[Ppnews] Who Are the Gitmo Saudis?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 7 12:00:40 EST 2008


January 7, 2008

Footsoldiers, Missionaries, Humanitarian Aide Workers

Who Are the Gitmo Saudis?


As 2007 drew to a close, the tally of detainees 
released from Guantánamo throughout the year rose 
to 122, as another ten Saudis were repatriated, 
to add to the 53 sent home between February and November.

With 492 detainees now released -- and 281 
remaining -- the administration's initial claim 
that the prison housed the "worst of the worst" 
grows ever more hollow. It should be noted, 
however, that, unlike most of the other detainees 
freed last year, the Saudis were not sent home 
because they had been cleared by the military 
review boards convened to assess whether they 
still posed a threat to the United States, but 
because of successful diplomatic negotiations 
between the US and Saudi governments.

After initial doubts, the Americans seem 
satisfied that the Saudi government's 
rehabilitation program, which involves 
psychological counseling, religious reeducation, 
job training, art therapy and financial support, is proving successful.

Even with this caveat, however, it appears that 
none of the Saudis just released was involved 
with al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks. Like many 
others released in the last few years, four were 
Taliban foot soldiers, mostly recruited through 
fatwas issued by radical sheikhs in their 
homeland, ordering them to aid the Taliban in 
their inter-Muslim civil war against the Northern 
Alliance, which had begun long before 9/11. Four 
others were missionaries or humanitarian aid 
workers, including one, the director of a 
blacklisted charity, who had long been regarded 
by the Americans as a major player in al-Qaeda 
and the Taliban. Of the remaining two, the status 
of one is still difficult to ascertain, even 
after six years in US custody, and the story of 
the other -- Bandar Ali al-Rumaihi -- is 
completely unknown, as his name does not 
correspond with any of the names on the Pentagon's lists of detainees.

The Taliban foot soldiers captured in Afghanistan

Three of the four Taliban foot soldiers were 
captured during the surrender of the northern 
Afghan city of Kunduz in November 2001, six weeks 
after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began. 
21-year old Mishal Saad al-Rashid was typical of 
numerous men captured at this time, in his 
insistence that he went to Afghanistan, over a 
year "before any problem happened in America," to 
help the Taliban fight General Dostum and Ahmed 
Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance.

He was confused that the Northern Alliance had 
formed a coalition with the United States, as the 
only coalition that he knew of was between the 
Northern Alliance and Russia. Although this 
confusion, repeated by several other detainees, 
was partly due to the propaganda issued by the 
pro-Taliban sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, it also had 
some basis in fact, at least in the case of 
Dostum, who had fought with the Russians during 
the Soviet invasion, before switching sides in the early 1990s.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, al-Rashid accepted 
an allegation that he was a member of the 
Taliban, and also acknowledged that he had 
received military training in Afghanistan. He was 
one of several hundred Taliban fighters who 
surrendered after the fall of Kunduz, believing 
that they would be freed after handing over their 
weapons, but who discovered, instead, that they 
were to be imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi, a 
fortress run by General Dostum. After lax 
security enabled some of the prisoners to stage 
an uprising against their captors, the majority 
were killed during a week-long battle with the 
Northern Alliance, backed up by US and British 
Special Forces, and supported by American bombing raids.

Responding to an allegation that he had taken 
part in the uprising he exclaimed, "What 
uprising? We didn't do any uprising. We had given 
up our weapons, so how could we be part of an 
uprising? They [Dostum's troops] were the ones 
that had all the weapons. We tried to defend 
ourselves but we couldn't because they had the weapons."

Also held in Qala-i-Janghi was 22-year old Nayif 
al-Usaymi, a college student, who explained that, 
as with several other detainees, he had been 
inspired to travel to Afghanistan to receive 
military training so that he could fight in Chechnya.

After a facilitator "provided him with 
instructions on obtaining a Pakistani visa as 
well as a specific route to take," he arrived in 
Afghanistan in March 2001, where, after meeting 
two men who told him the history of the Taliban, 
he agreed to be 
recruited, and spent eight months on the front 
lines at Khawaja Ghar, in northern Afghanistan. 
Captured after the fall of Kunduz, he was taken 
to Qala-i-Janghi, but reported that he managed to 
escape from the fort. This was a rare occurrence, 
as most who tried to do so were shot and killed, 
but he was recaptured six weeks later.

In Guantánamo, he insisted that he "never saw any 
fighting because he was stationed at the rear of 
the front line," and it was noted that he was 
regarded as "being of low intelligence or law 
enforcement value to the United States and also 
as unlikely to pose a threat to the US or its 
interests" by a Saudi delegation in 2002.

