Another Teacher of the Quran: Abdullah Al-Yafi

An interesting conversation with a reader of this blog over the weekend leads me to take a minute to think about an issue that arises in this work of writing about the remaining prisoners in the US torture camp at Guantanamo.  Being a person from a Western country, I am ignorant about Asia, including the Middle East.  I know no Asian language, I am completely ignorant of many things that the majority of the people on this planet know.  I must be careful not to fall into the arrogant ignorance that is the trademark of people from the US, and which is chronicled in this blog.  Many of us who are trying to understand the stories of these men and boys who have been tortured with our tax money and who are advocates for them in our own ways are astounded to discover that an Arab in Afghanistan would be in trouble.  Aren’t they all Arabs?

Wikipedia tells us that:

“Arab people also known as ‘Arabs’ are an ethnic group or panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world which is located in West Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds.with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing an important part of Arab identity in tracing descent of a national from an Arab state.”

Afghans and Pakistanis are not Arabs.  Nor are Iranians or Turks.  Many of these people are Muslims, as many Arabs are, but Muslims are people who practice the Islamic religion.  Just as Christians may be Italian or South African, Muslims may be Arabs or members of other ethnic and national groups.

This matters in these stories because a number of persons from Arab countries were in Afghanistan, which was, unlike their own countries, a Muslim country ruled under Muslim law at the time of the US invasion.  Some Muslims from other countries wanted to see what that was like.  Also a number of the prisoners in the Guantanamo torture camp were in Afghanistan to teach the Quran in that country which needed lots of people who could do that.

Abdullah al-Yafi is from Yemen.  He is a Muslim and heard on several occasions over the years the call of religious leaders in the mosques he attended to go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran.  One of these leaders, Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi, moved him the most.

It is important to note that even for us in the West, a google search would reveal that Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi also spoke out against Osama bin Laden, whom he accused of using money for weapons, not following his religion, fostering partisanship and divisions, and other things.   Abdullah al-Yafi was not encouraged to attach himself to bin Laden and there is no evidence he did.

What he said he did do, after much soul searching and considerable struggle, was to sell his farm in Yemen and go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran.  He had been there for over two years when the US invaded.  Like many civilians, he fled the bombing, going with a group of other Arabs and a guide to the Pakistan border.  The trip sounds to have been harrowing.

I try to imaging being a foreigner in a strange place, not knowing the local language well, not knowing the country, which has no public transportation, and is under attack by US bombing raids.  I can image that Abdullah al-Yafi was just trying to get to safety as I would if I could.

When he reached the border, he was apprehended by Pakistani border guard/bounty hunters who sold him into US custody.  He was sent to Guantanamo where he has been tortured and is still in prison all these years later.

The US has not charged  him, but keeps him in the torture camp.  It has published statements given under torture by other prisoners that al-Yafi was “seen” at a compound at Kandahar and is somehow connected to bin Laden.  There is no credible evidence that any real court of law would admit that Abdullah al-Yafi is anyone other than who he says he is.

According to Andy Worthington, the source as always for most of this information, Abdullah al-Yafi participated in the prolonged prisoners’ hunger strike of 2005 that was curtailed by the sadistic US guards with the restraint chairs to which the prisoners are chained as unclean tubes are forced down their noses to feed them.  Al-Yafi is said to have arrived at Guantanamo weighing 165 pounds and weighed 109 as a result of the hunger strike.


Though Abdullah al-Yafi was cleared under the Bush regime, the Obama one keeps him in the torture camp; he is another Yemeni casualty of the “underwear bomber.”  Obama, who promised to close the torture camp, chose instead to yield to hysteria of people in Congress about that person having been in Yemen.

This amounts to guilt by nationality and is part of a very disturbing aspect of this entire episode of shameful US behavior.

I committed to writing the stories of the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo for several reasons.   One is that I wanted to get to know these men as the real people they are, as best I can in the circumstances.  These are human beings like me.  Our common humanity is a bond.

Another reason is that I do not want to stand idly by as the US completely departs from the rule of law and becomes a nation of arbitrary power.  Can Barack Obama not realize the legal implications of saying of Bradley Manning that “he broke the law,” when he has not been tried and convicted? Can a lawyer and a professor of constitutional law possibly not have seen that such a statement defies the principles of the US Constitution and the hundreds of years of British common law on which it is based?  Can he possibly have said that we are “a nation of laws” when he himself recently invaded another country illegally, and oversees the illegal imprisonment and the torture of human beings?  The incident was very telling about what the US has become.

Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and author had this to say about Obama after that remark:

“But it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of ‘a nation of laws’: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. ‘Nation of laws’ indeed.” You can read the full text here.

So this is another of my reasons for studying what can be found out about the prisoners at Guantanamo, including Abdullah al-Yafi, and writing about them.  The US has become a lawless nation.  If Muslim men and Bradley can be treated this way, if Obama claims the power to murder anyone anywhere whom he thinks is an enemy, what is keeping you and me safe from these extra-legal judgments?  Who is to say that we will not be declared enemies, or as the men in Guantanamo were, sold for bounty for some reason or other?  I must stand for just laws and a just administration of them, for our sakes as well as that of the prisoners.

I must work to see Abdullah al-Yafi freed and the US torture centers abroad and here closed down and their creators held accountable–in real courts with all the protections of just laws.


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