Afghan “Money Changer” Receives PRB Hearing
By Amy Morello
Thursday morning the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened to consider the case of Haji Wali Mohammed, a 50-year-old Afghan national who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since May 2002.
According to the U.S. government’s assessment, Mohammed “was an Afghan money changer who operated a currency exchange business and conducted financial transactions from the mid-to-late 1990s for senior Taliban officials,” including, they claim, “with moderate confidence,”—Osama bin Laden in 1998 and 1999.
Hesitant to assert any definitive link with bin Laden, the U.S. government concedes that there is “minimal” and “incomplete” reporting on these alleged transactions and that there are “multiple individuals” with the same name as the detainee. The statement from his private counsel confirmed as much, calling the government’s identification of Mohammed “problematic.” The U.S. government also believes his dealings with the Taliban were likely “motivated by financial gain.”
For his part, Mohammed admits entering into an investment deal in 1997 with the Afghanistan Central Bank, which the Taliban controlled at the time. However, as Mohammed’s private counsel explained in his opening statement, such business partnerships were commonplace.
And that after the investment turned out poorly, the Taliban threatened to imprison him, which “is not the kind of treatment one would expect of someone who was part of or of any importance to the Taliban.” He said this “disastrous failure,” and the fact that Mohammad does not speak the same language as bin Laden, make it “implausible” that Mohammed worked with the former al Qaeda terrorist leader. Both Mohammad’s personal representative and private counsel said he was not involved with any terrorist organization.
Mohammad’s government detainee profile appears to support this view, noting that he “has never made statements clearly endorsing or supporting al-Qa’ida or other extremist ideology” during his detention, acknowledging “he probably has a pragmatic view of the role the Taliban held in Afghanistan,” and “most likely judged that it was prudent to work with, rather than against” the group.
It also notes Mohammed has developed “a more liberal view of politics in Afghanistan,” and now says the Taliban must make changes to its policies on women’s rights and education “if they want to remain viable in the country.”
Many in Congress are quick to demonize Gitmo detainees as the “worst of the worst,” yet this seems to go against even the U.S. government’s assessment of the detainee, which also notes he has been “highly compliant” with the guard staff at Guantanamo. He attended interviews “semi-regularly” and had a record of providing “completely reliable and honest” information on goings-on within the camps.
His private counsel reiterated this, emphasizing that Mohammed has been detained at Guantanamo for more than 14 years only because he “made one significant mistake of judgment and has been very unlucky.” Both his personal representative and private counsel describe him as an open and honest man deeply devoted to his family with no interest in politics or “engaging in dealings in any way connected to” any extremists. He desires only “a peaceful existence” and to reunite with his family.
Only two Guantanamo detainees eligible for an initial Periodic Review Board hearing have not had them yet. With those hearing dates scheduled for September 1 and September 8, it appears that President Obama will uphold his promise of completing all initial reviews before the end of this fall, which Human Rights First strongly applauds.