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Judge Denies Guantánamo Prisoner's Habeas Petition, Ignores Torture in Secret CIA Prisons

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On September 22, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Reggie B. Walton denied the habeas corpus petition of Tawfiq al-Bihani (described in court documents as Toffiq al-Bihani), a Yemeni who was raised in Saudi Arabia, giving the government its 18th victory out of 56 cases decided, with the other 38 having been won by the prisoners.

However, as in the majority of the cases in which the prisoners have lost, there was nothing in the ruling that could be construed as representing the delivery of justice after the eight and a half years that al-Bihani has spent in US custody, as he has been consigned to indefinite detention in Guanta'namo, on an apparently legal basis, despite the fact that there is no evidence that he ever took up arms against anyone, or had any contact with anyone involved in preparing, facilitating or supporting acts of international terrorism.

Moreover, in examining his habeas corpus petition, Judge Walton appeared to remain blissfully unaware that, despite being, at most, a lowly foot soldier, al-Bihani was held in a variety of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan before his transfer to Guanta'namo, where he was subjected to torture.

As revealed in the background to al-Bihani's case, accepted by both al-Bihani and the government, he cut a depressing figure prior to traveling to Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. As Judge Walton explained, "During the time he resided in Saudi Arabia, the petitioner was abusing various drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, hashish, crystal methamphetamine, and depression pills," Judge Walton also noted, "The petitioner began to 'increase [his] intake of alcohol and drugs,' when his fiancee ended their engagement due to her concerns that 'she would fall out of grace with her father if she married a Yemeni against his wishes.'"

Apparently persuaded to travel to Afghanistan by his brother Mansour, described as "an experienced fighter who fought against the Russians in Chechnya," and who "had close relationships with senior Chechen fighters and other individuals who were engaged in training men to fight in Chechnya and in other countries," he traveled to Afghanistan with his brother, where, as Judge Walton concluded, he "received, at a minimum, weapons training" at the al-Farouq training camp, established by the Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in the early 1990s, but associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks, and also stayed in Afghan guest houses reportedly associated with al-Qaeda.

In authorizing al-Bihani's ongoing detention, Judge Walton gave weight to al-Bihani's admission that he "became, and was part of, al-Qaeda at least during the five months period he was training at al-Farouq," even though he also noted that his training was far from rigorous. "Although he was enrolled at al-Farouq for approximately five months," Judge Walton explained, "he only 'received approximately two months of training,' because he would train for approximately 'a week or two weeks' before feigning illness in order to leave and 'do hashish or tobacco.'" Judge Walton added that al-Bihani "repeated this cycle several times," and also explained, "Towards the end of his time at al-Farouq, the trainers at the camp informed him that he was 'not ready physically because [he] keep[s] leaving and going back, -- adding that the trainers reportedly "concluded that he was of 'no use,' and 'they kick[ed him] out of the camp.'"

Personally, I find it troubling that an obviously drug-addled, inconsistent and unreliable recruit can nevertheless be regarded as "part of" al-Qaeda, as it tends to render meaningless the supposed threat posed by al-Qaeda if useless recruits can legitimately be held, even when, as with al-Bihani, they had no knowledge of international terrorism, and not even a demonstrable commitment to al-Qaeda's military activities in Afghanistan.

Judge Walton, however, seemed unconcerned that there appeared to be no basis for concluding that al-Bihani had ever posed a threat to the United States. Proceeding to an explanation of how he was captured, he explained that, in late 2001, having become separated from his brother Mansour (who was "ill" and was transported to Quetta in "a tractor-trailer truck" for those "who appeared sick or injured"), al-Bihani traveled through Pakistan to Iran, "with a group of other men." Near Zahedan, he was supposed to be reunited with his brother, and with Hamza al-Qa'eity, who ran a guest house in Kabul described by al-Bihani as "one that jihad fighters used as a transition point." However, as Judge Walton explained, at "the exact time" that al-Qa'eity arrived to pick him up from the house of an Iranian family, where he was staying, the Iranian police -- or intelligence services -- "descended on the house and apprehended" him -- and, presumably, Hamza al-Qa'eity as well.

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The hidden story of ten men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan -- including Tawfiq al-Bihani

As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, what Judge Walton appeared not to know -- or ignored in his ruling -- was the fact that, after al-Bihani was subsequently "flown to Afghanistan" and "transferred to United States custody," he was held in a variety of secret CIA prisons.

This information is readily accessible, because I explained in my book The Guanta'namo Files that al-Bihani was one of ten men seized in Iran who were flown to Afghanistan and then handed over to US forces. One of these men, Aminullah Tukhi, an Afghan released from Guanta'namo in December 2007, explained that six Arabs, two Afghans, an Uzbek and a Tajik had been delivered to the Americans, and I was able to identify six of them -- Tukhi, Tawfiq al-Bihani, Walid al-Qadasi, a Yemeni transferred to the custody of his home government in April 2004, Wassam al-Ourdoni, a Jordanian released in April 2004, Rafiq Alhami, a Tunisian released in Slovakia in January this year, and Hussein Almerfedi, a Yemeni who won his habeas petition in July this year. Unaccounted for are the other four men mentioned by Aminullah Tukhi -- an Arab, an Afghan, the Uzbek and the Tajik -- although it seems possible that one of the disappeared was Hamza al-Qa'eity.

Confirmation that al-Bihani was one of the men came from an unexpected source. Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of four prisoners who escaped from Bagram in July 2005, described, in a post on an obscure French language website, which has since disappeared from the Internet, 12 prisoners who were held with him in Bagram, one of whom was Tawfiq al-Bihani. He also explained how all the men had passed through a network of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, where they had endured "hard torture," and added, in al-Bihani's case, that he was captured in Iran at the start of 2002, that he had met him in June 2002 in a prison he identified as "Rissat 2," and that he was taken to another prison in September 2002, after which he never saw him again, and thought that he may have been transferred to Guanta'namo.

Al-Libi also explained that Tawfiq al-Bihani thought that his brother Ghaleb, who had also been in Afghanistan, had been killed, but that the Americans had told him that he had been captured -- and it later emerged that this was correct. Ghaleb al-Bihani lost his habeas corpus petition in January 2009, on the basis that he was a cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban, and also had his appeal denied in January this year, consigning him to the same form of court-approved indefinite detention as his brother.

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The torture in secret CIA prisons of three men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan

The accounts of three of the men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan are publicly available, and they are, to be blunt, horrific. Al-Ourdoni, a missionary seized with his wife and new-born child, explained after his release that his American captors "put me in jail under circumstances that I can only recall with dread. I lived under unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society." He said that he was first placed in an underground prison for 77 days, and stated, "this room was so dark that we couldn't distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn't see the sun once during the whole time." He added that he was then moved to "prison number three", where the food was so bad that his weight dropped substantially, and was then held in Bagram for 40 days before being flown to Guanta'namo.

In an interview with a UN rapporteur, Walid al-Qadasi provided the following explanation of his treatment, which, like al-Ourdoni's account, was included in a major UN report on secret detention earlier this year:

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Andy Worthington is the author of "The Guanta'namo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison" (published by Pluto Press), as well as and "The Battle of the Beanfield" (2005) and "Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion" (more...)

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