[Ppnews] A Prison Built on Lies

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 19 12:13:55 EDT 2009


May 19, 2009

The Quality of Gitmo "Evidence"

A Prison Built on Lies


As the Obama administration prepares to relaunch 
Cheney and David Addington’s reviled 
Commissions (with claims that they will be used 
for less than 20 of the 241 prisoners still 
held), senior officials have been largely silent 
about the eventual fate of the rest of the 
prisoners, with the exception of a few 
remarks indicating that they are also thinking of 
pressing for a form of “preventive detention” for 50 to 100 of the prisoners.

The irony -- that all the prisoners have been 
enduring a form of “preventive detention” for 
over seven years -- is apparently lost on the 
government, which has also maintained a resolute 
silence in response to a handful of habeas corpus 
cases (in which the prisoners are seeking to have 
their cases dismissed by the courts, as mandated 
by the 
Court last June) that have resulted in judges 
pouring scorn on the government’s supposed evidence.

In an article last week, 
Condemns Guantánamo Intelligence,” I analyzed a 
devastating ruling by District Court Judge Gladys 
Kessler in the habeas corpus hearing of Alla Ali 
Bin Ali Ahmed. A Yemeni, Ali Ahmed has always 
maintained that he was a student, staying in a 
guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and that, 
when he was seized in a raid on the house, on 
March 28, 2002, he had no knowledge that the 
house was, apparently, 
connected to the alleged senior al-Qaeda 
Zubaydah. Furthermore, in response to the 
government’s other allegations, he has also 
“denie[d] ever going to Afghanistan, training at 
an al-Qaeda camp, fighting against anyone, or 
being a member of a terrorist group.”

Authorizing Ali Ahmed’s habeas claim, Judge 
Kessler demolished the government’s case against 
him, painting a disturbing picture of unreliable 
allegations made by other prisoners who were 
tortured, coerced, bribed or suffering from 
mental health issues, and a “mosaic” of 
intelligence, purporting to rise to the level of 
evidence, which actually relied, to an 
intolerable degree, on second- or third-hand 
hearsay, guilt by association and unsupportable suppositions.

This follow-up article looks in depth at Ali 
Ahmed’s story, and those of the 15 men seized 
with him in the “Issa” guest house in Faisalabad, 
with the aim of encouraging the Justice 
Department to abandon its cases against these 
other men, either as part of its 
Executive review of the prisoners in Guantánamo 
(with its uncomfortable echoes of the Bush 
administration’s love of Executive decisions made 
without consulting Congress or the judiciary) or 
by refusing to contest their habeas cases in the District Courts.

I propose this course of action because the cases 
against these other men demonstrate a similar 
reliance on dubious allegations, and a similar 
“mosaic” of inferences that will not stand up to 
outside scrutiny, as was noted by Judge Kessler 
in her ruling, when she wrote, “It is likely, 
based on evidence in the record, that at least a 
majority of the [redacted] guests were indeed 
students, living at a guest house that was located close to a university.”

Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed’s testimony at Guantánamo

Ali Ahmed, who was just 17 years old at the time 
of his capture (although the Pentagon claims that 
he was 18), repeatedly explained at Guantánamo 
that he was seized and held by mistake. His 
statements were made in his Combatant Status 
Review Tribunal, convened to assess whether, on 
capture, he had been correctly designated as an 
“enemy combatant” who could be held without 
charge or trial, and in the subsequent annual 
Administrative Review Boards, convened to assess 
whether he still posed a threat to the U.S. or its allies.

As I have explained at length in my book 
Guantánamo Files, and in 
over the last two years, these hearings were 
monstrously unjust, as they relied on classified 
evidence that was not disclosed to the prisoners, 
and also prevented them from having legal 
representation. In addition, as 
Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of U.S. 
intelligence, has explained, based on his 
involvement in the tribunals in 2004 and 2005, 
the body responsible for compiling the 
information to be used as evidence had little or 
no access to the databases of the relevant 
intelligence agencies, and, as a result, 
largely on “generic” information that did not 
specifically relate to the prisoners, and, 
most cases, on “information obtained during 
interrogations of other detainees,” which, as 
Judge Kessler’s recent ruling confirms, were 
often made by prisoners who were tortured, 
coerced, bribed or suffering from mental health issues.

