Expecting U.S. Help, Sent to Guantánamo
Abdul Rahim Al Ginco thought he was
saved when the
United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrew the Taliban regime
TIM GOLDEN / New York Times 15oct2006
[More on Guantanamo (GITMO)]
Mr. Ginco, a college student living in the United Arab Emirates, had gone to Afghanistan in 2000 after running away from his strict Muslim father. He was soon imprisoned by the Taliban, and tortured by operatives of Al Qaeda until, he said, he falsely confessed to being a spy for Israel and the United States.
But rather than help Mr. Ginco return home, American soldiers detained him again. Nearly five years later, he remains in the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — in part, it appears, on the strength of a propaganda videotape made by his torturers.
“This was a 22-year-old kid who was brutally tortured,” one of Mr. Ginco’s American lawyers, Stephen R. Sady, said. “And instead of being liberated, he has endured four and a half years of additional confinement.”
A bill signed into law by President Bush last December requires the Pentagon to determine if information being used to hold a detainee has been obtained by coercion and “the probative value (if any)” of such information. Another law passed by Congress last month would ban the use of statements made under torture from the military tribunals that are to be used to prosecute some Guantánamo detainees.
But that second law, which awaits the president’s signature, would also sweep away most federal court challenges to the detention of Guantánamo prisoners, including perhaps the one filed by American lawyers for Mr. Ginco, who is now 28.
A spokesman for the Department of Defense, Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon of the Navy, said he could not discuss the specifics of the evidence against any particular detainee. And because part of the military’s case against Mr. Ginco remains classified, it is not possible to evaluate fully the grounds for his detention.
But partial transcripts from two review hearings for Mr. Ginco at Guantánamo and information filed by his lawyers last week in district court in Washington show that the military has repeatedly accused him of having volunteered his life as a Qaeda martyr — a claim that appears to be based on a videotape found in Afghanistan.
That tape was pulled from the rubble of a home used by Muhammad Atef, the reputed military chief of Al Qaeda, who was killed by an American air strike on his home near Kabul on Nov. 16, 2001. Mr. Ginco named Mr. Atef as one of the Qaeda and Taliban operatives who tortured him in early 2000, applying electric shocks to his ears and toes, nearly drowning him in a filthy water tank, depriving him of sleep and beating him on the soles of his feet.
In December 2001 and January 2002, several Western news reporters, including one for The New York Times, interviewed Mr. Ginco and four other foreign prisoners as the Northern Alliance took over the prison where they had been held in Kandahar. A reporter for The Times of London described Mr. Ginco and some of the others as “desperate to be interviewed by the F.B.I.”
On Jan. 17, however, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, held a news conference to announce that five videotapes had been recovered from the ruins of Mr. Atef’s home showing several men who “may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.” The first man shown in an excerpt from one of those tapes was Mr. Ginco, whom Mr. Ashcroft identified as Abd Al-Rahim.
Lawyers for Mr. Ginco, who was born to a Kurdish family in Syria, still have not viewed the complete tape from which Mr. Ashcroft showed a brief excerpt or heard its audio. But they said they believed it showed part of one of the propaganda videos made by the torturers who extracted Mr. Ginco’s confession. In a hearing at Guantánamo in November 2005, Mr. Ginco admitted to a military review panel that he appeared in the video but said, “It wasn’t my choice.”
The Taliban announced in May 2000 that Mr. Ginco had been arrested as a spy. Another videotape was then broadcast on an Arab television network, in which he looks pale, uneasy and underweight and confesses at length to having been a spy for the United States and Israel.
This interview with Mr. Ginco about his purported espionage was also published in a Taliban government magazine in July 2000. It quotes him as saying he was corrupted at college by an “evil acquaintance” who introduced him to a “computer game called PlayStation.” Later, he added, he was shown a pornographic computer disc and introduced to an American embassy official, whom he identified as “Shamoyel Anty,” an agent of “the Israeli intelligence agency.”
After the collapse of the Taliban, Mr. Ginco and the four other foreigners were taken for questioning to the makeshift American detention center in Kandahar. Initially, one of the men said, they were treated more as guests than as prisoners, and were given chocolates and extra blankets by the American soldiers.
His treatment suddenly became much harsher, his lawyers said, after he was recognized as one of the men depicted in a brief Time magazine article based on Mr. Ashcroft’s announcement about the videotapes.
Mr. Ginco and the four others were transferred to Guantánamo in May 2002. Two of the five, a Briton and a Russian, were released in 2004, and both have made sworn statements on Mr. Ginco’s behalf, his lawyer, Mr. Sady, said.
In other statements filed in federal court, members of Mr. Ginco’s family said he had run away from home after borrowing money for a camping trip from some of his college classmates. Mr. Ginco’s elder brother, with whom he was living, said the family considered such borrowing shameful, and that he threatened to tell their strict father about the episode.
Mr. Ginco said he had tried to arrange to travel to Europe or Canada but could not because his father had kept his passport. He said a former friend from college who worked at the Afghan Embassy in Dubai told him that he could be deported to Afghanistan if he went to the police and told them he was an undocumented Afghan, which he then did.
In Afghanistan, he quickly drew the suspicion of the Taliban. He was told to go fight against Northern Alliance forces, he said, and sent briefly to a Qaeda training camp. When he tried to leave, he said, he was imprisoned and tortured. At Guantánamo, he has told military officials that the mistreatment badly damaged his right arm and that he had spent much of his time there in a psychiatric ward.
Mr. Ginco’s lawyers, who are federal public defenders in Oregon, are contesting his detention on the grounds that he could not have fought against the United States after it declared a war on terrorism because he was being held by the Taliban as an American spy.