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.
"We just need the Red Cross or the United Nations to come take us out of here," he was quoted as saying.
But Rahim and a Russian prisoner, who has since been released from Guantanamo, attest that U.S. troops arrived instead. At first, they told Rahim and his companions that they needed to remain in U.S. custody in case they had useful information about their former captors. Rahim told the soldiers about being forced to confess on a Taliban videotape that was broadcast in his home country and being worried about how he would be received there. A few days later, after finding the Taliban videotape of Rahim's confession, the detainee and his attorneys assert, the soldiers began to treat Rahim very badly, interrogating him about his interest in suicide missions and eventually taking him to Guantanamo.
"By me telling them about the video it created confusion to the point that the Americans believed I was working with al-Qaeda," Rahim told a military review panel last year, according to transcripts. "I swear I am not al-Qaeda. . . . Please be just and fair. . . . Look into this."
Rahim's attorneys, who work in the federal public defender's office in Oregon, said they traveled to Afghanistan in their investigation of Rahim's case. The key facts were not difficult to gather, they said.
"All you have to do is find public news articles and find out this guy was imprisoned by the Taliban," said Steve Sady, one of the lawyers.
In court filings, the attorneys argue that there is no legal justification for the Bush administration to detain someone who never took up arms against the United States and was simply in Afghanistan without a passport.
"No conceivable definition of enemy combatant would include a freed political prisoner who had been subjected to brutal torture and confinement by the enemy prior to the declaration of war," the lawyers wrote in their court filing.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.