Afghans released since 
Guantánamo opened (out of a total of 218), a 
dozen of those released in the last few years 
have not been identified, and these three look 
like remaining just as anonymous.

To compensate, however, the three Afghans who 
have been identified represent a microcosmic 
cross-section of the ineptitude of the US 
military and the Pentagon during the two years 
that followed the US-led invasion of Afghanistan 
in October 2001, consisting of a pro-US, 
anti-Taliban military leader, another man who was 
arrested after his house was bombed, and another 
who was seized while walking in the street.

The pro-US military leader -- one of several 
dozen actively pro-American Afghans held at 
Guantánamo over the years -- is Sabar Lal Melma. 
40 years old at the time of his capture, Melma 
was the military aide to Haji Roohullah, the 
commander of a long-standing anti-Taliban militia 
based in Kunar province, which was aligned with 
the Northern Alliance. Roohullah, who was also 
described by Ghulam Ullah, the head of education 
in Kunar, as "a national religious leader," had 
fired the first salvo against the Taliban in 
Kunar after the US-led invasion, and as a result 
of his anti-Taliban credentials and his support 
for Hamid Karzai, he was rewarded with an 
important position in the province's post-Taliban 
administration, and was also made a member of the 
Loya Jirga, the prestigious gathering of tribal 
leaders that elected Karzai as President in June 
2002. Betrayed by a rival ­ probably Malik Zarin, 
the head of the rival Mushwani tribe, who had 
ingratiated himself with the Americans and was 
using them for his own ends ­ Roohullah, Melma 
and eleven others were seized by US forces in 
August 2002 and taken to the US prison in Bagram 
airbase for questioning, where they were accused 
of being part of an Islamic extremist group and 
helping al-Qaeda fighters to escape from Tora 
Bora, even though they had had numerous meetings 
with senior American officials and had offered 
support for the Tora Bora campaign.

Although the others were subsequently released, 
the Americans decided that both Roohullah and 
Melma had sufficient intelligence value to be 
transferred to Guantánamo in August 2003. 
According to an Associated Press report, they 
believed, despite overwhelming evidence to the 
contrary, that Roohullah "had strong links with 
Middle Eastern fighters in Afghanistan, 
particularly Saudi Arabians like Osama bin 
Laden," and thought it significant that he was a 
follower of the Wahhabi sect of Islam. In his 
tribunal, Melma pointed out the injustice of 
imprisoning him with members of the Taliban: "The 
only thing I want to tell you that is so ironic 
here is that I see a Talib and then I see myself 
here too, I am in the same spot as a Talib. I see 
those people on an everyday basis, they are 
cursing at me ... They say, 'See, you got what 
you deserved, you are here, too.'" Astonishingly, 
though Melma has now been released, Haji 
Roohullah remains in Guantánamo, with no immediate prospect of release.

The man who was taken to Guantánamo because his 
house was bombed is Mohibullah, from Uruzgan 
province, who was just 21 when he was captured. 
Woken in the night by the sound of firing, he 
went into his compound and fired three warning 
shots into the air to ward off what he thought 
were burglars. Soon after, an American plane 
dropped a bomb on his compound, injuring him, and 
he was captured by Special Forces the following 
morning. "I never worked with the Taliban, or 
talked with them or ate with them," he told his 
tribunal at Guantánamo. "I was a bus driver." Two 
years ago, in an attempt to secure his freedom, 
he wrote a habeas corpus petition, without the 
help of a lawyer, in which he explained more 
about the circumstances of his capture, noting 
that he was severely injured when his house was 
destroyed, but that when the Americans, who 
admitted that the bombing might have been a 
mistake, took him away, claiming that they were 
going to treat his wounds, he was transported to 
Guantánamo instead. "Now it has been two and 
one-half years that I have been detained here and 
I do not why," Mohibullah wrote. "Even the 
interrogators have still not told me what my 
crime was and why they detained me."

