The US government transferred an Afghan implicated in the killing of a Red Cross worker from Guantanamo to his home country last week. The former Gitmo detainee, Abdul Hafiz, was reportedly captured by US Special Forces in Afghanistan in April 2003. That raid targeted suspected terrorists who were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Ricardo Munguía, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on March 27, 2003.
“We believe we have killed the assassin that attacked the ICRC worker,” Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Doug Lefforge said at the time. Seven others were captured, including a few who were suspected of involvement in Munguía’s killing. “Now that we have these people, we can verify which group they’re from,” Lefforge added. “They are still being interrogated.”
Abdul Hafiz was shipped off to Guantanamo, where his interrogations continued. While he was detained at Gitmo, Hafiz was repeatedly accused of being a “suspect” with “links” to Munguía’s murder.
For instance, a Feb. 22, 2005 memo prepared for Hafiz’s first administrative review board hearing at Gitmo identifies him as “a suspect in the murder of an International Red Cross worker in Afghanistan.” Other documents prepared at Gitmo identify Munguía as the Red Cross worker in question.
Hafiz was also accused of being “affiliated with the death of two individuals in Kabul, Afghanistan.” It is not clear who those two individuals are, however, as they are not identified in the US government’s documents.
A key piece of evidence pointing to Hafiz’s role in Munguía’s killing was his satellite phone, which “has been linked to the ICRC murder,” according to memos prepared by US officials. During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) and administrative review board (ARB) hearings at Gitmo, Hafiz did not deny that he was in possession of the satellite phone, which had his fingerprints all over it. But Hafiz claimed that the phone was not his, and that he did not know how to use it.
Both of Hafiz’s claims are dubious, to say the least.
When Hafiz was captured in April 2003, US forces found him “attempting to call an al Qaeda member who is linked to the murder of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker.” In other words, Hafiz apparently knew how to use the satellite phone at the time of his capture.
The “al Qaeda member” he was attempting to contact was not identified in the government’s documents, but a handful of high-level Taliban and al Qaeda leaders have been reportedly tied to Munguía’s murder.
One of them is Mullah Dadullah Akhund, who was the Taliban’s senior military commander until he was killed in 2007. The terrorist team responsible for the kidnapping and shooting contacted Dadullah by satellite phone shortly before Munguía was murdered. As one memo prepared for another Gitmo detainee’s case notes:
According to eyewitnesses, the men who captured an Ecuadorian Red Cross aid worker, Ricardo Munguía, called Mullah Dadullah on their satellite phone and under Dadullah’s orders, shot Munguía dead. [Note: Although the source document identifies Munguía as “Ecuadorian,” he was actually from El Salvador.]
It is therefore possible, although we cannot be certain one way or the other based on the declassified Gitmo documents alone, that Hafiz’s satellite phone was used to call Dadullah during the operation.
A flimsy cover story
We can be certain, however, that Hafiz’s explanation for how he ended up in US custody did not hold much water with the intelligence personnel at Gitmo. Abdul Hafiz repeatedly claimed that he was not Abdul Hafiz at all, but instead a man named Abdul Qawi. During his proceedings at Gitmo, Hafiz produced letters from family members in which he was identified as “Abdul Qawi.”
Of course, the detainee “Abdul Hafiz” could easily have been known by more than one name, as it is a common practice for terrorists to have multiple aliases. It is also common for al Qaeda and Taliban members to use a nom de guerre that is not known to their family members. In every declassified memo prepared for Abdul Hafiz’s case at Guantanamo from Oct. 4, 2004, to July 20, 2007, US officials referred to the detainee as “Abdul Hafiz” and not “Abdul Qawi.” This indicates that US intelligence officials were not persuaded by Hafiz/Qawi’s claim of mistaken identity.
The detainee Abdul Hafiz further argued during his hearings at Gitmo that the supposedly real “Abdul Hafiz” had given him the satellite phone linked to the ICRC murder before they entered a security checkpoint. He claimed that the “real” Abdul Hafiz had given him the satellite phone because he lacked the proper permit to carry it. And, the detainee Hafiz said, the security personnel at the checkpoint were unlikely to search him because he was handicapped after being injured during the first jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s.
The detainee Abdul Hafiz’s claims were transparently flimsy for at least several reasons.
First, the detainee Abdul Hafiz not only had the satellite phone in his possession at the time he was captured, but also Abdul Hafiz’s identification papers and personal phonebook – the contents of which matched the numbers contained in the satellite phone in all but one case. It strains credulity to believe that the Gitmo detainee came into possession of all three of these items while not being the “real” Abdul Hafiz.
