Abdul Zahir (Guantanamo Bay detainee 753)

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Abdul Zahir

Abdul Zahir's Guantanamo ID portrait
Born 1972
Known for Faced charges for throwing a grenade that wounded western journalists

Abdul Zahir (عبدالظاهر) is a citizen of Afghanistan currently held in extrajudicial detention in the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba.[1] He was the tenth captive, and the first Afghan, to face charges before the first, Presidentially authorized Guantanamo military commissions.[2][3][4] After the Supreme Court ruled the President lacked the nconstitutional authority to set up military commissions, the United States Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he was one of the first captives to have charges filed under that system.


Zahir acknowledged that he worked for a foreigner, an Arab, as a translator, but he asserted he was just an employee, and his employment did not mean he supported his employers political views, and he denied involvement in any terrorist related activities his employer may have been involved in. American intelligence analysts assert his employer Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi was a senior member of al-Qaeda's leadership, and that Zahir was an active participant in al-Iraqi's activities.

Zahir was described as slight and unintimidating.

Official status reviews

Originally the Bush Presidency asserted that captives apprehended in the "war on terror" were not covered by the Geneva Conventions, and could be held indefinitely, without charge, and without an open and transparent review of the justifications for their detention. In 2004 the United States Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that Guantanamo captives were entitled to being informed of the allegations justifying their detention, and were entitled to try to refute them.

Office for the Administrative Review of Detained Enemy Combatants

Following the Supreme Court's ruling the Department of Defense set up the Office for the Administrative Review of Detained Enemy Combatants.

According to the New York Times Guantanamo Docket Zahir had annual status reviews in 2004 and 2007.[5] There is no record that he had an annual reviews in 2005, 2006 or 2008.

Scholars at the Brookings Institute, lead by Benjamin Wittes, listed the captives still held in Guantanamo in December 2008, according to whether their detention was justified by certain common allegations[6]:

  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives who "The military alleges ... are members of Al Qaeda."[6]
  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives who "The military alleges that the following detainees stayed in Al Qaeda, Taliban or other guest- or safehouses."[6]
  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives who was ab "al Qaeda operative".[6]
  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives "who have been charged before military commissions and are alleged Al Qaeda operatives."[6]
  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives who "deny affiliation with Al Qaeda or the Taliban yet admit facts that, under the broad authority the laws of war give armed parties to detain the enemy, offer the government ample legal justification for its detention decisions."[6]
  • Abdul Zahir was listed as one of the captives who admitted "serving Al Qaeda or the Taliban in some non-military capacity."[6]

Guantanamo Joint Task Force reviews

Shortly after he took office President Barack Obama shut down the Office for the Administrative Review of Detained Enemy Combatants, replacing it with an inter-agency Guantanamo Joint Task Force. This agency is also mandated to perform regular reviews. No documents from those reviews have been made public.

Formerly secret Joint Task Force Guantanamo assessment

On April 25, 2011, whistleblower organization WikiLeaks published formerly secret assessments drafted by Joint Task Force Guantanamo analysts.[7][8] Joint Task Force Guantanamo drafted a 12 page assessment on November 19, 2008.[9][10] Zahir's assessment recommended his continued detention under DoD control and was signed by camp commandant David M Thomas Jr..

According to historian Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, an op-ed published by Kathleen Kenna, the journalist who was most seriously injured in the attack Zahir was accused of, should have shamed the US Government.[11]

After living in a war zone for months in Afghanistan, and closely following the war’s progress since then, we have strong convictions that any prisoner-of-war should be treated with dignity, and afforded all the rights guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and international human rights laws. It’s what we would demand for any Canadian, American or other citizen — whether combatant or aid worker — captured and held in a country of war. It’s what we want for Zahir and all the Guantánamo detainees.

Charged before a military commission

Zahir was charged with conspiracy, aiding the enemy and attacking civilians in connection with the grenade attack that wounded Canadian reporter Kathleen Kenna.[12] Kenna wrote an op-ed about her feelings about Abdul Zahir's trial on December 27, 2009.[13] She wrote that she and her companions weren't interested in retribution. She wrote that she hopes Abdul Zahir has a truly fair trial. She wrote that she and her companions couldn't identify their attackers.

