By Andy Worthington, September 1, 2015
On August 18, Mohammed Kamin, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 36 or 37 years old, became the 17th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The PRBs were established in 2013 to review the cases of 71 men who had either been recommended for ongoing imprisonment in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009, or had been recommended for trials -- recommendations that were taken off the table when judges ruled that the majority of the charges in those trials (the military commissions) had been invented by Congress, and were not legitimate war crimes at all.
46 men were in the former category, and 25 in the latter, and readers paying close attention will realize that 17 reviews in 21 months is slow progress, and, frankly, an insult to the men whose cases have not yet been heard. At this rate, it will take until 2021 for all the reviews to take place.
Of the 17 reviews undertaken to date, 14 decisions have been taken to date. Ten men have been recommended for release (although only two have been freed), and in four cases the board members have recommended ongoing detention. Two of those four men are awaiting the results of second review boards (Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, and Muhammad al-Shumrani, a Saudi), and three other men are awaiting the results of their first reviews -- Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan whose review took place on June 24, Salman Rabei’i, a Yemeni whose review took place on July 14, and Mohammed Kamin.
Kamin, a fairly insignificant Afghan prisoner, was, nevertheless, put forward for a trial by military commission in 2008, although the charges against him were subsequently dropped in 2009.
Mohammed Kamin … seems, like many before him, to be an unworthy candidate for any kind of war crimes trial at all. In his charge sheet, he is accused of "providing material support for terrorism," specifically by receiving training at "an al-Qaeda training camp," conducting surveillance on U.S. and coalition military bases and activities, planting two mines under a bridge, and launching missiles at the city of Khost while it was occupied by U.S. and coalition forces. He is not charged with harming, let along killing U.S. forces, and were it not for his supposed al-Qaeda connection -- he apparently stated in interrogation that he was "recruited by an al-Qaeda cell leader" -- it would, I think, be impossible to make the case that he was involved in "terrorism" at all. As it is, I’m prepared to state that his case seems to me to demonstrate how hopelessly blurred the distinctions between military resistance (aka insurgency) and terrorism have become, so that anyone caught fighting U.S. occupation is not engaged in a war (with its own well-established laws) but is automatically part of a global terrorist movement.
Kamin is represented by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, and Paul Rashkind at the Florida Federal Public Defender’s Office, and the profile of him on the CCR website is illuminating.
CCR noted that Mohammed Kamin was held in U.S. custody in Khowst, in Afghanistan for over a year before his transfer to Guantánamo, and was "among the last group of conventional detainees transferred into Guantánamo in September 2004, several months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Rasul v. Bush extended the right to judicial review to Guantánamo detainees. It appears that a number of those late-arriving detainees were brought to Guantánamo in order to be charged and serve as success stories for the troubled military commission process," although, as was noted above, the charge against Kamin -- providing material support for terrorism -- was struck down as a charge in the military commissions by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) in October 2012, in a ruling that dealt a severe blow to the already attired credibility of the commissions.
As CCR noted, "D.C. Circuit decisions have since determined that the offense of providing 'material support' cannot be tried by military commission, meaning that Kamin cannot ever legally be charged."
CCR also noted, "Had he remained in coalition detention in Afghanistan (rather than being sent to Guantánamo to validate the military commission system), he would likely have been put through the national reconciliation system after a few years and released back to the care of his family and made the responsibility of his local community and village leaders. Instead, having been brought to Guantánamo, he has remained there for over a decade."
At his Periodic Review Board on August 18, Kamin was represented by two personal representatives (U.S. military officers appointed to help him prepare for his PRB), and Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and all those speaking for him were convincing in their calls for his release.
Of particular relevance were the descriptions of Kamin as a family man who wants only to return to his family, including his wife, and the 13-year old son he has not seen since he was an infant, his acknowledgement that he made mistakes in the past, and his behavior in Guantánamo. In the government's unclassified summary about him, it was noted that he "has been one of the more compliant detainees at Guantánamo and has committed few significant disciplinary infractions, most likely because the detention staff has treated him more humanely than he had expected."
That summary also ran through his alleged history working with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while acknowledging that all the information about his activities before his detention "is derived entirely from his own statements, some of which contradict each other." The authorities also noted that "[l]ittle information is available about [his] current mindset, as he has declined to meet with interrogators since 2007, probably out of frustration that his past cooperation had not led to tangible progress toward his release," although it was also noted that he "has blamed his former comrades for setting him on the path that led to his detention, and has said he fears their reprisals for providing information to the U.S."
The transcripts of the opening statements of his personal representatives and of Shayana Kadidal are cross-posted below. I hope you find them useful, and will share this article if you do. I have been calling for the release of the majority of the remaining Afghan prisoners for many years, and, as Shayana Kadidal noted, the end of the war in Afghanistan, as mentioned repeatedly by President Obama, ought to also to count as a reason for Kamin's release, even though, just two months ago, a judge turned down a request by a Yemeni prisoner to be freed because of the end of hostilities.
Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board, we are the Personal Representatives for Mr. Muhammad Kamin. We are accompanied today by Mr. Kamin's Private Counsel, Shane Kadidal and our Pashto Linguist. I have met Mr. Kamin twelve times and he has always been cooperative and friendly during our meetings, showing the same respect to a female as he would a male. He is the first detainee that I have met that would shake my hand.
When I am trying to get to know a detainee, I try to understand both his personality as well as his culture. During my time getting to know Mr. Kamin, I definitely noticed the Pashtu cultural difference in regards to being a tribal culture. As a PR, I have to ask questions about family support, if recommended for transfer. Early on I noticed that when Mr. Kamin spoke of his family, he was actually referring to his tribe, not his immediate family.
What I learned through these interactions is that Mr. Kamin's tribe and family are ready to support him upon his return. Since 2010, both the tribal elders and family members have written statements, submitted prior to the board, accepting his support upon release. In addition, Mr. Kamin has a plan to become a grocer; and his uncle intends to help him in support of this endeavor. Mr. Kamin's Private Counsel has submitted a written statement that if approved for transfer, ongoing support will be available to Mr. Kamin after his transfer from GTMO.
Mr. Kamin once said to me, "I am a human and I know I made mistakes." Since I have known him, he has always seemed sincere, not denying his past but learning from his mistakes. Another area that points to his character is the fact that while at GTMO, he has been one of the most compliant detainees. Mr. Kamin has changed.
In this forward looking process, Mr. Kamin has a plan for an occupation and a family life and also a large amount of tribal support. He harbors no ill will towards the U.S. He is here today ready to answer your questions so that you can see for yourself that he does not pose a significant threat toward the United States. We respectfully ask that you consider Mr. Kamin to be recommended for transfer. Let him return to his tribe to have a second chance at life.
We will be happy to answer any questions you may have throughout this proceeding. I will now defer to Mr. Kadidal, the Private Counsel for Mr. Kamin, for his opening statement.
My name is Shayana Kadidal. I am the managing attorney of the Guantánamo litigation project at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. It is my privilege to represent Mohammed Kamin and to appear before this board today.
I do so on behalf of my fellow private counsel, Wells Dixon of CCR and Paul Rashkind. Mr. Rashkind has represented Mr. Kamin for over six years and throughout that time has had the benefit of sharing research with a succession of excellent military commission defense counsel, including his former Army counsel, whose letter of support the Board has before it. Over the course of those many years, we as a group have gotten to know Mr. Kamin quite well. And based on that long experience we can say a few things about him without reservation.
First of all, our client desires nothing more than to return to life with his extended family, his elderly father, and wife and young son in Afghanistan. The former Army counsel's letter speaks eloquently of how Kamin begins meetings with him by asking after the counsel's family, how Kamin "has more than once indicated ... the respect he has for his wife who has remained by his side through all these years," and how "he yearns for the day when he can once again hold his family members in his arms and tell them, in person, that he loves them."
His family support network in Afghanistan is strong. He has been in regular contact with them thru the video calls facilitated by the Red Cross. As the stack of letters, videos and photographs we submitted to the Board attests, the members of his extended family and community have been ready and eager to have him back throughout the length of his detention, and they remain so today.
The life he would return to is the same life his father has known: a simple local existence. His father was a farmer who has made the upwardly-mobile transition to being a small-scale merchant. That is a life uncomplicated enough to facilitate the sometimes-difficult transition back to civilian society, but that also would provide opportunities to accommodate normal aspirations for social mobility that may arise once Mr. Kamin's transition back to life outside this prison is complete.
There is every reason to believe that he will make that transition successfully. By no one's account is our client ideological in his mindset. Throughout his detention he has dealt exceptionally well with others -- with the guards and the authorities, with the Arabic-speaking detainees who comprise the majority of the prison population, and with a variety of his own counsel and Pashto-language interpreters. Guantánamo is a difficult place to be and can be especially so for those whose linguistic community comprises only a tiny subset of the prison, but Mr. Kamin has dealt with his prolonged detention with grace throughout his eleven years here.
