In WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo, one of the great publicity coups was shining a light on the stories of the first 201 prisoners to be freed from the prison, between May 2002, when a severely schizophrenic Afghan prisoner, Abdul Razak, was returned to his home country, and September 2004, when 35 prisoners were repatriated to Pakistan, and 11 were repatriated to Afghanistan.
A handful of these 46 prisoners were cleared for release as a result of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which began on August 13, 2004 and concluded on March 29, 2005. These, as Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who worked on the tribunals has explained, were essentially part of a one-sided process designed to create the illusion that the prisoners’ cases were being objectively examined to determine whether, on capture, they had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants,” who could continue to be held indefinitely.
558 prisoners passed through the CSRT process (PDF), and records released by the Pentagon in 2006, as the result of a successful lawsuit filed by media groups, provided details of all these men’s cases — the government’s supposed evidence against them, and transcripts of the CSRTs (and their annual follow-ups, the Administrative Review Boards), or, at least, transcripts of the tribunals and review boards in which the prisoners had deigned to take part, after many boycotted them, correctly perceiving that they were essentially a sham.
On the other hand, no records have ever been publicly released by the US government which provide any information whatsoever about the 201 released, or approved for release before the CSRTs began, except for a prisoner list released in May 2006 (PDF), which contains the names, nationalities, and, where known, dates of birth and places of birth for 759 prisoners (all but the 20 who arrived at Guantánamo between September 2006 and March 2008).
In the years since the documents relating to the CSRTs and ARBs were released, I attempted to track down the stories of these 201 men, and managed, largely through successful research that led to relevant media reports, interviews and reports compiled by NGOs, to discover information about 112 of these prisoners, but nothing at all was known about 89 others (except for their names, and, in some cases, their date of birth and place of birth). With the release of the WikiLeaks files, all but three of these 89 stories have emerged for the very first time, and in this article (and in four others to follow), I will run through these stories, beginning with the first 17 below.
Please note that the overwhelming majority of these 86 prisoners were Afghans or Pakistanis, and that many were assessed by the US military as “being neither affiliated with AI-Qaida nor a Taliban leader,” of having “no intelligence value to the United States,” and of posing “a low threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” That last reference — to them posing “a low threat” — ought to alert readers to the problems with the classification system at Guantánamo, as many of the cases involve patently innocent people seized by mistake, who, nevertheless, were referred to as “a low threat” rather than as no threat at all.
On their return, the majority of the Afghans were released outright, whereas the Pakistanis were mostly imprisoned for many months before they too were granted their freedom (see here for an article from Pakistani newspaper the Nation in June 2005 describing the release of 17 prisoners repatriated from Guantánamo in September 2004, some of whom are listed below).
Zafar Iqbal (ISN 014, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Born on March 1, 1983, Iqbal was initially identified as low risk on September 27, 2002, but was upgraded to medium risk on May 28, 2004, when he was recommended for transfer to the control of another country for continued detention. He was allegedly associated with the militant organization Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) in Pakistan, but the upgrade of his risk assessment primarily seemed to be based on the fact that an Iranian prisoner in Guantánamo identified him “as handing out weapons for the Taliban” and stated that he had “talk[ed] of jihad against the US upon release” (although there is, of course, no indication of why his accuser should have been trusted), and also because, at Guantánamo, he had allegedly “sharpened his spoon into a weapon, potentially for use against a guard.”
The US authorities seemed to have slightly better grounds for regarding Iqbal as a combatant when it came to the details of his capture, as he and his cousin were reportedly “captured by the Northern Alliance while trying to board a bus out of Kunduz during the period of time when the Taliban had lost hold of their front lines there and Taliban forces were fleeing the area” (in late November 2001). According to the US authorities, “The detainee was shot in the leg and his cousin was killed when they attempted to escape from Dostum’s forces. The Northern Alliance then brought the detainee to Mazar-e-Sharif and placed him in prison there before he was handed over to US Forces.” The prison referred to was probably not in Mazar, but was the nearby prison at Sheberghan, run by the Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum, This also indicates that Iqbal was a survivor of the notorious “convoy of death,” when thousands of prisoners died (through suffocation, or by being shot) in containers en route to the prison at Sheberghan.
Jamal Muhammad Al-Deen (ISN 016, Pakistan) Released July 2003
Reportedly a low-level Taliban recruit, who trained briefly at Kandahar and then fought for three months against the Northern Alliance in Kabul, al-Deen was seized in Mazar-e-Sharif by Northern Alliance forces as he tried to make his way back home. On October 16, 2002, when al-Deen, who was born in 1968, was 34 years old, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo, recommended him for release or transfer to the control of another government.
In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” It was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [al-Deen] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
Mohammed Sayed (ISN 018, Pakistan) Released September 2004
The transcript for Mohammed Sayed, born in 1973 and aged 30 at the time of the assessment on August 23, 2003, is incomplete, although he was recommended for continued detention on the basis that he was “possibly a member” of the Pakistani militant group Harkat-Ul-Mujahadeen (HUM). A Taliban recruit, stationed at Kunduz for two months, where “he received between one and three days of training on the AK[-47], delivered water, chopped wood and worked in the kitchen,” he was captured in Mazar-e-Sharif by Northern Alliance forces after fleeing Kunduz when the US bombing campaign took place in November 2001, and was transferred to Guantánamo on January 14, 2002.
Mohammed Ishaq (ISN 020, Pakistan) Released November 2003
Born in 1983, and 19 years old at the time of his assessment on October 16, 2002, Ishaq and a friend, Abdul Ghaffar, traveled to Afghanistan on November 1, 2001, to find Ghaffar’s brother, Mohammed Usman, who “had left for Afghanistan two months earlier to fight in the Jihad against the Northern Alliance.” They located him in Kunduz, but were taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance two days later. What happened to Abdul Ghaffar and Mohammed Usman is unknown, but Ishaq was apparently “transferred by Northern Alliance forces to US forces sometime in December 2001.”
In an identical assessment to that of Jamal al-Deen, above, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo, recommended him for release or transfer to the control of another government. In its assessment, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention.” It was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [al-Deen] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
Salah Hudin (ISN 021, Pakistan) Released July 2003
On December 14, 2002, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who took over from Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey as the commander of Guantánamo, recommended that Salah Hudin, who was born on January 8, 1982, and was 20 at the time, be released or transferred to the control of another government. Apparently a recruit for combat with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, he stated that he received a single session of military training lasting 30 minutes, and was then sent to the front lines at Khawaja Ghar, where he spent 20 days on guard duty and ten days “cooking and serving food.” On or around December 12, he was apparently ordered to surrender to General Dostum’s forces, and was held in Mazar (Sheberghan) for 19 days, before US forces took him to Kandahar, and then Guantánamo.
In an identical assessment to those of Jamal al-Deen and Mohammed Ishaq, above, the Joint Task Force stated that it “consider[ed] the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable,” and added, “Based on current information, detainee  is assessed as not affiliated with Al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader. Moreover … the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. [He] has not expressed thoughts of violence nor made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the US or US interests.” It was also noted, “During a visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 3 to 10 August 2002, Pakistani Intelligence officers interrogated [al-Deen] and concluded that he had little or no intelligence value. They stated that their government would accept custody of [him] if released by the US government.”
Yusef Nabied (ISN 083, Tajikistan) Released July 2004
Born in 1963 and aged 40 at the time of his assessment on December 8, 2003, Yusef Nabied, named in the assessment as Yusef Nabith, was identified as being of “low intelligence value” to the US, and of posing “a medium threat to the US, its interests or its allies.” Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller recommended his “[t]ransfer to the control of another country for continued detention,” on the basis of suspicions that he had been in Afghanistan in some sort of role that involved the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an ally of the Taliban. Reportedly seized with a group of men on the border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, as they tried to flee the country, he was then sent to Qala-i-Janghi, a fort run by General Dostum, where he survived a notorious massacre, after some of the men held staged an uprising against their captors. Unlike the Pakistanis, whose imprisonment on their return and subsequent release was well documented, it is not known what happened to Nadied/Nabith on his return to his home country.
Mohammed Ashraf (ISN 100, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Born in 1980, Ashraf was assessed, on May 21, 2004, as having been recruited by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), “a Tier 1 terrorist target, which is defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.” Designated as a medium risk, he was recommended for transfer to the control of another country for continued detention. The circumstances of his detention were not discussed.
Mohammed Irfan (ISN 101, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In a JTF-GTMO assessment on February 9, 2004 (which was included in the files instead of a Detainee Assessment Brief, for no apparent reason), Irfan was regarded as high risk and of high intelligence value, and it was noted that JTF-GTMO “Cannot Concur with Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention.” It was noted that, after studying in college, he had “inquired about joining the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) terrorist group,” but, because of the waiting list for training, had instead “joined the Harqat-Ul-Jihad Islami (HUJI) who could provide him training right away.” After 15 days of “basic weapons and physical fitness training,” it was stated that he “joined the JEM and was sent to Kabul, AF to fight the jihad.” Instead, however, he was flown to Kunduz, and was then transported to Shaheen Point, where “he worked in a Taliban military aid-station, dressing wounds and administering medications for wounded fighters.” Seized by the Northern Alliance, he was sent to Sheberghan and was subsequently turned over to US forces and sent to Guantánamo on February 9, 2002.