The third foot soldier, 18-year old Khalid 
al-Ghatani, was recruited through a notorious 
pro-Taliban fatwa issued by the octogenarian 
Sheikh Hamoud al-Uqla. After traveling to 
Afghanistan in autumn 2000, he spent six months 
at a camp named Pakistani Center No. 5, and then 
moved to the front lines at Khawaja Ghar, where 
he "guarded sleeping quarters/bunkers for 
Pakistani troops who fought at the front lines." 
He was apparently captured after being shot by a 
sniper and spending time in a hospital in Kunduz.

After his tribunal, the Presiding Officer noted 
that he "did not fire his weapon at any soldiers 
or persons," and mention was also made of 
al-Ghatani's own statement that he did not go to 
Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, but to 
receive weapons training and to "stand guard." He 
was, however, criticized for his behavior in 
Guantánamo, where, apparently, he had been "cited 
for assault, hostile activity and harassment of 
guards on numerous occasions," and once for 
"making a weapon" -- although how this would have 
been possible, in the paranoid, security-obsessed 
cell blocks of Guantánamo, was not explained.

The Taliban foot soldier captured in Pakistan

In the Summary of Evidence against the fourth 
foot soldier, 25-year old Abdul Hakim al-Mousa, 
it was alleged that he traveled to Afghanistan 
for combat training and was recruited in Saudi 
Arabia by someone who "introduced him to the safe 
house system." According to this account, he 
subsequently spent time at safe houses in Quetta, 
Khost, and Kandahar, and was arrested on February 
7, 2002 with at least a dozen other detainees in 
a safe house -- or a number of safe houses -- in 
Karachi, which reportedly belonged to Abdu Ali Sharqawi.

Also known as Riyadh the Facilitator, Sharqawi is 
a supposedly "high-value" detainee, described as 
"part of the al-Qaeda network responsible for 
moving Arabs to and from Afghanistan." Subjected 
to "extraordinary rendition" after his capture, 
he was sent to Jordan, to be "interrogated" by 
the Americans' proxy torturers in the Jordanians' 
notorious General Intelligence Department prison 
in Amman, where, he said, he was tortured continuously.

"I was told that if I wanted to leave with 
permanent disability both mental and physical, 
that that could be arranged," he explained in a 
statement made in April 2006 that was released 
last month. "They said they had all the 
facilities of Jordan to achieve that. I was told 
that I had to talk, I had to tell them 
everything." In January 2004, he was rendered 
back to a secret CIA-run facility in Afghanistan, 
where he stayed until September 2004, when he was 
finally transferred to Guantánamo.

Unlike Sharqawi, the other men captured in the 
raid were transferred to Guantánamo after 
processing in the US prison at Kandahar airport. 
Several of these men, including two Kuwaitis, 
have already been released, and there is no 
evidence that most of the others -- including 
al-Mousa -- had anything to do with al-Qaeda.

In Guantánamo, it was noted that a Saudi 
delegation had deemed him to be "of low 
intelligence or law enforcement value to the 
United States, and unlikely to pose a terrorist 
threat to the US or its interests." Al-Mousa's 
own explanation for his presence in Afghanistan 
was rather weak -- he said that he traveled "to 
defend himself against thieves, defend Saudi 
Arabia, and learn how to shoot a weapon for the 
purpose of hunting" -- although the Americans' allegations were no better.

Desperate to pin something on him, they resorted 
to guilt by association, alleging that one of the 
people he was captured with attended al-Farouq 
and "was escorted by a senior al-Qaeda member to 
a meeting where he presented money to Osama bin 
Laden," and that another attended al-Farouq and 
"was present at a speech given by Osama bin Laden at the camp."

The missionaries

Two of those released maintained throughout their 
imprisonment that they were missionaries. 28-year 
old taxi driver Jamil al-Kabi explained that, in 
2000, he "sold his taxi and decided to devote 
more time to the Dawa, or 'the call.'" After 
starting his mission in Mecca, by "going out and 
finding young Muslims who were not following the 
word of Islam and trying to get them to the 
mosque," he then spent six months in Lahore, the 
home of Jamaat-al-Tablighi, the vast, worldwide 
missionary organization whose annual meetings in 
Pakistan and Bangladesh attract millions of followers.

Despite the size of the organization and its 
avowedly non-political manifesto, the US 
authorities have persistently maintained that it 
was actually "used as a cover to mask travel and 
activities of terrorists, including members of 
al-Qaeda." In al-Kabi's case, his subsequent 
missionary ventures in Indonesia and Malaysia 
attracted generic allegations, unrelated to him, 
that Tablighi "recruits" from both countries 
traveled to militant training camps in Pakistan.

