THE BLOG
03/13/2007 05:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Return to the Battlefield: The Number One Guantánamo Myth

Why bother to do fact checking when it is so much easier to just write down whatever you are told? Every time I read or hear about the ever-changing number of Guantánamo prisoners that have "returned to the battlefield" I try to research this issue yet again. The Pentagon, Cheney, Rumsfeld and various others have, at different times, claimed that 12, 4, 15, 10, 7 and even twenty-some Guantánamo prisoners have "returned to the battlefield." The administration and the military frequently use this "fact" to bolster their rationale for keeping the Guantánamo facility open. However, when asked for the identities of these men things get a little hazy... for some reason they don't want to tell us. They want us to just trust them on this one... Been there, done that. Since the government provides few specifics to support this claim it is hard to challenge them. That should not mean however that journalists have to keep covering the lies as though they are true.

I have only been able to find references to three named individuals who have been identified as GTMO detainees "known" to have returned to Afghanistan from Guantánamo and who "might" have returned to the battlefield. Two of those names came from government officials (on several different occasions) and the third seems to have come from an individual claiming to have been at Guantánamo. The three names are: Haji Shahzada; Abdullah Mehsud; and Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar. The government claims that the detainees who "returned to the battlefield" effectively lied their way out of Guantánamo. According to "reports" these three men were purportedly released pretty early on (before lawyers were allowed to represent any detainees). Maybe it is just me but I found it hard to believe that some of the men "tricked" the U.S. into releasing them, so I finally did the research.

Haji Shahzada: Shahzada is frequently mentioned as reportedly captured or killed in battle in 2004 after being released in 2003. Various sources reported in 2004 that a "Mullah Shahzada", a Taliban field commander, convinced the Americans that he had renounced violence, and was released in May 2003. This is unlikely since Shahzada was still in Guantánamo in 2004 and was not released until 2005 after having been found not to be an enemy combatant. The official list of detainees only lists a single Shahzada.

Abdullah Mehsud was supposedly released from GTMO in 2004 but Mehsud' name does not appear on the official lists of Guantánamo detainees, nor does his alias 'Noor Alam.' It seems the only person suggesting that Mehsud was at Guantánamo was Mehsud himself. Mehsud has reportedly bragged about getting released from Guantánamo but it seems more likely that he was never there.

The third name we have is Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar. Ghaffar has been mentioned by Vice President Cheney after being pressed to name at least one of the detainees who was found back on the battlefield. Cheney said that Maulvi was an example of a former GTMO detainee who rejoined the Taliban and was killed on the battlefield in September, 2004. Maulvi's name is also not on the official list of detainees. There are similar names on the list, there is an Abdul Ghaffar and an Abdul Ghafour, however, neither of these detainees had been released at the time of Maulvi's Abdul Ghaffar's reported combat death in September, 2004.

Another factor that suggests that these numbers are made up is the way the administration describes the numbers as "between five and ten" "five or ten" "a dozen or more" "some". If they actually knew the identities you would expect them to be able to count and tell us exactly how many. The truth of the matter is that the administration cannot name one individual who has been released from Guantánamo that was found on the battlefield, dead or alive. In the buildup to the Iraq war, the Bush team discovered that even the most fanciful claims would be reported as fact when delivered forcefully and with authority. The American people have caught on to Bush's M.O. and newsrooms are becoming more skeptical. Still, when it comes to Guantánamo, the government's B.S. is still reported as fact.