On July 11, 2002, Abdul Zahir was detained by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan after a fellow villager accused him of working for the Taliban and foreign forces hostile to the Afghan government, including Osama Bin Ladin. When Zahir’s home was raided, three pressure cookers containing “suspicious materials” believed to be bomb-making ingredients were seized. Zahir was swiftly taken to Bagram Air Force base, transferred to a CIA “dark site” and ultimately detained at Guantanamo. For years, the U.S. Government classified him as high priority “terrorist”. The problem was, he wasn’t. Just days after the seizure of the pressure cooker, the contents were tested. They contained salt, sugar and petroleum jelly. Yet, despite this revelation and mounting evidence that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity, Zahir remained at Guantanamo where he was tortured and nearly driven mad. David Sleigh together with fellow Vermont lawyer, Robert Gensburg (now deceased) and military co-counsel Lt. Sterling Thomas worked years trying to get the charged dismissed or, at least, set for a trial they were confident they would win.
Finally, they succeeded in getting an opportunity to present evidence on behalf of Mr. Zahir before a Periodic Review Board. After listening to the evidence, the Board concluded Zahir’s detention was, in fact, a case of misidentification. In October 2016 – over 14 years after being abducted – he was released from GITMO without ever having been convicted of wrongdoing.