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The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. (Associated Press 6/15/2011)
In 2007, NBC News will report that the CIA uses aggressive interrogation techniques on at least 13 high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees between 2002 and 2004. These techniques are first used on Abu Zubaida, captured in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), and some of the techniques are discontinued in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal around the middle of 2004 (see April 28, 2004), which is also around the time the CIA’s Inspector General issues a secret report suggesting many of these techniques could be a violation of an international treaty against torture (see May 7, 2004). Euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation,” these techniques include:
Exposure to extreme heat and cold.
Psychological and physical abuse.
The use of psychotropic drugs.
Waterboarding. However, waterboarding is allegedly only used on about four of the detainees (see May 2002-2003).
All 13 of these detainees will later be transferred to Guantanamo prison to stand trial before a military tribunal there (see September 2-3, 2006). (Two others similarly transferred - Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi - are captured after the Abu Ghraib scandal and thus are not subjected to as many interrogation techniques.) (Windrem 9/13/2007) However, there are other “ghost detainees” not officially acknowledged as captured by the US government (see June 7, 2007). Some, like Hassan Ghul, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, and Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, are held in the same secret prison as most of the “official” high-ranking detainees later transferred to Guantanamo, so it would seem likely that aggressive techniques have been used on many of them as well. In 2007, President Bush will sign an executive order allowing the CIA to use most of these aggressive techniques again (see July 2007).
A suspected al-Qaeda operative named Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani is arrested in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 10, 2002. He is a Saudi who later became a Pakistani citizen. Starting in 2000, he began running an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi. He will be held in Pakistani custody until he is transferred to a US prison in Afghanistan in May 2004. He will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba in September 2004. His driver, Muhammad Madni, is arrested too, and Madni reportedly quickly reveals the location of other safe houses in Karachi. (US Department of Defense 5/26/2008)
Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani’s brother, is arrested at one of the safe houses this same day. According to Abdul Rahim’s 2008 Guantanamo file, he is an important al-Qaeda figure because he began running up to six Karachi safe houses, on behalf of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), from early 2000 until his capture. According to his file, many important al-Qaeda leaders stayed at his safe houses and interacted with him or his brother while they were passing through Karachi, including: Saif al-Adel, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khallad bin Attash, Saad bin Laden, KSM, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Musaad Aruchi, and Hassan Ghul (who is said to be his brother-in-law). Furthermore, 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers stayed at his safe houses while coming or going through Pakistan, including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ahmed Alghamdi (the others are not mentioned in his Guantanamo file by name). Abdul Rahim does not admit knowing their mission, but says he picked them up at airports, kept them at safe houses, and transported some of them to their next destinations. He apparently is working on a plot to bomb Karachi hotels used by Westerners, but it is scuttled by the arrests. He is held by Pakistan for two months, then he will be handed to US forces and held in various prisons in Afghanistan until September 2004, when he is transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/9/2008)
The next day, these other safe houses are raided by the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency). 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh is arrested at one of the safe houses (see September 11, 2002). However, in contrast to the claim that the arrest of Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani led to the arrest of bin al-Shibh and others, there is a claim that an Al Jazeera reporter, Yosri Fouda, interviewed bin al-Shibh and KSM in a Karachi safe house in the middle of 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), then told the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, where the interview took place, and the emir told the CIA. The CIA then began intensely monitoring Karachi for safe houses, which finally led to these raids (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
Hassan Ali bin Attash, brother of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, is arrested at the same safe house as bin al-Shibh. Hassan will later be named by many other Guantanamo prisoners as an al-Qaeda operative, but not nearly as important a one as his brother. He will later say that he was held by the Pakistani government for a few days, then taken to Kabul, Afghanistan, by US forces for a few days, and then sent to Jordan and kept in Jordanian custody for over a year. He will be transferred to Guantanamo in January 2004, and where he subsequently remains. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008)
One other suspected al-Qaeda operative is arrested at the safe house with bin al-Shibh and bin Attash (located on Tariq Road). The three of them allegedly hold knives to their throats and threaten to kill themselves rather than be captured. But they are overwhelmed after a four-hour stand-off. (US Department of Defense 12/8/2006)
