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Wikileaks & Guantanamo: Why The U.S. Declared An Iranian-Catholic Drug Dealer An 'Enemy Combatant'

Among the new Wikileaks documents is the case of a Catholic-Iranian army deserter Abdul Majid Muhammed, a “low-value detainee” who nevertheless spent four years in Guantanamo -- just in case he might have tips on drug trafficking.

The U.S. military continues to keep
The U.S. military continues to keep
Corine Lesnes

In October 2006, U.S. authorities transferred a Guantanamo detainee to Iran, a country with which the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations. A drug dealer, Abdul Majid Muhammed, Internment Serial Number (ISN) 555, was deemed a "low-value detainee" by intelligence services. But given his "cooperative nature," U.S. soldiers decided to hold onto him in case they needed more information on opium trafficking between Iran and Afghanistan, and on "possible financing relations' between Al Qaeda and traffickers.

Muhammed's journey demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the Guantanamo system. As prison officials admitted to reporters who were allowed on the base, Muhammed was arrested for drug trafficking and detained by mistake, but kept in Guantanamo because intelligence services were happy to have a pool of informants to pick from when they needed. At the same time Muhammed was a very unique case: one of three Iranians – but the only Catholic – stuck in a system that took him four years to escape.

In a June 2005 secret memorandum, Muhammed, born in January 1979 in Zahedan, is described as suffering from a serious socialization disorder. His long-term perspectives are "bad" and he'll have to keep turning to psychiatric services to control his impulses.

Nearly three years earlier, in September 2002, he was deemed fit for release. A military panel said he should be freed or placed under the control of another country. "The detainee is not affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He was involved in drug trafficking. It is unlikely that he represents a risk for the U.S. or its allies," reads one of the Wikileaks documents.

But on Dec. 10, 2004, the prison commander, General Jay Hood, signed the order to keep him in detention: "The detainee remains an enemy combatant."

The minutes from the hearing in front of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal show stunning conversations between detainees, who often speak very little English, and judges who aren't really judges because it's an administrative process. Never mentioned by name, the so-called judges are instead referred to by vague titles: "Presiding officer," "member of the court," "personal representative (defense attorney)."

During the hearing, Muhammed explained he travelled to Afghanistan in late 2001 with "dreams to become rich fast." He never had any plans to work for the Taliban. "If the Taliban had known that I was a Catholic, they would have killed me," he says.

Captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, he was then transferred into U.S. hands. "I swear to God I don't have animosity against Americans," he told the tribunal. When the presiding officer asks him to finish up, he becomes angry. "I have more things to say. Since I've been here for four years, I should talk. Since I've been here, nobody likes me here; everybody is against me here. All the Arabs don't like me and all of the other detainees do not like me because I'm Catholic. They tried to kill me a couple of times. I have some scars on my hands."

The detainee begs the panel: "Living conditions are very hard for me here, I have nowhere to turn; it is kind of hard because they pressure me a lot. I humbly ask you to help me." At that point of his hearing, he shows the scars on his chest. "What others don't like is that I shave my beard and when I pray I kneel," he says.

One of the judges questions whether Muhammed is indeed a Catholic. "Do you have a godfather? What is your confirmation name? What is your priest's name?" The detainee has trouble understanding the questions but gives his priest's name: Issa.

It would take another year before Muhammed was finally freed. Despite having deserted the Iranian army, he was transferred back to Iranian authorities.

Read the original article in French

Photo - U.S. Army

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