Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Human Rights

Hamidullah (ISN 1119) 13 years in detention

Kate Clark 9 min

Hamidullah (ISN 1119):

  • Date of birth: 1963
  • Place of birth: Tara Khel village, Deh Sabz, Kabul
  • Detained 31 July 2003 by Afghan National Army which handed him over to the “National Directorate of Security (NDS) and US forces (undated); transferred to Guantanamo 21 November 2003
  • Transferred to UAE 14 August 2016 after Periodic Review Board hearing.
  • Guantanamo Documents: Quotes from Guantanamo documents (Assessment, Combatant Status Review Tribunal and Administrative Review Boards) can be read here.


Hamidullah told his interrogators he was initially detained in November 2001 by “the Northern Alliance.” It seems he was using Northern Alliance as a synonym for Jamiat-e Islami, more specifically the network of Jamiat commanders from the Shomali and Panjshir Valley known as Shura-ye Nizar (a term still commonly used, although the network was officially disbanded in 1993). It captured Kabul after the Taleban fled and its leaders took the defence, interior and foreign ministries and the NDS. In his secret Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detainee Assessment, Hamidullah said the ‘Northern Alliance’ had disliked his attempts to support the return of former king Zahir Shah to Afghanistan (a strange claim and one that will be returned to). He said he managed to escape.

Later, again according to his Assessment, he was detained a second time, on 31 July 2003, this time by the “Afghan National Army” (just about possible, although it barely existed at that time) and handed over to “the NDS and US forces.” By this time, Hamid Karzai had been in office for 18 months, but the Shura-ye Nizar network was still the dominant faction in the capital and the security services.

The evidence that he was an insurgent does not stack up and the accusations against him were outlandish and fantastical: his detention looked, rather, to be a case of factional enmity. Hamidullah is from a prominent family from a different faction, Hizb-e Islami, and comes from the village of Tarakheil on the outskirts of Kabul. Jamiat and Hezb had enjoyed a murderous rivalry for decades. Hamidullah was not the only Hezb member detained on spurious grounds at this time.

Allegations and Evidence

The US accused Hamidullah, along with various of his family members, of having fought with Hezb-e Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. He freely admits to this and also points out that in the 1980s, America also supported Hezb-e Islami:

If I’m guilty, or did the wrong thing to join HiG [Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin], then the whole world was helping us, and for this reason, America was guilty, too. (Combatant Status Review Board in 2004)

The Hizb-e Islami connection kept coming up though. In 2006, he again tries to explain to the US military officers on a review board that things were different in the 1980s:

Designated Military Officer: The Hezb-I-Islami Gulbuddin was founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a faction of the Hezb-I-Islami party in 1977. It was one of the major mujahedin groups in the war against the Soviets and has long established ties with Usama Bin Laden [sic].

Detainee (through translator): What does this have to do with me? This has nothing to do with me. The whole world knows that Gulbuddin was the leader of Hezb-I-Islami once during the time of the Mujahedin…  

Presiding Officer: We understand. This is a statement more about HIG than it is about you. However, because we previously mentioned that you worked for HIG for ten years, we are trying to show a connection between you, the HIG, and what it stands for.

Detainee (through translator): During that time it was different. The people were [sic] used to working for Gulbuddin during the time of Mujahedin. Now they are ministers of the current government, the big knowledgeable minister. When he [Gulbuddin] changed his direction and did a lot (of) bad things, everyone became upset with him. (Second Administrative Review Board, 2006)

Some Far-Fetched Accusations

However, the US also linked Hamidullah with another mujahedin faction – and this is where the allegations got very strange indeed. His Assessment says:

Detainee was associated with numerous extremists involved in ACM [Anti-Coalition Militia] activities, including former members of the Mahaz-e-Milli, aka (National Islamic Front (NIF)[the standard abbreviation is NIFA).

This was probably literally the first time the word ‘extremist’ had been associated with Mahaz-e Milli (NIFA). It was famously the most liberal and secular-minded of the mujahedin parties of the 1980s, jeered at by more hardline factions like Hezb-e Islami. It was led by the western-friendly head of a Sufi network, Pir Gailani, and was royalist, advocating for the former king, Zahir Shah to return to power. Allegations against Hamidullah, however, got even stranger. The Assessment continues:

In November 2001 detainee worked with NIF to recruit and organize supporters for King Zahir Shah following the fall of the Taliban.