Abdul Zahir was transferred to Guantanamo on October 28, 2002, and remains there today.[14][5]

The first hearing in Zaher's case was held on April 5, 2006.[15][16] Although the rules for Military Commissions required the suspect to be given a copy of the charges against them in a language they could read, Zahir had not been given a translation. Officials could not explain why the hearing had been convened without hiring a Farsi translator, so Zahir could understand what was going on.

According to Jamil Dakwar, the director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program, an observer at Zahir's April 5th hearing, the military commission system "...is a deficient system rife with legal and procedural problems..."[17] Dakwar noted that Zahir's hearing was the first when the Presiding Officer wore a black robe, like a civilian judge. He noted that the charge "conspiracy to commit war crimes" was not a crime recognized under any international law.

Zahir's second hearing was held on May 17, 2006.[18] It was convened because Zahir sole defense attorney, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Bogar, had filed a motion questioning whether the Presiding Officer Colonel Robert Chester should recuse himself due to inherent bias. Bogar dropped his motion, telling reporters later he was satisfied with the answers he received from Chester and the jury members.[19]


  1. "List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006". United States Department of Defense. http://www.dod.mil/news/May2006/d20060515%20List.pdf. Retrieved 2006-05-15. 
  2. Priti Patel, Avi Cover (2006-10-30). "'There are No Rules Here:' A Visitor's Guide to Guantanamo and the Military Commissions". South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsamarmagazine.org%2Farchive%2Farticles%2F228&date=2012-08-11. "So we now know that Binyam Muhammad has a wonderful sense of humor and a flare for out-of-context idioms; Abdul Zahir, the only Afghan charged before the commissions, is quiet and self-contained; Omar Khadr, a nineteen year-old who has spent his teenage years at Guantanamo, has the freshly scrubbed look of teenage boy anywhere in the world." 
  3. Jaime Jansen (2006-01-20). "US charges tenth Guantanamo detainee". The Jurist. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fjurist.law.pitt.edu%2Fpaperchase%2F2006%2F01%2Fus-charges-tenth-guantanamo-detainee.php&date=2012-08-12. "Abdul Zahir has been formally charged with conspiracy, aiding the enemy and attacking civilians, and is accused of working as a translator and money-man for former Taliban rulers in Afghanistan and with al Qaeda. The accusations also implicate Zahir in a 2002 grenade attack that injured three journalists." 
  4. "Alleged Qaeda Member Faces Tribunal". CBS News. 2012-04-04. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbsnews.com%2Fstories%2F2006%2F04%2F04%2Fterror%2Fmain1468271.shtml&date=2012-08-12. "Abdul Zahir sat down at the defense table, wearing no handcuffs and appearing relaxed, inside the tribunal building perched on a hill on this U.S. military base. His U.S. military defense counsel almost immediately began asking the judge, Marine Col. Robert S. Chester, what laws he would follow in presiding over the trial. The Guantanamo Bay trials are the first military tribunals held by the U.S. military since the World War II era." 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Margot Williams (2008-11-03). "Guantanamo Docket: Abdul Zahir". New York Times. http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/753-abdul-zahir. Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Benjamin Wittes, Zaathira Wyne (2008-12-16). "The Current Detainee Population of Guantánamo: An Empirical Study". The Brookings Institute. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2008/12/16%20detainees%20wittes/1216_detainees_wittes.pdf. Retrieved 2010-02-16.  mirror
  7. Christopher Hope, Robert Winnett, Holly Watt, Heidi Blake (2011-04-27). "WikiLeaks: Guantanamo Bay terrorist secrets revealed -- Guantanamo Bay has been used to incarcerate dozens of terrorists who have admitted plotting terrifying attacks against the West – while imprisoning more than 150 totally innocent people, top-secret files disclose". The Telegraph (UK). Archived from the original on 2012-07-13. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fworldnews%2Fwikileaks%2F8471907%2FWikiLeaks-Guantanamo-Bay-terrorist-secrets-revealed.html&date=2012-07-13. Retrieved 2012-07-13. "The Daily Telegraph, along with other newspapers including The Washington Post, today exposes America’s own analysis of almost ten years of controversial interrogations on the world’s most dangerous terrorists. This newspaper has been shown thousands of pages of top-secret files obtained by the WikiLeaks website." 
