Abdulla Kamel al Kandari
â€¨By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
KUWAIT CITY — Abdullah Kamel al Kandari sat in a plastic chair, chained to the floor in a small trailer with gray carpet and faux wood-paneled walls.
He was being judged by three American military officers in Cuba, more than 7,000 miles from home.
The 31-year-old Kuwaiti listened to three pieces of evidence that, combined with classified information that he wasn't allowed to see, formed the U.S. government's case that he was an enemy combatant who could be held indefinitely.
During hearings at the military tribunal at Guantanamo, many detainees had been accused of a litany of terrorism-related activities: having ties to al Qaida leaders, working with charities that funded terrorist attacks, taking part in battles against American forces in Afghanistan, having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, training at terrorist camps.
Kandari wasn't one of them. It isn't possible to be certain why he went to Afghanistan in September 2001 — he claims it was for charity — but the evidence against him that day was thinner than what was presented against men who were released months, sometimes years, before he was.
Kandari and many others continued to be held and, he said, subjected to brutal beatings and harassment that appeared to have nothing to do with intelligence-gathering.
Neither the attorney currently representing Kuwaitis at Guantanamo, David Cynamon, nor his predecessor, Thomas B. Wilner, sent investigators to Afghanistan to find out what Kandari was really doing there.
Kandari was a former member of Kuwait's national volleyball team and a manager at the ministry of electricity and water, where he oversaw water projects.
The first piece of evidence against him was that he traveled to Afghanistan, via Iran, in late September 2001 with $15,000 in cash. Kandari acknowledged that was true, but claimed that he'd gone to fulfill his Islamic duty to charity and had given all but $2,000 of the money to Afghan families.
The second bit of evidence was that Kandari wore the same model Casio watch that al Qaida members used to detonate bombs.
He explained that the watch is popular with many Muslims because it has a compass that shows where Mecca is and an alarm that can be set to prayer times. The model described by the tribunal, the Casio F-91W, doesn't have a compass on it, but others do.
"Many people in Kuwait have this watch," Kandari said. "It's not tied to an al Qaida company, is it?"
He continued: "We have four chaplains (at Guantanamo); all of them wear this watch. I am not Taliban or al Qaida."
The third and final evidentiary finding presented that day was that an alias Kandari was known to use was found on a computer owned by a senior al Qaida leader.
"Can you tell me the name that was found in the computer?" Kandari asked.
"We don't have that information in the unclassified evidence," said the tribunal president, a U.S. Air Force colonel whose name is redacted from the transcript of the hearing. "I don't know what name was in the computer at this time."
Kandari tried to guess what the alias might have been, but he got no response from the three officers, according to the transcript.
"Why he put my name in the computer, I don't know. They don't know me; I swear they don't know me. . . . The problem is the secret information; I can't defend myself," Kandari said.
"They don't have any evidence against me, to put me here," he said. "I don't have a choice, God is well here, so I'll be patient. Why did they put me here like this?"
The tribunal president replied: "That's what we are here to determine."
The tribunal ruled that Kandari was an enemy combatant.
In a subsequent military review board hearing, more allegations were made: that Kandari attended basic training held by Libyans in Afghanistan in 2000, that he had connections to al Qaida members and that he knew someone in Kuwait who'd been described as a legal adviser and friend of Osama bin Laden.
It isn't clear, though, where the additional charges came from. Wilner, Kandari's attorney at the time, said that when he saw the new allegations from the review board he went to review classified intelligence files that should have had information substantiating the charges. But, he said, there was nothing new in those files.
Wilner said he was left to assume that the charges were the result of other detainees who were trying to gain favor with interrogators — and quicker release — fabricating stories about their cellmates.
Kandari was released in the fall of 2006, after more than four and a half years at Guantanamo.