By Andy Worthington
This is the first part of an eight-part series telling the stories of all the prisoners currently held in Guantánamo (176 at the time of writing).
The 20 prisoners listed below were the first group of prisoners seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001.
They have been identified as the “Dirty Thirty,” because of allegations that they served as bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, although these allegations have long been challenged by the prisoners and their attorneys, and by those who have studied the stories in detail, for three reasons: firstly, because the majority of the men had been in Afghanistan for such a short amount of time that it is inconceivable that they would have been trusted with such an important role; secondly, because one source of the allegations is Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 063, see below), who was tortured at Guantánamo, and who later withdrew his false allegations; and thirdly, because two other sources of the allegations are Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj and Sanad Yislam Ali al-Kazimi (ISN 1457 and ISN 1453), whose false confessions were recently exposed in a US court, in the habeas corpus petition of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman (ISN 027, see below).
Moreover, as the figures indicate, ten of the “Dirty Thirty” have already been released, and although some were Saudis, there are no indications that any of them have returned to militant activity (unlike others — 11 in total — who, according to reports in February 2009, had “left the country and joined terrorist groups abroad”). In fact, the most significant story, out of all the released prisoners, seems to be that of Farouq Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni released in December 2009, who maintained throughout his detention that he was a missionary, despite counter-claims that he was a bodyguard for bin Laden, and that he had been seen at Osama bin Laden’s private airport in Kandahar, where he was “wearing camouflage and carrying an AK-47.”
As I explained in 2007, this particular allegation proved so intolerable to Ahmed that his Personal Representative (a military officer assigned to the prisoners in place of a lawyer during the tribunals at Guantánamo in 2004-05) investigated his files, and submitted a written protest, in which he stated that the government’s sole evidence that Ahmed had been at bin Laden’s airport was the statement of another prisoner, who, according to an FBI memo that he presented to the tribunal, was a notorious liar. According to the FBI, he “had lied, not only about Farouq, but about other Yemeni detainees as well. The other detainee claimed he had seen the Yemenis at times and in places where they simply could not have been.” As the Personal representative discovered, after cross-referencing the detainees’ files, this particular man had made false allegations against 60 of his fellow prisoners.
Bearing this in mind, an analysis of the 20 remaining members of the so-called “Dirty Thirty” reveals that only three have been subjected to any kind of serious allegations relating to their involvement with al-Qaeda, although it is certain that, of the rest, some are among the 26 Yemenis that, in January, the Obama administration’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force recommended should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
ISN 026 Ghazi, Fahed (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, Ghazi, who was cleared for release by a military review board under President Bush, was just 19 years old at the time of his capture, according to US military records, and was apparently at al-Farouq (the main training camp for Arabs in Afghanistan, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) for just nine days before the camp closed. According to Human Rights Watch, he was just 17 years old when he was seized. Human Rights Watch also noted, “His daughter, who was two months old at the time of Ghazi’s arrest, is now eight years old. The two reportedly send drawings back and forth to each other regularly.” Also see this letter that he submitted to his military review board in September 2006.
ISN 027 Uthman, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed (Yemen)
Uthman, who “said that he had traveled between Kabul and Khost teaching the Koran from March to December 2001.” won his habeas corpus petition in February 2010, when Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled that the main allegation against him — that he had “acted as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden” — came from unreliable statements made by two other prisoners, Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457) and Sanad Yislam Ali al-Kazimi (ISN 1453). Judge Kennedy stated, “The Court will not rely on the statements of Hajj or Kazimi because there is unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which they made the statements, both men had recently been tortured.” The government has appealed the ruling.
ISN 028 Al Alawi, Muaz (Yemen)
Al-Alawi lost his habeas corpus petition in January 2009, when Judge Richard Leon ruled that he “was part of or supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces,” because he “stayed at guest houses associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda … received military training at two separate camps closely associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and supported Taliban fighting forces on two different fronts in the Taliban’s war against the Northern Alliance.” Although none of the allegations above related to “hostilities against the US or its coalition partners,” and Judge Leon acknowledged that al-Alawi was in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, and was fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, he endorsed the government’s additional claim that, “rather than leave his Taliban unit in the aftermath of September 11, 2001,” al-Alawi “stayed with it until after the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001; fleeing to Khost and then to Pakistan only after his unit was subjected to two-to-three US bombing runs.”
ISN 029 Al Ansi, Muhammad (Yemen)
Al-Ansi has stated that he and some friends taught the Koran in a village outside Khost, although the authorities claim, via allegations made by unidentified individuals, by an “al-Qaeda commander,” and by an “al-Qaeda operative,” that he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, that he was present at Tora Bora, and that he also guarded bin Laden at his airport in Kandahar. Al-Ansi was so disturbed by the allegations against him that he told his review board, “All of the prisoners here are trying to leave this place. All the prisoners are telling lies about other prisoners just to get out of here. All these allegations are lies and I want the truth.”