  8. "WikiLeaks: The Guantánamo files database". The Telegraph (UK). 2011-04-27. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fwikileaks-files%2Fguantanamo-bay-wikileaks-files%2F8476672%2FWikiLeaks-The-Guantanamo-files-database.html&date=2012-08-11. 
  9. "Guantanamo Bay detainee file on Abdul Al Zaher, US9AF-000753DP, passed to the Telegraph by Wikileaks". Telegraph (UK). 2011-04-27. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fwikileaks-files%2Fguantanamo-bay-wikileaks-files%2F8476903%2FGuantanamo-Bay-detainee-file-on-Abdul-Al-Zaher-US9AF-000753DP.html&date=2012-08-11. "Detainee Summary: If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law-abiding citizen, it is assessed CLASSIFIED(S) detainee would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities at home and abroad..." 
  10. David M Thomas Jr. (2008-11-19). "Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD) for Guantanamo Detainee, ISN US9AF000753DP". Joint Task Force Guantanamo. http://media.mcclatchydc.com/smedia/2011/04/27/18/us9af-000753dp.source.prod_affiliate.91.pdf. Retrieved 2012-08-11.  16x16px Media related to File:ISN 00753, Abdul Sahir's Guantanamo detainee assessment.pdf at Wikimedia Commons
  11. Andy Worthington (2012-07-07). "US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo". Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.andyworthington.co.uk%2F2012%2F07%2F07%2Fus-in-talks-to-return-the-17-afghan-prisoners-in-guantanamo%2F&date=2012-08-11. "In December 2009, Kathleen Kenna, who was seriously injured in the attack that was allegedly undertaken by Abdul Zahir, wrote an op-ed for the Toronto Star, which should have shamed the US authorities." 
  12. US brings charges against 10th Guantanamo prisoner, Reuters, January 20, 2006
  13. Kathleen Kenna (2009-12-27). "The justice I want for Captive 783 [sic"]. Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2009-12-27. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thestar.com%2Fnews%2Finsight%2Farticle%2F742968--the-justice-i-want-for-captive-783&date=2009-12-27. 
  14. "Measurements of Heights and Weights of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (ordered and consolidated version)". Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, from DoD data. Archived from the original on 2009-12-21. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fhumanrights.ucdavis.edu%2Fresources%2Flibrary%2Fdocuments-and-reports%2Fgtmo_heightsweights.pdf&date=2009-12-21. 
  15. "Court rules questioned at Gitmo hearing". China Daily. 2006-04-05. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chinadaily.com.cn%2Fworld%2F%2F%2F%2F%2F2006-04%2F05%2Fcontent_560616.htm&date=2012-08-11. "But, when pressed by the defense attorney, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Bogar, the judge would not specify which set of laws would guide the trial." 
  16. Joshua Pantesco (2006-04). "Guantanamo military judge unsure of what laws govern detainee trial". The Jurist. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fjurist.law.pitt.edu%2Fpaperchase%2F2006_04_04_indexarch.php%23114419383182467159&date=2012-08-12. "When asked by Zahir's military counsel, judge Col. Robert Chester said "Obviously military law is going to have some application. I suppose we will look at military criminal law and federal criminal laws and procedures." Asked to be more specific, he later shot back "I'm not going to speculate as to what is or what is not controlling."" 
  17. Jamil Dakwar (2012-04-05). ""Judging" Abdul Zahir". ACLU. http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/judging-abdul-zahir. Retrieved 2012-08-11.  mirror
  18. Jamil Dakwar (2006-05-16). ""The Mouth That Prohibits Is the Mouth That Permits"". ACLU. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aclu.org%2Fblog%2Fnational-security%2Fmouth-prohibits-mouth-permits&date=2012-08-11. Retrieved 2012-08-11. "Tomorrow will be Mr. Zahir's second appearance before the military commission. Last month, his military defense counsel started a voir dire inquiry — a process which allows the defense to question the impartiality of the presiding officer." 
  19. Jamil Dakwar (2006-05-20). "The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?". ACLU. Archived from the original on 2012-08-11. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aclu.org%2Fblog%2Fnational-security%2Fbeginning-end-or-end-beginning&date=2012-08-12. Retrieved 2012-08-11. "In camp 4, Mr. Abdul Zahir enjoyed less restrictive conditions and shared a communal facility with other detainees from Afghanistan. Unlike some of the detainees in camp 5, Mr. Abdul Zahir has not threatened to boycott the proceedings and, according to his lawyer, he is still keen to cooperate and prove his innocence before the commission. His lawyer is therefore concerned that the worsening conditions might affect the relationship with his client and ultimately the ability to prepare a proper defense before the military commission." 

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