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Real tales from Guantanamo Bay
Papers released by U.S. show inmates' defiance and despair
New York Times News Service. This article was reported by Margot Williams, Tim Golden and Raymond Bonner, and was written by Golden. Tom Torok contributed reporting
Published March 6, 2006

Among the hundreds of men imprisoned by the American military at Guantanamo 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.

"May God help me fight the unfaithful ones," one Saudi detainee, Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Shirbi, told a military hearing where he was accused of being a lieutenant of Al Qaeda.

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 Guantanamo. "My name is Abdur Sayed Rahman. Abdur Zahid Rahman was the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban."

Rahman's pleadings are among more than 5,000 pages of documents released by the Defense Department on Friday in response to a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act by The Associated Press.

After more than four years in which the Pentagon refused to make public even the names of those held at Guantanamo, the documents provide the most detailed information to date about who the detainees say they are and the evidence against them.

According to their own accounts, the prisoners range from poor Afghan farmers and low-level Arab holy warriors to a Sudanese drug dealer, the son of a former Saudi army general, and a British resident with an Iraqi passport who was arrested in Gambia.

One 26-year-old Saudi, Muhammed al-Utaybi, said he was studying art when he decided to travel to Pakistan to train with the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. He was not much of a militant himself, he suggested, saying the training "was just like summer vacation."

The documents--hearing transcripts and evidentiary statements from the two types of military panels that evaluate whether the detainees should remain at Guantanamo--are far from a complete portrait of those in custody there.

They do not include the classified evidence that is generally part of the review panels' deliberations, nor their final verdicts on whether to recommend the detainees' release. Of the about 660 men who have been held at Guantanamo, the documents cover about half.

But a reading of the voluminous files adds new texture to the accusations that the men face and the way they have tried to respond to them. It also underscores the considerable difficulties that both the military and the detainees appear to have had in wrestling with the often thin or conflicting evidence involved.

At one review hearing last year, an Afghan referred to by the single name Muhibullah denied accusations that he was either the former Taliban governor of Shibarghan Province or had worked for the governor. The solution to his case should have been simple, Muhibullah suggested to the three American officers reviewing his case: They should contact the Shibarghan governor and ask him.

But the presiding Marine Corps colonel said it was really up to the detainee to try to contact the governor. Assuming that the annual review board denied his petition for freedom, noted the officer, whose name was censored from the document, Muhibullah would have a year to do so.

"How do I find the governor of Shibarghan or anybody?" the detainee asked.

"Write to them," the presiding officer responded. "We know that it is difficult but you need to do your best."

"I appreciate your suggestion, but it is not that easy," Muhibullah said.

Bush administration officials and military leaders have often justified the extraordinary conditions under which detainees are held at Guantanamo by insisting that the detainees are hardened terrorists.

And while many administration officials have privately backed away from such claims, they have tended to insist that a large majority of the men would still pose a serious security threat if released.

The hearing transcripts are from review panels known as Combatant Status Review Tribunals, where three military officers weigh whether a detainee is properly classified as an "enemy combatant." Few of them have made the process as easy as Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Shirbi.

"Honestly," he said, "I did not come here to defend myself, but defend the Islamic nation, this is my duty and I have to do it."

Among the accusations against Shirbi recounted in the hearing transcript were that he trained with Al Qaeda, was "observed chatting and laughing like pals with Osama bin Laden" and was known as the "right hand man" to Abu Zubaydah, a top Al Qaeda operative. Shirbi said he was willing to accept all of those accusations.

He then told the hearing officers, "I found the accusations against you to be many."

In other cases, the incriminating evidence has generally been less clear-cut.

Another Saudi, Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi, was one of at least half a dozen men against whom the "relevant data" considered by the annual review boards included the possession at the time of his capture of a Casio model F-91W watch. According to evidentiary summaries in those cases, such watches have "been used in bombings linked to Al Qaeda."

"I am a bit surprised at this piece of evidence," Awfi said. "If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them."

