View Full Version : Transcripts Give a View of Those at Guantanamo

05-04-06, 14:42
By Peter Spiegel, Greg Miller and Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writers
April 4, 2006

WASHINGTON — The story of how Guantanamo Bay prisoner No. 111 ended up in U.S. custody is stranger than most. An Iraqi, he was a member of Saddam Hussein's vaunted Republican Guard. But as a Shiite he was treated badly. When he tried to flee, he said Hussein's henchmen put him in a Baghdad prison.

He escaped and found his way to Pakistan, where members of what he knew as a religious group — the Taliban — took him in and gave him food. While driving trucks for the Taliban in Afghanistan, he was captured by men fighting with Abdul Rashid Dostum, the famed general of the Afghan Northern Alliance.

His Zelig-like journey continued through his captivity, where he apparently met and spoke with Johnny "Mike" Spann, the CIA agent who became the first American killed in the Afghanistan war, and appears to have met "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh as well, before being sent to Cuba.
The unnamed Iraqi's story was one of dozens told by Guantanamo detainees to American military officials and included in 2,700 pages of transcripts and related documents made public Monday by the Pentagon, the second such release in response to a court ruling that legal proceedings at the island prison must be made public.

The tales told by detainees are varied, some more credible than others. But like the transcripts released earlier this year, those made public Monday offer a rare and occasionally insightful view into who is being held by American authorities and how they have lived their lives over the last four years in the desert scrub of southeastern Cuba.

According to the Pentagon, 490 detainees still are at Guantanamo. The transcripts released Monday detail hearings held by camp officials late last year as part of their first review, to be repeated annually, of whether those still being detained remain a threat to U.S. security or whether they have any intelligence value. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said 120 detainees have been transferred to their home governments as a result of the review process, and another 15 have been released.

Most of those who agreed to appear before the review tribunals — which were made up of mid-level American officers — pleaded their innocence, saying they were in Afghanistan only to teach Arabic, or to look for work, or to help the poor. The findings publicly issued against them by the military are frequently vague or based on inconclusive evidence. Almost all detainees insisted that if released, they would return to their home countries and find a wife, or take care of their families, or look for a job.

"I came to Afghanistan to study the Koran for a whole year; after a year I wanted to go back," said a Yemeni accused of fighting alongside Osama bin Laden, in a typical exchange. "If I go back to Yemen, I [would] like to continue my education, and look for a house and find a wife, get married and live with my family."

Despite the similarity of their pleas, however, what stands out is the diversity of their backgrounds and their accounts of how they ended up at Guantanamo.

In addition to the Iraqi, the prison records detail the cases of an ethnic Uighur from western China who says he was in Afghanistan looking for his lost brother; a group of six Algerians captured in Bosnia in January 2002 and accused of being part of a militant group plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo; and a Russian-speaking Tajik who was rounded up after he was sent to Afghanistan with a group of Uzbeks.

Some of their stories, which in almost all cases are impossible to confirm, are harrowing. Juma'ah Muhammed Abdullatif al-Dossari, a dual Saudi and Bahraini citizen who has been publicly identified in prior reports because of repeated efforts to commit suicide, told the review board that he had been abused by U.S. personnel both while being held in Kandahar, Afghanistan; and at Guantanamo.

While in Cuba, Al-Dossari alleged, he was sexually assaulted in an unspecified manner by a female interrogator and forced to drink and bathe from a toilet.

"They put me in a dark room for five months," he told the panel late last year. "I was drinking water from the commode and was washing with water from the commode. The room was very cold and dark."

In Kandahar, he said, he was injected with an unknown substance by U.S. military interrogators, who questioned him repeatedly about his extensive travel in the United States in the 1990s.

"They hit me and urinated on me while [I was] in handcuffs," he said. "They made me walk on broken glass and barbwire."

He said one interrogator wrapped him in American and Israeli flags and another, according to a military translation, urinated on a "Holy Bible," possibly a reference to a Koran. Many detainees have complained in the past of abuses of the Koran by their U.S. captors.

Others said they landed in Guantanamo in less disturbing, but equally peculiar, circumstances. The Algerians taken captive in Bosnia, for example, said they were acquitted and released by local courts, but soon found themselves in the hands of U.S. officials who whisked them to Cuba.

"I left prison [in Bosnia] and was headed for my house," said one of the prisoners, Saber Lahmar. Asked by a tribunal official whether he made it home before he was taken into U.S. custody, the detainee replied, "No."

Apart from allegations of abuse at the hands of American captors, some detainees also said they were the subject of threats from fellow detainees, particularly when other prisoners learned they were cooperating with interrogators.

The Iraqi detainee suggested he might make an "ideal spy" for the Americans, but said his life — and the life of another prisoner who is a friend — are in danger because U.S. interrogators told other detainees of his cooperation.

The Iraqi's friend, a Saudi citizen identified as Yasim Muhammed Basardah, corroborated the account in a separate hearing: "Now everyone in the cellblock knows about me; even people outside the cellblock know about me; Osama bin Laden's people know about me. They will not hesitate to kill me or anyone in my family."