Nevertheless, the transcripts of these hearings 
are often the only means by which we know 
anything about the prisoners at Guantánamo, and 
in his most recent publicly available review 
(made available by the Pentagon four months ago, 
and dating from 2007), Ali Ahmed made it clear 
that, after five years in Guantánamo, he was 
still struggling to understand why he was being 
held, as the following exchange makes clear:

Presiding Officer: Can you tell us why you were arrested?

Detainee: I learned about why after I was 
arrested. They told me that this house is for the 
al-Qaeda and the Taliban 
 They told us after we 
were arrested in the house and in the interrogations.

Presiding Officer: Do you have any idea why they would think that?

Detainee: I do not know.

After refuting the allegations against him, it 
was unsurprising that, when Ali Ahmed was given 
the opportunity to make a statement, he delivered the following plea:

Detainee: What is the main accusation against me 
that kept me here for five years? What is the 
main accusation? Is it my travel to Pakistan? Is 
that an accusation? True, I went during a very 
difficult situation, but is that an accusation 
that would keep me here for five years?

The following exchange then took place:

Presiding Officer: The purpose of this board is 
for an administrative review. To determine 
whether you should be released, transferred, or 
continue to be detained. Your status as an enemy 
combatant has already been determined.

Detainee: I don’t even know why they made that 
decision when I don’t have a problem with 
Americans. I’ve never fought Americans, I’ve 
never fought anybody. I’ve never ever 
participated in any wars, any, anything else. Why 
would I be an enemy combatant?

Presiding Officer: We understand and take your 
statements on board and will consider those in our decision.

Detainee: I know an enemy combatant is someone 
who participates in the war and helps the war, or 
someone who is a threat and dangerous to the 
United States, but I was 17 years old, I’ve never 
done anything. [W]hat makes me dangerous to the United States at that time?

Although the review board had no response to 
Ahmed’s questions, the officers involved refused 
to approve his release from Guantánamo, and it 
has taken another two years, and the Supreme 
Court ruling granting habeas corpus rights to the 
prisoners last June, for him to be able to test 
the government’s allegations against him in a 
court of law, and to secure the resounding legal 
victory that was delivered by Judge Kessler last week.

Even so, it should be noted that judges do not 
actually have the power to order the government 
to release prisoners, even if, as in Ali Ahmed’s 
case, they have established, “by a preponderance 
of the evidence,” that he should never have been 
detained in the first place, because of 
truly disturbing appeals court ruling in the case 
of 17 Uighurs at Guantánamo (Muslims from China’s 
Xinjiang province), which took place in February, 
after the government dropped its claims that they 
were “enemy combatants,” and a District Court 
their release into the United States. As lawyer 
<http://www.acslaw.org/node/12976>Jana Ramsay 
explained, two judges -- although ostensibly 
dealing with the right of the Uighurs to be 
admitted into the U.S. -- stated that “the due 
process clause does not apply to detainees at 
Guantánamo,” because it is “not sovereign 
territory of the United States,” and that “the 
right to be released” was not “a necessary 
corollary to unlawful detention or compensation for such detention.”

The stories of the other prisoners seized with Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed

Moving beyond Ali Ahmed’s story, an analysis of 
the stories of the 15 other men seized in the 
raid on the “Issa” guest house -- mostly Yemenis, 
and mostly aged between 18 and 24 -- reveals that 
the majority of them have also maintained, 
throughout their long imprisonment, that they 
never set foot in Afghanistan, never trained or 
fought with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and had no 
connection whatsoever with terrorism. This 
analysis also reveals that the government’s 
allegations against them rely, for the most part, 
on similar witnesses and a similar “mosaic” of 
intelligence as those dismissed so 
comprehensively by Judge Kessler in Ali Ahmed’s case.

Although one of the 15, Ali Abdullah Ahmed 
al-Salami, was one of three prisoners who 
in Guantánamo in June 2006, apparently by 
committing suicide, nine of the surviving 14 
prisoners have maintained that they were students 
at Salafia University, run by the vast missionary 
organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, two have stated 
that they traveled to receive medical treatment, 
and another, Fahmi Ahmed, said that he went to 
Pakistan to buy fabrics, taking money that he had 
borrowed from his mother, but explained that he 
actually spent most of his time “like a wild 
man,” drinking and smoking hashish. Another young 
man, Mohammed Hassen, was not even living at the 
house, and was caught up in the raid after 
visiting for dinner and staying the night, and 
two others -- a Russian and a Yemeni -- arrived 
at the house just two weeks before the raid.