The US does not explain why organizing for the return of the former king was the action of an insurgent. Zahir Shah would return to Afghanistan in June 2002 – to much fanfare and then to a quiet life. That Hamidullah, with his Hezb-e Islami background, should have been working to bring back the former Afghan king is very strange. Hezb-e Islami was always anti-monarchist (in the late 1980s, in Peshawar, it was accused of murdering those supporting Zahir Shah). Hamidullah is also alleged to have had several co-conspirators: Rahim Wardak (who is a royalist, pro-American, member of Mahaz-e Milli and would go on to become Afghanistan’s defence minister), Mullah Ezatullah and Haji Almas (now MPs, both former commanders from Jamiat-e Islami, which, like Hezb-e Islami, was always anti-monarchist) and General Tufan (another former Jamiat commander):

Detainee stated Mullah Ezat Ullah, a (Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin) operative and detainee’s friend, worked with detainee on aiding the return of former King Shah. On 14 January 2006, Ullah, aka (Izatullah), was identified as an Iranian intelligence affiliated Taliban sub-commander in Kabul responsible for many terrorist attacks against coalition interests. Mullah Ezat Ullah is believed to be responsible for the 12 October 2005 rocket attacks on the Canadian Ambassador’s residence in Kabul. 

Detainee admitted ACM [Anti-Coalition Militia] members Haji Almas and General Zulmei Toufon, aka (Tufan), assisted detainee in performing duties for NIF… Haji Almas provided protection for a combined effort of al-Qaida, Taliban, and HIG members organized to disrupt Afghan’s Interim Administration (AIA). On 18 January 2006, Haji Almas was reported to be involved in numerous criminal activities to include the extortion of third-party nationals working for US interests at Bagram Airfield… 

Detainee admitted NIF leader Rahim Wardak gave him three Thuraya mobile phones when he tasked him to gather support for King Zahir Shah. Detainee gave one phone to Haji Almas and the other to Mullah Ezat Ullah. (Assessment 2008)

Looking at Hamidullah’s alleged co-conspirators, the strangeness of this tale comes sharply into focus:

Mullah Ezatullah has never belonged to Hezb-e Islami or Taleban. He fought with Jamiat-e Islami from the earliest days of the jihad in the 1980s, against the Soviets, and later against Hizb-e Islami (1992-1996) and the Taleban (1996-2001). Since 2001, he has transformed himself into a businessman with, among other concerns, setting up the Kabul golf course, favoured over the years by ambassadors and others. He became an MP in 2005 and, generally, has become a pillar of the post-2001 establishment. When AAN interviewed him about this case, he said he remembered Hamidullah coming to see him three or four times with his father, Mullah Tarakhel, whom he described as “one of the top 500 ulama [Islamic clergy] in the country.” They had sought his protection after the fall of the Taleban because they were living in his area. He said he gave it to them and others.

He was mystified as to why anyone might think he had been fighting against the Karzai government and the Americans or working with the Taleban: “I was the one who fought the Taleban,” he said, “till the last bullet.” Ezat said he had been asked by Hamidullah’s brother to make enquiries after Hamidullah’s arrest and, speaking to a contact in the NDS, had been told the detention was a joint US-NDS operation; he said he was also warned off pursuing the matter further.

Another of Hamidullah’s alleged conspirators, Haji Almas (formerly a police general and now an MP) and Zalmai Tufan are also ex-Jamiat commanders who have benefitted hugely from the 2001 US intervention. Why any of these three very rich and well-connected men would need to be given a Thuraya phone – as alleged – is not clear, nor why they would want the former king back, or be allies of Rahim Wardak. He is a veteran royalist and former Mahaz-e Milli commander. He is also an even more respectable politician who studied at military academies in Afghanistan, Egypt and the US, and was a colonel in the Afghan army at the time of the communist coup of 1978. At the time of Hamidullah’s arrest, he was the deputy minister of defence and would go on to become the minister in December 2004. The politics of this supposed conspiracy make no sense whatsoever.

Factual Errors

Other factual mistakes about Afghanistan in Hamidullah’s file are legion. His Assessment said:

In September 1996, the Taliban gained de facto control of Afghanistan, and expelled HIG [Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin] members from Kabul. A majority of these HIG members joined the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime.

In reality, few Hezb-e Islami fighters joined the Northern Alliance. Although their leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opposed the Taleban, many of his fighters were absorbed into Taleban ranks.

NIF (Mahaz-e Mili), along with Harakat-e-Inqelab Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Movement) and the Jebh-e-Milli (National Liberation Front) led by Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi and Sibaghatullah Mojadeddi, respectively, defined the formative roles in the resistance movement against the Taliban. Raheem Wardak was the Defense Minister of Afghanistan. Zahir Shah’s cousin ousted King Shah in 1973 in a bloodless coup while King Shah was in Europe for medical reasons.

