This article was originally published at The Weekly Standard.
As the President-elect’s administration weighs what to do with the detainees remaining at Guantanamo, the pressure is mounting from advocacy groups. For years, some organizations have taken an extreme approach, telling the detainees’ stories in the most favorable manner possible — ignoring evidence of their ties to terrorism, while magnifying nearly every allegation of abuse whether it is valid or not. The result is a picture of Guantanamo that is clearly distorted. Most inmates are portrayed as obvious innocents who are tortured by an American government run amok.
Consider a pamphlet published in mid-December of last year by Amnesty International. In a four-page piece titled “Solidarity with Guantanamo Detainees,” Amnesty asks people to “support the detainees” and implores them to “act now” in their defense. The pamphlet references nine current and former detainees, highlighting their words from “poems and letters,” and asking people to write them in order to boost their morale: “Please write to any or all of the following Guantanamo detainees, expressing in your own words your solidarity with them.”
What are the detainees’ alleged ties to terrorism? What is the evidence that has been collected against them? Amnesty International does not say. If the organization did, chances are people would not have much of an incentive to write them, or support Amnesty’s campaign.
The evidence amassed against most of the nine is disturbing. One suspect is from a family known to support Osama bin Laden and is alleged to have killed an American soldier in Afghanistan. Another is a high-level terrorist recruiter. Still another is alleged to have been en route to America to commit an attack when he was detained.
Amnesty International ignored all of the evidence against the nine detainees it asked the world to embrace. Here is an overview of that evidence, which can be found in the U.S. government’s unclassified files as well as other open sources.
Omar Khadr is one of the most famous, or infamous, Guantanamo inmates. He was captured in July of 2002 following a gunfight with American forces. He was just 15 at the time, but he was old enough to fight. He allegedly threw the hand grenade that killed Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, a medic who was working to save lives in Afghanistan, including the lives of Afghan civilians. Other Americans were also injured in the assault by Khadr and his fellow al Qaeda terrorists.
That Omar would become an al Qaeda member at such a young age is not surprising in the context of his family background. He comes from a family of al Qaeda supporters. In fact, his brothers made this clear in a documentary aired on CBC in Canada in 2004. Abdurahman Khadr put it bluntly: “I admit it that we are an al Qaeda family. We had connections to al Qaeda.” Another brother, Abdullah Khadr, elaborated: “Every Muslim dreams of being a shahid (martyr) for Islam. Everybody dreams of this, even a Christian would like to die for their religion.”
Ahmed Said Khadr, their father, is a long-time bin Laden supporter and established his family’s home in the Taliban’s Afghanistan after living in Canada for a time. After 9/11, Ahmed allegedly sent Omar to work with top al Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi. Omar served as al-Libi’s translator. According to the Toronto Star, a video used in Omar’s trial shows him “working with land mines and talking to al-Libi.”
The U.S. government’s unclassified files provide more details about Omar’s time with al Qaeda. Omar was allegedly trained in an al Qaeda camp in Kabul. At some point during his custody, the government claims he “admitted to working as a translator for al Qaeda to coordinate land mine missions” and “acknowledged that these land mine missions are acts of terrorism” and “participating in them would make him a terrorist.” After conducting surveillance on U.S. convoy movements, Omar “planted 10 mines against U.S. forces in the mountain region between Khost and Ghardez.” That region is a “choke point where U.S. convoys would travel.”
Omar has been charged with war crimes and remains detained at Guantanamo.
Sami al Hajj.
Sami al Hajj
According to Sami al Hajj, he was an innocent Al Jazeera journalist who had interviewed senior al Qaeda and Taliban officials, but was wrongfully detained by Pakistani authorities in December of 2001. On the other hand, the U.S. government believes that al Hajj doubled as a moneyman for terrorist organizations.