In hearings at Guantánamo, several of the men 
have pointed out that they were told shortly 
after their capture that they had been seized by 
mistake. Mohammed Tahir, one of the Yemeni students, explained,

The army translator and the interrogator from the 
Pakistani intelligence said, “yes, all of what 
this man said ... about his story in Pakistan is 
correct, and therefore that is why we are going 
to give him back his passport that we took” ... I 
was really surprised that the American 
intelligence refused all of these proofs and they 
said no. “We still need him,” they said, and then they took me.

Another Yemeni student, Emad Hassan, who stated 
that he was near the end of a seven-month trip to 
the university to study the Koran when he was 
seized, said that, while in Pakistani custody, 
“the person who was in charge came and told us we 
didn't have anything to worry about,” and that “our sheet was clean.”

Fayad Ahmed, also a Yemeni student, told his 
tribunal four years ago that he had recently been 
told in Guantánamo that he would be released. 
“The interrogator and the investigator about a 
month ago that met with me told [me] that there 
was nothing against me and that I am an innocent 
man and should [be] released,” he said.

Of the two prisoners who said that they had 
traveled to Pakistan to receive medical 
treatment, Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee, a Saudi, said 
that he went to receive treatment for a back 
problem, and Mohammed Salam, a Yemeni, said that 
he went for treatment on his nose. After 
explaining that a “generous person” paid for his 
trip, the following exchange took place, which 
demonstrated a cultural gap between the US military and Muslims from the Gulf:

Tribunal Member: I don't know your culture very 
well, but ... in our culture people just don't 
step up and say, “I'll pay for the trip for you.”

Detainee: In our culture, in Islam, there is such 
a thing ... Indeed, it is an obligation for any 
Muslim who is rich to pay for someone who is poor.

Despite the protestations of these prisoners, the 
authorities at Guantánamo have persistently 
claimed that Jamaat-al-Tablighi was “used to mask 
travel and activities of terrorists” -- even 
though this allegation has never been regarded as 
legitimate outside Guantánamo -- but what should 
be troubling the Justice Department right now, 
after Judge Kessler’s ruling, is the extent to 
which the cases against these other 15 men rely, 
as with Ali Ahmed, not on confessions made by the 
prisoners themselves, but on statements made by 
other prisoners which appear to be just as 
dubious as those derided by Judge Kessler.

The weakness of the supposed evidence

To give just a few examples, the transcripts of 
the most recently publicly available ARBs (from 
2007) include the sweeping statement that 
“Students at Salafia University are encouraged to 
fight in the Jihad against the West,” and, to 
cite just one case, Emad Hassan, who denied ever 
being in Afghanistan or attending a training 
camp, “was identified as an al-Qaeda recruiter 
and travel facilitator who help ‘fund other 
individuals’ travel’ to Afghanistan,” as “a 
member of al-Qaeda who swore bayat [an oath of 
loyalty] to Osama bin Laden,” and as “one of 50 
men” at the al-Farouq training camp in 
Afghanistan, who were identified as bin Laden’s bodyguards.

In the case of Mohammed Hassen, who was only 
visiting the house when he was seized (and who is 
one of only two of the “Issa” guest house 
prisoners to be cleared for release after a 
military review), the allegations in the previous 
round of ARBs consisted of precisely three 
allegations: that “An individual who was in 
Afghanistan identified [him] as a fighter who 
traveled between Kandahar and Khost, 
Afghanistan,” that “A student who trained at 
al-Farouq identified [him] as a Yemeni who 
trained at al-Farouq,” and that “A senior 
al-Qaeda operative noted that a photo of the 
detainee may be a Yemeni and that he may have 
seen him at one point ‘inside,’ meaning Afghanistan.”

In the case of Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee (also 
cleared for release after an ARB, but, like 
Hassen, still held), the only allegations were 
that “A senior al-Qaeda operative stated that 
[he] attended the Khaldan camp in approximately 
1997,” and that he “was captured with a Casio 
F-91W watch,” allegedly “used in bombings that 
have been linked to al-Qaeda and radical Islamic 
groups with improvised explosive devices” (and 
this, believe it or not, is an allegation that 
has been leveled at dozens of prisoners over the years).

