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Context of 'January 22, 2009: Released Guantanamo Detainee May be Yemeni al-Qaeda Leader'

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The “Tipton Three.” From left: Shafiq Rasul, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Asif Iqbal.The “Tipton Three.” From left: Shafiq Rasul, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Asif Iqbal. [Source: Martin Cleaver / Associated Press]Three young men from Tipton in the English West Midlands, all British citizens, find themselves detained in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. [Guardian, 8/4/2004] Shafiq Rasul, of Pakistani descent, and a temporary employee with Currys, flew to Pakistan in October 2001 [Guardian, 3/10/2004] in order, he claims, “to visit relatives…, explore his culture, and continue his computer studies.” While in Pakistan, he was seized “after leaving a visit with his aunt.” Asif Iqbal, a factory worker, traveled to Pakistan with the intention “to marry a woman from his father’s small village.” [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 pdf file] Shortly before the marriage was to take place, Iqbal told his father he wanted to visit a friend in Karachi. [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 pdf file] While still in Pakistan, he too was captured. [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 pdf file] The third man from Tipton, Rhuhel Ahmed, is a friend of Iqbal, also a factory worker and is the same age. Ahmed flew to Pakistan shortly after his friend. [Guardian, 3/10/2004] In 2007, Ahmed will confess that he visited an Islamist training camp and also handled weapons and learned how to use an AK47. [Observer, 6/3/2007] The three narrowly escape death when they are loaded along with almost 200 others into containers for transport to Sheberghan prison. The journey takes almost eighteen hours, during which almost all die due to lack of oxygen and shot wounds caused by Northern Alliance troops who at one point riddle the containers with bullets. Asif is shot in the arm. The three are among the only 20 prisoners who survive. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Asif Iqbal, Northern Alliance, Rhuhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Abu Bakker Qassim.Abu Bakker Qassim. [Source: McClatchy News]Abu Bakker Qassim, a Chinese Muslim and a member of that country’s Uighur minority, writes a column for the New York Times concerning what he says is his wrongful imprisonment at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Qassim is writing to protest Congress’s consideration of passing legislation that would deny Guantanamo detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in federal court. Qassim says he and 17 of his fellow Uighurs fled Chinese government oppression and went to Afghanistan, where they were captured by Pakistani bounty hunters and “sold… to the United States military like animals for $5,000 a head. The Americans made a terrible mistake.” After he and four other Uighurs were granted court hearings, US authorities deported them to Albania. “Without my American lawyers and habeas corpus, my situation and that of the other Uighurs would still be a secret,” he writes. “I would be sitting in a metal cage today. Habeas corpus helped me to tell the world that Uighurs are not a threat to the United States or the West, but an ally. Habeas corpus cleared my name—and most important, it let my family know that I was still alive.” Qassim says that like his fellow Uighurs, he is “a great admirer of the American legal and political systems.” He continues: “I have the utmost respect for the United States Congress. So I respectfully ask American lawmakers to protect habeas corpus and let justice prevail. Continuing to permit habeas rights to the detainees in Guantanamo will not set the guilty free. It will prove to the world that American democracy is safe and well.” [New York Times, 9/17/2006] Because of this editorial, Qassim and four other Uighurs will be dubbed “returning to terrorist activities” by the Pentagon (see January 13-14, 2009).

Entity Tags: New York Times, Abu Bakker Qassim

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell tells journalists that the Defense Department has new numbers documenting the “recidivism” of former Guantanamo detainees now engaged in terror activities. “The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight,” Morrell says. “So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” [US Department of Defense, 1/13/2009]
No Details on Numbers - The Pentagon figure would represent around 11 percent of the roughly 520 detainees released from the facility. National security expert Peter Bergen notes that the recidivism rate for prisoners in the US civilian judicial system is about 65 percent. Morrell defends the report, but refuses to say exactly where the information comes from. Instead, he says: “We don’t make these figures up. They’re not done willy-nilly.” Other Pentagon officials say they will not discuss how the figures were derived because of national security concerns. Morrell says the figures come from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “and they go over this with great care.” [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Law Professor: Pentagon Figures 'Egregiously' Wrong - In an exhaustive study of the Pentagon’s records of detainees, Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux disputes the Pentagon claim, calling it “egregiously” wrong (see January 16, 2009). “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbeaux writes. “Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD [Defense Department] has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men. Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that ‘they do not track’ former detainees. Rather than making up numbers ‘willy-nilly’ about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.” [Seton Hall University, 1/15/2009] It is difficult to know exactly how many former Guantanamo detainees have returned to fighting, Denbeaux’s study finds, because of the incredibly poor record-keeping kept on detainees by the Pentagon (see January 20, 2009 ). Some of the detainees identified as recidivists never appeared on the detainee rolls. Some detainees were misidentified by the Pentagon, or identified as more than one person—and subsequently counted as more than one recidivist. Some have been dead for years, or are in the custody of other nations’ judicial systems. The Pentagon counts the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001) as “returning to the fight,” even though their only “terrorist activity” has been their participation in a documentary about unjust imprisonment in Guantanamo. The Pentagon also lists the recently released Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were found to have no ties whatsoever to Islamic terrorism. One of the released Uighurs wrote a 2006 op-ed column for the New York Times protesting his imprisonment (see September 17, 2006), the extent of his documented “terrorist” actions. [New American, 1/27/2009]
Defense Secretary Downplays Report's Significance - Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that many of the Guantanamo detainees were never terrorists at all, but were singled out as terrorists by Afghani villagers who told US authorities that they were members of al-Qaeda, either for personal revenge or for bounty money. Quoting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bergen says, “We know that a lot of people who were in Guantanamo don’t qualify as being the ‘worst of the worst.’” Bergen says that many of the “suspected” terrorists have done nothing more than publicly make anti-American statements, “something that’s not surprising if you’ve been locked up in a US prison camp for several years.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration currently serving in President Obama’s cabinet and an advocate for closing the Guantanamo facility, downplays the number of detainees supposedly engaged in terrorism. “It’s not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo,” he says. [CNN, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, US Department of Defense, Peter Bergen, Donald Rumsfeld, Mark Denbeaux, Geoff Morrell, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Mark Denbeaux.Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Denbeaux, US Department of Defense, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Susan Crawford, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Geoff Morrell, Obama administration, Darrel Vandeveld

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Said Ali al-Shihri.Said Ali al-Shihri. [Source: Interpol]A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. [New York Times, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Said Ali al-Shihri, Abdulela Shaya, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Gregory Johnson

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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