The government claims that al Hajj began transporting large sums of money from the United Arab Emirates to Azerbaijan in the mid-1990s. Al Hajj claimed that he did not know the money was for Chechen terrorists. Al Hajj apparently claimed that he thought the money was to be used for humanitarian purposes. The money, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, went to charities that have been designated as fronts for terrorism, including Al Haramain — a Saudi-based charity known to support Chechen terrorists from its offices
in Azerbaijan. In fact, the U.S. government claims that al Hajj was detained and deported from Azerbaijan in January of 2000 because of his “alleged activities supporting Chechen rebels.”
The U.S. government also alleges that al Hajj: was affiliated with senior al Qaeda terrorists such as Abu Hajer al Iraqi (a co-founder of al Qaeda), secured Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems for Chechen rebels, “engaged in distributing terrorist propaganda over the internet,” and helped an Iraqi businessman who is “close” to Osama bin Laden move from Iraq to the United Arab Emirates.
Either Sami al Hajj is a bag man for terrorist operations, or a journalist who was wrongfully swept up in the aftermath of 9/11. Al Hajj was released to Sudan in May of 2008.
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From an intelligence perspective, Jumah al-Dossari is one of the more intriguing detainees to have been held at Guantanamo. The government’s unclassified files contain a litany of allegations against al-Dossari, including that he traveled to Bosnia and Chechnya to wage jihad. Al-Dossari has also been arrested in Saudi Arabia as a suspected terrorist on more than one occasion. One of his arrests came shortly after the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. The Saudis evidently suspected al-Dossari had played a role. Indeed, the 9/11 Commission found that al Qaeda may have had a hand in the attack, which is known to have been primarily executed by Hezbollah. (For a more detailed discussion of al Qaeda’s possible ties to the Khobar Towers bombing, see Iran’s Proxy War Against America.) It is not known if al-Dossari did, in fact, have anything to do with the bombing. But his terrorist career did not end there.
Al-Dossari was allegedly an important al Qaeda recruiter who traveled to the U.S. to recruit sleeper cells. One of these cells was the infamous “Lackawanna Six,” who traveled from outside of Buffalo, New York, to Afghanistan for training. Al-Dossari and another recruiter convinced them to join the jihad. Retired FBI agent Peter J. Ahearn investigated the Lackawanna Six extensively. In an interview with the Buffalo News, Ahearn explained: “What we learned from [al-Dossari’s] case is that al Qaeda had recruiters in America, looking for young American citizens that they could send overseas to train as terrorists. And then, they would return to our country . . . That’s a scary thought. . . . I think this effort is still going on, but it’s gone underground.”
There has been immense international pressure to release suspects from Guantanamo, and the Bush administration decided to ask some countries to keep an eye on men such as al-Dossari. So, along with more than one hundred other Saudi citizens who were once detained at Guantanamo, al-Dossari was sent back to Saudi Arabia. Still, it is difficult to understand why the U.S. government decided to free him.
Indeed, the Buffalo News reported that Ahearn “is baffled as to why the U. S. government never criminally prosecuted” al-Dosari.
The Lackawanna six’s recruiter “is walking around as a free man in Saudi Arabia,” Ahearn said.
There is no doubt that Binyam Mohamed, a native of Ethiopia who lived in the United States and London for years, traveled to Afghanistan to train in al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp in June 2001. He freely admitted this to his personal representative at Guantanamo. The government’s unclassified files explain that he “received 40 days of training in light arms handling, explosives, and principles of topography.” He was also “taught to falsify documents, and received instruction from a senior al Qaeda operative on how to encode telephone numbers before passing them to another individual.”
What happened after his training at al Farouq is a bit more ambiguous, but the government believes he was en route to America, where he was to stage an attack. Binyam and his lawyer claim that he wanted the al Qaeda training to fight in Chechnya — and not to fight American forces. But many fresh recruits were influenced to travel to Afghanistan for training to fight in Chechnya and ended up being repurposed by al Qaeda for other missions. This is what happened with some of the 9/11 hijackers.