ISN 030 Al Hikimi, Ahmed (Yemen)
Al-Hikimi has stated that, after selling his taxi business, he traveled to Khost, where he met a local student with whom he spent about eight months teaching in various villages, and then returned to the Yemen, traveling again in February 2001, when, he said, he hooked up with the student once more and resumed teaching. In contrast to these claims, he was subjected to allegations similar to those leveled against Muhammad al-Ansi. An “al-Qaeda operative” claimed to have seen him at the al-Farouq camp and in Kabul in 1999, and said that he “would drive from the front line to the mountains once a week to supply food to the brothers.” Other unnamed sources also identified him as a driver, and “an escort for Osama bin Laden and his family” said that he saw him fighting on the front lines against the Northern Alliance. Crucially, another anonymous source identified him “as an associate of the Kandahar Airport Group” — the same false allegation that was leveled against Farouq Ali Ahmed.
ISN 031 Al Mujahid, Mahmoud (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, al-Mujahid stated that he was inspired to visit Afghanistan to teach the Koran by a sheikh at whose institute he was studying. In contrast, the US authorities alleged that he was a bodyguard for bin Laden, that he was “seen on the front lines,” and that he was “seen with Osama bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan (April 2001) and Tora Bora (November 2001).” In November 2007, he attended a military review board, in which he declared that he had made up the story about the sheikh, when he was first interrogated in US custody in Pakistan, and added that he wanted to explain this to the board, as it had been on his mind for five years, but he had been unable to discuss it with his interrogators, because they were “stupid” and only gave him “bad treatment.” In the hearing, he admitted that he had arrived in Afghanistan in July 2000, but “strongly denied” knowing anything about the 9/11 attacks or any other terrorists attacks, and also dismissed as ridiculous the notion that he could have been become a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
ISN 034 Al Yafi, Al Khadr Abdallah (Yemen)
Al-Yafi, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, is a farmer who has stated that, after hearing a sermon, he “decided to return home and sell his sheep so that he could travel to Afghanistan to teach.” In contrast, the US authorities have drawn on what I described as an “array of unsubstantiated allegations, which appear to have involved the exploitation of several ‘high-value detainees’”: a “senior al-Qaeda commander” apparently “recognized the detainee’s face as a Yemeni he saw at the Kabul guest house, probably in the 1999-2000 time frame”; another, a “senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,” stated less confidently that he “recalled possibly seeing the detainee at the al-Zubayr guest house” before 9/11; and an alleged “bodyguard of Osama bin Laden stated he saw the detainee (circa 1999) at an Arab compound in Kandahar.” It was also stated, without any additional explanation whatsoever, that he “was seen at Tora Bora.”
ISN 035 Qader Idris, Idris (Yemen)
Idris has stated that he taught the Koran in Kabul for approximately eight months. Set against his story are just two allegations: that the individual who facilitated his travel to Afghanistan from Yemen “has been identified by a known al-Qaeda member as a fund collector and recruiter for al-Qaeda,” and that the group of 30 Arabs that he joined as he fled Afghanistan for Pakistan was “organized” by Mohammed Annas, a “known alias” of Ali Hamza Ismail (aka Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, see ISN 039, below).
ISN 036 Idris, Ibrahim (Sudan/Yemen)
Idris, sometimes listed as a Yemeni, and sometimes as Sudanese, is accused of attending al-Farouq and of fighting with the Taliban for two years. In December 2007, he attended a military review board and stated that he had actually been seized in Pakistan, where he had traveled for 40 days to work as a missionary. “No disrespect to the interrogators,” he explained. “I said what I had to say, and they made me say things that weren’t true.”
ISN 037 Al Rahabi, Abd Al Malik (Yemen)
Al-Rahabi (also identified as Abd al-Malik Abd al-Wahab) has stated that he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan with his wife and his young daughter, although the US authorities allege that he “was very close to Osama bin Laden, and had been with him a long time. He was a known Osama bin Laden guard and errand boy and was frequently seen at Osama bin Laden’s side.” As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, he told his lawyer that he had made false confessions, stating that he was “tortured by beatings” in Kandahar, that his thumb was broken by American interrogators, and that he was “threatened with being held underground and deprived of sunlight until he confessed.” According to his lawyers, around September 2000, he “traveled with his wife to Pakistan in order to study the Koran. Their daughter was born while they were together in Pakistan. In November 2001, his wife returned to Yemen. Al-Rahabi intended to return as well, but he was arrested while in Pakistan.”
