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The War on Terror: Who are the Remaining US Prisoners in Guantanamo? (Worthington)

Andy Worthington continues his nine-part series illustrating the American "War on Terror" is far from over, as he prints the story of each of the 178 men still in the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This is the seventh installment; the first six are available on Worthington's website.

This seventh article tells the stories of 13 prisoners seized in Pakistan between February and September 2002, which, as I explained in Parts Five and Six (which told the stories of another 27 men seized in Pakistan), was part of a process of capturing prisoners that was, if anything, even more alarmingly random, opportunistic, or reliant on dubious intelligence than the well-chronicled seizure of Arabs in Afghanistan or crossing the border into Pakistan that I chronicled in Parts One to Four of this series.

Of the hundred or so prisoners seized in Pakistan — mostly in house raids, but also in random raids on mosques, on buses and in the street — all but these 40 have been released. The cases of those released reveal, in general, how US intelligence was often horrendously inaccurate, and how opportunism often played a part in the actions of the Pakistani authorities, who were being rewarded financially. As [Pakistan's] President Musharraf admitted in his 2006 autobiography, In the Line of Fire, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects to the US, “We have earned bounty payments totaling millions of dollars.”

Moreover, of the 13 men whose stories are described in this chapter, many appear to be victims of the same failures of intelligence or opportunism as those already released. It is unknown what conclusions President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force reached about these men, but only two were cleared for release under the Bush administration. One of these men subsequently lost his habeas corpus petition, and two others have also lost their habeas petitions, and it is a fair presumption that many of these men were recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the Task Force.

ISN 695 Abu Bakr, Omar (Omar Mohammed Khalifh) (Libya)

Khalifh, a Libyan amputee, lost his habeas corpus petition in April this year, despite doubts about where he was captured, and what he had been doing in Afghanistan, as well as disturbing revelations about his treatment in Guantánamo.

According to the US authorities, he had worked for a trucking company owned by Osama bin Laden in Sudan, had worked as an explosives trainer at various training camps in Afghanistan from 1996-98, had been “identified” as a trainer and the leader of a Libyan training camp near Kabul, visited by bin Laden, where he was “identified as someone whom others would approach to receive explosives training if they wanted to commit a terrorist attack,” and had also been “identified” as “a military leader in charge of many Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Gulf States while on the front line” in 2001, who “would meet with other Taliban leaders to plan military operations.”

The US authorities also allege that he was seized in the house raids in Karachi on February 7, 2002, which I described in Part Five of this series, but his lawyer, Edmund Burke, explained that he had worked for the Taliban as a mine cleaner until 1998, when his right leg was severely damaged by a land mine, and had then spent years moving from hospital to hospital in Afghanistan to receive treatment for his leg, which was eventually amputated. Burke added that he moved to Pakistan in 2001, and was living in a school for boys when it was raided by Pakistani police.

The most disturbing revelations about Khalifh came from former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, who told me that that Khalifh’s status had been exaggerated by the authorities in Guantánamo. “They call him ‘The General,’” Deghayes told me, “not because of anything he has done, but because he decided that life would be easier for him in Guantánamo if he said yes to every allegation laid against him.”

Even so, as Deghayes also explained, this cooperation has been futile, as Khalifh has been subjected to appalling ill-treatment, held in a notorious psychiatric block where the use of torture was routine, and denied access to adequate medical attention for the many problems that afflict him, beyond the loss of his leg. As Deghayes described it, “He has lost his sight in one eye, has heart problems and high blood pressure, and his remaining leg is mostly made of metal, from an old accident in Libya a long time ago when a wall fell on him. He describes himself as being nothing more than ‘the spare parts of a car.’” Despite these contradictory claims, Judge James Robertson denied his habeas petition, finding the government’s version of events generally convincing (although it was not reassuring that, in his unclassified opinion, he muddied the waters still further by incorrectly stating that Khalifh was seized in Jalalabad in March 2002).

ISN 708 Al Bakush, Ismael (Libya)

Apparently a former mujahid in the dying days of Afghanistan’s Communist regime, al-Bakush reportedly stated that he returned to Afghanistan “to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance,” and the US authorities allege that he “and his group would fight sporadically whenever there was a fight between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.”

However, al-Bakush also provided a detailed explanation for doing so, stating that “the reason he decided to help fight with the Taliban was because he lived in Afghanistan both prior to Taliban control and after Taliban control. Prior to Taliban control there were robberies, thefts, and fights between groups. After the Taliban took over the area became safe.” Beyond these claims, there was nothing to indicate that he took up arms against the United States, or had any desire to do so. He stated that he “had never met bin Laden,” said that “at no time did he conduct any operations against the American Forces,” and, moreover, “said he had no feelings towards the United States and considered the United States like any other country.” “His main concern,” he explained, “is Libya and the overthrow of [Colonel] Gaddafi.”

Much of the evidence against Bakush consisted of allegations about his involvement with Libyan groups opposed to the Gaddafi regime, and the question of Bakush’s continued detention, therefore, seems, as with other Libyans held in Guantánamo, to hinge on whether it is acceptable to hold dissidents opposed to a regime that, until the “War on Terror” began, was regarded as a terrorist dictatorship by the very government that has been holding Bakush for the last eight and a half years.

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