Did 'returning' terrorists become extremists in Guantanamo?

McClatchy NewspapersMay 26, 2009 

Kuwaiti Saad Madi Al Azmi, ISN 571, was detained in Peshawar during August 2001 while on a trip to Pakistan, he says, to set up an import business, mainly for honey. He was taken by a Pakistani intelligence officer who was checking people's passports at his hotel. His 30-day visa had expired two days earlier. He entered Guantanamo in spring 2002 and was released November 2005. (Tom Lasseter/MCT)

TOM LASSETER / MCT

WASHINGTON — One of the detainees whom a newly released Pentagon report says returned to the battlefield after he was released from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp told McClatchy that he was a local security leader in Afghanistan when he was arrested and became a radical Islamist only during his detention.

A second, a Kuwaiti man charged with links to al Qaida, told McClatchy that he'd never been to Afghanistan when he was arrested in a hotel room in Peshawar, Pakistan. He later contradicted himself, however, was held for three and a half years and is now listed as a suspected terrorist.

The men were listed in a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released Tuesday, that found that one out of every seven terrorism suspects, or 74 of the 534 prisoners who've been moved out of Guantanamo Bay are suspected or confirmed to have returned to terrorism.

The findings come as the Obama administration has promised to close the facility by January, despite protests from lawmakers and military personnel who say the 241 remaining detainees are too dangerous to be released or transferred to prisons in the U.S.

Portions of the report were leaked last week to The New York Times, which published them on the morning that President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke on the future of Guantanamo. Cheney quoted from the Times story as he argued that the detainees are too dangerous to release.

The report found that 27 were confirmed terrorism suspects and another 47 were suspected terrorists as of April 7. That's up from 61 confirmed and suspected terrorists in January, the last time the Defense Department released such figures.

The department defines suspected in part as "unverified or single-source but plausible" reported activities. In its 27 confirmed cases, the Pentagon said it has fingerprints, DNA, photos or reliable intelligence tying them to terrorist activity since their release.

Most of the confirmed and suspected terrorists the agency listed have either died in battle or in suicide attacks, or have been arrested by local authorities.

The agency report, however, doesn't say how many were jihadists before they were detained and how many were indoctrinated in Islamic radicalism while they were detained.

Mohammed Naim Farouq said he was working as a security commander near Gardez, Afghanistan when U.S. forces chased his police truck down and arrested him in 2002. He said he was taken to Bagram Air Base near Kabul and then to Kandahar Airfield, where he was held for three months. There, he said, he was stripped and interrogated about allegations that he was a member of the Taliban, which Farouq denied.

"They stripped me naked, out in the open, where everybody could see," Farouq told McClatchy in 2007. "I was thinking that these are infidels who have come to a Muslim country to imprison us, just like the Russians," whom U.S.-backed Islamic fighters drove out of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In 2003, Farouq was transferred to Guantanamo, where he said he was stripped naked, put in a line, blindfolded and marched to a station where they were issued new clothes. Along the way, he said, soldiers yelled and laughed at them and snapped pictures.

After interviewing Farouq in Guantanamo and reviewing his case, Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit concluded that he was a rural gangster, not a terrorist. Farouq, Sabit found, wasn't linked to the Taliban or to al Qaida.

Farouq was released from Guantanamo in July 2003. In a 2006 report, however, the Defense Intelligence Agency said he had ties to al Qaida and to the Taliban, and was leading a group of Taliban militiamen, and Tuesday's report calls him a suspected associate of the Taliban and al Qaida. Farouq denied those charges to McClatchy reporter Tom Lasseter in 2007.

Saad Madi al Azmi said he was in a Peshawar hotel room when police conducted a routine check of the hotel. Al Azmi's visa had expired three days earlier, and he was carrying $59,000 in cash for what he said was a business venture.

Although he told McClatchy that he'd never been to Afghanistan, Azmi told a panel of tribunal judges at Guantanamo that he'd traveled there for three weeks, but he denied that he was in Kabul for anything related to al Qaida.

However, a questionnaire his family filled out said that he'd gone to Kabul to work with the Wafa Humanitarian Works Organization, which has been linked to al Qaida and is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Tuesday's report lists him as a suspected al Qaida associate.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Guantanamo: Beyond the Law, a McClatchy investigation

Profile of Mohammed Naim Farouq

Profile of Saad Madi al Azmi

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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