The U.S. government believes that senior al Qaeda terrorists wanted to use Binyam in an attack inside America. He was allegedly going to work with convicted terrorist Jose Padilla. Early reports said that Padilla was attempting to use a so-called “dirty bomb,” comprised of radioactive components. The government’s unclassified files note that Padilla and Binyam reviewed information about a dirty bomb at an al Qaeda safe house, but this does not appear to be the plot they intended to execute. Binyam mentioned the possibility of attacking subways to his al Qaeda handlers. And they suggested attacking apartment buildings by setting natural gas lines on fire.
In early April of 2002, the U.S. government alleges, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave Binyam $6,000 and Padilla $10,000 to travel to the United States. However, they were both detained at the airport in Karachi. Binyam was arrested with a forged passport, but released. So, KSM arranged for him to travel on a different forged passport. He was arrested once again and sent first, reportedly, to the CIA’s black sites before being transferred to Guantanamo. Padilla was released and made it all the way to Chicago, Illinois before being arrested once again.
The government dropped the charges against Binyam last year, but this was a procedural maneuver. He is still detained at Guantanamo and charges can be brought once again.
Abdel Malik Abdel Wahab
Like many of his fellow detainees, Wahab claims he traveled from Yemen to Pakistan and then Afghanistan merely to teach the Koran. This is a common cover story. The U.S. government does not believe it. The unclassified files for Wahab contain several troubling allegations. The government claims he “is a known member of al Qaeda, operated as an al Qaeda fighter, and worked at various guesthouses and offices.” In 1995, the government says, Wahab attended al Qaeda’s infamous Khalden Camp where he received “weapons, explosive, artillery, and machinegun training.” He went on to attend various other training camps and resided in a guesthouse in Kandahar.
The most alarming allegations against Wahab concern his ties to Osama bin Laden. The government claims Wahab “was very close” to bin Laden and “had been with him a long time.” He was allegedly a “known” bodyguard and “errand boy” for the terrorist master.
Wahab denied all of this during his testimony at Guantanamo, including the allegation that he attended the Khalden training camp. He claims he was studying in Yemen at the time. During his combatant status review tribunal, Abdel Malik did admit that the Taliban gave him a house and found a mosque for him to teach in. This indicates that he was, at the very least, sympathetic to the Taliban’s extremist ideology.
The truth of Wahab’s career may be found in documents captured in Afghanistan. The government claims a “martyr letter, will and personal letter” addressed to bin Laden were found in the possession of another one of bin Laden’s bodyguards. At some point during his detention, Wahab apparently admitted authoring these documents. During his tribunal testimony, however, Wahab denied this allegation. But if the documents are what the government says they are, then the case against Wahab is very strong indeed.
Fawzi Khaled Abdullah Fadah al-Odah (or Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al Awda)
Like Wahab, Kuwaiti Fawzi Khaled Abdullah Fadah al-Odah claims he was in Afghanistan doing charity work before September 11. During his combatant status review tribunal, al-Odah admitted that he briefly visited a terrorist training camp, traveled with Taliban members, stayed at a terrorist guesthouse, and generally consorted with America’s terrorist enemies. But he claims this was all necessary to perform his charity work and teach the Koran.
After the September 11 attacks, al-Odah stayed for more than one week in the Tora Bora Mountains — a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold where terrorists regrouped after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan — before fleeing to Pakistan where he was captured and turned over to American authorities.
The U.S. government’s unclassified files for al-Odah do not claim he was a top-level al Qaeda operative. However, the government does believe that he was in Afghanistan to support the jihad. And computer hard drives captured in Afghanistan allegedly confirm this allegation. Al-Odah’s name was found on a recovered computer file that “lists contact points and telephone numbers for al Qaeda Mujahideen in Pakistan” and on a “computer used by suspected al Qaeda members containing a list of associates incarcerated in Pakistan.” Al-Odah’s “name and telephone number were on a list of captured mujahideen that was discovered on a computer hard drive associated with a senior al Qaeda member.”
