Lia Tarachansky speaks to Nancy Youssef, Pentagon Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers currently based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Youssef speaks about a list recently released by Pentagon, identifying that 14% or 74 former detainees of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention center are “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities.” Following to story of former inmate #798, Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil who after imprisonment for 6 years in the Bagram Airbase and Guantanamo Bay was found back on the list in spite of the allegation, Youssef says, being baseless. She says that, “It’s not really clear who compiles that list and how they determine who’s a suspected terrorist and who’s a confirmed one. As I mentioned earlier, this is the fourth list that they’ve released, and there are a lot of inconsistencies. The list is not complete. They say that there are 74 people suspected or confirmed as returned to terrorism, but the names listed is only partial ones.”
Nancy Youssef is McClatchy Newspapers’ chief Pentagon correspondent. She spent the past four years covering the Iraq war, most recently as Baghdad bureau chief. Her pieces focused on the everyday Iraqi experience, civilian causalities and how the US’ military strategy was reshaping Iraq’s social and political dynamics. While at the Free Press, she traveled throughout Jordan and Iraq for Knight Ridder, covering the Iraq war from the time leading up to it through the post-war period.
TARACHANSKY, LIA, JOURNALIST: Since 2002 the list of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has shrunk from 775 to 229. Many have been released without charge or for lack of evidence. Last week the Pentagon alleged that 14% detaines or 744 detainees have been “confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activities.” At least one case does not seem to match the allegation, says Nancy Youssef, in her latest article as McClatchy Newspapers’ Pentagon correspondent currently based in Kabul, where she reported on the story of Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil, who was imprisoned for six years.
NANCY YOUSSEF, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: He was a tribal leader in Kunar province, which is in eastern Afghanistan, where there’s a large US military presence. And he’s just continuing to travel all over as someone [inaudible]. Shortly after the Americans arrived in Kunar province, there had been a shooting. Three residents of his district had been shot by the American forces. And he says that he asked the American commander to meet with him, and he went with the message, look, please don’t engage in our populations unless you check with us first, and we can tell you who’s good, who’s bad. And we don’t want to have these misunderstandings. We understand that you’re here to liberate us from the Taliban, and we appreciate that. We really want to work together with you. And he went with a military commander and with several bodyguards. And they met for about an hour, he says. And on the way out, literally as he was walking out of the base, he was arrested and told that he was a terrorist and that he was an al-Qaeda operative. He was taken to Bagram Air Base, where he was held for seven months and where he alleged some of the worst abuses happened against him. And from there he was transported to Guantanamo Bay. He says that he was questioned about 60 times during his detention. There were two hearings in which he asked for his appeal, and they were first denied. On the third he was released, in 2008, and went back to the community. He came back to Afghanistan and [inaudible] work towards helping the Afghan people, toward supporting the government, which he contends that he has, and there’s nobody here to say that he hasn’t. And while he was detained, the members in Kunar province, politicians, and other influential members of Afghanistan were sending letter after letter to the Americans, asking for his release. And then last spring the Pentagon released a list of 74 people they suspect or confirmed—former Guantanamo detainees who they say are suspected or confirmed to have returned to terrorism. He was looked at as someone who was suspected. The problem is their sources for “suspected to have returned to terrorism” is very thin; it’s single-sourced. And there’s speculation here in Afghanistan that a rival tribal leader who was working closely with the Americans at that time—I frankly don’t know if he is, still, or not—that he had made these allegations against Haji Rohullah. And he says when he returned, Hamid Karzai, the US-backed president of Afghanistan, apologized for his detention, told him that he was sorry that Haji Rohullah was arrested, and that his detention was beyond the president’s control. And since then, he’s been working regularly with members of government on behalf of his province, essentially advocating for the issues that they face in their community. And they’ve released several of these lists over the years. And sometimes someone who is listed as a confirmed/suspected terrorist on the previous list is [inaudible] listed as a suspected one. And I think there are real questions about how the Pentagon goes about labeling someone as a suspected or a confirmed terrorist and how much information they have, not only about the people that they’re holding in Guantanamo but about what happens to them after their release. It’s not really clear who compiles that list and how they determine who’s a suspected terrorist and who’s a confirmed one. As I mentioned earlier, this is the fourth list that they’ve released, and there are a lot of inconsistencies. The list is not complete. They say that there are 74 people suspected or confirmed as returned to terrorism, but the names listed is only partial ones. So one of the ways you’re able to find Haji Rohullah is because he just happened to be on that partial list. So we don’t even really know who all 74 people are on this latest list. At what point is someone a terrorist if they’ve never been convicted? That was certainly Haji Rohullah’s point, that he never got the trial to sort of clear his name. And there is an implication in that, in that if someone is held in Guantanamo, like, that they were a terrorist and possibly linked to it. The other thing is the list doesn’t deal with the possibility, which I think is a very real one, that people who weren’t involved in terrorism before certainly got indoctrinated while they were at Guantanamo, getting involved in terrorist activities only after they were held at Guantanamo. But, again, the list is so vague that it really doesn’t deal with any of those issues. It’s just a list of names, when they were released, and a few words about why they’re suspected or confirmed at release of being involved in terrorist activities. So it doesn’t—you have to go through and look at every individual file to figure out how strong of a case there was, why they were released, and what possibilities are there that they were in fact involved in terrorism activities before. It’s just—it’s very unclear. I think sometimes that list was used for political reasons as part of this debate about the future of Guantanamo Bay and its prisoners, but, you know, here in Afghanistan it has real implications, not only on one person’s life, but also on this fragile and nascent political system that the United States is holding up.
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