Detentions over charity ties questioned. Terror links called overstated (Emphasis added)
By Farah Stockman
August 31, 2006
WASHINGTON -- For the past four years, the US military has held Adel Hassan Hamad in prison at Guantanamo Bay, based in part on allegations that he worked for two charity groups in Afghanistan that the US military says support terrorism, according to the military's summary of evidence against Hamad.
But neither group appears on the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations, and one of them operates openly from an office in Britain.
In the case of another Guantanamo detainee, whose name does not appear in the record, the US military states in its summary of evidence that the man should be held as an enemy combatant in part because he worked for the International Islamic Relief Organization, a global relief group whose branches in the Philippines and Indonesia have been linked by the US Treasury Department to terrorism.
But that group is also one of Saudi Arabia's largest charities, and it participates in a United Nations council on economic and social issues. It, too, does not appear on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
Scores of detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been accused of belonging to terrorist networks posing as humanitarian organizations, according to transcripts of military hearings. Many of these detainees worked for groups with established terrorist links, but others were employees of legally recognized Muslim charities that are considered mainstream in the Middle East, are not on the State Department's terrorist list, and employ relief workers around the globe.
Some defense lawyers say these cases show that the US military is stretching the evidence to justify the continued detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Others say the United States is maintaining a double standard, allowing the groups to operate in the United States while at the same time accusing them of terrorism during status-review hearings for detainees. Since so few of the detainees have been given trials, the hearings, before three-officer panels, are the only opportunity for most of the detainees to answer the evidence against them.
"Either a particular group is dangerous, and should be outlawed in the United States, or it is innocuous, and no one should be held at Guantanamo because of an association with it," said Mark Denbeaux , a professor at Seton Hall Law School who published a series of reports of Guantanamo detainees accused of belonging to groups other than the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Defense Department spokesmen say the summaries of evidence against the detainees, placed on the Defense Department website, do not include classified information, meaning the evidence against some detainees may be more extensive.
"Although the unclassified summary of evidence depicts the actions and associations of the detainee, it has to be incorporated with the classified information to gain a clear and complete picture of the enemy combatant status," said Pentagon spokesman Chito Peppler.
Nonetheless, defense lawyers and human rights advocates say the fact that the Defense Department is citing mere association with these organizations -- rather than specific actions -- as reasons for detaining people raises serious questions about the quality of the cases against some of the inmates.
"The language in the allegations can be very vague," said Katherine Newell Bierman , counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C. "Are they linked to a group that is actually a designated terrorist organization or not?"
Documents related to the case against Hamad, a Sudanese man who spent 17 years working for humanitarian groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, show that at least one US military officer expressed doubts about the evidence.
An Army major serving on the three-officer panel conducting a status-review hearing in 2004 said evidence was so weak that Hamad should be freed even if all the US government's allegations against him were true.
"Simply stated, even assuming all the allegations . . . are accurate, the detainee does not meet the definition of enemy combatant," the officer, whose name is blacked out in the documents, wrote in a dissenting opinion.
The officer said Hamad's work running a hospital for the World Assembly of Muslim Youth does not make him an enemy combatant, which the military defines as a person who was "part of or supporting the Taliban or Al Qaeda forces, or associated forces" fighting the United States or its allies.
Hamad was also cited for distributing food at refugee camps for the charity group Lajant Dawa Islamiya, which the US military said "may be" associated with Osama bin Laden. But neither group appears on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
"Absent any alleged evidence that the detainee was involved in providing support [to terrorism], he cannot be deemed an enemy combatant," the officer wrote. "These NGOs presumably have numerous employees and volunteer workers who have been working in legitimate humanitarian roles. The mere fact that some elements of these NGO s provide support to 'terrorist ideals and causes' is insufficient to declare one of the employees an enemy combatant."
But he was outvoted by his two colleagues, one of whom wrote that the case passed the "low evidentiary hurdle" set up by the rules of the hearings.
Lajant Dawa Islamiya, a Kuwaiti organization, has been investigated by the Treasury Department for links to terrorism but has also delivered food in refugee camps in conjunction with the UN World Food Program. World Assembly of Muslim Youth, or WAMY, espouses a fundamentalist brand of Islam and has been investigated by a Senate panel for financial ties to terror organizations in the United States, but does not appear on the State Department's list of terrorist groups. And the Senate panel did not take action against it.
At an additional hearing in 2005, officers on the review panel questioned Hamad on his ties.
"You've done much good work, much charitable work over the years," the presiding officer told Hamad, transcripts say. But "many of the organizations that you've been a part of have an extremist part to them."
Another officer told Hamad that "top WAMY officials" had declared that both the United States and Israel should be destroyed and that "WAMY provides financial support to the Palestinians fighting against Israel."
"What WAMY's highest officials said, I have never heard of," Hamad replied during the hearing. "And if they said that, I have nothing to do with it, for I am an employee. I do my job and earn wages for it."
Hamad's attorney, Steven Wax of Oregon, called the charges "guilt by association."
"There is absolutely no allegation even -- let alone evidence -- that Mr. Hamad personally harbors any anti-American views, that he personally ever had anything to do with Al Qaeda or the Taliban," Wax said.
In the case of the detainee who worked for the International Islamic Relief Organization, military documents describe the group as a large, Saudi-based aid organization "that performs relief work worldwide, but is also used by Islamic terrorists and insurgents for cover, travel, and funding."
The evidence summary states that the detainee also owned a Casio wrist watch "typically used as a timing device" for detonating explosives and that his name was found on a computer belonging to a known terrorist, the document says.
More than two dozen detainees have been accused of belonging to the strict Islamic missionary group Jama'at al Tablighi, according to Denbeaux, the Seton Hall professor.
The group is not on the State Department's list of terrorist groups, but US officials have expressed concern that some terrorist suspects have joined the group or posed as members.
In June, when three detainees committed suicide at Guantanamo Bay, a Pentagon news release described one as a member of Jama'at al Tablighi. That detainee was on the verge of being released to his home country, Saudi Arabia, according to Pentagon officials.