In its assessment, JTF-GTMO wrote that he “remains committed to his Islamic extremist views and if released, it’s strongly believed [he] will rejoin his terrorist group, who are closely aligned with Al-Qaida.” It was also claimed that, because of his “admitted association with two known terrorist groups,” he was “highly vulnerable to re-recruitment, should he be released.”
Mohammed Raz (ISN 106, Afghanistan) Released July 2003
A Taliban conscript, identified as Raz Mohammed, he was assigned to work as a guard at a rear echelon Taliban base in Kunduz because of a back problem. He surrendered to Northern Alliance forces under General Dostum in November 2001, and was, therefore, probably a survivor of the “convoy of death,” when thousands of prisoners died in containers en route to Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan. He was recommended for transfer on October 29, 2002.
Sarfaraz Ahmed (ISN 113, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Born in 1966, he was identified as Sarfra Ahmed in his assessment on October 18, 2003, in which it was noted that he was a doctor (a general practitioner), who, by his own account, had worked “as a doctor for the Taliban,” caring specifically for Pakistanis, and that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces in Mazar-e-Sharif. Based on his interrogations, the US authorities concluded that he had “provided medical care to Taliban fighters” in Afghanistan, and had previously provided medical support to Pakistanis training for combat in Kashmir at a camp in Pakistan run by the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Shockingly (although this was common in Guantanamo), it was also alleged that he “was affiliated with other extremist groups including Tablighi-Jamaat,” elsewhere described as “an extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, that operates in the Kashmir region of northern Pakistan,” even though Tablighi-Jamaat (aka Jamaat al-Tablighi) is actually a huge and entirely legitimate missionary organization, with millions of members worldwide.
In conclusion, Ahmed was described as being “of low intelligence value,” but as “a medium threat risk to the US, its interests and allies because of his dedication to extremist views,” although Maj. Gen. Miller recommended his transfer to the control of another government for continued detention.”
Yamatolah Abulwance (ISN 116, Afghanistan) Released March 2004
Apparently a conscript, Abulwance (described as Yamatollah Abdul Wace) was assessed as being of medium risk, and was recommended for transfer to the control of another country for continued detention on August 16, 2003, even though he said that he was forced to join the Taliban soon after 9/11 when Abdul Hai, a Taliban commander, came to his store with five other Taliban soldiers and took him at gunpoint to Kunduz, and then to a camp where he served food and drink and was responsible for keeping the inventory and issuing blankets to Taliban forces located three and a half hours away. He said he stayed for three months, until the camp surrendered. The authorities at Guantánamo suspected that he was a probable supporter of the Taliban and Islamic extremism, because of inconsistencies in his story.
Janan Taus Khan (ISN 124, Afghanistan) Released November 2003
From Kandahar, he was chosen by the village elders, for three years in a row, to serve for three months a year as a driver for the Taliban, and was seized in Kandahar the day after he had tried and failed to collect a hundred bags of fertilizer from a plant in Mazar-e-Sharif (on November 29, 2001), because it was closed. He was recommended for release or transfer on June 21, 2003.
Mohammed Ouzar (ISN 133, Morocco) Released July 2004
Born in 1979, he was described in his assessment dated November 11, 2003 as Mohamed Ibrahim Awzar or Mohamed A. Ibrahim, and was also recommended for continued detention, on the basis that he was “of intelligence value to the United States,” and “pose[d] a high threat to the US, its interests and allies.” Nevertheless, he was released just eight months later.
In its assessment, JTF-GTMO noted that the authorities at Guantánamo had been unable to assess whether Ouzar had, as he claimed, traveled to Italy at the age of 17, “where he attended a trade school for sheet metal work and hydraulics” in Turin, but also “began attending mosques and was impressed by an Egyptian Imam who preached Jihad against the West.” He reportedly travelled to Afghanistan using his own money, trained briefly at a Libyan camp, and then joined the Taliban on the front lines at Bagram until December 2000, when he returned to italy to renew his visa. After working at a few odd jobs, he apparently returned to Afghanistan in April 2001, joining other Arabs in Kunduz until the city fell after the US-led invasion in November 2001, when he ended up in Qala-i-Janghi, presumably after surrendering. He claimed that he “witnessed” the uprising, but was “not involved” in it. He added that “he was shot twice in the left leg during the fighting.”
