Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Transcript of Arkin Mahmud’s Hearing

The Indypendent Jun 6, 2008

In December 2005, after four years of captivity at Guantánamo Bay, Arkin Mahmud, a Uighur from Turkistan, was given a 40-minute Administrative Review Board hearing to determine if he should still be classified as an enemy combatant, which, according to the Bush administration, would allow the U.S. government to hold him indefinitely without trial or charge. Below are excerpts from the hearing transcript:

Presiding Officer: Mr. Arkin Mahmud, now is your opportunity to respond to any or all of the allegations listed in the Unclassified Summary if you so wish.

Detainee: I would really like for you guys [the Review Board] to explain to me. I want you to explain to me what kind of law fits my status. I want to know what the laws are in regards to my status that has kept me here [at Guantánamo Bay] for the last four years. What laws have I broken?

Presiding Officer: That is not the purpose of the Administrative Review Board.

Board Member: You left China on 21 August 2001. When did you arrive in Afghanistan?

Detainee: I am not sure. What I remember is arriving in Afghanistan around December, wait, no, 3 September, I think. It was at the beginning of September.

Board Member: This time frame just so happens to be the same time that Al Qaeda was calling for individuals to come to Afghanistan for jihad and in preparation for attacks on the United States.

Detainee: I don’t know anything about that. I had never heard of Al Qaeda until I was brought here [Guantánamo Bay]. I have seen American people on the television before. I had never seen Arab people in my life. Because of where I live, where I am from, it is very restrictive to foreigners coming into my city.

Board Member: Mr. Arkin Mahmud, what is your business in your home country?

Detainee: When I lived at home, I repaired shoes. I learned that trade when I was 16 years old. I was a shoe repairman. In my home country of Turkistan, most of the Uighur people just get jobs like shoe repair, carpentry or some other kind of local business, those kinds of trades. … Most people get just a little education and then get training for a local business job and try to survive.

Board Member: Are you and your family devout Muslims?

Detainee: Yes, we do believe in the Muslim religion.

Board Member: What is your definition of lesser jihad?

Detainee: When I was in my home country I did not even know what jihad was. I had never heard of jihad. No one ever talked about jihad. I did not even pray when I lived in my own country. When I went to Afghanistan, the people around me pressured me and told me that I needed to start praying. Then I started praying. I actually learned to pray when I got here. Some people pray, some don’t.

Board Member: Have you ever held a weapon in your hand?

Detainee: No. I have seen a weapon, but I have never carried a weapon.

The Presiding Officer read the post-Administrative Review Board instructions and adjourned the open session of the Administrative Review Board. Detainee interrupts.

Detainee: Sir, if this is the conclusion of the board I would like to make one more request. You [the Review Board] have read everything. You have read my file. I was an innocent person. I just went to Afghanistan to try and find my brother. Then I ended up in the middle of terrorist people and organizations. Then the United States picked me up and brought me here [to Guantánamo].

I want you guys [the Review Board] to make a better recommendation to send to the higher person in Washington, D.C. I hope those people in Washington, D.C., are also good human beings and that they understand, and hopefully they will come up with a better judgment in my case. If they decide to keep me here forever, I don’t really mind to die in this place.

The last four years of being here in this prison, I actually blame myself for winding up here. Because I traveled to Afghanistan, I wound up here. If the U.S. government changes their heart and tries to help me find a better place, I can live with peace and I would appreciate it. I would then probably forget my bad experience here.

Presiding Officer: Arkin Mahmud, this Review Board will be forwarding a recommendation to Washington, D.C. A very small number of the recommendations get overturned. The decision that the Review Board makes will very likely be upheld by the official in Washington, D.C. Do you understand?

Detainee: Yes.

Presiding Officer: It is the Review Board that you need to convince, not someone up in Washington, D.C.

Detainee: How am I going to convince you? Everything I had and anything I knew, I have already told the truth.

Presiding Officer: The Review Board just want you to know that there has only been one case where the Washington, D.C., official did not approve the recommendation of the Administrative Review Board. This is your last chance. Is there something else you think the Review Board should know or something you think the Review Board should hear?

Detainee: I don’t have anything else to say. All I can talk about is myself. I can only tell you about myself; there is nothing else.

Arkin Mahmud is still a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay.

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