The third Afghan -- the one who was captured in 
the street -- is Azimullah. Just 20 years old at 
the time, he explained to his tribunal in 
Guantánamo that he was captured near a madrassa 
(religious school), where he was studying. He was 
accused of acting "as a guide to a group of 
individuals attacking the Salerno Fire Base" (a 
US base), but he said that he didn't know 
anything about this group, or about allegations 
that they had "weapons, surveillance equipment 
(cameras and binoculars) and radios," or that he 
"met with an Arab man and an Afghan man who gave 
him money prior to the attack." Asked about the 
circumstances of his arrest, he said that he was 
walking towards the village with a man named 
Salim, whom he did not know previously, but whom 
he had met "on the way going to the village," 
when a group of Afghan soldiers "saw us and 
arrested us." He explained that he was not told 
why he was arrested at the time, but that "when 
they took me to the base," where he was handed 
over to the US military, "they told me that I 
attacked them and that I did this and this."

The story of the released Libyan, Abu Sufian 
Hamouda, is rather more complicated. Hamouda, who 
is 48 years old, was a refugee from his homeland. 
According to the US military's "evidence," 
accumulated over the last five years, he had 
served in the Libyan army as a tank driver from 
1979 to 1990, but was "arrested and jailed on 
multiple occasions for drug and alcohol 
offenses." Having apparently escaped from prison 
in 1992, he fled to Sudan, where he worked as a 
truck driver. In an attempt to beef up the 
evidence against him, the Department of Defense 
alleged that the company he worked for, the Wadi 
al-Aqiq company, was "owned by Osama bin Laden," 
and also attempted to claim that he joined the 
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militant group 
opposed to the rule of Colonel Gaddafi, even 
while admitting that an unidentified 
"al-Qaeda/LIFG facilitator" had described him as 
"a noncommittal LIFG member who received no training."

After relocating to Pakistan, Hamouda apparently 
stayed there until the summer of 2001, when he 
and a friend crossed the border into Afghanistan, 
traveling to Jalalabad and then to Kabul, where 
Hamouda found a job working as an accountant for 
Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, the director of al-Wafa, a 
Saudi charity which provided humanitarian aid to 
Afghans, but which was regarded by the US 
authorities as a front for al-Qaeda. Over the 
years, dozens of Guantanamo detainees were tarred 
as terrorists because of their associations with 
al-Wafa. The majority have now been released, but 
one of those who remains in Guantánamo, 
little-known and barely reported, is al-Matrafi, 
who was kidnapped on a flight from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia in November 2001.

It's difficult to ascertain whether there is any 
truth in the allegations that al-Wafa was a front 
for al-Qaeda. According to the "evidence" against 
Hamouda, "Members of the Taliban would frequently 
visit the al-Wafa office in Kabul and had 
dealings with the director of that office," which 
was hardly surprising, as the Taliban was the 
government at the time. Less clear is the claim 
that, according to various accounts, including a 
statement allegedly made by Hamouda, "the 
director of the al-Wafa office was connected to 
al-Qaeda and knew Osama bin Laden." Even setting 
aside the dubious circumstances under which this 
"confession" was produced, other detainees have 
claimed that bin Laden was actually suspicious of 
al-Wafa, because of its Saudi links.

What's apparent, however, is that Hamouda's 
involvement with the organization centered on its 
humanitarian work, as another "allegation," which 
actually had nothing to do with terrorism, made 
clear. In the "evidence" presented for his 
Combatant Status Review Tribunal, under factors 
purporting to demonstrate that he "supported 
military operations against the United States or 
its coalition partners," it was stated that, 
while working for al-Wafa, he traveled to Kunduz 
"to oversee the distribution of rice that was 
being guarded by four to five armed guards." In 
Guantánamo, it seems, even the distribution rice 
can be regarded as a component in a military operation.

Captured in Islamabad, after fleeing from 
Afghanistan following the US-led invasion, 
Hamouda was held for a month by the Pakistani 
authorities, and was then handed over to the 
Americans, who began mining him for the flimsy 
"evidence" of terrorist activities outlined 
above. Earlier this year, he was cleared for 
release, and, despite misgivings on the part of 
his lawyers, stated that he was prepared to 
return to Libya, even though what awaits him may 
not be any better than what he was suffered over 
the last five years. Perhaps, as one of 
Guantánamo's truly lost men, he has decided that, 
if he is to spend the rest of his life in prison 
for no apparent reason, he would rather be in 
Libya, where his wife and his family might be 
able to see him, than in Guantánamo, where, like 
every other detainee, he was more isolated from 
his relatives than even the deadliest convicted 
mass murderer on the US mainland.

