The Whole Story: Many Guantanamo Detainees Were Innocent

Col. Wilkinson: “Many Of The Prisoners At Guantanamo Had Been Taken Into Custody Without Regard To Whether They Were Truly Enemy Combatants.” According to testimony by Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Ret.), “[I]t became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantánamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all. I soon realized from my conversations with military colleagues as well as Foreign Service officers in the field that many of the detainees were, in fact, victims of incompetent battlefield vetting. There was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan. The vetting problem, in my opinion, was directly related to the initial decision not to send sufficient regular army troops at the outset of the war in Afghanistan.” [Declaration of Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, 3/24/10]

Innocent Afghan Civilians Turned In For Bounty. According to The Telegraph, “The US policy of offering a $5,000 a head bounty to anyone who could hand over a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda also led to dozens of innocent men and boys being kidnapped and sold by Afghan forces, Northern Alliance soldiers and groups of anonymous armed men. Juma Khan, an Afghan civilian, ended up in Guantánamo after being ‘tricked into accompanying a man who later turned him in as a member of the Taliban for money’, according to his file.” [The Telegraph, 4/26/11]

Guantanamo Detainees “Picked Up By Mistake” And Falsely Turned In For “Bounty Payments Or To Set Up A Local Rival.” According to McClatchy, “Anecdotes from the documents suggest that many of the Afghan captives were picked up by mistake. Others were passed along to U.S. troops by Afghan warlords and local militias who gave false information about them in return for bounty payments or to set up a local rival. There was also a desire by U.S. intelligence analysts, particularly in the scramble after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to cast as wide a net as possible. They were looking to piece together everything from which dirt paths were used to cross between Afghanistan to Pakistan, to the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaida. Afghans became crucial for understanding the lay of the land — and for many it cost them years of their lives in confinement. For at least three Afghan men, the reason listed for being at Guantanamo was a variation of ‘knowledge of routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ The assessments for at least four others listed as the reason for holding them at Guantanamo their knowledge of the Taliban conscription process — meaning they’d been forced to join the organization.” [McClatchy, 4/26/11]

14-Year-Old Rape Victim, “Forcibly Conscripted” Into Taliban, Held In Guantanamo For Over A Year. According to McClatchy, “Naqibullah was about 14 years old when U.S. troops detained him in December of 2002 at a suspected militant’s compound in eastern Afghanistan. The weapon he held in his hands hadn’t been fired, the troops concluded, and he appeared to have been left behind with a group of cooks and errand boys when a local warlord, tipped to the raid, had fled. A secret U.S. intelligence assessment written in 2003 concluded that Naqibullah had been kidnapped and forcibly conscripted by a warring tribe affiliated with the Taliban. The boy told interrogators that during his abduction he’d been held at gunpoint by 11 men and raped. Nonetheless, Naqibullah was held at Guantanamo for a full year.” [McClatchy, 4/26/11]

Al-Jazeera Journalist Held For Six Years “Partly In Order To Be Interrogated About The Arabic News Network.” According to the Guardian, “An al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network, the files disclose. Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted. His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was ‘to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL’.” [Guardian, 4/24/11]

Lawyer: Administration Repeatedly Changed Allegations Against Journalist. According to the New York Times, “According to Zachary Katznelson, the legal director for Reprieve, a human rights group that represented Mr. Hajj, the allegations changed over the years: ‘First, he was alleged to have filmed an interview of Osama bin Laden. It was another cameraman. So, that allegation disappeared. Then the U.S. said Sami ran a jihadist Web site. Turns out, there was no such site. So that allegation disappeared. Then, the U.S. said Sami was in Afghanistan to arrange missile sales to Chechen rebels. There was no evidence to back that up at all. So that allegation disappeared.’” [New York Times, 12/22/09]

Senile 89-Year-Old Afghan Man Among Initial Guantanamo Prisoners. According to the Guardian, “A 2002 assessment of Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Mohammed Sadiq, who was then 89, revealed dementia, depression and sickness. ‘His current medical issues include major depressive disorder, senile dementia and osteoarthritis, for which he receives prescribed treatment.’ The Afghan national was also being assessed for prostate cancer. Sadiq’s records state he was detained after suspicious documents allegedly belonging to his son were found in a raid on his house. He was flown to Guantánamo four months later. Interrogators concluded within six weeks of his arrival that Sadiq was ‘not affiliated with al-Qaida’, not a Taliban leader and possessed ‘no further intelligence value to the United States’. He was repatriated to Afghanistan after a further four months.’” [The Guardian, 4/24/11]

German National Detained At Guantanamo Despite Military Intelligence Conclusion That He Was Not Linked To Any Terrorist Organization. According to the Washington Post, “A military tribunal determined last fall that Murat Kurnaz, a German national seized in Pakistan in 2001, was a member of al Qaeda and an enemy combatant whom the government could detain indefinitely at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The three military officers on the panel, whose identities are kept secret, said in papers filed in federal court that they reached their conclusion based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public. In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities.” [Washington Post, 3/27/05]

Kurnaz Taken Off Bus, Sold For $3,000 Bounty By Captors. According to Time, “Born in Germany of Turkish origin, [Murat] Kurnaz was a 19-year-old on a roadtrip through Pakistan with Islamic missionaries in November 2001 when his bus was stopped by Pakistani soldiers and he was forced to disembark. CBS 60 Minutes reports that his captors sold him for $3,000 bounty to U.S. officials in Afghanistan; many other foreign Muslims would be rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan in this way.” [Time, 1/11/12]

Man Held In Guantanamo For Two Years After Being Framed By Afghan Intelligence Officer. According to the New York Times, “Some assessments relied on innuendo, gossip or information supplied by individuals whose motives were untrustworthy and whose information later proved false. Haji Jalil was captured in 2003 after an Afghan intelligence official said he had taken an ‘active part’ in an ambush that killed American soldiers. He was sent home two years later, an inexcusable delay, after American officials determined that Mr. Jalil had been used to provide cover for the involvement of the intelligence official and others in the attack.” [New York Times, 5/25/11]

Chicken Farmer Arrested And Detained At Guantanamo Because Name Sounded Similar To Wanted Taliban Leader. According to the New York Times, “Among the hundreds of men imprisoned by the American military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, there are those who brashly assert their determination to wage war against what they see as the infidel empire led by the United States. […] But there are many more, it seems, who sound like Abdur Sayed Rahman, a self-described Pakistani villager who says he was arrested at his modest home in January 2002, flown off to Afghanistan and later accused of being the deputy foreign minister of that country’s deposed Taliban regime. ‘I am only a chicken farmer in Pakistan,’ he protested to American military officers at Guantánamo. ‘My name is Abdur Sayed Rahman. Abdur Zahid Rahman was the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban.’ Mr. Rahman’s pleadings are among more than 5,000 pages of documents released by the Defense Department on Friday night in response to a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act by The Associated Press. [New York Times, 3/6/06]