By Mona Samari. This story was first published in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of the Human Rights Defender, Amnesty International Australia's free bi-monthly publication.
More than 85 percent of detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested, not on the Afghanistan battlefield by US forces, but by the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan at a time when rewards of up to US$5,000 were paid for every 'terrorist' turned over to the United States.
"We have captured 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse U.S. of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan," says Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in his recently published memoir In the Line of Fire.
Prior to President Musharraf's revelations, Pakistan officials denied that they were financially rewarded for handing over suspects to the US.
According to Amnesty International's report, Pakistan: Human rights ignored in the 'war on terror', this routine practice has facilitated a culture in Pakistan where abductions, unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and deaths in custody occur with total impunity.
The road to Guantanamo
"I was captured in a village near Peshawar in December 2001. The villagers sold me to the Pakistani army who in turn sold me to the Americans," Swedish national Mehdi Ghezali told Amnesty International researchers in June 2004.
Mehdi Ghezali, like hundreds of other civilians who met a similar fate in Pakistan, was not an identified terror suspect on news bulletins or on the CIA's most wanted list. He was captured and sold to U.S. authorities operating in Pakistan, then forced to board a plane to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"As we were about to take off, the Americans hooded the prisoners. One prisoner was asthmatic and the Americans pulled down his hood even further and tightened it," said Mehdi Ghezali, who has been haunted by nightmares and insomnia since his release.
On arrival in Afghanistan he was not charged, but instead was bundled onto another plane, this time to Guantanamo Bay. Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International's Senior Director of Research, says that the road to Guantanamo Bay very literally starts in Pakistan.
Hundreds of people have been picked up in mass arrests and many have been sold to the U.S. as terrorists simply on the word of their captors, and transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase or secret detention centres run by the US," Claudio Cordone says.
Men of different nationalities, as well as some women and children, have fallen prey to Pakistani bounty hunters lured by promises of American bounties. They have been abducted or arrested at borders, in their homes or during random rounding up arrests.
The Government of Pakistan has seemingly washed its hands of any responsibility for those arrested and has provided no safeguards against torture or unlawful detention.
There is no central register of terror detainees in Pakistan and the distress of relatives is made worse by the total lack of information regarding their loved ones' whereabouts and fate. They know that the use of torture is rife and are themselves threatened and harassed when they seek information from offi cials.
In July 2004, three women and five children, including a baby and a 13 year old Saudi boy named Talha, were arrested alongside Tanzanian terror suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in Punjab province, Pakistan.
More than two years later, nothing is known about the fate of Talha or the women and other children. After spending two years in secret CIA custody in Pakistan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was one of the 14 people transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, after U.S. President Bush acknowledged the existence of secret CIA detentions.
"Enforced disappearances were almost unheard of in Pakistan before the start of the US-led 'war on terror'-now they are a growing phenomenon, spreading beyond terror suspects to Balloch and Sindhi nationals and journalists," says Amnesty International's South Asia researcher, Angelika Pathak, who gathered information from hundreds of victims.
Police, the army and border control forces have all taken part in the bounty hunt, as have local citizens presumably inspired by US-produced flyers widely distributed in early 2002.
One such flyer reads: "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams...You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qa'ida and Taliban murderers. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people."
Offering rewards for the capture of suspected criminals does not violate international standards. However, Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the pattern of arrest of terror suspects merely on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations by people who stand to gain financially.
The organisation says it is the combination of doubtful grounds for arrest and prolonged detention without charge or trial that reinforces the gravity of the human right violations that characterise the indefi nite detention of people in Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA centres.
Sold to the US
Deen Mohammed owned a grocery shop in Kabul until he fl ed to Pakistan after the outbreak of war in Afghanistan. He is now detained in Guantanamo Bay after he was reportedly sold by Pakistanis to the US.
Released detainee Moazzam Begg, who shared a cell with him, notified Amnesty International researchers that Deen Mohammed told him the mere fact that many of his customers were foreigners had aroused suspicion in officials.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Brahim Benchekroune, who was initially arrested and detained in Pakistan, described in his account to the Moroccan newspaper, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, how men with black suitcases full of money arrived in the prison and openly bargained over the prisoners.
Brahim Benchekroune was shocked to hear the sound of clapping after an agreement of US$5,000 per head was reached.
The Moroccan national, who has become an outspoken critic of the practice since his release, described Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. as a lucrative business for the Pakistanis who were determined to arrest as many Arabs as possible".
UK national, Jamal Balar, told Amnesty International researchers that the price for an Arab prisoner varied from US$4,000 to US$5,000 and that he met several people in Guantanamo Bay who had been 'sold' to the US. He says guards had confirmed this in conversation.
Similarly, Bahraini national Adel Kamil Addallah, who spent four years in Guantanamo Bay, says that he was disturbed to hear U.S. guards openly tell him we got you cheap, for only $5,000".
In some cases, Pakistanis sold prisoners held for offences unrelated to terrorism. Karama Khamis Khamisain was held on suspicion of drug trafficking in the same cell as Brahim Benchekroune.
Pakistani officials refused him shaving goods and instead gave him oil for his beard, and kohl, which he was directed to use on his eyes in the style adopted by Taliban fighters.
He was also reportedly directed to learn to say his prayers and do his religious ablutions. Brahim Benchekroune said he only later understood that Karama Khamisain's change in appearance and behaviour was deliberately encouraged so that he could be sold to the U.S. as a terror suspect.
Abuse of rights
The cases of Karama Khamis Khamisain and others illustrate how the lure of huge American bounties directly facilitated the abuse of human rights under the banner of fighting terrorism.
The clandestine nature and secrecy shrouding Pakistan's activities in the 'war on terror' precipitated the abuse of human rights by the Pakistani Government against Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis on an unprecedented scale, according to the Amnesty International report.
The report calls on the Pakistani Government to apply its constitutional and domestic legal safeguards and to honour its international commitments by urgently addressing all human right violations committed in the 'war in terror'.
While recognising that some of the human rights violations in this context may have been carried out on behalf of U.S. offi cials, Amnesty International says that as a sovereign state Pakistan is responsible for all human rights violations committed on its territory.