ISN 038 Al Yazidi, Ridah (Tunisia)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, it is alleged that he traveled to Afghanistan from Italy in 1999, that he attended the Khaldan training camp, and that he fought on the Taliban front lines in 2001. There is little publicly available information about al-Yazidi’s response to the allegations, although he refuted additional claims that he was involved with the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (the GIA, or Groupe Islamique Armé), and also apparently “stated that he did not engage in any significant combat during the entire time he was on the front lines.”
ISN 039 Al Bahlul, Ali Hamza (Yemen)
Widely described as Osama bin Laden’s “press secretary,” al-Bahlul produced a propaganda video for al-Qaeda and was first put forward for trial by Military Commission in February 2004. He was formally charged in June 2004. At a pre-trial hearing in August 2004, he declared, “I am an al-Qaeda member,” and asked the judge, “Am I allowed to represent myself?” and at another hearing in January 2006, he decided to withdraw from the proceedings, waving a sign that read “boycott” in Arabic, He was charged for a second time in February 2008, after the first version of the Commissions was ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court in June 2006, and in May 2008 he again decided to boycott pre-trial hearings, explaining, “I am responsible for my own actions in this world and the afterworld. I don’t consider it to be a crime.” His trial took place in October 2008, and he was convicted of conspiracy, solicitation of murder, and providing material support to terrorism after a one-sided trial in which he refused to mount a defense. He received a life sentence, which he is serving in solitary confinement in Guantánamo, away from all the other prisoners, but his lawyers are currently appealing the sentence, on the basis that providing material support to terrorism is “a fabricated war crime that was not traditionally triable in a military commission as of the time of Mr. al-Bahlul’s affiliation with al-Qaeda” (as his former military defense attorney, Lt. Col. David Frakt, explained), and also on the basis that his trial was unfair because he was denied the right to represent himself.
ISN 040 Al Mudafari, Abdel Qadir (Yemen)
Al-Mudafari (aka al-Mudhaffari) apparently “stated that he wanted a struggle or jihad and chose to travel to Afghanistan rather than Palestine,” but was subjected to several dubious allegations (beyond the most obvious — that he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden). It was also alleged that he was “identified as a trainer” at al-Farouq, and was also stated that he was identified by “an al-Qaeda operative” as being “a friend of Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary,” and was also “identified as being at a Taliban Supreme Leader’s [sic] compound.” Confusing matters were notes that he had received instruction in Yemen from Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi (who was actually opposed to bin Laden), his own claims that he traveled to teach the Koran, and a claim by another unidentified source, who “stated that he did not think that the detainee ever fought with the Taliban because he was against the Taliban.”
ISN 041 Ahmad, Majid (Yemen)
Ahmad, who was 21 years old when seized, apparently admitted that he “first learned of jihad in Afghanistan” at an institute in the Yemen, “and then wanted to fight along with the Taliban.” He added that he “prayed and fell in love with the idea of dying for the sake of God,” and after being given a fatwa by a sheikh, who told him during a telephone call that “it was a good thing for Muslims to go fight jihad,” traveled to Afghanistan and “fought for the Taliban the two years he was in Kabul.” Nevertheless, as with the majority of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” there appears to be no basis for the claim that he “was an Osama bin Laden bodyguard and was usually by his side.” He has repeatedly stated that he never met bin Laden and has also stated that “the attack on the World Trade Center was wrong because Islam did not permit people to kill innocent people.”
ISN 042 Shalabi, Abdul Rahman (Saudi Arabia)
According to an unidentified source cited at Guantánamo, Shalabi “was teaching at a madrassa” in Kandahar, and, moreover, he “taught over 300 men” and was “very well known.” In contrast, the US authorities have drawn on various claims about him being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden that appear to be as unreliable as those leveled against the majority of the “Dirty Thirty.” According to one source, he “came to Afghanistan around 1997 and became a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden after 1998,” and according to another, he was “related to a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.” Other unidentified sources said that they saw him in Kabul and Jalalabad “approximately ten times with Osama bin Laden in the latter part of 2001 and identified him as Osama bin Laden’s security guard,” that they saw him “speaking directly with Osama bin Laden” and that he “was with him at all times while in Tora Bora.” In Guantánamo, he has been a long-term hunger striker, and has been on a hunger strike since August 2005, when the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history took place. He weighed 124 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo in January 2002, but weighed just 100 pounds in November 2005. In September 2009, after four years of being force-fed daily, he weighed just 108 pounds, and wrote a distressing letter to his lawyers, in which he stated, “I am a human who is being treated like an animal.” In November 2009, when his letter was included in a court submission, one of his lawyers, Julia Tarver Mason, stated, “He’s two pounds away from organ failure and death.”
