WASHINGTON – Abdul Rahim insists he's an apolitical student who fled a strict father. But he's fallen into a black hole in the war on terror in which first the Taliban and then the United States imprisoned him as an enemy of the state.
Arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan in January 2000, Rahim says Al Qaeda leaders burned him with cigarettes, smashed his right hand, deprived him of sleep, nearly drowned him and hanged him from the ceiling until he "confessed" to spying for the United States.
U.S. forces took the young Kurd from Syria into custody in January 2002 after the Taliban fled his prison. Accusing him of being an Al Qaeda terrorist, U.S. interrogators deprived him of sleep, threatened him with police dogs and kept him in stress positions for hours, he says. He's been held ever since as an enemy combatant.
Rahim's story is one of several emerging from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay as defense lawyers make bids to free their clients while the Bush administration tries to use a new law to lock them out of federal courts.
After the Supreme Court overturned President Bush's plans for commissions to try detainees, Bush obtained a new law from Congress barring federal courts from hearing appeals for release by any alien "properly detained as an enemy combatant." The Justice Department told district and appellate judges this week they no longer have jurisdiction to hear dozens of such pending cases.
A court fight over that is certain.
Calling the move to strip jurisdiction "a direct attack on our constitutional structure," Federal Public Defender Steven T. Wax in Portland, Ore., said, "We will litigate that as hard as we can in whatever forum we can find, because they are wrong."
Other detainees whose lawyers filed new evidence in U.S. District Court motions this month include:
—Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese charity worker arrested at 1:30 a.m. July 18, 2002, in his Peshawar, Pakistan, apartment. Co-workers swear he was a hospital administrator with no connection to terrorists. A dissenting U.S. Army major on the panel that reviewed the unclassified and secret evidence against him called it "unconscionable" to detain him because some employees of the same charity may have supported terrorist ideals.
—Nazar "Chaman" Gul, a 29-year-old Afghani who thought he was working as an armed fuel depot guard for the Karzi government installed by U.S. forces. The man who hired him swears that was the case, but he is accused of being a member of a terrorist group. The lawyers say he has been mistaken for a commander of that terror group, named Chaman Gul, also held at Guantanamo.
All three are represented by Wax and his assistants. Wax's staff traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates to gather dozens of sworn statements from co-workers, relatives, fellow inmates and people who knew these detainees but haven't spoken to them in years. These newly filed accounts substantiate details of the detainees' denials that they were terrorists.
"These clients are not enemy combatants," Wax said in an interview. The new law "does not apply to people who are not enemy combatants," he said.
Wax said it would be unconstitutional to apply the jurisdiction-stripping bill retroactively to existing cases. And he said the Supreme Court has ruled before that it has the final say over its jurisdiction in these so-called habeas corpus petitions for release from custody. Following President Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus for prisoners of war, the high court in 1866 set a man free after finding he was not a prisoner of war, Wax noted.
The government feels differently about Wax's clients.
"Multiple reviews have been conducted since each detained enemy fighter was captured, including for these three individuals," said a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon. "There is a significant amount of evidence, both unclassified and classified, which supports continued detention of these detainees and others at Guantanamo."
Now 28, Rahim, buttressed by testimony from friends and relatives, says he wound up in Afghanistan in a bid to escape his father, a strict teacher of Islamic education who objected to his borrowing money outside the family for a college trip. With his father holding his passport, he tried futilely to get from his home in the United Arab Emirates to Europe or Canada.
Finally a friendly diplomat got him deported to Afghanistan where he and others say he hoped to be declared a refugee and moved to Europe by international aid agencies. He says the Taliban conscripted him and sent him against his will to the Al Farouq terrorist training camp. When he tried to leave 18 days later, they imprisoned him, he says.
In spring 2000, Abu Dhabi television broadcast a video of a tearful, fidgeting Rahim saying a U.S. agent recruited him to find Osama bin Laden. "I deserve to die ... but if the Taliban let me live, I want to spend the next 22 years fighting for jihad," he said.
On Jan. 17, 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said U.S. forces found five videotapes in the ruined Afghan home of bin Laden aide Mohammed Atef — one of the men Rahim says directed his torture. Ashcroft said the tapes show young men delivering "martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists" and identified one as "Abd Rahim."
Rahim's attorney Stephen Sady said any Taliban tapes of Rahim "were the product of torture" and no different from false confessions Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made to stay alive in a North Vietnamese prison.
"After two years the Americans came and saved me from the prison," Rahim told U.S. officers. "I told them about the videotape the Taliban made of me ... it created confusion to the point that the Americans believed I was working with al-Qaida."
He added: "Nothing changed in my life. I was taken from prison to prison."