In Afghanistan, there’s a fable about those who have been falsely accused.
A king had 20 prisoners who were chained together. Guards were walking the prisoners to their execution. One prisoner bribed a guard and was set free. Another guard asked, “Where is prisoner number 20?” The guard who had taken the bribe grabbed a random person and said, “Here is number 20.”
Haji Wali Mohammed said he is like the innocent person who was chosen to take the place of the 20th prisoner.
The US military believes Mohammed served as a high-ranking financial manager for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mohammed, however, said he only handled a single investment for a bank associated with the Taliban, which ended very badly.
According to the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau, Mohammed was a wealth money changer who worked with Hezb-e-Islami, a militant group that fought against the US and its allies in Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence also reported Mohammed was very close to Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, and to Mohammad Rabbani, a senior Taliban official.
An unspecified foreign government service claimed Mohammed was an associate of Osama Bin Laden who did business with the Taliban.
Jordanian intelligence reported Mohammed was Al Qaeda’s primary financial manager. They also said Mohammed financed the bombings of two US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed and wounded over 200 people. They also reported Mohammed financed an Al Qaeda cell in Jordan, which planned to conduct terrorist operations in the country on New Year’s Eve in 1999.
Qari Hasan Ulla Peerzai (AF-562), an Afghan previously imprisoned at Guantanamo, said Mohammed was a financial manager for Osama Bin Laden.
According to sensitive reporting, Mohammed facilitated the financing of the purchase of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles for Al Qaeda. The terrorist group reportedly bought the weapons for fighters in Chechnya.
It is unclear what, exactly “sensitive reporting” means in Bush-era national security documents. It could refer to intelligence derived from the torture of high value detainees. I first made this guess when I profiled Sufyian Barhoumi, an alleged Al Qaeda explosives expert imprisoned at Guantanamo.
However, the phrase could mean something else entirely.
However, the phrase could mean something else entirely.
According to an informant, Mohammed was involved in three large money transfers that were suspicious because of their large size and possible connection to individuals involved in terrorist activity. The transfers ranged from $45,000 to $70,000.
The story provided by Mohammed himself, however, is far different.
As a child, he said he fled with his family to Pakistan in 1978 or 1979, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His family started a business that sold clothing, jewelry and exchanged money between currencies. Eventually, Mohammed made a lot of money in the currency exchange business.
In 1991, Mohammed completed the Hajj, a religious requirement in Islam, by traveling the Mecca. That is why he was given the nickname “Haji” Wali Mohammed.
In 1996, he obtained a loan for $1.5 million from Abdul Rahman Zahid, the director of the Bank of Afghanistan. Mohammed planned to use the money to purchase gold in Dubai to sell at a profit in Afghanistan. The bank was to receive 75 percent of the profit and Mohammed would receive the rest.
However, things didn’t go as planned.
Due to fluxuations in exchange rates, Mohammed lost $500,000 during the endeavor.
Mohammed’s cousin, who managed a business with him, was arrested by the Taliban to ensure he would return to the country. Upon Mohammed’s return, he was arrested and told he had to pay back the entire loss by himself. Mohammed agreed and both he and his cousin were released.
The Taliban, who were in control of Afghanistan at the time, said the arrangement was an example of embezzlement because the government hadn’t approved the deal. As a result, Zahid was fired from his job as director of the bank.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Guantanamo prisoner, supported Mohammed’s claim that he lost a substantial amount of money he borrowed from the central bank. Zaeef said he was a member of the Economic Council of Afghanistan and Minister of Transportation at the time.
After his release, Mohammed created several businesses that failed. By the time of his capture, he said he owed $1.1 million to about 40 people.
Mohammed said he first heard about Al Qaeda after it was reported on TV that the organization had attacked the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
He transported gold and jewelry from Dubai for customers in Pakistan. In January 2002, he was arrested by soldiers working for the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, a powerful branch of Pakistan’s military.
Mohammed was told to pay a bribe or be sent, “to an unknown place that you will never know.” He said another ISI agent told him to sell his house and give them half the money, “to save yourself from the bad ending.” He said he refused to pay the bribe.
Pakistani forces turned Mohammed over to US custody in February 2002, claiming he was a suspected drug smuggler. He was sent to Guantanamo in April 2002.
The cover stories of many prisoners at Guantanamo are laughably implausible. Mohammed’s, on the other hand, is incredibly detailed, specific and believable.
He told a consistent story to both his 2004 Combatant Status Review Tribunal and his 2005 Administrative Review Board. These were both committees created by the Bush Administration to determine whether prisoners at Guantanamo should continue to be detained.
However, the allegations against Mohammed from other sources, which said he was a key money manager for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, are also consistent.
The Transcript of his 2006 Administrative Review Board is classified because the US government said its disclosure would, “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
In January 2010, Mohammed was recommended for continued detention by Obama’s Interagency Guantanamo Task Force. While Mohammed is eligible for a Periodic Review Board to reconsider his status, he has not yet received one.