US officials have admitted that a low-level Islamist foot soldier imprisoned for 13 years at Guantánamo Bay was arrested partly due to a case of mistaken identity.
The Guardian reports American officials conceded that Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, now 37, was a rank-and-file foot soldier, not an al-Qaeda courier and trainer as previously thought. The revelation comes as al-Shamiri, who is Yemeni, appeared before a US military panel assessing his readiness for release.
“Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri (YM-434) fought in several jihadist theaters and associated with al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan,” the unclassified detainee profile said. “It was previously assessed that YM-434 also was an al-Qaeda facilitator or courier, as well as a trainer, but we now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to YM-434’s.”
For the past 13 years, al-Shamiri has been held as an ‘indefinite detainee’—he is considered too dangerous to release even though military prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.
Al-Shamiri’s representatives released a statement claiming “he is not a continuing significant threat to the United States of America” and that he has “remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life.”
“He has a strong desire to obtain an education in order to provide for a future spouse that his family has already located for him,” the statement read, while adding that al-Shamiri “is aware that Yemen is not an option and he is willing to go to any country that will accept him,” a daunting challenge in a world wary of accepting former GITMO detainees. Some 55 nations have thus far hosted former detainees, with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being the leading transfer destinations.
Al-Shamiri’s apparent wrongful imprisonment isn’t the first such case of its kind. US military officials have long believed that in addition to hardened terrorists, low-level operatives and even innocent men have been imprisoned at GITMO. In 2011, Wikileaks published classified documents leaked by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning proving that senior officials in the George W. Bush administration knowingly imprisoned some 150 innocent men and boys there. Among the innocent victims of America’s aggressive pursuit of terrorists after September 11, 2001 were an 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia and a 14-year-old kidnapping victim.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell, has claimed that Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney—who admitted last December that innocent men were caught up in the CIA torture program—and Rumsfeld, who was defense secretary, all knew the “vast majority” of GITMO detainees were innocent or no danger but held them anyway for political reasons.
Numerous high-ranking GITMO officials have resigned over what they claim is a corrupt military commissions system established to prosecute detainees at the prison. Former GITMO lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis called trials there “rigged from the start.” After resigning, Davis said he was told point-blank by top Bush lawyer Jim Haynes that acquittals were unacceptable. At least four other military prosecutors—Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr, Capt. Carrie Wolf and Darrel J. Vandeval—requested to be removed from the GITMO military commissions because they also felt that the proceedings were unfair.
Marine Corps Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first commander of GITMO during America’s war against terrorism, has called for the prison’s closure, arguing that its continued existence helps America’s enemies and “validates every negative perception of the United States.”
“In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” Lehnert wrote in 2013. “We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture.”
GITMO proponents argue that detainees there are not subject to protections against torture under domestic and international law and that the focus should be on the horrific crimes of al-Qaeda committed on September 11, 2001. The GITMO military commissions are about the “summary execution” of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11, not about how prisoners are treated, said military prosecutor Clayton Trivett Jr., who was involved in the prosecution of some of the most high-profile Guantánamo detainees. Among these are alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and alleged “20th 9/11 hijacker” Mohamed al Kahtani—who, despite strong evidence of guilt, was not brought to trial after Susan J. Crawford, the senior Bush administration official in charge of deciding who to charge, admitted that he was tortured in a “horrendous” manner.
Although he issued an executive order to close GITMO on his first full day in office and offered a plan to relocate its detainees to a stateside facility, President Barack Obama has been thwarted by popular demands to keep detainees out of the United States and by repeated congressional action to prevent him from closing the prison.
Of the roughly 780 people imprisoned at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, 107 remain locked up there. Of those, 48 have been cleared for release, some for a decade or more. Nine detainees have died while in custody.