Describing the circumstances of his capture, 
al-Kabi said that, after traveling to Karachi, 
where he stayed at the Tablighi mosque for a 
month, he met four men and traveled with them to 
Kabul. He said that he stayed for four months at 
the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque and continued the 
Dawa, aided of one of his companions, who "helped 
him translate with people who did not speak Arabic."

When Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance, in 
November 2001, he said that "word began to 
spread" that the Alliance soldiers "were killing 
all of the Arabs." He and his companions fled to 
Jalalabad, where they stayed for a month before 
walking through the mountains to the Pakistani border, where he was captured.

The status of the other purported missionary, 
21-year old Abdul Rahman al-Hataybi, had not been 
satisfactorily explained by the time of his 
release, even after nearly six years of 
interrogation. According to the allegations 
against him, after failing his military entrance 
exam he was "immediately contacted by a recruiter 
for al-Qaeda", and was sent to Afghanistan, with 
all his expenses paid, to train at al-Farouq, a 
camp for Arab recruits, established by the Afghan 
warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in the early 1990s, 
but associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11.

Although the US administration claimed that he 
had been "identified as a member of al-Qaeda by a 
foreign government service," and reported that 
his name had been found on various documents 
recovered in raids on suspected al-Qaeda safe 
houses, al-Hataybi's own story was consistently 
at odds with the American version.

The authorities acknowledged that he was a member 
of Jamaat-al-Tablighi, but largely overlooked his 
insistence that he had worked only as a 
missionary. In a number of comments listed under 
factors favoring release or transfer, al-Hataybi 
said that he "traveled to Pakistan for the sole 
purpose of providing missionary work to those 
individuals in need of assistance." He claimed 
"never to have set foot in Afghanistan," having 
conducted all his missionary work in Karachi and 
Lahore, and also claimed that "a Pakistani police 
intern tortured him, and forced him to say that 
he was part of al-Qaeda and that he had traveled 
to Afghanistan for the purpose of jihad." He 
added that he "lied because he wanted the torture to stop."

The humanitarian aid workers

Of the three humanitarian aid workers, the first, 
19-year old Ziyad al-Bahuth, was captured by 
Pakistani forces after crossing the border in December 2001.
He explained that he took 90,000 riyals (about 
$24,000) from Saudi Arabia to help the poor 
people in Afghanistan, and said that he gave the 
money to a man named Mohammed Khan to distribute 
via the Taliban, adding that he stayed for 
approximately a year to see how the money was distributed.

He admitted attending a Taliban training camp 
near Kabul for a week, and also admitted that he 
spent time in Kabul with a known member of the 
Taliban, who, he believed, facilitated his 
weapons training in order to encourage him to 
join the Taliban, but denied that he either 
joined the Taliban or had any relationship with al-Qaeda.

His tribunal was particularly noteworthy for the 
following exchange, which, while possibly 
demonstrating a healthy scepticism on the part of 
the US authorities, could also demonstrate how 
little they understood about the charitable obligations of Islam:

Presiding Officer: When you were around 18 years 
old, you raised 90,000 Riyals ... to take to a 
country you had never been to before to give the 
money to the needy and the poor people. Is that right?

Detainee: Yes.

Presiding Officer: That is remarkable.

The second humanitarian aid worker, 29-year old 
Abdullah al-Utaybi, said that he left Saudi 
Arabia with $30,000 and traveled to Turkey, where 
he was looking for a wife. After the US-led 
invasion of Afghanistan began in October 2001, he 
said that he "decided to travel to Pakistan to 
offer his assistance and cash to Afghan 
refugees." He stated that he flew to Pakistan but 
was captured at a checkpoint in Quetta, near the 
border, where the money was discovered and he was 
seized and handed over to US forces.

Al-Utaybi maintained that he had never set foot 
in Afghanistan, even though several unnamed 
individuals alleged that he had been the director 
of the Herat office of al-Wafa, a Saudi charity, 
based in Kabul, which was blacklisted by the US 
authorities in September 2001 for alleged ties with terrorism.

It has not been possible to establish whether 
there was any truth in these allegations, but one 
man who would certainly have known is Abdullah 
al-Matrafi, the director of al-Wafa in 
Afghanistan, whose inclusion in the latest batch 
of released detainees was genuinely surprising.

