Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit
On Monday, as I explained in a previous article, Judge Thomas Hogan refused the habeas corpus petition of Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni who had been tortured in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, and who was described by the judge as a “model prisoner” who was not dangerous. Judge Hogan made his ruling partly on the basis that al-Madhwani had received military training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan, which was associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks, but just two days later, Judge Ricardo Urbina (who ordered the release of the Uighurs last October) granted the habeas petition of another Yemeni, Saeed Hatim, who had also trained at al-Farouq, but who told his interrogators that he “did not like anything about the training.”
The reasons for Judge Urbina’s decision on Wednesday are not yet clear, as an unclassified version of his ruling has not yet been made available, but elements of Saeed Hatim’s story are available from the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) at Guantánamo, part of a process conducted in 2004-05 to ascertain whether the prisoners had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants,” who could be held without charge or trial, and his Administrative Review Boards (ARBs), held every year as part of a process to determine whether prisoners could be approved for release.
These were shamefully one-sided affairs, in which the authorities relied on classified evidence that was not disclosed to the prisoners, who were also prevented from having any legal representation. However, they often provide the only insight available into the prisoners’ stories, and in the case of Saeed Hatim, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, they provide what appears to be a relatively coherent narrative, although it may, of course, be revealed as a tissue of lies, produced as a result of threats and coercion, when Judge Urbina’s ruling is made public.
In statements made by Hatim during his CSRT, or attributed to him by interrogators in submissions for his ARBs, which he did not attend, he apparently explained that he had “never held a job for more than six months” and “relied upon his father and older brother for financial support,” and stated that he went to Afghanistan in spring 2001, because he had “heard there was a lot of justice in that part of the world,” and also because, like several others who ended up in Guantánamo, he thought that he would find a way to fight in Chechnya. He “stated he became interested in Russia’s war in Chechnya because he witnessed the oppression on the television.” Explaining that he “was outraged about what the Russians were doing to the Chechens,” he “decided to travel there to fight jihad alongside his Muslim brothers.”
Hatim admitted attending al-Farouq, but said that he soon left the camp “because it was not what he expected.” He explained that he “faked a fever telling the people he was ill and needed to seek medical care,” and complained that “the trainers were always yelling at him, the food was terrible, and he was forced to sleep on the ground.” He added that “he did not like anything about the training and wanted to quit on the first day.”
Acknowledging that he was obliged to “put his decision to fight in Chechnya on the back burner for a while,” but insisting that he “did not want to partake in the war in Afghanistan because it was a civil war in which Muslims were fighting other Muslims,” he nevertheless reportedly ended up at “a place of re-supply for the front lines near Bagram,” where, on at least one occasion, he apparently traveled to the front lines to deliver food to the Taliban soldiers fighting the Northern Alliance. He also apparently spent some time in a number of guest houses, which, in the US authorities’ opinion, were associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
He added, however, that once the US-led invasion began, and Kabul was being bombed, he made his way to the eastern city of Jalalabad, where he took a cab to the Pakistani border, meeting up with an Afghan who escorted him to a Pakistani police station. From there, soon after, his long ordeal in US custody began.
I await Judge Urbina’s ruling with some interest, primarily, as I mentioned above, to discover whether this account bears any resemblance to the story uncovered by the judge in what, despite the persistent fog of classified evidence that clouds so many of the Guantánamo cases, will undoubtedly be the first time that something close to an objective analysis of his case has been undertaken, after eight years in US custody.
At present, however, Judge Urbina’s ruling means little to Saeed Hatim, as the Obama administration has demonstrated that it is extremely unwilling to release any of the Yemenis who now make up nearly half of Guantánamo’s population of 210 prisoners — even those who have won their habeas petitions in the US courts. Just one Yemeni has been released since Barack Obama became President, even though, by my reckoning, Yemenis account for somewhere between 50 and 60 of the 115 prisoners who have been cleared for release by the inter-agency Task Force established by President Obama on his second day in office.
The administration’s reluctance to release Yemenis was explained by officials in September, around the time that the only Yemeni to secure his release under Obama — Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, who won his habeas petition in May, after a devastating dissection of the government’s supposed evidence by Judge Gladys Kessler — was finally released. On that occasion, the officials stated that “Even if Mr. Ahmed was not dangerous in 2002 … Guantánamo itself might have radicalized him, exposing him to militants and embittering him against the United States.”
The officials have valid fears about political instability in Yemen, and the existence of terrorist groups, even though the Yemeni authorities have stated that none of the 16 Yemenis returned from Guantánamo “have joined terrorist groups,” but whatever their fears, they do not seem to have reflected that, if their rationale for not releasing any of the Yemenis from Guantánamo was extended to the US prison system, it would mean that no prisoner would ever be released at the end of their sentence, because prison “might have radicalized” them, and also, of course, that it would lead to no prisoner ever being released from Guantánamo.
On that note, it is, I hope, time for this nonsense to end, and for Saeed Hatim, a demonstrably insignificant figure in the “War on Terror,” to be returned to his homeland, along with all the other cleared prisoners. It’s not difficult. Just find a large enough plane, fly them home, and drop them off. At the time of writing, I’m pleased to note that the Washington Post is reporting that, “according to sources with independent knowledge of the matter,” six Yemenis, along with four Afghans, “will be transferred out of Guantánamo Bay in the near future,” and that this transfer “could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen.” I certainly hope that this is the case; otherwise, we may as well all stop pretending that being cleared by a court, or by the administration’s own Task Force, means anything at all.