[Ppnews] Putting an Afghan Nobody on Trial

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 8 11:58:23 EST 2010


January 8 - 10, 2010

The Case of Obaidullah

Putting an Afghan Nobody on Trial


On Wednesday evening, the 
Press reported that, in court filings, Justice 
Department lawyers stated that Attorney General 
Eric Holder has decided that a sixth Guantánamo 
prisoner -- an Afghan named Obaidullah -- will be 
put forward for trial by Military Commission. On 
November 13, when 
announced that five prisoners -- including Khalid 
Sheikh Mohammed -- would face federal court 
trials for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 
attacks, he also announced that five other men, 
previously charged in the Bush administration’s 
Military Commissions, would be tried in revamped 
version of the Commissions that 
administration and Congress concocted over the summer.

weaknesses of the Military Commission trial 
system (some of which emerged in its 
faltering outing last month), and 
very real fear that it is being used by the Obama 
administration as a second-tier system of 
justice, the decision to charge Obaidullah is 
particularly dispiriting, as he is so clearly a 
peripheral character of such insignificance that 
putting him up for a war crimes trial risks ridicule.

explained in September 2008, when he became the 
18th prisoner to be put forward for a trial by 
Military Commission (in the second version of the 
Commissions under George W. Bush), he was charged 
with “conspiracy” and “providing material support 
to terrorism,” based on the thinnest set of 
allegations to date: essentially, a single claim 
that, “[o]n or about 22 July 2002,” he “stored 
and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive 
devices, and related equipment”; that he 
“concealed on his person a notebook describing 
how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and 
that he “knew or intended” that his “material 
support and resources were to be used in 
preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”

As I also explained:

It doesn’t take much reflection on these charges 
to realize that it is a depressingly clear 
example of the U.S. administration’s disturbing, 
post-9/11 redefinition of “war crimes,” which 
apparently allows the U.S. authorities to claim 
that they can equate minor acts of insurgency 
committed by a citizen of an occupied nation with terrorism.

This was not all. In his Combatant Status Review 
Tribunal and Administrative Review Boards at 
Guantánamo (the military review boards 
established to ascertain whether he had been 
correctly designated as an “enemy combatant,” and 
whether he still posed a threat to the U.S.), he 
made it clear that he had made false allegations 
against himself and another Afghan prisoner still 
held -- a shopkeeper named Bostan Karim -- 
because of the abuse he had suffered, at the 
hands of U.S. forces, in a forward operating base 
in Khost and in the main U.S. prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase.

The following exchange, from his ARB in 2005, 
when he explained that he had been “forced” to 
make false confessions about Karim while held in 
Bagram is particularly enlightening:

Board Member: Who forced you to say things?

Detainee: Americans.

Board Member: How did they force you?

Detainee: The first time when they captured me 
and brought me to Khost they put a knife to my 
throat and said if you don’t tell us the truth 
and you lie to us we are going to slaughter you.

Board Member: Were they wearing uniforms?

Detainee: Yes 
 They tied my hands and put a 
heavy bag of sand on my hands and made me walk 
all night in the Khost airport 
 In Bagram they 
gave me more trouble and would not let me sleep. 
They were standing me on the wall and my hands 
were hanging above my head. There were a lot of things they made me say.

Back in September 2008, I concluded my article by 
asking, “So tell me, after reading this: does 
charging Obaidullah for ‘war crimes’ look like justice?”

With the news that Obaidullah is to be charged 
again, when he is not actually accused of harming 
a single American, and when he may, in fact, have 
been tortured, through sleep deprivation and 
hanging,” to produce false confessions against 
himself and at least one other prisoner, leads me 
not only to repeat the question, but to actively 
call for the open mockery of Attorney General 
Eric Holder and the lawyers and bureaucrats in 
the Justice Department and the Pentagon who 
thought that reviving the charges against him was a good idea.

Andy Worthington is a British journalist, the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press), and the co-director (with Polly 
Nash) of the new Guantánamo documentary, 
the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.’ Visit his 
website at: 
He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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