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May 28, 2008

The 16 Prisoners Charged in Gitmo's Military Commissions


by Andy Worthington

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 Afghanistan police."

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 plant."

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. KSM confessed 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 was charged 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.

 

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  • Andy Worthington is a historian based in London. He is the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in Guantanámo. He writes regularly on issues related to Guantánamo and the "War on Terror" on his Web site.

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