Seven Survivors of the Qala-i-Janghi Massacre of November 2001

In 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan, the government of that country was one of a group of warlords which had been fighting among themselves for some time in that country.  The US had empowered these tribal war lords in the fight against the Soviet Union, and it had empowered al Qaeda during that period as well, giving a number of these groups large amounts of money and arms.

The Taliban had become the country’s official government, but it was under attack from other groups of the Northern Alliance of warlords that included the General Rachid Dostum.  The US empowered this alliance again in its invasion of Afghanistan and much of the fighting was done by the local waring factions.  The US also offered large amounts of bounty money to these groups who were responsible, along with Pakistani police and military, for the rounding up of many of the men and boys who ended up in Guantanamo.

Rashid Dostum.jpg General Rachid Rostum, Afghan warlord

The US government gave out the story that the prisoners were captured on the field of battle and were the “worst of the worst,” but in fact they were almost entirely innocent civilians caught up in the chaos of the air strikes by the US and the ensuing heightened fighting among the factions in Afghanistan as well as a few low level Taliban foot soldiers.

The US wanted Arabs especially, because the attacks on the US had been from Arabs, mostly Saudi Arabians.  Again and again, we see the stories of Arabs who went to Afghanistan to teach or study the Quran, to see what a Muslin country was like, since the Taliban had established a government that was under Muslin law, to offer humanitarian and other aide to the poor and distressed of Afghanistan which had been embattled for decades, and for a variety of other reasons. Some of them did go to fight jihad or holy war for their religion on the side of the Taliban, who had established a Muslim government.

When the US had allowed the leaders of al Qaeda, Pakistani officials, and other “important people” to be airlifted out of Kunduz, read about that incident here, it resumed bombing.  This permitted the Afghan factions that were opposed to the Taliban all along and were being used by the US to perpetrate the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in November of 2001.  Kunduz, which had been under Taliban control, surrendered.  A number of Taliban foot soldiers were told they would be allowed to go home if they surrendered.  Instead, they were rounded up with civilians of various sorts by General Rashid Dostum and taken to a fortress under his command.  Fearing they would be killed, some of the men resisted and were suppressed with US and UK special forces support.  Hundreds of the prisoners died from bombing and a flood in the basement of the fort where they were held, but some eighty of them survived, fifty of whom ended up in Guantanamo.  All but seven of them have been released.

The remaining seven are all from Yemen and are surely being held still because of the Obama regime’s cave in to pressure from Congress after the “underwear bomber.”  Here are their stories.  Read more about them from Worthington here.

Abdul al-Saleh had answered a call for young men to go to Afghanistan, but he felt cheated because he was wanted to fight against other Muslims, specifically, the non Taliban warlords.  He said that if he is released he will return home, marry, and never answer any calls to defend his faith with jihad.  Like all soldiers captured in international conflicts, Abdul al-Saleh should have offered the protections of the Geneva Conventions, instead of which he was sold for bounty to the US, tortured, and continues in prison to this day.

Abdul Rahman Naser is accused of arriving in Afghanistan in January of 2001 (remember that the attacks of September of that year, the pretext for the US invasion were later) and fighting on the Taliban’s front lines in the ongoing wars among the war lords.  He, too, should have been released when the Taliban were defeated by the US.  Instead, he was sent to Guantanamo, tortured, and remains there.

Abdul Rahman Naser is accused of various modes of resistance to the guards and the modes of his imprisonment.  I for one rather admire him for that.  He is indeed held illegally and has no reason to cooperate with US torture and imprisonment.  I fear that he is treated worse as a result, however.  He also declares that he never met bin Laden and knows nothing about al-Qaeda, and the US cannot prove he did.  Like all the Taliban soldiers, he should never have been sent to Guantanamo.  He, too, has stated that if released he would return home to Yemen to marry and stay there.

Mukhtar al-Warafi says he went to Afghanistan as a medic and had tended wounded Taliban soldiers injured in the internecine struggles that preceded the US invasion in Kunduz.  He was rounded up with the others after the US invasion and the fall of Kunduz.  US Judge Royce C. Lamberth denied his habeas corpus petition in 2010 because the US claims that the Geneva Conventions that protect medical personnel in conflict zones had been abrogated by the US Congress.  The 2006 Military Commissions Act, which I worked to see defeated, state that “No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions” in any habeas corpus proceedings as a source of rights in any court of the United States.  See Worthington’s story here.

Clearly, the United States is the criminal here.  Unfortunately, it is Mukhtar al-Warafi who has suffered torture and nearly a decade of imprisonment.

Ghaleb al-Bihani also had his habeas corpus petition denied in 2009 by Judge Richard Leon.  He was a cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban.  There is no evidence that his work was with al-Qaeda, but the US judge equates Arab forces in Afghanistan with “an al-Qaeda affiliated fighting unit supporting the Taliban by hellping prepare meals.”

No evidence to support these allegations has ever been put forward.  And again, even if this man was a cook for an al-Qaeda group, he would not have been making decisions.

A real problem with the US treatment of these prisoners, as with US attitudes generally, is the presumption of guilt, the equating of everyone who has been captured with “the enemy” and the failure to offer the international standard of protections to soldiers and people in armed services.  The US government and many people in the US seem to believe that if a person is in Guantanamo it is because he should be.  Such thinking defies all principles of justice and law, but it is prevailing at this time.

There were fifty of these men and boys in Guantanamo.  Only seven are left, all of them from Yemen.  Clearly, internal US political criteria matter more here than legal issues.  Such injustice is horrendous.  Ghaleb al-Bihani should be sent home to his family along with all those like him.

Salem Ben Kend is said to have fought on the Taliban front lines for six months.  However, he made a statement, reported by Andy Worthington, for one of the ludicrous review boards of the prisoners at Guantanamo that “he was ‘shocked’ to see an allegation that he had ‘fought with the Taliban in Kabul and in Kandahar from July 2001 to December 2001.’ Leaving aside the fact that he was seized in November 2001, he ‘responded that he did not fight in Kandahar, although he was in the area.'”  Such conflicting and impossible allegations are frequently held against the prisoners at Guantanamo and are among the reasons why Salem Ben Kend should be freed immediately.

Mahmoud Bin Atef said that his enemies were the Northern Alliance (that group of warlords who opposed the Taliban) and as reported by Worthington that “‘he never shot at or killed anyone,’and that, although he ‘was asked to take an oath to Osama bin Laden, [he] did not take one since he might have been obligated to do things that he might not want to do.'”  Mahmoud bin Atef must be released now.

Even if he were a soldier in the service of the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan that was being attached by the warlords who did not support them, he should never have been imprisoned and tortured and should long since have been restored to his home and family.

Mustafe al-Shamyri, is also said to have resisted his imprisonment and treatment by the US, a truly heroic act given what probably resulted to him, is alleged to have been in a commander of troops in Tora Bora, which is not possible because he was captured before that battle.  He may have fought with the Taliban for some months, but again, so what if he did?  The accusations against him are either impossible or so improbable that they cannot be believed.  In any event, the US does not present evidence to support the allegations against any of these men.  They are held outside the law, without charges, without trials, without recourse.  It is a crime for the US to do this.  Mustafe al-Shamyri must be freed.

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