your connection to The Boston Globe

US casts wide net in war on terror

Low-level suspects at Guantanamo

SAN JUAN -- New documents on the Guantanamo detainees suggest the Bush administration has cast a wide net in its war on terror. But US forces have often come up empty as 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.

The man told his US military tribunal he was 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 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 US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being held properly 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 with 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 disclose only unclassified information, for example. The detainees and their representatives are not told what other evidence the military might have against them.

The apple seller's weak link to the Taliban or Al Qaeda does not appear to be unique at Guantanamo Bay, the mostly unredacted transcripts show.

Some detainees say they attended training camps that US authorities believe were run by Al Qaeda or militants linked to the terror group. A few admit to meeting bin Laden.

Some are prominent, like the governor of Afghanistan's Herat Province, the Taliban's minister of commerce, or the Pakistani millionaire, a man with businesses in the United States 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 taken from the battlefields of Afghanistan shortly after US troops invaded and helped drive out the Taliban.

The evidence against others can seem flimsy.

In at least one case, it appears to include only the fact that the suspect wore a Casio watch, a brand allegedly favored by terrorists for use as bomb timers.

And some of those captured 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.

''I was just walking in the street, and I was captured," Shah said. ''The next thing I found out is that I am sitting here."

It is impossible to gauge from the transcripts alone whether someone is improperly held at Guantanamo Bay, where the United States holds about 490.

Again and again, detainees are told that there is other evidence against them, but they are not permitted to see it.

The Bush administration has kept almost all the information about the detainees secret since opening the prison in 2002.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives