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Qari Esmhatulla is a citizen of Afghanistan who was held in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba.[1][2]

Qari Esmhatulla was captured in Afghanistan in March 2002 and transferred to Afghanistan on October 11, 2006.[3]

Esmhatulla's Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 591.[1] The Department of Defense's official list of detainee names released on May 15, 2006 estimates that Esmhatulla was born in 1984 in Ramsha, Pakistan.

The Associated Press filed Freedom of Information Act requests to learn the identity of the Guantanamo detainees.[4] And the DoD filed appeals so they could deny those requests. The DoD exhausted their appeals. US District Court Justice Jed Rakoff issued a court order to the DoD giving them a deadline of 6pm March 3, 2006. The DoD complied by releasing 5,000 pages of transcripts from detainee's Combatant Status Review Tribunals and Administrative Review Board hearings.

Contents

Identity

Most of the transcripts did not contain the detainee's name, referring to them only by their detainee ID number. Esmhatulla was one of the very few detainee's whose name was mentioned during the course of his transcript. So he was one of the first detainee's whose case was summarized in the press.[5][6][7]

Those reports quoted Esmhatulla testifying that he served with the Taliban for just four days, and that he joined up to help his fellow Pashtun speaker fight the Persian speaking tribes from the north, where the Northern Alliance was based, that he had not joined to fight Americans.

Guantanamo counter-terrorism analysts estimate that Esmhatulla was born in 1984. He stated he was only sixteen when he was captured.

Combatant Status Review Tribunal

Combatant Status Review Tribunals were held in a trailer the size of a large RV. The captive sat on a plastic garden chair, with his hands and feet shackled to a bolt in the floor.[8][9] Three chairs were reserved for members of the press, but only 37 of the 574 Tribunals were observed.[10]

Initially the Bush administration asserted that they could withhold all the protections of the Geneva Conventions to captives from the war on terror. This policy was challenged before the Judicial branch. Critics argued that the USA could not evade its obligation to conduct a competent tribunals to determine whether captives are, or are not, entitled to the protections of prisoner of war status.

Subsequently the Department of Defense instituted the Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The Tribunals, however, were not authorized to determine whether the captives were lawful combatants -- rather they were merely empowered to make a recommendation as to whether the captive had previously been correctly determined to match the Bush administration's definition of an enemy combatant.

Esmhatullat chose to participate in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal.[11]

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Testimony

Esmatullat testified that he was approached, at a funeral, by two members of the Taliban. They dared him to join them in fighting against the Uzbeks in the Northern Alliance, who were approaching. When he told them he didn't know how to fight they said he could be a cook.

He agreed, and spent the night in a madrassa, with some other recruits. The madrassa was bombed that night, and he was slightly injured. He asked the two recruiters, the next day, if they were leaving. When he was told they were not leaving that day, he left, and started walking home. His trip home, by foot, took him three days. He spent one night in a broken down truck, and another in an abandoned village. He didn't see a living soul on his entire trip, although he saw some dead bodies. He also came across a Sony radio and some hand grenades, which he picked up, because he thought he might be able to sell them, although he didn't know how to use them.

When he arrived at his village the Northern Alliance were already there. He dropped the grenades and bowed to the soldiers. They captured him. In Bagram he was told the radio was not the kind you used for listening to music, but was the kind you use for talking.

Esmatullat said all the allegations against him, other than that he was captured carrying hand grenades, and a radio, were untrue.

Esmatullat said the only time he had ever held a weapon was at a wedding, where he was allowed to fire three rounds in the air.

Administrative Review Board hearing

Hearing room where Guantanamo captive's annual Administrative Review Board hearings convened for captives whose Combatant Status Review Tribunal had already determined they were an "enemy combatant".[12]

Detainees who were determined to have been properly classified as "enemy combatants" were scheduled to have their dossier reviewed at annual Administrative Review Board hearings. The Administrative Review Boards weren't authorized to review whether a detainee qualified for POW status, and they weren't authorized to review whether a detainee should have been classified as an "enemy combatant".

They were authorized to consider whether a detainee should continue to be detained by the United States, because they continued to pose a threat—or whether they could safely be repatriated to the custody of their home country, or whether they could be set free.

The factors for and against continuing to detain Esmhatullah were among the 121 that the Department of Defense released on March 3, 2006.[13]

The following primary factors favor continued detention

a. Commitment
  1. The detainee admitted he agreed to join the Taliban and to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan.
  2. The detainee was aware that he would be joining with and supporting the Taliban forces, albeit for both religious reasons and in responding to a challenge as to why the detainee was remaining at home while other were fighting the United States and the Northern Alliance forces.
  3. The detainee was captured by the Afghans and turned over to the United States forces during Operation Anaconda.
b. Training
  1. The detainee admitted he traveled to Shahi-Kwowt to join the Taliban military.
c. Connections/Association
  1. The detainee advised that his brother was forced into fighting for the Taliban and died fighting the Northern Alliance.
d. Intent
  1. The detainee demonstrated his intent to attack or maliciously engage the United States or its Allied interests by admitting he went to help the Taliban in their fight against the Northern Alliance.
  2. The detainee admitted he was carrying a radio and grenades while he was traveling to the Taliban forces to support them.