At another safe house, there is a gun battle when it is raided. Two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are killed. One of those killed, Hamza al-Zubayr, is considered an al-Qaeda leader and the leader of the group in the house. The remaining six are arrested. All six will later be transferred to Guantanamo. (US Department of Defense 6/25/2008) All of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is caught at the Iraq-Iran border. Details are sketchy, both about the arrest and Ghul himself, who has never been publicly mentioned before. Several days later, President Bush will say: “[L]ast week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. [He] reported directly to [9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.… He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” (Milbank 1/27/2004) Ghul had been living in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government refused to arrest him, apparently because he was linked to a Pakistani military group supported by Pakistani intelligence (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Pakistan is reportedly furious when it is told he has been arrested in Iraq. (Associated Press 6/15/2011) US officials point to his arrest as proof that al-Qaeda is heavily involved in the resistance in Iraq. One official says that Ghul was “definitely in Iraq to promote an al-Qaeda, Islamic extremist agenda.” (Fox News 1/24/2004) The 9/11 Commission will later claim: “Hassan Ghul was an important al-Qaeda travel facilitator who worked with [al-Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaida assisting Arab fighters traveling to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ghul and Zubaida opened a safe house under the cover of an import/export business in Islamabad [Pakistan]. In addition, at Zubaida’s request, Ghul also successfully raised money in Saudi Arabia.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 64 ) But despite acknowledgment from Bush that Ghul is in US custody, Ghul subsequently completely disappears, becoming a “ghost detainee.” Apparently, he will provide vital intelligence during US interrogation (see Shortly After January 23, 2004). The US will eventually transfer Ghul to Pakistani custody (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan will release him, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. (Goldman 5/2/2011) However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. (Associated Press 6/15/2011)
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. (Shane and Savage 5/3/2011)
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. (Goldman 5/2/2011)
US intelligence analysts decide conflicting prisoner accounts about courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed must mean Ahmed is someone very important in al-Qaeda, and they increase their efforts to find out who he really is. At the time, analysts only know Ahmed by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and they have a good idea that he is a courier between al-Qaeda leaders. The most important question is if Ahmed could lead to someone like Osama bin Laden.
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) told his US interrogators that Ahmed was not important (see Autumn 2003).
Al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libbi also told interrogators Ahmed was not important (see Shortly After May 2, 2005).
But al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul said Ahmed was an important courier who was close to bin Laden, and that he was close to both KSM and al-Libbi also (see Shortly After January 23, 2004).
Other important prisoners also gave wildly conflicting accounts on who Ahmed is.
The CIA concludes that KSM and al-Libbi are deliberately trying to deflect attention from Ahmed to keep some important secret, most likely bin Laden’s secret location. A US official aware of the CIA’s analysis will later say: “Think about circles of information—there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives. The crown jewels of al-Qaeda were the whereabouts of bin Laden and his operational security.” (Isikoff 5/4/2011)
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is secretly transferred from US custody to Pakistani custody. The Pakistani government will later release him and he will apparently rejoin al-Qaeda. In early 2004, Ghul was captured in Iraq and put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). He became a “ghost detainee” because the US refused to admit they even held him. In 2006, the Bush administration decides to close most of the CIA’s secret prisons and transfer most of the important al-Qaeda prisoners to the Guantanamo prison. But Ghul is given to the Pakistani government instead, apparently as a goodwill gesture. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, “[T]he move frustrated and angered former CIA officers, who at the time believed Ghul should have been moved to Guantanamo along with 14 other high-value detainees” (See September 2-3, 2006). The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, promises that it will make sure Ghul is never released. But after only about a year, Pakistan will secretly let Ghul go and he apparently will return to working with al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)). (Associated Press 6/15/2011) Ghul is given to Pakistan even though he is linked to a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the ISI had a history of protecting him from arrest (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Also, Ghul is released even though he told US interrogators key information about Osama bin Laden’s courier that will eventually prove key to the discovery of bin Laden’s location (see Shortly After January 23, 2004 and Late 2005).
