Editor's note: As a 16th prisoner at Guantánamo, Noor Uthman Muhammed,
is put forward for trial by military commission (the much-criticized system
of trials for "terror suspects" invented in the wake of the 9/11
attacks), Andy Worthington, author of The
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal
Prison, provides a guide to the 16 men, two of whom were juveniles at
the time of their capture.
1. David Hicks. An Australian who was captured in Afghanistan in December
2001, Hicks accepted a plea
bargain in March 2007, admitting to providing "material support for
terrorism," and dropping well-documented claims that he was abused in
U.S. custody, in exchange for a nine-month sentence, the majority of which
was served in Australia. It has been claimed, plausibly, that his plea bargain
was the result
of political maneuvering between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian
Prime Minister John Howard.
2. Omar Khadr. A Canadian who was just 15 years old when he was captured
after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, Khadr
is accused of killing a U.S. soldier, although developments
over the last six months in his pre-trial hearings suggest that exculpatory
evidence, indicating that he was not responsible for the murder, was withheld
from his defense team. In the latest
twist in Khadr's case, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last week that
Canadian agents acted illegally when they interrogated Khadr at Guantánamo
in 2003 and handed the intelligence to U.S. authorities.
3. Salim Hamdan. A Yemeni who was a driver for Osama bin Laden and
was captured while attempting to cross the Pakistani border in December 2001,
Hamdan is accused of being an active member of al-Qaeda, although his defense
team argues that he was just a paid employee. It was Hamdan's case, Hamdan
v. Rumsfeld, that caused the Supreme Court to rule that the first version
of the commissions were illegal in June 2006 (although they were later revived
by Congress). In April, Hamdan decided to boycott
his trial proceedings, and on May 9, following a blistering attack on the legitimacy
of the commissions by their former chief prosecutor, Col. Morris Davis, the
judge in Hamdan's case, Capt. Keith Allred, took the unprecedented step of
barring the commissions' Pentagon-appointed legal adviser, Brig. Gen. Thomas
Hartmann, from playing any further part in Hamdan's trial. The following week,
Allred made headlines again by postponing
the start date of Hamdan's trial until late July, citing the importance of
a pending Supreme Court decision about the prisoners' rights.
4. Mohamed Jawad. An Afghan who was just 16 or 17 years old at the
time of his capture, Jawad
is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan
interpreter in December 2002, although he has always claimed that Afghan police
obtained his "confession" through torture. At his arraignment in
March, he rejected
the trial proceedings and alleged that he had been tortured at the U.S. prison
at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and had been mistreated in Guantánamo.
At a pre-trial hearing in May, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, who was assigned
to represent him on April 28, told
the court, "Mr. Jawad is an innocent man. He has been held for five years.
He was a homeless boy wrongfully accused and beaten into confession by the
5. Ahmed al-Darbi. A Saudi who is accused of plotting attacks on shipping
for al-Qaeda, Darbi was kidnapped in Azerbaijan and rendered to Guantánamo
via Afghanistan in 2002. At his arraignment in April, he refused
to take part in the commissions, prompting his military-appointed lawyer, Army
Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, to comment that, in order to comply with established
legal rules that prevent lawyers from representing clients who refuse their
services (which are worryingly at odds with the Commissions' own rules), his
role in Darbi's forthcoming trial was now equivalent to that of a "potted
6. Ibrahim al-Qosi. A Sudanese who is accused of being a bodyguard
and a driver for Osama bin Laden and a quartermaster for al-Qaeda, Qosi, who
was captured after crossing the Pakistani border in December 2001, was previously
charged in the commissions' first aborted incarnation. In April, he also boycotted
his pretrial hearing, telling the judge, "I do not recognize the justice
or the lawfulness of this court," and adding, "What is happening
in your courts is in fact a sham, which aims solely that the cases move at
the pace of a turtle in order to gain some time to keep us in these boxes without
any human or legal rights."
7. Ali Hamza al-Bahlul. A Yemeni, who is accused of producing videos
for al-Qaeda and servings as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, al-Bahlul, who
was captured after crossing the Pakistani border in December 2001, was previously
charged in the Commissions' first aborted incarnation. In May, he also boycotted
his pretrial hearing, proudly proclaiming his association with Osama bin Laden,
and telling the judge, "We will continue our jihad and nothing's going
to stop us. You must not oppress the people in the land. Your oppression against
us and your support to the strategic ally in the region is what made me leave
my house and today, I'm telling you, and you're a man of law, if you sentence
me to life … me and the others will be the reason for the continuation of the
war against America."
8. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). Reportedly the third most important
figure in al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, KSM, who was
captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and the four men described below are among
the 14 "high-value detainees" transferred to Guantánamo in
September 2006 after being held for years in secret prisons run by the CIA.
in his military tribunal in Guantánamo last year (convened to confirm
that he was an "enemy combatant" who could be tried by military commission)
that he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z." He
is one of three "high-value detainees" whom CIA director Michael
Hayden admitted had been subjected to waterboarding
(a torture technique that involves controlled drowning) while held in a secret
prison run by the CIA.
KSM and his co-defendants, who were charged
in February, are due to be arraigned on June 5, although his recently appointed
military lawyer, Navy JAG Prescott Prince, recently told the Los
Angeles Times, "I think it's the constitutional case of our time.
Because in the 221st year of America, the question is whether the Constitution
applies to the government." He added, "I have no idea whether he
did even half of those things he is accused of doing. But if he did commit
those offenses, there are still issues of whether this court has jurisdiction,
whether he is an enemy combatant who should be tried in a tribunal of this
nature." Prince also said, "He [KSM] believes his treatment has been
illegal. I believe it's been illegal too. And I personally believe that he
cannot, as a result of all these things, get a fair trial."
