Guantanamo documents reveal new details on U.S. detainees

March 06, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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-Qaida.

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 night 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 about 660 men who have been held at Guantanamo, the documents cover about half.

But a reading of the 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 colonel said it was 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.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld famously described the Guantanamo detainees as "the worst of the worst." 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 to the United States 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."

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