Another detainee whose evidence sheet also included a Casio F-91W, Abdullah Kamal, was an electrical engineer from Kuwait who once played on his country's national volleyball team. He was accused of being a leader of a Kuwaiti militant group that collected money for bin Laden.

As for the Casio allegation, Kamal said, he also owned a Fossil watch, and that the Casio had a compass he used to find the direction of Mecca for his prayers. "We have four chaplains" at Guantanamo, he said. "All of them wear this watch."

Guantanamo Bay: The testimony
The US defence department has for the first time put the names of detainees to transcripts of tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.
Guantanamo Bay
It could take weeks for the documents to be fully analysed

But the 6,000 pages of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act do not always name the person attending the tribunal. Many as listed as "detainee".

It is not always clear who has been released and who is still held and it could take weeks for the documents to be fully analysed.

Here is some of the named evidence given at hearings:


FEROZ ALI ABASSI

Briton who submitted written complaints that military police had sex in front of him as he prayed. Said other guards tried to feed him a "hot plate of pork", which is forbidden in Islam. Said he was misled into praying north, towards the US, rather than Mecca.

Repeatedly cited his rights to be called a prisoner-of-war under international law. Was told by a US colonel: "I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words international law again."

QARI ESMHATULLA

Captured in US Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002. Admitted carrying grenades and a radio to Taleban fighters. Said he did so because other villagers asked him why he was sitting at home as others fought the US.

In Pashtun culture, he said: "It is a bad thing if you do not accept a challenge." Said his enemy was not the US but "Farsi-speaking people who have differences with the Pashtu-speaking people".

ABDUL HAKIM BUKHARY

Said he was jailed by the Taleban as he was suspected of being a spy after admitting admiration for anti-Taleban warlord Ahmed Shah Massood.
They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!

Said of conditions in Guantanamo Bay: "Prisoners here are in paradise. American people are very good. Really. They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!" Still wanted to go back to his family, though, he said.

MOHAMMED SHARIF

Denied being a Taleban camp guard. Said the Taleban had captured him and ordered him to work. He complied, fearing attacks on his family. Repeatedly asked for evidence to be brought against him. "There are no facts... this is ridiculous. I know for a fact there is no proof."

ABDUL GAPPHER

An ethnic Chinese Uighur said he was in Afghanistan to "get some training to fight back against the Chinese government". Said he had no quarrel with the US. Said he had been captured in Pakistan and "sold" to the US government. Said the Chinese government was torturing his people and his family.

ZAHIR SHAH

Said he had rifles in his house as protection for a running feud with his cousin. Said he did not fight US troops. Denied accusation of owning rocket-propelled grenade launcher. "What are we going to do with RPGs? The only thing I did in Afghanistan was farming... We grew wheat, corn, vegetables and watermelons."

SAIFULLAH PARACHA

Sent to Guantanamo Bay after arrest in Thailand. Multi-millionaire businessman and New York Institute of Technology graduate. Admitted meeting Osama Bin Laden twice in Pakistan.

Denied investing for al-Qaeda, translating for Bin Laden and plotting to bring explosives into the US. Was told he will be allowed to take his case through US courts. "I've been here 17 months - would that be before I expire?" he asked.

MESH ARSAD AL-RASHID

Said he went to Afghanistan to fight warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and the late Ahmed Shah Massood in the north. "I did not know my training would be considered al-Qaeda training. I was trying to help Muslims," he said. "I am not from the Taleban, I'm just a person, a helper. I was going to fight against Dostum."

OTHER TESTIMONY

Unnamed detainee noted three panellists were US military members. "The US military is my adversary... If the adversary is my judge... I should not expect any justice." The tribunal head said: "This proceeding is going to go on with or without you. You are welcome to participate or not."

Documents said Mishal Awad Sayaf Alhabri attempted suicide, "resulting in significant brain injury due to oxygen loss". Report said: "He will need to be in some assisted-living situation, though he can follow simple concrete directions."

Documents said Sofiane Haderbache "stood in his cell naked" in defiance of guards. "Detainee's recorded behaviour, medication history and utilisation pattern of psychiatric services suggest this detainee is regressing."

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