Plenty of small fry at Gitmo
A word about the humble Kazakh apple seller - he was living in Afghanistan for several years with his whole family in a Taliban-provided house without ever paying a cent - something smells there.
New documents on the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay suggest the Bush administration has cast a wide net in its war on terrorism, but the U.S. has often come up empty, as American troops picked up suspects with descriptions as varied as a Kazakh apple seller and a Pakistani millionaire.
Evidence against the apple seller, for example, showed he had been captured by the Taliban and forced to work as a cook.
In fact, the man told his U.S. military tribunal that he was only a cook's helper and had never heard of al-Qaeda or the Taliban until he was kidnapped and conscripted by Afghanistan's former hard-line Islamic regime.
"I never had a weapon. I never carried a weapon with me, and I've never been in any kind of armed fight," he said in one of hundreds of military hearings held to determine whether detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are being properly held without charges as "enemy combatants."
These and other details emerging from about 5,000 pages of transcripts released Friday suggest the Bush administration has picked up any number of low- level suspects along with admitted al-Qaeda and Taliban members and the rare high-value target, a Pakistani millionaire who twice met Osama bin Laden.
The Pentagon was forced to release the documents by a federal judge in response to an Associated Press lawsuit, but much of the administration's war on terror remains shrouded in overwhelming secrecy. The transcripts reveal only unclassified information, for example - the detainees and their representatives are not told what other evidence the military might have against them.
Some detainees say they attended training camps that U.S. authorities believe were run by al-Qaeda or militants linked to the terror group. A few admit to meeting bin Laden.
Some are prominent, such as the governor of Afghanistan's Herat province or the Taliban's minister of commerce or the Pakistani millionaire, a man with businesses in the U.S. and ties to Middle Eastern leaders.
Some were picked up after their names were found on lists at al-Qaeda safe houses in Pakistan or were taken from the battlefields of Afghanistan shortly after U.S. troops invaded and helped drive out the Taliban.
But other detainees seem to be small fry indeed, such as Hafizullah Shah, a farmer who said he had never left his village before being arrested because he wore an olive drab jacket.
It is impossible to gauge from the transcripts alone whether someone is improperly held at Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. holds about 490 detainees.
In Afghanistan, men often carry a rifle. Unless they are caught firing on U.S. troops, it is hard to tell the terrorists from the farmers.
"They're all armed," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military policy think tank in Alexandria, Va.
"If they weren't, they'd be in trouble," he said. "There are clan rivalries there. Without a weapon, they'd feel naked."
The Bush administration scoffs at claims of innocence.
"They're bomb-makers," Vice President Dick Cheney said recently. "... If you let them out, they'll go back to trying to kill Americans."
Posted by: Dan Darling 2006-03-05