ISN 043 Moqbel, Samir (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, Moqbel (also identified as Samir Mukbel) stated that he was tricked by a friend, who told him he would find a job in Afghanistan. “He told me I would like it in Afghanistan and I could live a better life than in Yemen,” he said in a hearing at Guantánamo. “I thought Afghanistan was a rich country but when I got there I found out different … it was all destroyed with poverty and destruction. I found there was no basis for getting a job there.” His lawyers at Reprieve explained that he “is the eldest son of seven brothers and five sisters, and as the eldest son, is the family breadwinner,” and added that he was enticed by the false prospect of “more jobs and better salaries” in Afghanistan because, at the time, he “was working in a factory in Yemen earning just $50 a month.” In Guantánamo, in response to allegations that he was a bodyguard for bin Laden, and that he fought with the Taliban in various locations, he stated, “These accusations make you laugh. These accusations are like a movie. Me, a bodyguard for bin Laden, then do operations against Americans and Afghanis and make trips in Afghanistan? I don’t believe any human being could do all these things … This is me? I have watched a lot of American movies like Rambo and Superman, but I believe that I am better than them. I went to Pakistan and Afghanistan a month before the Americans got there … How can a person do all these operations in only a month?”
ISN 044 Ghanim, Mohammed (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, Ghanim was accused of having “participated in jihad activities” in Bosnia and of taking part in the Yemeni civil war, and of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. In response, he has apparently stated that he fought only with the Taliban. In a report from a former prisoner published by Cageprisoners, it was stated that Ghanim was subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation in Guantánamo, as part of what was euphemistically termed “the frequent flier program,” and was also denied medical treatment: “Every two hours he would get moved from cell to cell, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes cell to cell, sometimes block to block, over a period of eight months. He was deprived of sleep because of this and he was also deprived of medical attention. He had lost a lot of weight. He had a painful medical problem, haemorrhoids, and that treatment was refused unless he cooperated. He said he would cooperate and had an operation. However, the operation was not performed correctly and he still had problems. He would not cooperate. [H]e was [then] put in Romeo Block where the prisoners would be made to stand naked. It was then left to the discretion of the interrogators whether a prisoner was allowed clothes or not.”
ISN 045 Al Rahizi, Ali Ahmad (Yemen)
Al-Rahizi (also identified as al-Rezehi) has stated that he “went to Afghanistan to teach the Koran because the Imam at his mosque told him that the Afghans were using magic and were not following the teachings of Islam.” In contrast, the US authorities allege that he attended al-Farouq and was one of bin Laden’s bodyguards. Al-Rahizi has specifically stated that he “taught the Koran to Afghan children at the Abu Bakur al-Sadiq mosque in Shurandam” (in Kandahar province), where he “worked directly for the mosque Imam,” and that it was the Imam who told him about the US-led invasion of October 2001, and advised him to return home. In the clearest indication that the group of men seized together had picked up stragglers along the way, he stated that he traveled to Khost, via Ghazni, “and then traveled by foot for two days to a small town,” where he “joined approximately 30 other Arabs … who had assembled to flee Afghanistan,” and who subsequently traveled together for eight days before being arrested on the Pakistani border by the Pakistani authorities.
ISN 054 Al Qosi, Ibrahim (Sudan)
Subjected, over the years, to a variety of allegations, including claims that he served as the accountant for a company run by Osama bin Laden in Sudan from 1992 onwards, that he visited Chechnya to fight in 1995, with bin Laden’s support and permission, that he served as a bodyguard, cook and driver for bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1996 onwards, and that he fought in Afghanistan as part of a mortar crew, al-Qosi was first put forward for a trial by Military Commission in February 2004 (along with Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, ISN 039), and was formally charged in June 2004. At a hearing in August 2004, his military defense lawyer, Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer, complained that she was not being provided with the information she needed to defend al-Qosi, and also complained that al-Qosi had told her that the translators in court were so poor that he couldn’t understand what was happening. When the Commissions were revived, al-Qosi was charged, for a second time, with al-Bahlul in February 2008, and took part in several inconclusive hearings. In November 2009, he was charged for the third time, after President Obama decided to revive the Commissions, and last month he accepted a plea bargain, making a guilty plea on one count of conspiracy and one count of providing material support to terrorism, in a decision that was widely seen as providing his best opportunity to be released from Guantánamo. A military jury sentenced him to 14 years’ imprisonment on August 11, but was not told the details of his plea deal, and it is therefore thought that the jury was being used to deliver what appears to be a public vindication of the Commissions’ ability to deliver tough sentences, even though, by all accounts, al-Qosi will be held for just two more years before being released.
ISN 063 Al Qahtani, Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
Despite allegations that he was intended to be the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, al-Qahtani is not expected to face a trial of any kind. He was originally put forward for a trial by Military Commission (with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks) in February 2008, but the charges were subsequently dropped by Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for the Commissions, responsible for pressing charges, because, as she explained to Bob Woodward in January 2009, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” A harrowing log recording the details of al-Qahtani’s torture from November 2002 to January 2003, in a program approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was made publicly available in June 2005 (PDF).