Special Reports

Guantanamo's detainees come into view for first time

Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Palestinian known as Abu Zubaydah, is imprisoned at Guantanamo. This photo is taken from a secret Defense Department summary of the intelligence gathered against him. The summary was provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks. (Department of Defense/MCT)
Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Palestinian known as Abu Zubaydah, is imprisoned at Guantanamo. This photo is taken from a secret Defense Department summary of the intelligence gathered against him. The summary was provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks. (Department of Defense/MCT) Department of Defense / MCT

WASHINGTON — One is a Malaysian named Mohammed Farik bin Amin who apparently is awaiting trial before a military commission. Another is from Yemen, Suleiman al Nahdi, now 36. He was cleared for release years ago, but he remains imprisoned at Guantanamo because President Barack Obama refuses to return anyone to Nahdi's violence-wracked homeland.

There's a man from Tajikistan and another from Russia. A dozen are from Saudi Arabia. In their official photos, they sport big bushy beards and close-cropped hair. Many have dark spots on their foreheads from repeatedly touching their mats in prayer, demonstrating their dedication to Islam.

One man, an Afghan father of three, stuck out his tongue as the shutter clicked. His American captors chose that image for Abdul Sahir's official Guantanamo file.

Zayn al Abidin Mohammed Hussein, aka Abu Zubaydah, whom President George W. Bush once called a key catch in the war on al Qaida, looks like a pirate, a patch covering the right eye his lawyer says he lost in U.S. custody.

For years, the U.S. has cast the captives at the Navy base prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as dangerous terrorists, and many may be. There's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who's bragged that he masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings, which killed nearly 3,000 people. There's Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who may stand trial soon on charges of orchestrating the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors off the coast of Yemen.

But no comprehensive list has been available of who's currently being held at Guantanamo. Until now.

Using some 750 secret military-intelligence files obtained by the WikiLeaks website, and comparing them with other public documents and interviews with lawyers and U.S. officials, McClatchy has been able to give names, and frequently faces, to the 172 men who are still at Guantanamo nearly 10 years after the prison camps opened and more than two years after Obama ordered them closed.

About half, like the Malaysian, who's also known as Zubair, are designated to face terrorism trials or to be held indefinitely as war prisoners. But the other half were at worst what a senior government official called "low-level, ill-trained volunteers" whom the Obama administration would like to let go.

In all, 89 men, 57 of them Yemenis, have been designated for release or transfer to another country by an Obama administration task force using what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called an "enhanced" review. That process took a harder look at the same material in the secret summaries — written before Obama took office — to decide what was reliable.

Many, like the Yemeni Nahdi, were first approved for release by military review boards during the Bush administration. His record shows he trained at an al Qaida camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, then joined a band of Arabs who fled to Tora Bora, the mountainous cave complex where Osama bin Laden hid out before he eluded capture by U.S forces.

Guantanamo records show that at least 65 men still held there, nearly all of them Arabs, were captured after they came down from Tora Bora and surrendered to Pakistani forces.

But even those who were cleared remain at Guantanamo, thanks to a combination of recent congressional legislation that restricts transfers and administration concerns that their nations might abuse or not monitor them. Obama, for example, halted most Yemeni transfers in late 2009 after disclosure that the suspected "underwear bomber," accused of trying to bring down a Detroit-bound plane that Christmas, had trained in Yemen.

At least 22 captives at Guantanamo today were held earlier in secret CIA detention or got there after harsh interrogations in other countries, such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

One such man is Sharqawi Abdu Ali al Hajj, 37, whose photo shows a balding, wispy-bearded Yemeni known as "Riyadh the Facilitator."

His intelligence file says he funneled bodyguards to bin Laden and helped hundreds of foreign fighters flee Afghanistan. Yet last year, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy excluded from a court case what Hajj had said in interrogation about another captive, noting that U.S. government lawyers hadn't even attempted to rebut an argument that Hajj "had recently been tortured" before calling the other captive a bodyguard.

In Jordan, according to a declaration by Hajj's defense attorney, Kristin Wilhelm, the Yemeni "was regularly beaten and threatened with electrocution and molestation." So much so that, the judge noted, "he eventually 'manufactured facts' and confessed to his interrogators' allegations 'in order to make the torture stop.' "

Also being held at Guantanamo, even though they've been cleared for release, are men from Syria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, who need new countries to resettle them. They can't be moved unless the secretary of defense certifies or issues national security waivers for each transfer.

