Before Barack Obama left office, he released 10 detainees from Guantánamo to Oman. Among them was Abdul Zahir, a 45-year-old man from Afghanistan. Zahir was detained at Guantánamo for 14 years, even though the US government later admitted that he was wrongfully held. He was mistaken for another man who shared his nickname, Abdul Bari. Zahir’s story exemplifies the cruelty of Guantánamo and the policies of indefinite detention and torture, which will, in all likelihood, continue with Trump as president.
Like every Guantánamo detainee, Zahir was tortured. His military defense lawyer, US Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas told Truthout that after Zahir’s capture, US forces “gave him the treatment that they thought every Brown person, every Muslim person they captured deserved — they tortured him.”
Thomas explained that Zahir suffered beatings, exposure to cold temperatures, cramped confinement, stress positions, hog-tying and sexual assault. “He would be kept in very small rooms with the air conditioning unit running full blast without proper clothing — so, a pair of shorts — and an iron bed,” Thomas said. Zahir “would be placed in interrogation rooms right under the air conditioner and they would make the room as cold as possible, with his hands tied to his waist, and then he would be tied into a fetal position on the floor in that very cold room.” In addition, Zahir “spent a year in a room that he called ‘a cage for animals.’ And in that room, he had to eat, sleep, exercise and shower all in the same place. Including elimination of waste.”
This reality has always been clear to some people within the US government. One of them is Mark Fallon, a retired 30-year federal investigator who, from 2002 to 2004, headed the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), established to investigate cases that would be brought before a military commission. In the early days, Fallon said it was clear to him and CITF that most of the people arriving at Guantánamo were not the super-villain terrorists portrayed by the US government.
Fallon said CITF concluded “an overwhelming majority” of detainees had no intelligence or investigative value and should be released, while JTF-GTMO argued for further detention. However, it was JTF-GTMO’s assessments that caught the White House’s ear, while voices like Fallon’s were marginalized.