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Terrorist Penpals

A new program by Amnesty International.

11:00 PM, Jan 8, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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As the President-elect's administration weighs what to do with the detainees remaining at Guantánamo, the pressure is mounting from advocacy groups. For years, some organizations have taken an extreme approach, telling the detainees' stories in the most favorable manner possible -- ignoring evidence of their ties to terrorism, while magnifying nearly every allegation of abuse whether it is valid or not. The result is a picture of Guantánamo that is clearly distorted. Most inmates are portrayed as obvious innocents who are tortured by an American government run amok.

Consider a pamphlet published in mid-December of last year by Amnesty International. In a four-page piece titled "Solidarity with Guantánamo Detainees," Amnesty asks people to "support the detainees" and implores them to "act now" in their defense. The pamphlet references nine current and former detainees, highlighting their words from "poems and letters," and asking people to write them in order to boost their morale: "Please write to any or all of the following Guantánamo detainees, expressing in your own words your solidarity with them."

What are the detainees' alleged ties to terrorism? What is the evidence that has been collected against them? Amnesty International does not say. If the organization did, chances are people would not have much of an incentive to write them, or support Amnesty's campaign.

The evidence amassed against most of the nine is disturbing. One suspect is from a family known to support Osama bin Laden and is alleged to have killed an American soldier in Afghanistan. Another is a high-level terrorist recruiter. Still another is alleged to have been en route to America to commit an attack when he was detained.

Amnesty International ignored all of the evidence against the nine detainees it asked the world to embrace. Here is an overview of that evidence, which can be found in the U.S. government's unclassified files as well as other open sources.

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr is one of the most famous, or infamous, Guantánamo inmates. He was captured in July of 2002 following a gunfight with American forces. He was just 15 at the time, but he was old enough to fight. He allegedly threw the hand grenade that killed Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, a medic who was working to save lives in Afghanistan, including the lives of Afghan civilians. Other Americans were also injured in the assault by Khadr and his fellow al Qaeda terrorists.

That Omar would become an al Qaeda member at such a young age is not surprising in the context of his family background. He comes from a family of al Qaeda supporters. In fact, his brothers made this clear in a documentary aired on CBC in Canada in 2004. Abdurahman Khadr put it bluntly: "I admit it that we are an al Qaeda family. We had connections to al Qaeda." Another brother, Abdullah Khadr, elaborated: "Every Muslim dreams of being a shahid (martyr) for Islam. Everybody dreams of this, even a Christian would like to die for their religion."

Ahmed Said Khadr, their father, is a long-time bin Laden supporter and established his family's home in the Taliban's Afghanistan after living in Canada for a time. After 9/11, Ahmed allegedly sent Omar to work with top al Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi. Omar served as al-Libi's translator. According to the Toronto Star, a video used in Omar's trial shows him "working with land mines and talking to al-Libi."

The U.S. government's unclassified files provide more details about Omar's time with al Qaeda. Omar was allegedly trained in an al Qaeda camp in Kabul. At some point during his custody, the government claims he "admitted to working as a translator for al Qaeda to coordinate land mine missions" and "acknowledged that these land mine missions are acts of terrorism" and "participating in them would make him a terrorist." After conducting surveillance on U.S. convoy movements, Omar "planted 10 mines against U.S. forces in the mountain region between Khost and Ghardez." That region is a "choke point where U.S. convoys would travel."

Omar has been charged with war crimes and remains detained at Guantánamo.

Sami al Hajj