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Terrorist factory running at guantanamo bay { June 17 2008 }

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Detainees recruited for jihad

Third of five parts GARDEZ, Afghanistan — Mohammed Naim Farouq was a thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. He ran a kidnapping...

By Tom Lasseter

McClatchy Newspapers

Third of five parts

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — Mohammed Naim Farouq was a thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. He ran a kidnapping and extortion racket, and he controlled his turf with a band of gunmen who rode around in trucks with AK-47 rifles.

U.S. troops detained him in 2002, although he had no clear ties to the Taliban or al-Qaida. By the time Farouq was released from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the next year, however — after more than 12 months of what he described as abuse and humiliation at the hands of U.S. soldiers — he'd made connections to high-level militants.

In fact, he'd become a Taliban leader. When the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a stack of 20 "most wanted" playing cards in 2006 identifying extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan — with Osama bin Laden at the top — Farouq was 16 cards into the deck.

A McClatchy Newspapers investigation found that instead of confining terrorists, Guantánamo often produced more of them by rounding up common criminals, conscripts, low-level foot soldiers and men with no allegiance to radical Islam — thus inspiring a deep hatred of the United States in them — and then housing them in cells next to radical Islamists.

The radicals were quick to exploit the flaws in the U.S. detention system.

Soldiers, guards or interrogators at the U.S. bases at Bagram or Kandahar in Afghanistan had abused many of the detainees, and they arrived at Guantánamo enraged at America.

The Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in the cells around them were ready to preach their firebrand interpretation of Islam and the need to wage jihad, Islamic holy war, against the West. Guantánamo became a school for jihad, complete with a council of elders who issued fatwas — binding religious instructions — to the other detainees.

Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, until recently the commanding officer at Guantánamo, acknowledged senior militant leaders gained influence and control in his prison.

"We have that full range of [Taliban and al-Qaida] leadership here, why would they not continue to be functional as an organization?" he said. "I must make the assumption that there's a fully functional al-Qaida cell here at Guantánamo."

Afghan and Pakistani officials also said they were aware that Guantánamo was churning out new militant leaders.

In a classified 2005 review of 35 detainees released from the camp, Pakistani police intelligence concluded the men — the majority of whom had been subjected to "severe mental and physical torture," according to the report — had "extreme feelings of resentment and hatred against USA."

"A lot of our friends are working against the Americans now, because if you torture someone without any reason, what do you expect?" Issa Khan, a Pakistani former detainee, said in Islamabad. "Many people who were in Guantánamo are now working with the Taliban."

In interviews, former U.S. Defense Department officials acknowledged the problem, but none would speak about it openly because of its implications: U.S. officials mistakenly sent a lot of men who weren't hardened terrorists to Guantánamo, but some of them had become just that by the time they were released.

Requests for comment from senior Defense Department officials went unanswered. The Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs, Sandra Hodgkinson, declined interview requests.

However, dozens of former detainees, many reluctant to talk for fear of being branded as spies by the extremists, described a network — at times fragmented, and at times startling in its sophistication — that allowed Islamist radicals to gain power inside Guantánamo:

• Extremists recruited new detainees by offering to help them memorize the Quran and study Arabic.

• Taliban and al-Qaida leaders appointed cellblock leaders. When there was a problem with guards, such as allegations of Quran abuse or rough searches of detainees, these "local" leaders reported up their chains of command whether the men in their block had fought back with hunger strikes or by throwing cups of urine and feces at guards. Senior leaders then decided whether to call for large-scale hunger strikes or other protests.

• Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders at Guantánamo issued rulings that governed detainees' behavior. Shaking hands with female guards was haram — forbidden — men should pray five times a day and talking with U.S. soldiers should be kept to a minimum.

The recruiting and organizing don't end at Guantánamo. After detainees are released, they're visited by extremists who try to cement the relationships formed in prison.

"When I was released, they [Taliban officials] told me to come join them, to fight," said Alif Khan, an Afghan former detainee whom McClatchy interviewed in Kabul. "They told me I should move to Waziristan," a Taliban hotbed in Pakistan.

U.S. officials tried to stop detainees from turning Guantánamo into what some former U.S. officials have since called an "American madrassa" — an Islamic religious school — but some of their efforts backfired.

The original Guantánamo camp, Camp X-Ray, was little more than a collection of wire-mesh cells in which detainees were grouped together without much concern for their backgrounds.

In April 2002, U.S. officials shifted detainees to Camp Delta, which grew to include a series of camps organized by security level.

The idea was that detainees who presented graver threats and were uncooperative would be separated from those with looser ties to international terrorism.

What the plan overlooked — according to several detainees and a former U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject — is that even midlevel al-Qaida members had been trained in resistance techniques, and one was to avoid calling attention to yourself. An angry cabdriver from Kabul, in other words, may have been more likely to attack a guard and end up in Camp Three than an al-Qaida extremist was.

Abdul Zuhoor, an Afghan detainee who spent time in Camp Four, said radical detainees used the system to their full advantage.

Zuhoor said he remembered watching groups of senior Taliban and Arab detainees meet in the exercise yard.

"They considered themselves the elders of Guantánamo," Zuhoor said in the Afghan town of Charikar. "They met as a shura [religious] council."

In June 2006, Zuhoor said, a Taliban member at Guantánamo bragged to him that there soon would be three "martyrs."

"The Arabs and some Taliban sat together and issued a verdict," Zuhoor said. "Three of the men volunteered to kill themselves to get more freedom for the other detainees."

The next morning, Zuhoor said, the news spread across Guantánamo: Three Arabs had committed suicide.

The commander at the time, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, called the suicides acts of "asymmetric warfare."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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