Both his open-mindedness and his respect for others have been noted throughout the record before this Board. The former Army counsel's letter says that "Mr. Kamin has been unfailingly polite, cordial, and pleasant in every interaction I or any member of his team have had with him," and that the Army counsel has "found [him] to be both intelligent and intellectually curious," and has "come to appreciate his perspective on historical, cultural and political matters." The Army counsel even notes "[a]s one seemingly minor, but illuminating example, [that,] unlike many detainees, [Mr. Kamin] has no objection to the participation of a female translator on his team ... and in fact has built a relationship of mutual trust and respect with his female translator, routinely addressing her by the respectful, if colloquial, term of 'aunt' during our meetings." His previous Navy military counsel, has reinforced every one of those points in her letter of support, stating that in three years and over 30 meetings, Kamin "never spoke or acted in any way that one might associate with religious extremism" and that she "never saw him act in a way that led me to believe he had anti-American views." These are not the judgments of people naive to the consequences of religious extremism or antipathy to the United States -- The former Army counsel is himself a decorated combat veteran deployed to Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. For other individuals whose detention is reviewed here, this Board may feel the need to question whether the detainee harbors longstanding feelings of resentment against the United States or its foreign policy, against unfamiliar cultures or different religions. None of those issues are remotely present in this case.
That Kamin is a respectful, tolerant and introspective man who simply aspires to return to a family and community that are ready to receive him back has been consistently demonstrated over the many years of his detention. It is not a portrait manufactured for the benefit of this Periodic Review Board as today's hearing date has approached. Nor has the picture of his personality changed radically since the widespread improvement in camp conditions that took place in early 2009. Instead -- as the materials before this Board demonstrate -- these personal traits and the strong support of his family have been on consistent display over the many years he has spent here in Guantánamo.
Though this is not a court of law, I mention two legal matters only because they bear on the question of whether there remain viable alternatives to clearing our client for release: First, recent decisions of the D.C. Circuit have now made it entirely clear that Kamin cannot be charged by military commission. Second, the President has repeatedly stated that our direct involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan -- the ongoing nature of which has been the justification for Kamin's continued detention without charge -- is at an end, which must bring into question the legal basis for that detention.
Fortunately, as an Afghan, his repatriation would not be problematic. Kamin's private counsel stand ready to assist his repatriation and reintegration into society. CCR has special expertise in this regard, having done the same for a large number of clients repatriated or resettled around the world. For several clients who were resettled and repatriated by the Administration from 2009 onwards, we worked with the State Department and host governments on transition plans for clients; we visited clients multiple times after release; we served as an ongoing point of contact for local authorities; we provided financial assistance and referrals for needs ranging from live-in interpreters to mental health care; and we partnered with other NGOs and organizations to help address other needs. We were a trusted and experienced resource in facilitating a successful transition for these clients, who are now rebuilding their lives; a number of former CCR clients have even successfully pursued higher education at universities after leaving Guantánamo. Finally, we have specific experience working with groups on the ground in Afghanistan. We would of course offer the same assistance for Mr. Kamin.
CCR and Mr. Rashkind have represented dozens of detainees since 2002, and we have absolute confidence that Mr. Kamin will not pose a threat to the national security of the United States if released. We respectfully submit that he should be approved for transfer from Guantánamo consistent with the President 's mandate to close the prison.
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In the profile of Mohammed Kamin on the CCR website, the contributions in support of his release were spelled out more clearly. CCR noted, "Kamin has received an enormous number of support letters as part of his PRB submissions. Four of the military lawyers who worked on his commissions defense over the years have written letters in support of his clearance, including among their number individuals who served in combat in Iraq and in Afghanistan and several Bronze Star recipients. Those letters attest that he is not bitter about his years of detention, and wants nothing more than to return to life with his wife, child, and larger family in Khowst. He has also received letters of support from various civil society and political leaders in Afghanistan: elders, maliks, and imams from Khowst province, local Senators and members of Parliament, the president of his provincial council, and the president of the Afghan Human Rights Organization -- all endorsing his release and offering their support in assisting his transition back to life as a free man."
It is to be hoped that these endorsements will be sufficient for the review board to recommend Kamin's release, which, we believe, is long overdue, as it is for the majority of the remaining Afghans, whose cases I have written about repeatedly over the years.
Note: Three more Periodic Review Boards are forthcoming in the coming months. The PRB for Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi aka Muaz al-Alawi (ISN 028), a Yemeni, is on September 22, the PRB for Abdul Rahman Ahmed aka al-Qyati (ISN 441), another Yemeni, is on September 29, and Ahmid Al Razak aka Haji Hamidullah (ISN 1119), another Afghan, was notified that a PRB was forthcoming on August 25.