From the Guantánamo papers
Newly released Pentagon transcripts of tribunal proceedings offer details about the men being detained there.
WASHINGTON — I did have those guns - but they belonged to the government of Afghanistan.
I was just showing off when I talked about Osama bin Laden.
We lost our goats. That's why we were looking through binoculars.
I've never even picked up a gun. Well, once. I cut my finger.
To hear them tell it, dozens of the more than 750 detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have been imprisoned by mistake. Newly released Pentagon transcripts of tribunal proceedings contain a wide array of alibis, excuses, and explanations. Some seem credible, such as alleged cases of mistaken identity. Some are far-fetched.
Given the chance to defend themselves, other detainees are defiant.
Some threaten continued violence. And a few sound reflective.
"I needed to survive, so I did work with the government, which was at the time the Taliban government," says a detainee identified as Mullah Norullah. "That's the only mistake I made.... That's the only thing I did."
The Department of Defense released more than 5,000 pages of documents last Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press. They are transcripts from combatant-status review tribunals and administrative review boards. They contain names and other personal details for hundreds of the men held at Guantánamo.
They are far from a complete portrait of the Guantánamo detainees. But they contain much tantalizing detail - and go some way to making "detainees," an impersonal word, into recognizable humans.
Take Ali Mohsen, a man whose administrative review-board records state that he joined the Taliban on Sept. 11, 2001, and that he attended Al Qaeda's al Faouq terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.
Ali Mohsen fought with Taliban forces on the front lines near Bagram, Afghanistan, according to the United States. He was caught with notebooks that contained drawings of rifles, a cleaver, a spatula, pliers, and a glove.
In his defense, Ali Mohsen said he had heard from friends at home in Qatar that the Taliban provided homes to those who moved there. He was unhappy in Qatar, and thought that in Afghanistan he could more easily find a wife.
"The detainee further states that he did not like to fire the Kalashnikov rifle," says his record, dryly.
Then there is a detainee who identifies himself as Mazin Salih Musaid. He says that a year and a half ago, an interrogator showed him his name on a list of alleged members of Al Qaeda - but that the name the man pointed to was "Salah Al Awfi" and that the phone number next to it, 831-2425, was not his.
Mazin Salih Musaid, a Saudi native, admits that he did offer to help the Taliban, but only for humanitarian purposes, in a spirit of goodwill. He then tells a meandering story that involves sitting in a house in Kandahar, and then setting out to retrieve his cousin, Maher, and return home.
"That I'm involved against the United States of America - I'm very surprised at this," says Mazin Salih Musaid.
There is also the case of an unnamed detainee who is said to be the son of a now-deceased Saudi diplomat. It is true that he traveled from Pakistan to Indonesia in 2001, says this detainee, but he only did so to see his stepmother and brother, who lived there, and to see the office where his father worked. The charges that he conspired to kill Americans were "totally baseless," says the detainee.
Why would he kill Americans when he had a friend who worked for American Express? It was true he had talked about jihad, but he meant that in a specific sense.
"People think to shoot a bullet is jihad. My education has taught me that if you stay away from bad things, it is also jihad," says the Saudi diplomat's son.
This detainee boasts of serving as an Islamic chaplain in "a five-star hotel" and said that he'd once had his picture taken with A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program and self-described trafficker in illicit nuclear items.
"That was quite a story that you told us today," says one unnamed member of the US tribunal.
This is not to say that the documents depict life at Guantánamo as a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, "The Pirates of Gitmo." Much hard evidence against the detainees remains classified, for one thing. And a number of detainees are described as unrepentant, violent, and even deranged.
Sofiane Haderbache, for instance, is a detainee charged with being a member of Al Qaeda and taking part in hostilities against US forces. Sofiane Haderbache was captured after being injured when a colleague accidentally detonated a grenade, according to review documents.
He has said he would injure Americans if released, and he has been noncompliant and aggressive, say the documents. He disregards orders to stay dressed, and has stood naked in his cell.
"This detainee is regressing," says a summary of his mental state.
And an alleged Taliban fighter named Al Ajmi is described as a deserter from the Kuwait military who was caught fighting with the Taliban near Bagram, Afghanistan. Al Ajmi has been constantly in trouble since being shipped to Guantánamo, notes his file.
"In August 2004, Al Ajmi wanted to make sure that when the case goes before the tribunal, they know that he now is a jihadist, an enemy combatant, and that he will kill as many Americans as he possibly can," says his administrative review.