Note: In June 2005, it was reported that Ouzar, along with two other former prisoners (Mohamed Mazouz and Brahim Benchekroun, apparently both still imprisoned), told Dutch TV that the CIA had “promised them the right to stay in the Netherlands,” where, according to their lawyer, Mohamed Hilal, “they were supposed to spy within the Moroccan Dutch community.” The report also stated that “the CIA in Guantánamo offered them to spy in five countries, including the Netherlands, Canada, and Switzerland,” and that “There was heavy pressure on them not to return to Morocco, because “The CIA said they’d probably be tortured there.” On his return to Morocco, Ouzar (with other ex-prisoners) was put on trial on charges related to terrorism, in a process that involved numerous delays and that concluded in 2007 with his acquital.
Ghaser Zaban Safollah (ISN 134, Pakistan) Released July 2003
All that is known of Safollah (beyond his birth year — 1979) is an internal memo, rather than a Detainee Assessment Brief, dated July 6, 2002, recommending him for “Repatriation/Release from United States Control,” concluding that he “is of no further intelligence value, and is not considered a continued threat to the United States or it’s [sic] allies.”
Tarik Mohammad (ISN 136, Pakistan) Released November 2003
Mohammad, born in 1972 and described in his assessment of September 6, 2003 as Mohammed Hasim Tariq, was, reportedly, from a family that was “extremely religious and detested such modern conveniences as televisions, radios, and newspapers.” After gaining a biology degree at Islamabad University, he opened a small food store “but it failed,” and then, in November 2001, was recruited by the Taliban to help them defend Afghanistan from “what he saw as a crusade against Islam by the US.” Taken by a guide from Kohat to Kunduz, he apparently “performed clerical duties, such as record keeping etc., and never participated in any fighting.” When the Taliban “began to run away fro the battlefield,” he also fled, and was seized by Northern Alliance forces under General Dostum and imprisoned for a month in Sheberghan, before being turned over to US forces, arriving in Guantánamo in June 2002.
Although it was noted, under “Reasons for Continued Detention,” that he was “a self-admitted Jihadist” who “joined the Taliban to fight against the US and it’s [sic] allies,” and was “still a dedicated extremist” who “may still harbor pro-Taliban sympathies,” his assessment made it clear that he was “assessed as not being a member of al-Qaeda or a Taliban leader,” and it was also stated that he was “of minimal intelligence value to the United States.” However, it was also stated that he posed “a medium threat to the US and … to the government of Afghanistan because of his dedicated extremist views and his possible willingness to take up arms against the government,” and as a result it was recommended that he be “retained under DoD control.” Nevertheless, two months later, he was repatriated.
Mohammed Tariq (ISN 137, Pakistan) Released September 2004
Tariq, born in 1973 and also described as Mohammed Tarik, was recommended for release or transfer to the control of another government on October 16, 2002 by Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, but in his assessment of May 21, 2004, it was noted that, although the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) had assessed him as a low threat risk on May 9, 2003, CITF deferred to JTF-GTMO’s assessment that he posed a medium risk, primarily because it had emerged since the 2002 assessment that he had apparently been recruited by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), “a Tier 1 terrorist target, which is defined as terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests.” It was also stated that he had connections with individuals in Pakistan who had “organized public rallies for the purpose of soliciting support and volunteers to participate in Jihad against the US and Northern Alliance.”
Although it was assessed that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, it was also noted that his association with JEM, with its “reported ties to al-Qaeda,” plus his demonstrated commitment to Jihad and an additional assessment that he “participated in hostile actions against the US in Afghanistan,” indicated that he “may be vulnerable to recruitment of terrorist [sic] or groups that support terrorism.” As a result, he was assessed as “a medium risk,” who “may possibly pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” and it was recommended that he be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”
Said Saim Ali (ISN 140, Pakistan) Released September 2004
In Ali’s assessment on May 21, 2004, it was stated that, on October 16, 2002, Maj. Gen. Dunlavey recommended him for release, because of an assessment that he was “not affiliated with al-Qaeda or a Taliban leader” and “was considered a low threat to the US and its allies.” In information added after this assessment, however, it was noted that he had specifically been recruited for jihad in Afghanistan in late September 2001, that he had tried and failed to join Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), and that he had apparently stated that “he would have fought the Americans had they come to fight in an area by him.”
Although it was stated that he might have information on “Taliban recruitment in Pakistan, Taliban military leadership, and JEM recruitment in Pakistan,” it was also noted that JTF-GTMO “considers this information not tactically exploitable,” and that therefore he was “of low intelligence value.” Although he was not regarded as “a member of al-Qaeda and/or its terrorist network,” it was stated that he had “demonstrated a commitment to jihad” and that he had “some level of combatant training and may be vulnerable to recruitment for terrorist or supportive groups.” As a result, he was assessed as being a medium risk prisoner, who should be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”