In some of the other cases, no allegations 
whatsoever have been made publicly available 
beyond the “guilt by association” of staying in 
the guest house, and although in a handful of 
cases the government claims to have secured 
confessions that the men “admitted to fighting 
with enemy forces,” doubts about the 
circumstances in which these confessions were 
produced indicate that, under scrutiny in a 
court, even these allegations may be less 
clear-cut than they appear. As a result, I hope 
to have demonstrated, as I stated at the start of 
this article, that the Justice Department would 
be well advised to abandon its cases against 
these other men before it suffers similar defeats in future habeas hearings.

The bigger picture regarding false allegations

Moreover, the Justice Department also needs to 
take a long, hard look at the information it is 
relying on as evidence in numerous other cases. 
With one exception, the identities of the four 
unreliable witnesses in Ali Ahmed’s case were 
redacted by the government, but enough evidence 
is publicly available, from the statements of 
released prisoners, to demonstrate that the 
coercive techniques that were widely used at 
Guantánamo between 2002 and 2004 (and 
from the U.S. military’s SERE program) caused 
numerous prisoners to make false confessions in 
order to bring an end to their suffering.

In addition, further publicly available 
information also demonstrates that certain 
witnesses at Guantánamo -- whether through 
torture-induced fear, in one case, or bribery, in 
others -- made false allegations against dozens 
of their fellow prisoners, which, crucially, are 
still used by the government as part of its supposed evidence.

The first example to surface in public -- who 
appears to be one of the men whose testimony was 
dismissed by Judge Kessler, and by another judge 
in the case of another prisoner, 
El-Gharani -- was described by Corine Hegland in 
February 2006, in an article for the 
Journal. Hegland described how, in the tribunal 
of a Yemeni prisoner, Farouq Ali Ahmed, his 
personal representative (an officer assigned in 
place of a lawyer) had discovered, by 
investigating his case files, that a key 
allegation against him had been made by a 
prisoner described in an FBI memo as a notorious 
liar. In another case, of a Syrian prisoner, 
Mohammed al-Tumani, the personal representative 
discovered that this same prisoner had made false 
allegations against 60 of his fellow inmates, 
placing each of them in Afghanistan before they even arrived in the country.

The prisoner who made all these false allegations 
is Yasim Basardah, who was cleared for release 
after a habeas review six weeks ago. Profiled in 
Post in February, a disturbing picture emerged of 
a man who, “with other informers,” lives in a 
group of cells away from the other prisoners. As 
the Post described it, “he has received a CD 
player, chewing tobacco, coffee, library books 
and other perks, according to court documents,” 
including a video game console, even though the 
man described by some officials at Guantánamo as 
their “star witness” has, in the opinion of other 
officials, been the subject of “reservations 
about [his] credibility” since 2004.

As the Post’s article made clear, Basardah is not 
the only liar whose false confessions have 
infected the government’s “evidence.” An Iraqi, 
in January, was also well-known in Guantánamo, as 
Rahim al-Ginco, a Syrian “rescued” by U.S. forces 
from a Taliban jail. Tortured by al-Qaeda 
operatives, because they thought he was a spy, 
al-Ginco suffers from severe mental health 
problems (and may also be one of the witnesses 
dismissed by Judge Kessler), but although he has 
renounced some of his false confessions, others 
remain, locked forever in the case files of the 
prisoners, with no way of challenging them except in a court.

Most importantly, however, false allegations are 
not the exclusive preserve of a handful of 
industrious informants. As I mentioned above, 
almost any prisoner could be persuaded to make up 
false stories when they could no longer bear the 
grueling interrogations, or the use of “enhanced 
interrogation techniques” to wear them down, and, 
as the few examples of the Faisalabad guest house 
prisoners cited above also indicate, the case 
files are also littered with allegations made by 
“senior al-Qaeda operatives” -- individuals like 
Abu Zubaydah, 
Sheikh Mohammed and the other “high-value 
detainees” who were held (and tortured) for years 
in secret CIA prisons before their transfer to 
Guantánamo in September 2006, and others, like 
al-Shaykh al-Libi, who died in a Libyan prison 
last week, who were held in a network of secret 
prisons and proxy prisons around the world.

In all these prisons -- and in Guantánamo, and in 
the prisons in Afghanistan -- prisoners were 
shown what Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of a 
senior interrogator in Afghanistan, referred to 
in his book 
Interrogators as the “family album,” which 
featured photos of other prisoners. And from all 
these places, therefore, it is difficult to see 
how much of the “evidence” against the prisoners 
can be anything other than a tissue of lies, 
extracted using the same techniques of torture, 
coercion, bribery, and the exploitation of mental 
illness that Judge Kessler identified in the case of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed.

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

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