October 20, 2010 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Al Qaeda IED Cell Member Properly Detained at Gitmo, Judge Finds

In an order released on Tuesday, DC District Judge Richard Leon rejected a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by an Afghan detained at Guantanamo named Obaydullah (or Obaidullah).

Obaydullah was transported to Guantanamo in Oct. 2002 after US intelligence officials concluded that his role in an al Qaeda improvised explosive devices (IED) cell operating in southern Afghanistan warranted detention. Months earlier, on July 21, 2002, US forces raided Obaidullah's home after receiving intelligence indicating that he was storing land mines.

In his ruling, Judge Leon described what US forces found. In addition to “a stash of 23 anti-tank mines buried in an outdoor pit close” to Obaydullah's home, the Americans “secured from his person a notebook containing certain diagrams that appeared to be wiring designs for building lethal” IEDs. In addition, Obaydullah “was storing an automobile that contained dried blood and Taliban propaganda, and that had been used by him and another to ferry to a local hospital certain bomb cell members who had been injured in an accidental explosion.”

The government also alleged that Obaydullah has “repeatedly given false and implausible explanations regarding his knowledge of, and involvement with, these explosives, this notebook, and this automobile.” Judge Leon agreed with the government, finding that Obaydullah's various prevarications were “inconsistent and inherently ridiculous” and also “defie[d] both common sense and reality.”

Judge Leon's ruling is the third instance in recent months when a DC district judge found a Guantanamo detainee's implausible story to be evidence of guilt. [For an analysis of the other two rulings, see LWJ reports, Judge finds that Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee was no charity worker and Brother of notorious al Qaeda operative denied habeas petition.]

In previous habeas rulings, district judges have not given much weight, if any at all, to the fact that many detainees cannot provide plausible explanations for their connections to al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, after the DC Circuit Court pointed out in Mohammed Al-Adahi v. Obama “that false exculpatory statements are evidence – often strong evidence – of guilt,” DC district judges have applied more scrutiny to the stories told by detainees challenging their detention.

Obaydullah initially claimed that he was storing the antitank mines for “his business partner and friend, Karim Bostan.” Obaydullah later changed his story, Judge Leon found, claiming that the mines had been left behind “by a Soviet commander who had used Obaydullah's compound as an operations base” more than a decade earlier. (Obaydullah also said at some point that the mines were left behind by “jihad fighters.”) At various times, Obaydullah claimed that he buried the minds “with just his uncle, by himself, and with just his mother.” Still later, Obaydullah even questioned “whether the mines uncovered by US forces are the same mines he recalls burying.”

Judge Leon did not buy Obaydullah's evolving account of how he came to be in possession of the 23 antitank mines, which in reality were to be used as components for IEDs. Nor did Judge Leon buy Obaydullah's story when it came to the incriminating notebook found in his possession.

The notebook “clearly indicates that it contains wiring diagrams and notes that constitute a veritable checklist – in albeit somewhat cryptic form – of how to assemble a remote-control detonated IED,” Judge Leon found. Despite this, however, Obaydullah advanced implausible claims including that the notebook's contents were really the result of a bomb detection class he was forced to take by the Taliban or, alternatively, that it simply gave the schematics for a “power generator.”

Karim Bostan and Obaydullah's changing story

Judge Leon's ruling has important implications for the case of another Guantanamo detainee, Karim Bostan. Obaydullah initially claimed that the almost two dozen antitank mines he was captured with were really Bostan's. But then Bostan himself was shipped to Gitmo after being detained in Pakistan. It was then that Obaydullah began to rework his story, Judge Leon found, “backing away from…stories involving Bostan.”

The intelligence that led to Obaydullah's detention also identified Bostan as a member of the al Qaeda IED cell. Obaydullah and Bostan were seen in the blood-stained automobile together, driving wounded members of the IED cell to a hospital for treatment.

According to Leon, Obaydullah and Bostan were involved “in a religious organization called Jamaat al-Tabligh.” Declassified documents produced at Gitmo allege that Jamaat al-Tabligh is regularly used by al Qaeda as a front to mask nefarious activities.

Judge Leon's ruling implies that the classified intelligence he has reviewed ties Bostan to al Qaeda. Judge Leon writes that “Bostan engaged in certain conduct that, although not describable in this opinion, is consistent with the impression of their relationship [between Obaydullah and Bostan] portrayed by this unclassified evidence.” That is, the evidence likely indicates that Bostan was himself a member of Obaydullah's IED cell.

Indeed, US military officials have alleged in memos prepared at Gitmo that Bostan “worked with a partner” – that is, Obaydullah – “to plan their attacks” against American forces.

The memos also note that Bostan's “palms were significantly scarred” and a doctor determined “that the scars would be consistent with a blast injury that occurred when something burst or exploded while held by the hands.” These wounds are, of course, consistent with those suffered by al Qaeda's bombmakers.

Coordinated from Pakistan

Declassified memos produced at Gitmo allege that Obaydullah and his IED cell received orders from more senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. An Oct. 12, 2007 memo notes that a “source” stated Obaydullah “was a coordinator for al Qaeda” and, during the Taliban's rule, he “helped coordinate the movement and activities of various foreign al Qaeda members.”

Obaydullah allegedly continued to shelter and move al Qaeda operatives at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in late 2001. US forces were told that Obaydullah “used his compound to hide and subsequently relocate about 18 Arab al Qaeda members to Pakistan.”

A “source,” likely the same one cited above, also said that Obaydullah “received orders from an Arab in Pakistan…to begin preparing command detonated mines to use against United States forces.” And Obaydullah “traveled fairly frequently to Pakistan to receive instructions or to carry messages between Arab al Qaeda members in Pakistan and their Afghan subordinates.”

There is every indication that Obaydullah was faithfully carrying out al Qaeda's orders in 2002 when he was captured by US forces in Afghanistan. According to Judge Leon, the intelligence that implicated Obaydullah in an al Qaeda IED cell roughly eight years ago checks out today.

Thus, Judge Leon denied Obaydullah's habeas petition.

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Issues:

Al Qaeda