The director of a blacklisted charity

A father of three, Abdullah al-Matrafi, who was 
38 years old at the time of his capture, had 
directed a fund-raising committee in Bosnia, and 
had worked as an imam in Mecca before 
establishing al-Wafa. At the time of his release, 
he was presumably aware that most of the other 
detainees who had worked for al-Wafa had been 
freed, as their claims that they were involved in 
genuine humanitarian aid work were accepted one 
by one. He, however, was regarded as a 
"high-value" detainee, against whom was stacked 
an array of allegations of his deep involvement 
with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

After the invasion of Afghanistan began, 
al-Matrafi sent his family to safety in Pakistan, 
but stayed on in Kabul, even though the 
organization's stores were the targets of bombing 
raids, in which seven aid workers were killed. He 
finally left the capital when he was seriously 
injured in a bombing raid, and his family last 
heard from him on December 10, 2001, as he was 
about to board an Emirates flight from Lahore to 
Dubai. He never made it onto the plane. Abducted 
at the airport by US agents, he was transferred 
back to Afghanistan and put on the first flight to Guantánamo.

Little was heard about him in Guantánamo, 
although it was clear that the authorities 
regarded him as a major supporter of terrorism, 
alleging in his tribunal that he knew Osama bin 
Laden, that his plan to provide funds to bin 
Laden for training caused disagreement within 
al-Wafa, that he admitted that al-Wafa purchased 
weapons and vehicles for the Taliban, and that he 
"negotiated a deal that allowed the Taliban to direct al-Wafa's activities."

In his review boards, further allegations were 
added, including claims that he "admitted he took 
orders from Osama bin Laden," that he "provided 
financial support to al-Qaeda after the US-led 
invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and that 
he purchased medical laboratory equipment for a 
microbiologist who was "developing anthrax for al-Qaeda."

Set against these allegations, however, were a 
number of counter-claims, which, typically, were 
ignored when the authorities declared him an 
"enemy combatant." On several occasions, 
al-Matrafi stated that there was no relationship 
between al-Wafa and al-Qaeda, "explaining that 
al-Qaeda disliked al-Wafa, and both organizations 
were in disagreement." It was also noted in the 
Summary of Evidence for his second review board 
that, two months before 9/11, he met with bin 
Laden at his house in Kandahar, and stated that 
the purpose of the meeting was "to discuss 
unresolved issues" from a previous meeting, 
"concerning disagreements between al-Wafa and al-Qaeda."

A brief survey of al-Matrafi's statements before 
his capture is sufficient to explain his refusal 
to accept that he was affiliated with terrorists. 
In October 2001, after al-Wafa was blacklisted, 
he appeared on the Arabic news channel 
al-Jazeera, protesting his innocence and offering 
to open up the organization's accounts to public scrutiny.

In addition, two detainees in Guantánamo who had 
worked for al-Wafa backed up his statements. 
Ayman Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor who tended wounded 
soldiers during the battle of Tora Bora, pointed 
out that, although al-Wafa had a good working 
relationship with the Taliban, this was required 
to pursue its humanitarian work. Both Batarfi and 
another man, Mustafa Hamlili, an Algerian-born 
Pakistani resident who has been cleared for 
release, but is still in Guantánamo, reinforced 
al-Matrafi's claim that the organization was 
regarded with suspicion by al-Qaeda because of its Saudi links.

Batarfi may, in fact, be the alleged "al-Qaeda 
facilitator" mentioned in the Summary of Evidence 
from al-Matrafi's first review board, who 
identified him as "having problems with Osama bin 
Laden because [he] had come to do charity work in 
Afghanistan and was funded by the Saudi royal 
family, who Osama bin Laden rejected and 
denounced." This source added, moreover, that 
al-Matrafi "would take Saudis from al-Farouq and 
try to send them back to Saudi Arabia."

What was largely overlooked, however, was an even 
more compelling statement on al-Matrafi's behalf. 
In May 2006, an audiotape from Osama bin Laden, 
whose authenticity was not called into doubt by 
US intelligence, explicitly stated that two 
detainees in Guantánamo -- al-Matrafi and the 
al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj -- had no 
connection whatsoever with al-Qaeda.

None of this helped him, however, and what 
probably counted against him more than anything 
else was the discovery, in August 2002, of a 
store of chemicals in offices used by al-Wafa in 
Kabul, which included "36 types of chemical, 
explosives, fuses and terrorist guide books." 
Whether this had anything to do with him is 
unknown. His brother, Mohammed, reiterated that 
the organization had no links to al-Qaeda. "My 
brother and I have repeatedly said we have no 
terrorist links, and that any organization, 
official or non-governmental, is free to come and 
investigate our headquarters," he told the press, 
adding, "We are only helping the Muslim people of Afghanistan."

Time alone will tell what the Saudi government 
makes of Abdullah al-Matrafi on his return, but, 
like the allegations against his workers that 
disappeared under scrutiny like a malevolent 
mirage, it may well be that those who vouched for 
him were correct in their appraisal that he was 
the head of a charity that was required to work 
with the Taliban, but that was otherwise 
committed to bringing humanitarian aid to some of 
the most deprived people on earth.

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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