9. Ramzi bin al-Shibh. A Yemeni and reportedly a friend of the 9/11
hijackers who helped coordinate the attacks with KSM after he was unable to
enter the United States to train as a pilot for the operation, as he originally
planned, bin al-Shibh was captured in Pakistan in September 2002. After being
held in secret CIA custody for four years, he refused to take part in his tribunal
at Guantánamo, and if he speaks at his arraignment it will be his first
publicly available statement since his capture.
10. Mustafa al-Hawsawi. A Saudi who was captured with Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, Hawsawi is accused of sourcing funding for the 9/11 attacks from
Dubai. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he admitted providing support
for jihadists, including transferring money for some of the 9/11 hijackers,
although he denied that he was a member of al-Qaeda. Last week, his lawyer,
Army Maj. Jon Jackson, sought fruitlessly to delay his arraignment, in particular
because he has only been allowed to meet his client twice, and "has not
received any potential evidence against al-Hawsawi supporting charges that
'allege a complex conspiracy spanning several years,'" as the Associated
Press put it.
11. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. Also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, he is a nephew
of KSM and was captured in Pakistan with Walid bin Attash (see below) in April
2003. In his tribunal at Guantánamo last year, he admitted transferring
money on behalf of some of the 9/11 hijackers, but insisted that he was a legitimate
businessman who regularly transferred money for Arabs, without knowing what
it would be used for.
12. Walid bin Attash. A Saudi who lost a leg in Afghanistan before
9/11, bin Attash stated in his tribunal at Guantánamo that he was the
link between Osama bin Laden and the Nairobi cell during al-Qaeda's African
embassy bombings in 1998, and he admitted that he played a major part in the
bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, explaining that he "put together
the plan for the operation for a year and a half," bought the explosives
and the boat, and recruited the bombers.
13. Mohammed al-Qahtani. A Saudi who was reportedly recruited as the
20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks but was refused entry into the United States
by immigration officials, Qahtani was tortured for several months at Guantánamo
in late 2002 and early 2003. Although he was put forward for trial by military
commission in February, with KSM and the other four men described above, the
charges against him were dropped in May, when the others were formally charged,
either because evidence of his torture is admissible (whereas that obtained
in secret prisons by the CIA is not), or because of a pronounced deterioration
in his mental health since he was first charged, which led to a number of suicide
attempts. It's possible but unlikely that he will be charged again.
14. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. A Tanzanian and one of the 14 "high-value
detainees" transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in
September 2006, Ghailani, who was captured after a gun battle in Gujrat, Pakistan,
in July 2004, is accused of being a coordinator of the African embassy bombings
and running a document-forging operation for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In his
tribunal, he described himself as a peripheral character in the African embassy
bombings who was duped by others around him, although he admitted forging documents
for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Evidence of a revealing false allegation that
he made in Guantánamo, which I discovered during research for The
Guantánamo Files, was reported here.
15. Mohammed Kamin. An Afghan who was captured in 2003, Kamin is accused
of "providing material support for terrorism," specifically by receiving
training at "an al-Qaeda training camp," conducting surveillance
on U.S. and coalition military bases and activities, planting two mines under
a bridge, and launching missiles at the city of Khost while it was occupied
by U.S. and coalition forces. He is not charged with harming, let alone killing,
U.S. forces, and were it not for his supposed al-Qaeda connection – he apparently
stated in interrogation that he was "recruited by an al-Qaeda cell leader"
– it would, I think, be impossible to make the case that he was involved in
"terrorism" at all.
For his arraignment on May 21, 2008, Kamin refused to leave his cell and
was dragged to the court by guards. The judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie,
explained that he was handcuffed and shackled because he had "attempted
to spit on and bite one of the guards" on his way to the courtroom. Refusing
to be represented by a U.S. military lawyer, Kamin called the charges "a
lie and a forgery," according to Reuters,
adding that he had no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he
"did not recognize the court's legitimacy and would not attend future
hearings." In a brief statement, he said, "My judge is the God that
has created the sky and the land. He will be my lawyer and represent me. I
wait for his decision. That's enough."
16. Noor Uthman Muhammed. A Sudanese, Muhammed was captured in Pakistan
in March 2002 during the raid that netted the alleged senior al-Qaeda operative
Abu Zubaydah (whose significance is disputed, along with his mental health).
While Abu Zubaydah has not been charged before the military commissions, Muhammed
with "conspiracy" and "providing material support for terrorism"
on May 23, 2008. He is accused of serving as the deputy emir and a weapons
instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000, when
the camp was closed. It is also alleged that he delivered a fax machine to
Osama bin Laden at a training camp in 1999.
Noticeably, these charges do not relate to the 9/11 attacks, and in his tribunal
at Guantánamo in 2004, Muhammed insisted that Khaldan was "a place
to get training" that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
"People come over to that camp, train for about a month to a month and
a half, then they go back to their hometown," he said, adding that what
the people did with the training they received was their own business. This
may well have been an evasive explanation on Muhammed's part, but he is not
the only prisoner to state that Khaldan was not connected with al-Qaeda, and
that Abu Zubaydah did not have a close relationship with the leadership of
al-Qaeda. Similar claims, as I reported here,
were made by Abu Zubaydah himself and a released Saudi prisoner called Khalid
al-Hubayshi, and it will be interesting to see what Muhammed will have to say
when he is arraigned – unless, of course, he follows recent trends by boycotting
the proceedings completely.