Second, the detainee Abdul Hafiz was not captured at a security checkpoint. Instead, he said that he was captured while sleeping later in the day or evening, after having already passed through the security checkpoint. He did not offer any reason for maintaining possession of the “real” Abdul Hafiz’s belongings after they had made their way through the security checkpoint where it was supposedly necessary for him to hold onto them hours earlier.
Third, although the detainee Abdul Hafiz claimed that he worked as a servant for the “real” Abdul Hafiz, he could not even tell members of his administrative review board what the “real” Abdul Hafiz did for a living. He also denied knowing whether or not the “real” Abdul Hafiz was a member of the Taliban. During his administrative review board hearing, the detainee Abdul Hafiz was asked, “Was Abdul Hafiz a member of the Taliban?” He replied: “What do I know about him? I do not know if he worked for Taliban or not. He came to me and said he was working for the peace with the people. I said I want to work with him.”
Fourth, the detainee Abdul Hafiz did not have the paperwork that he claimed was necessary to carry a satellite phone either. He claimed that if he was questioned about the satellite phone, the “real” Abdul Hafiz promised to speak up for him. But, how could the “real” Abdul Hafiz provide assistance if he was worried about carrying the satellite phone without a permit in the first place? Moreover, as a member of the administrative review board noticed, the detainee Abdul Hafiz claimed he was separated from his master. But if the detainee was not with his supposed master, then how could the supposedly “real” Abdul Hafiz help the detainee?
In all likelihood, the detainee Abdul Hafiz and the “real” Abdul Hafiz are one and the same person. Indeed, Abdul Hafiz’s cover story was always built on shaky ground. This may be why he claimed to have a brain disorder that interfered with his memory.
For example, as his story fell apart during routine questioning at one of his hearings at Gitmo, Hafiz blamed his supposed medical condition for his inconsistent testimony: “I am sorry if I say anything, because from the first day my brain is [not] working properly. If I said something in my interrogation that was different from what I am saying today.”
Abdul Hafiz had good reasons to deflect attention away from his interrogations and the blatant inconsistencies in his story. At some point while in custody, according to the Gitmo files, Hafiz “admitted he knew the phone in his possession contained telephone numbers of individuals who were enemies of the United States.”
Hafiz’s personal phonebook did as well. The files for another former Gitmo detainee linked to the ICRC murder contain an item that is likely a reference to Hafiz’s phonebook. The item notes that a “personal phonebook belonging to a suspect in the murder of an International Red Cross worker in Afghanistan contains telephone entries for [another Gitmo detainee] and Abdul Satar.”
While Dadullah ordered Munguía’s murder from afar, the US military has identified Mullah Abdul Satar as the Taliban leader who was the field commander in charge of the operation.
In addition, during at least one early interrogation, US officials found that Hafiz slipped up when discussing Munguía’s murder. Although he repeatedly claimed he knew nothing about the attack, the Gitmo files note:
When [Hafiz] was queried regarding his knowledge of the International Committee of the Red Cross worker’s murder he stated he did know where ‘he’ was killed. [Hafiz] was then advised that he was not provided information regarding the International Committee of the Red Cross worker’s gender.
Other terrorist ties
In addition to his ties to the ICRC murder, US military officials at Gitmo alleged that Abdul Hafiz had other connections to the terror network as well. He was allegedly a member of a paramilitary band consisting of Taliban and Hezb e Islami Gulbuddin fighters. The terrorists who killed Ricardo Munguía were drawn from such a group. US authorities also alleged that Hafiz was seen at the Taliban’s military headquarters in Kandahar.
Lastly, according to the final declassified memo prepared for Hafiz’s case, he was “the Taliban head of all Madrassas” and “responsible for sending young men to fight for the Taliban.” Hafiz was also “responsible for maintaining contacts for Mullah Mohammad Omar, and maintained weapons caches in Afghanistan.” These last allegations appear only in the final memo, and not in earlier summaries of the allegations against Hafiz. If true, then he was a particularly important catch – for reasons above and beyond his putative role in Munguía’s murder.
Prior to his release, Hafiz conceded that he was injured during the first jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, he claimed during his hearings at Gitmo that he had forsworn any involvement in fighting. But given the evidence amassed against him, that is hard to believe. Indeed, it seems that US officials at Gitmo discovered that Hafiz was thoroughly dedicated to the jihadist cause.
“A source stated [that Hafiz] practiced and preached a very extreme interpretation of Islam on the blocks” at Gitmo, the final memo notes. Abdul Hafiz will no longer preach any version of Islam at Gitmo. He is now in Afghanistan.