The following primary factors favor release or transfer

a. Exculpatory data:
  1. The detainee was challenged as to why he was not helping the Taliban. The detainee stated that in his culture, Pashtu culture, it is a bad thing if you do not accept a challenge.
  2. The detainee denies engaging in any military action against the United States or the Northern Alliance.
  3. The detainee's position is that he did not fight against Americans, rather his intent was to fight against Persian speaking people who have differences with the Pashtu speaking people like himself.
  4. The detainee intends to return to his village, help his father with the farm, and continue his religious studies.
  5. The detainee holds no animosity towards the United States government for its current involvement in Afghanistan or his incarceration.
  6. The detainee stated he did not believe his brother who was forced into fighting for the Taliban and subsequently died fighting the Northern Alliance was a martyr.

Transcript

Esmhatullat chose to participate in his Administrative Review Board hearing.[2]

Youthfulness

Before he started his presentation on Esmatulla's behalf he drew the Board's attention to how young he was, that he was brought to Guantanamo when he was sixteen years old.

Opening statement

Esmatulla's Assisting Military Officer read a statement he had taken from Esmatulla:

Esmatulla said: "I am a Talib (ie. student) of the Koran and God and not a warrior Talib."

Once a year Esmatulla made a pilgrimage to a religious shrine that was a day's journey by foot, each way. He was captured, on his way home by Afghani forces, who accused him of returning from a fight, even though he was unarmed. When he denied their accusations they beat him, until he admitted their false allegations were true. He heard his captors anticipating the bounty he would fetch. They decided to claim he was captured with a grenade, in order to justify claiming the bounty. During his beating he suffered a head injury his Afghan told the Americans was inflicted in combat.

When he was captured the only items in his possession were a bottle of grooming oil and a letter from the Taliban Ministry of Finance, which simply encouraged him to keep studying the Koran.

Esmatulla denied he was ever a member of the Taliban, and pointed:

"I did not have the facial hair that members of the Taliban wear and if you look at my picture when I was captured it will be apparent. I never joined the war, never engaged in any military training, and never traveled to Shahi-Kwowt to join the Taliban Military. The only reason I ever admitted this to the Afghani soldiers was because I was beaten.

Responses to the factors favoring continued detention

  • Esmatulla repeated that he was forced to utter a false confession because of the severe beatings he was being given.
  • Esmatulla repeated that beardless youths were never allowed to become members of the Taliban. He encouraged the Board to examine his picture from when he was first captured.
  • Esmatulla denied traveling to Shahi-Kwowt, and denied receiving military training there.

Responses to Board's questioning

  • Esmatulla said if he was released he would return to help his father. And, since he had completed his religious training, he would feel honored if kids asked him to teach them the Koran.
  • When asked if he had been mistreated by the interrogators in Cuba he answered he had not been beaten, but he had been left shackled for long periods of time.
  • When the Designated Military Officer pointed out that the factors were based upon statements made to American interrogators, not Afghani interrogators he replied that in Bagram he was told he would be in trouble if what he told them differed from what he had told his Afghan interrogators.

References

  1. ^ a b OARDEC (May 15, 2006). "List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006". United States Department of Defense. http://www.dod.mil/news/May2006/d20060515%20List.pdf. Retrieved 2007-09-29.  
  2. ^ a b Summarized transcripts (.pdf) from Qari Esmhatulla's Administrative Review Board hearing - pages 1-7
  3. ^ http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/591-qari-esmhatulla
  4. ^ Pentagon releases more Guantanamo detainee names, The Jurist, May 15, 2006
  5. ^ In Guantanamo Bay Documents, Prisoners Plead for Release: U.S. Makes First Public Accounting Of Detainees, Washington Post, March 5, 2006
  6. ^ Guantanamo Bay: The testimony, BBC, March 4, 2006
  7. ^ Sketches of Guantanamo detainees-Part I, The State, March 15, 2006
  8. ^ Guantánamo Prisoners Getting Their Day, but Hardly in Court, New York Times, November 11, 2004 - mirror
  9. ^ Inside the Guantánamo Bay hearings: Barbarian "Justice" dispensed by KGB-style "military tribunals", Financial Times, December 11, 2004
  10. ^ "Annual Administrative Review Boards for Enemy Combatants Held at Guantanamo Attributable to Senior Defense Officials". United States Department of Defense. March 6, 2007. http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=3902. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  11. ^ Summarized transcripts (.pdf), from Qari Esmhatulla's Combatant Status Review Tribunal - pages 165-173
  12. ^ (Spc Timothy Book (Friday March 10, 2006). "Review process unprecedented". The Wire (JTF-GTMO). pp. 1. http://www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil/wire/WirePDF/v6/TheWire-v6-i049-10MAR2006.pdf#1. Retrieved 2007-10-12.  
  13. ^ Factors for and against the continued detention (.pdf) of Qari Esmhatulla Administrative Review Board - page 77

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