Five Uighur Muslims from China may not need such waivers. A U.S. federal judge ordered them released in 2008. The U.S. government offered them sanctuary in the Pacific Island nation of Palau, but their lawyers want them released to the United States, something that the White House and Congress don't want to happen.

Less well-known is Guantanamo's last Tajik, Umar Abdulayev, 32, who sports a ponytail and said he was picked up in Pakistan before being turned over to U.S. forces. The U.S. military summary says he's a "probable member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan" — a militant Islamist group allied with al Qaida — once suspected of getting al Qaida training in chemical and biological weapons.

But Abdulayev claims he was a victim of mistaken identity. His leaked intelligence summary said he was "possibly" a man listed on an al Qaida training roster as Abdullah al Uzbeki, and he was cleared for release several years ago. His lawyer, however, has sought to stop his repatriation to his homeland out of fear he'll be subject to retaliation there.

A total of 29 who are still at Guantanamo have sued for their freedom in federal court, and 11 have won their cases, but except for the Uighurs' case the government has appealed the outcomes.

An example: Mauritanian Mohamedou Slahi, 40, a German-trained computer technician shown squinting for the cameras at Guantanamo. He was arrested in his North African homeland after 9/11, sent to Jordan for interrogation and then in August 2002 to Guantanamo, where Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had him subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation.

His March 2008 Guantanamo intelligence assessment declares him a valuable source of information, a one-time jihadist who helped funnel some 9/11 hijackers to Afghanistan.

But two years later Judge James Robertson declared his detention unlawful. The U.S. government's case against him was "so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a successful criminal prosecution."

Rather than free him, however, the Obama Justice Department appealed the decision and won a ruling that his habeas corpus petition be heard again. His lawyer seethes at the notion that a man described in his secret file as a "compliant captive" has spent a decade in detention.

"The judge found that there was not even a preponderance of evidence," Nancy Hollander said. "He should be released. We should have a justice system that works."

Forty-seven of the current Guantanamo detainees should be held indefinitely without trial, the Obama administration has determined. The only name that's known publicly, however, is Mohammed Kamin, a 30-something Afghan whose photo is a black smear.

The secret 2005 intelligence report about him describes him as a high-risk but passive prisoner who was captured two years earlier at a checkpoint near Khost, Afghanistan, carrying a satellite telephone. He once was charged before a military commission for allegedly training with al Qaida, spying on U.S. troops and firing missiles at coalition forces in Afghanistan.

His Pentagon lawyer, Army Capt. Clay West, argues that he should be sent home, where his father and "village elder" have "pledged to monitor him and guide him towards peaceful endeavors."

Some 50 of the 172 captives' files contained information from a prolific prison camp informant, Mohammed Basardah, a Yemeni who was at Tora Bora but whose information has been dismissed as unreliable by two federal judges. Basardah has since been released from Guantanamo and resettled in Europe.

The files indicate that U.S. forces captured only 22 of the men who are held at Guantanamo today.

They include the detention center's oldest detainee, Pakistani Saifulla Paracha, 63, who was lured from Karachi to Bangkok in July 2003 in an FBI-orchestrated bogus business meeting at a time when his son Uzair was in FBI custody in New York.

The 2008 summary calls Saifulla Paracha a one-time bin Laden business associate who helped al Qaida "plan to procure chemicals and biological agents." He's never been charged with a crime, and his lawyers are gathering evidence for his unlawful-detention petition.

Eighteen captives at Guantanamo today are the remnants of the group that U.S. military intelligence once called the "The Dirty Thirty": 30 young men, most from Yemen, who were thought to be bin Laden bodyguards.

At least 10 men spent time in the United States. Among them is Majid Khan, who grew up in suburban Baltimore and was arrested in his native Pakistan in 2003. In his photo, he sports a burly beard, and he's described as an al Qaida operative in the service of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He's never been charged with a crime.

(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald. Tom Lasseter contributed to this report.)


The full list of who's still at Guantanamo, with links to their secret intelligence files


WikiLeaks: Secret Guantanamo files show U.S. disarray

WikiLeaks: Just 8 at Gitmo gave evidence against 255 others

Guantanamo secret files show U.S. often held innocent Afghans

McClatchy's project "Guantanamo: Beyond the law"

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