[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?
By ANDY WORTHINGTON
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."
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?
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.
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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