Harakat-e Inqelab fighters and commanders, far from fighting the Taleban, formed the nucleus of the new movement when it emerged in the mid-1990s. The other two mujahedin factions mentioned, Jebha-ye Milli and Mahaz-e Milli, stopped fighting in 1992 when the communist regime fell, two years before the Taleban emerged. Rahim Wardak would become defence minister eighteen months after Hamidullah’s arrest, so this statement eventually became true. Zahir Shah was indeed deposed in 1973 by his cousin. 

Detainee identified Mullah Abd al-Kabir, former HIG operative and Taliban Governor of Jalalabad, AF. Al-Kabir served for a short time in the ANA [Afghan National Army] in late 2002.

Mawlawi Kabir was a commander with a different mujahedin faction, albeit with a similar name, Hizb-e Islami Khales. During the Taleban regime, he was in charge of security for the eastern zone and was based in Jalalabad. He was also one of the most prominent and best-known Taleban leaders, so it is scarcely likely that he could have joined the Afghan National Army without anyone knowing, especially as the ANA was only set up December 2002.

Detainee’s father is a HIG leader and founding member of the Taliban. Detainee admitted his father, Mawlawi Sayeed Agha, is a highly respected religious and political leader with extensive ties to the government.

Hamidullah’s father was not a founding member of the Taleban. It is difficult to imagine how a Hezb-e Islami leader from Kabul could have been present in Kandahar in 1994 to be among the founding members, given how very locally the Taleban started and how war-torn and dangerous the roads were. Hamidullah’s father was, however, a prominent scholar and Hizb-e Islami stalwart, although why this is something anyone would have to admit to is not clear.

Not Accused of Actual Attacks  

Looking through the other ‘reasons for continued detention’ in his Assessment, another pattern, familiar from other detainees’ file, emerges. Hamidullah is not actually accused of carrying out any specific attacks, rather of planning (mostly failed) attacks and meeting people. (1) He and his relatives are accused of having fought with Hizb-e Islami in the 1980s (the US backed the faction at this time too) and he is accused of having welcomed the Taleban in the 1990s (many Afghans did). After 9/11, it said he had a close association with both factions concurrently (usually, it would be one or the other). Yet, during the Emirate, he said, the Taleban arrested him because he was Hizb-e Islami:

“When the Taliban were in power I did not work for them. Now they have fallen apart [and you say] I am helping them now? That is not right because the Taliban were my enemy and they put me in jail… (Administrative Review Board 2006)

Hamidullah is not the only detainee who struggles to understand the justice system he is facing. Faced with assertions made by un-named sources and based on misunderstandings, he repeatedly asks his captors to show him proof of his wrong-doing:

Detainee (through translator): I am asking you your basis for my capture. If you have any documents, records, or papers please let me know. Don’t just tell me that someone told you. … If you captured weapons with me and then said that I was using it against you, then that would be a correct statement. If you have any documented telephone conversations indicating that I had done certain things please show me. Even if you capture someone or arrest someone and they confess that I am a bad guy and have done anything against the Americans, let me know. I am surprised because you have asked me questions and I have answered them… You say I am al Qaida and I say I am not. Do you have proof of anything? It is up to you to show me the proof. (Administrative Review Board, 2006)

US Plans for Hamidullah

Obama’s 2009 Task Force review decided Hamidullah needed to be detained indefinitely. His Periodic Review Board took a different line. After 12 years detention and repeated scrutiny of his file, finally, the Board said there was “a lack of clear information regarding his involvement with al-Qa’ida or the Taliban.” The “body of reporting” which tied him to “extremists and involvement in militant activities against US interests,” it said was mostly from the NDS.

Hamidullah’s always looked to be a clear case of local enmity, where one mujahedin faction had gained control of the Afghan intelligence agency and used it and the United States to target an enemy. Yet, the dearth of any actual evidential basis for the claims against Hamidullah and the fantastical accusations in themselves should have been rung warning bells years ago.

The Board noted Hamidullah does not support a “jihadist ideology,” had been a “highly compliant” prisoner and is now an old, ill man. He has asked to be resettled somewhere other than Afghanistan or Pakistan where he can live safely. “[To]o the extent any of these allegations suggest there was an adversary of Mr. Hamdullah,” said his legal counsel, “his adversary was the Northern Alliance, not the United States.



(1) His Assessment said that he was said to have attempted to “smuggle US-made man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) into the region surrounding Kabul International Airport,” “recruit a HIG member to transport the missiles to the airport for an attack against Hamid Karzai’s presidential aircraft,” planned attacks against US helicopters using multiple Chinese MANPADS acquired by Hekmatyar,” “planned a coordinated attack with Taliban operatives to assassinate Imam Mullah Fayaz” [a reportedly moderate imam]; reporting noted that he “attended monthly meetings between HIG and Taliban members to discuss future operations” and linked him to an ISI “initiative to create an office in Peshawar combining elements of the Taliban, HIG, and al-Qaida.”