The Stories Ex-Gitmo Detainees Tell
5:44 PM, Jan 11, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Leaked Joint Force Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) memos reveal that both Boumediene and Kurnaz remained uncooperative throughout their detention in Cuba. “Detainee has provided dates of travel and places of occupation which have been corroborated; however, he is unable to account for phone numbers captured in his pocket litter tied to extremists,” an April 1, 2008 assessment of Boumediene reads. “Detainee has been uncooperative with interrogators since approximately 2003 and his story contains multiple gaps requiring further exploitation.”
Similarly, a May 2, 2006 JTF-GTMO assessment of Kurnaz reads: “Detainee is deceptive in answering questions and contradicts himself on several occasions. He is standing by his cover story to avoid revealing his connections to extremists.” Kurnaz was transferred to Germany just a few months later, on August 24, 2006.
So, as outside observers, we are left with two possibilities. Either: (a) Boumediene and Kurnaz were innocents who withstood years of torture, which hasn’t been verified by any independent authority, without confessing to false allegations, or (b) The pair were not tortured and simply refused to cooperate with authorities, who relied on far less coercive measures, because they did not want to incriminate themselves.
The latter is far more likely. What we know about Boumediene and Kurnaz suggests that both had much to hide.
The “Algerian Six”
Boumediene’s story needs to be untangled. Boumediene was initially arrested along with five other men in Bosnia in late 2001. They were dubbed the “Algerian Six” because they were Algerian citizens living abroad and they were suspected of plotting a terrorist attack against the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo. They were acquitted by a Bosnian court of that charge. At this point, evidence of an actual bomb plot appears to be tenuous at best. They were subsequently transferred to U.S. custody and wound up at Guantanamo.
Boumediene and his compatriots challenged their detention by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The U.S. government responded by narrowly claiming that the six were preparing to go off to fight in Afghanistan on behalf of al Qaeda when they were detained. (The government did not claim they were involved in a putative plot against the U.S. embassy.)
A D.C. district judge granted the habeas petition for five of the six Algerian expatriates, including Boumediene, finding that the government did not present enough evidence to justify their detention. The lone Algerian whose habeas petition was denied is Bensayah Belkacem, who later successfully appealed the district court’s decision. An appellate court remanded Belkacem’s case back to the district court for further proceedings.
Given this set of facts, Boumediene’s advocates have understandably claimed that he was wrongly detained in the first place. But the courts have looked at only a small part of Boumediene’s career.
In his Times op-ed, Boumediene portrays himself as a charity worker. U.S intelligence officials concluded, however, that the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) he worked for were really fronts for extremism and terrorism.
“I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad,” Boumediene writes. “In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates.” Boumediene leaves a conspicuous gap of 7 years. What was Boumediene doing during that time?
According to JTF-GTMO, Boumediene traveled to Pakistan in the early 1990s. There, he lived with a man known as Abu Handala. At some point during his time in custody, according to JTF-GTMO, Boumediene conceded that “he heard conversations about going to the ‘House of Martyrs’ and the ‘House of the Mujahideen.’”
While in Pakistan, according to a leaked JTF-GTMO file, Boumediene also reportedly began working “at the Hira Institute, a Pakistan-based NGO that had direct ties to al Qaeda’s external operations chief, Khalid Shaykh Muhammed,” or KSM. The Hira Institute was funded by an organization called the Lajnat al-Dawa al-Islamiah (LDI), which has been designated as a terrorist front organization.
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