The last of the eight, Ali Mohammed Nasir 
Mohammed, was 19 years old when he was seized by 
Pakistani soldiers and delivered to the US 
military in December 2001. Slightly evasive in 
his tribunal, he said that he went to Afghanistan 
to "look around to see how the people were 
doing," and added, "In my imagination I thought I 
was going to see many centers with a lot of 
guards in them and I would see a lot of Muslims. 
I would find out how the Muslims were worshipping 
and what they do." He admitted, however, that he 
attended a training camp for 40-45 days and also 
admitted that he had worked for the Taliban, 
although he said that he had worked only in the 
kitchens or as a guard behind the front lines, 
and had not participated in military operations 
against the US-led coalition, telling his 
tribunal, "I have never shot one bullet in my 
life." After escaping from Afghanistan by passing 
through the Tora Bora region to reach Pakistan, 
he was captured by Pakistani soldiers after 
asking directions to the Yemeni embassy.

What makes his story unusual is that, once the 
Pentagon had decided that it was not worth 
holding onto a cook for the Taliban who clearly 
knew nothing about al-Qaeda, confusion over his 
identity prevented his release for 16 months. 
Back in May 2006, as the Washington Post 
described it four months ago, "He got a checkup. 
His photo was taken, as were his fingerprints. He 
was measured for clothes and shoes, then offered 
a meeting with the Red Cross. As the Pentagon 
tersely put it later in an e-mail to his 
attorneys: 'Your client has been approved to 
leave Guantánamo.'" However, as his lawyer, 
Martha Rayner, explained, "He never went home." 
"Stuck," as the Post article went on, "in a limbo 
of mistaken identities, bureaucratic inertia and 
official neglect," his case was "an indictment of 
a system, still cloaked in the strictest secrecy 
and largely beyond accountability, in which a man 
who face[d] no charge and no sentence remain[ed] 
deprived of the freedom he was granted" in May 
2006. "It's a lovely illustration of what happens 
when there's no oversight of the jailer," Rayner noted, acutely.

The Washington Post article went on to describe 
what had happened to prevent Mohammed's release 
for 16 months. Although he was born in Saudi 
Arabia and had been living there before his 
all-advised trip to Afghanistan, he was regarded 
as a Yemeni, under both Yemeni and Saudi law, 
because his parents are from the Yemen, where 
they still live, and Mohammed had a Yemeni 
passport and grew up there. What particular 
confused matters was the fact that the US 
military regarded Mohammed as a Saudi, and while 
the Saudi authorities washed their hands of him, 
and the Yemeni government said that it was 
"unaware of his case," he languished in 
Guantánamo for another 16 months, imprisoned in 
Camp Six, where even cleared detainees are held 
in solitary confinement, until a new arrangement could be made.

As these eight men finally leave Guantánamo after 
five years or more in US custody without charge 
or trial, their cases clearly do nothing to 
salvage the administration's reputation for 
illegal incompetence. And it can only get worse. 
Of the 335 detainees still held in Guantánamo, 
the government has admitted that it only intends 
to put forward around 80 for trial by Military 
Commission. Of the remaining 255, at least 70, 
like the men just released, have been cleared for 
release (some for two years or more), and despite 
the administration's blustering this summer that 
it intended to hold dozens of others indefinitely 
because, in another revolutionary legal twist, 
they are too dangerous to be released, but not 
dangerous enough to be charged, it now seems 
inevitable that they too will eventually be given 
their freedom. Even if the 80 proposed trials go 
ahead, which is extremely unlikely, it must 
surely be impossible for the architects of this 
disaster to claim that an 11% success rate is 
sufficient justification for the moral, ethical, 
judicial, and financial cost of an operation that 
has been manifestly revealed not as the 
triumphant prison wing of the "War on Terror" but 
as an inept, cruel, degrading and ultimately failed experiment.

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (to be 
published by Pluto Press in October 2007).
He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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