Coerced Confession Traps Detainee, Lawyers Say

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 14, 2006

Young runaway Abdul Rahim endured cigarette burns, electric shocks and repeated beatings at the hands of Taliban soldiers who captured him in 2000, he said -- all because he refused to fight for al-Qaeda.

In one of the bizarre twists of war, the 22-year-old college student was taken from the Taliban prison to another prison run by Americans after the invasion of Afghanistan. And the U.S. military's chief reason for holding Rahim for the past five years, according to newly declassified records, is the false confession Rahim gave to placate his Taliban torturers.

Rahim's American lawyers filed the records in federal court in Washington this week, along with the results of their own investigation corroborating Rahim's claims of innocence, adding sworn statements from witnesses. They are asking a judge to order the military to admit that it made a mistake and release Rahim, who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The filings outline a chain of unfortunate circumstances. Rahim left his family home in the United Arab Emirates after a quarrel with his strict father and was captured by Taliban fighters as he crossed into Afghanistan. They took him to an al-Qaeda training camp, and when he tried to flee, soldiers put him in prison and tortured him, the records say.

While in a cell in Kandahar, Rahim said, he gave his captors what they wanted to hear: He falsely confessed on videotape that he was a spy for the United States and promised to renounce the West and wage jihad. Among the people who tortured him, he said, was one of America's most notorious enemies: al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Atef, who was killed in 2001.

Rahim's account of being imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban is supported by newspaper accounts about Rahim and fellow prisoners whom the Taliban abandoned when U.S. forces began bombing Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. It is also supported by documents from impartial agencies that had contact with Rahim, notably the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement yesterday that he could not comment on the specifics of Rahim's case, but he said detainees have several opportunities for review of their detention by military panels.

"There is a significant amount of evidence, both unclassified and classified, which supports detention by U.S. forces," he said. "This evidence has been carefully weighed at the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) and Administrative Review Boards (ARB) held over the past two years at Guantanamo."

The U.S. military is detaining 440 foreign nationals at Guantanamo, and most have been there for more than 4 1/2 years.

The investigation and new records describe Rahim as a pawn trapped unfairly on both sides of the war on terrorism -- first in the Taliban's prison in Kandahar and then at Guantanamo. Given that much of the gathered information suggesting Rahim's innocence was available in 2001, his lawyers say the case raises alarms about the U.S. military's willingness to fairly assess decisions to indefinitely detain foreign nationals.

"They accused me of being a spy. And here, you guys accuse me of being al-Qaeda. No mercy. Who am I?" Rahim told a U.S. military tribunal, according to transcripts. "You take me from that prison and nothing changed in my life."

According to court records, in December 2001, a New York Times reporter quoted Rahim and other prisoners left behind when the Taliban fled the prison. He described being desperate to recover from his torture and to find a way back to his family.

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