Omar Hamzayavich Abdulayev
Abdulayev is a 30-year old native of Tajikistan who spent much of his life living in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he was captured in November of 2001. He was captured by Pakistani authorities and turned over to Americans officials along with several incriminating documents. The handwritten notebooks included instructions on “how to prepare a terrorist cell using counterintelligence techniques,” “how to sabotage electrical and water systems,” “how to poison a village water system and blow up petroleum tanks,” and how to assess “the enemy’s weapons, strength, quality of troops, and intelligence capability.” The notebooks also included “material on chemical and conventional weapons,” including handwritten serial numbers for some arms, as well as “extensive drawings and references to chemistry, explosives, and poisons.”
Abdulayev does not deny that these materials are written in his handwriting. During his combatant status review tribunal he claimed that he was tortured by the Pakistani ISI until he copied the notebooks from other printed versions. He said the ISI wanted to make him look like a more important capture, who was worthy of a significant bounty. While the Pakistani intelligence services are certainly duplicitous and capable of subterfuge, Abdulayev’s story sounds contrived. So does his excuse for how his name ended up on a list of members of the Nahzat-Islami, a fundamentalist terrorist group that originally fought against the Soviets. “If I put my name on their list,” Abdulayev said during his combatant status review tribunal, “it was because I was a refugee and I wanted to get some help” from the Red Cross. He did not offer any reasonable explanation for why he would need to claim to be a member of a terrorist organization in order to receive the Red Cross’s support.
In any event, the U.S. government is not buying Abdulayev’s story. While Abdulayev did stay at the Camp Babu refugee camp near Peshawar in 2001, al Qaeda and the Taliban are known to train “male and female suicide attackers” at the camp. The government alleges that Abdulayev “received terrorist training in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, from several instructors in military doctrine, intelligence, weapons, training methods, and terrorist operations.” Moreover, the government claims: “It appears likely that he was being prepared to participate in a terrorist cell on behalf of an Islamic extremist group” (possibly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is an al Qaeda affiliate) at the time of his capture.
Abdulayev is detained at Guantanamo.
Mustafa Ait Idr
Of the nine detainees featured in the Amnesty International pamphlet, Mustafa Ait Idr is the least worrisome. He appears to have been a low-level acquaintance of a more seasoned terrorist who is still detained at Guantanamo. Idr is a member of the “Algerian Six” — a group that was detained in Bosnia by U.S. officials after being acquitted of terrorism charges by a Bosnian court. The six were thought to have been planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, but the government has not leveled this allegation against any them. In November of 2008, a federal court ruled that there was not enough evidence to hold five of the six Algerians, including Idr, as enemy combatants. Idr was transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina in December.
Al-Amin was captured by Pakistani authorities while attempting to enter Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. He did not participate in a hearing or tribunal at Guantanamo. But the government alleges that he admitted going “to Afghanistan to fight the Americans” and “decided to go on Jihad after becoming angered over the U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan.” “He felt it was his duty as a Muslim,” the government claims.
After leaving his native Mauritania, al-Amin allegedly made his way to a Lashkar-e-Taiba (“LET”) safehouse where he “learned how to field strip and fire an AK-47 assault rifle.” The LET is a known al Qaeda affiliate and one of Pakistan’s largest terrorist organizations. It was responsible, most recently, for the attacks in Mumbai, India. To get into Afghanistan, al-Amin signed up for “missionary work” with the Jamaat Tablighi, an organization that is used by al Qaeda as a front for their international travels. Al-Amin apparently never made it into Afghanistan. After being detained at Guantanamo, he was repatriated to Mauritania in 2007.
Groups like Amnesty International are right to question America’s detention policies. But ignoring the evidence against the current and former Guantanamo detainees does not help their cause.
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