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and four other organizations file a US federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about 39 people they believe have “disappeared” while held in US custody. The groups mentions 39 people who were reportedly captured overseas and then held in secret CIA prisons. The US acknowledges detaining three of the 39 but the groups say there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, of secret detention in 18 more cases and some evidence of secret detention in the remaining 18 cases. In September 2006, President Bush acknowledged the CIA had interrogated dozens of suspects at secret CIA prisons and said 14 of those were later sent to Guantanamo Bay (see September 6, 2006). At that time it was announced that there were no prisoners remaining in custody in US secret facilities (see September 2-3, 2006). However, the groups claim that in April 2007 a prisoner named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo, demonstrating the system is still operating (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). The groups also claim that in September 2002 the US held the two children of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), then aged seven and nine, in an adult detention center. KSM was later captured and is now held at Guantanamo; it is unknown what happened to his children. (Parsons 6/7/2007) Some of the more important suspects named include:
Hassan Ghul, said to be an important al-Qaeda courier. In 2005, ABC News reported he was being held in a secret CIA prison (see November 2005). Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. Al-Libi was secretly transferred to Libya around 2006 (see Between November 2005 and September 2006) and will die there in 2009 under mysterious circumstances (see (May 10, 2009)).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, a son of the Blind Sheikh, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. He was reportedly captured in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 13, 2003).
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Azdi. He is said to be a candidate 9/11 hijacker who was held back for another operation. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported he was in US custody.
Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed. Wanted for involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings, he was reportedly captured in Somalia in March 2003. Witnesses claim to have seen him in two secret US prisons in 2004.
Yassir al-Jazeeri. Said to be a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader, he was reportedly captured in Pakistan in March 2003. Witnesses later saw him in a secret CIA prison (see March 15, 2003).
Musaad Aruchi, a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He was reported captured in Pakistan in June 2004 and then taken into CIA custody (see June 12, 2004).
Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings, there were various reports he was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and taken into US custody (see July 11, 2002). However, it appears these reports are false, because he will allegedly be killed in Pakistan in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Anas al-Liby, also wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings. He was reportedly captured in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002) and it is suspected the US has handed him over to Egypt. (Human Rights Watch 6/7/2007)
The Pakistani government secretly releases al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul from its custody. Ghul was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and spent two and a half years in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). The CIA handed Ghul to Pakistan in mid-2006 after Pakistani pressure (see (Mid-2006)). Pakistan apparently wanted Ghul because he was linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). The ISI had secretly promised to make sure that Ghul would never be freed, but he is released after about a year without ever being tried or even charged. It is not known exactly when Ghul is released. However, a British prisoner named Rangzieb Ahmed will later testify in Britain that he was held in an adjacent cell to Ghul’s in Pakistan, and the last time he sees Ghul is in January 2007. In 2011, the Associated Press will report that unnamed former and current US intelligence officials say that Ghul has since rejoined al-Qaeda. Under US interrogation, Ghul provided key intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s main courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. So when Ghul returns to al-Qaeda, he could warn bin Laden that US intelligence is learning about Ahmed. But either Ghul does not reveal what he confessed, or his warning is not heeded, because bin Laden continues to live with Ahmed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout. (Associated Press 6/15/2011) Despite Ghul’s return to al-Qaeda, the US has yet to put Ghul on any of its most wanted lists. No picture of Ghul has ever been made public either, even though the US goverment must know what he looks like since he was held by the US for several years.
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. (Linzer 4/16/2009) Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
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