"He had the mental capacity to put flatbread in an oven and that was the extent of his intellect," the interrogator said. "He never got trained on a rifle, never got pressed into service. But he was Arab by birth so he was picked up and sent away."
Pentagon officials declined to discuss individual cases, but insist that the U.S. has reasonable grounds for holding all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
"All are considered enemy combatants lawfully detained in accordance with the law of armed conflict," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees operations at Guantanamo Bay.
Several senior military officers responsible for transfers of prisoners also defended their decisions.
"Everybody that was sent met the conditions that were sent down from our higher headquarters," said Army Col. Michael T. Flynn, the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan when many of the detainees were transferred. "We were sending the right folks."
According to classified Pentagon guidelines, Guantanamo Bay was meant to be a long-term detention facility for Al Qaeda operatives, Taliban leaders, "foreign" fighters and "any others who may pose a threat to U.S. interests, may have intelligence value, or may be of interest for U.S. prosecution."
But from the beginning, prisoners who didn't meet those criteria were sent, sources said. In some cases, military police seemed to have more influence over flight lists than intelligence officers, lobbying commanders to ship out troublesome detainees.
Other detainees seemed to get caught up in the military's bureaucratic machinery. In many cases, low-value prisoners caught early in the war were placed at the bottom of prioritized lists. But as planeloads of prisoners were sent to Cuba, names at the bottoms of the lists drifted to the top, and some started showing up on flight manifests.
Once they appeared on the manifests, sources said, removing them proved almost impossible. Doing so required senior intelligence officers in Kuwait or Afghanistan to work through thickets of military red tape. It also required them to trust the judgment of junior intelligence officers, something they were loath to do given the stakes.
Through much of the war, the decisions were made far from the battlefield, by commanders in Kuwait or back in the United States. Intelligence officers in Afghanistan became increasingly dismayed at the number of low-level detainees on the manifests.
"We saw it as having huge potential for eroding public trust," one officer said. In a conflict dependent on the cooperation of local Afghans, he said, "winning the hearts and minds was our greater concern."
To call attention to the problem, some began circulating lists of prisoners they believed were being improperly placed on Guantanamo Bay flight manifests. The lists were seen by senior intelligence officers in Afghanistan, Kuwait and the United States.
One of the lists covers 49 Afghans and 10 Pakistanis who were being held at Kandahar Air Base until the Afghan facility was shut down in June, prompting their transfer to Guantanamo Bay, sources said.
The list describes detainees' occupations, the circumstances of their captures, summaries of interrogations and alibis they provided. The prisoners range in age from 16 to 50, most with little or no education. None was deemed to have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
A typical entry describes a 30-year-old Afghan farmer captured by Afghan forces who "seemed most interested in stealing his car and money."
Another describes a 22-year-old Afghan who sold firewood at a bus station in Konduz and was picked up by Northern Alliance forces while he and six others were traveling to Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"He answers all questions quickly and fully," interrogators concluded. "His story is plausible and consistent, and there is no evidence that he has ever worked for or had any knowledge of the Taliban or Al Qaeda."
Not all of the detainees' stories are so tidy. Many admitted to being fighters for the Taliban, although often as low-level soldiers conscripted when they couldn't afford payments required by the Taliban to avoid service -- often amounting to six months' wages.
Among the Pakistanis on the list was a 16-year-old who traveled to Afghanistan at the start of the war to help the Taliban, but quickly had second thoughts and was captured by the Northern Alliance while trying to flee. "He showed no signs of deception," interrogators noted. "He never fought for the Taliban."