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Guantanamo Inmates Tied to Terror, Prison Chief Says

August 01, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army general who runs the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base portrays some of the 12 Kuwaiti detainees there as men with deep terrorist ties. Although their families protest their innocence, he says some are linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban and continue to plot attacks against the U.S. even while incarcerated.

An affidavit by Brig. Gen. Martin J. Lucenti Sr. for the first time gives the government's view of what the Kuwaitis were doing in Central Asia when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan.

Lucenti has stated that the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, numbering about 600, are not just enemy combatants taken from the Afghan battlefield but include "terrorists linked to most major Al Qaeda attacks." Some were operatives who had a hand in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa and the assault on the U.S. destroyer Cole, according to Lucenti.

The Supreme Court, considering the detention of the 12 Kuwaitis, ruled in June that the Pentagon must give all those held at Guantanamo Bay a means to challenge their indefinite confinement. Defense lawyers now are asking the federal courts in Washington to allow them to visit their clients and devise strategies for mounting those challenges.

The defense lawyers want unrestricted meetings with their clients. The government opposes any meetings between detainees and their lawyers but says that if the courts order such sessions, the government should be allowed to monitor them. Such surveillance is necessary, the government says, to prevent detainees from trying to communicate with other terrorists outside Guantanamo Bay.

In an apparent effort to bolster the government's case, Lucenti, in his legal affidavit filed late Friday, warned that at least three of the 12 Kuwaiti detainees are committed terrorists and were not arrested mistakenly during the war in Afghanistan -- where their families say they had gone to perform charitable work.

One of them is Fawzi al Odah, the son of Khalid al Odah, a decorated, U.S.-trained colonel in the Kuwaiti air force who helped direct his government's resistance during the Iraqi invasion of 1990 and the subsequent Persian Gulf War.

"Al Odah has stated that he has Taliban connections and has admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda," Lucenti said of the son. "He is also believed to be connected to Osama bin Laden's bodyguards, demonstrating the status he has achieved within the Al Qaeda network."

Lucenti said the younger Al Odah admitted helping to recruit, finance and organize other terrorist cells to "engage in hostilities against the United States and its allies." The general added that Fawzi al Odah "is aware of U.S. intelligence gaps" in its war on terrorism.

But his father, in a telephone interview from Kuwait, denied that his son was involved in terrorism in any way. Khalid al Odah said that his son had been held in solitary confinement since at least January and that U.S. interrogators were applying undue pressure to Guantanamo detainees to wear them down and get them to falsely incriminate themselves.

"I am sickened by this," the father said. "This is a very bad and sad moment for me and my family and all the families of other detainees."

He said his son had gone to the region to help refugees and was inadvertently caught up in the war after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"They're putting tremendous pressure on him to say whatever they want him to say," Khalid al Odah said. "What he is saying to them is false and based upon false testimony."

Lucenti described another Kuwaiti detainee, whom he identified as Mohammed Ahmed al Kandari, as a "spiritual advisor to Bin Laden" and one of the most "trusted and valuable members of Al Qaeda."

He said Al Kandari had tried to use the detainees' mail system to correspond with known terrorists in other parts of the world and that he had "issued decrees to other detainees, ordering them to harm military personnel in the detention facility."

"He is," Lucenti said, "clearly a well-trained member of the Al Qaeda network, with significant influence."

But Khalid al Odah, who is the spokesman for the Kuwaiti families fighting for the release of their loved ones, said this was another example of a prisoner breaking down under pressure and saying whatever his interrogators wanted to hear.

He said Al Kandari was a student in Saudi Arabia who traveled to Pakistan in the summer of 2001 to do charitable work as part of a religious pilgrimage because his mother was suffering from cancer.

"That's what he was doing there, and we understand that he was arrested and transferred to a Kabul [Afghanistan] prison before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay," Al Odah said. "He has a history of charitable work, and we can prove that."

Finally, Lucenti described a third Kuwaiti detainee, Khalid Abdullah Mishal al Mutairi, as an "associate of high-level Taliban leaders."

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