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Guantanamo Prisoner Cleared for Release, But U.S. Opposes Rejoining Family in Yemen

Mansoor Abdul Rahman al Dayfi, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who President Barack Obama’s administration previously designated for indefinite detention, was cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board (PRB) on October 28. However, the U.S. government opposes releasing him to Yemen, where he could rejoin his family.

Dayfi was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and he was transferred to Guantanamo in February 2002. He was a “forever war” prisoner, someone who was deemed by the U.S. government to be to dangerous to release during the War on Terrorism. But the PRB reassessed Dayfi and concluded he was “credible in his desire to pursue non-extremist goals and higher education.”

The PRB viewed Dayfi’s “embrace of Western culture” positively. For example, he likes Taylor Swift, American sitcoms, “Little House on the Prairie, because it reminds him of his very rural home with few modern conveniences,” and Christopher Nolan movies.

Dayfi had learned English and completed courses to get a GED. He was willing to be open about past activities and admit “mistakes,” which led to his detention.

He was “probably a low-level fighter who was aligned with al-Qaida,” the Board claimed. However, “It is unclear whether he actually joined that group.” He has “no known ties to extremism.”

Once again, this stands in sharp contrast to the argument that Guantanamo Bay prisoners were all the “worst of the worst.”

Dayfi’s JTF-GTMO detainee assessment brief from June 9, 2008, asserted he was an “admitted member of al-Qaida who possessed prior knowledge of the 11 September 2001 attacks as well as other planned attacks against U.S. interests.” JTF-GTMO believed he was a “commander of evacuating front line forces assessed to be Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade during hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces and was in direct communication” with bin Laden. He was someone who had been tasked with building a “base of operations in Yemen upon the event of al-Qaida’s extrication from Afghanistan.”

None of this “intelligence” or information is true. Most, if not all, of the information is apparently what Dayfi said because he was scared of being tortured or abused by Guantanamo military personnel.

“In my first years at Guantanamo, I was confused and angry about my circumstances here,” Dayfi told the PRB [PDF]. “I had lived in the mountains in Yemen and was only 20 years old, when I came here. For the first three months, I did not know where I was or what was happening. I was scared all the time. I said many things then because I was angry and scared. I made mistakes. I did stupid things. I regret that now.”

Dayfi explained he had worked hard during the past fourteen years to ensure he had a “decent life” when he was released and could help his father, mother, and sisters.

“My father is about 75 years old and has lost one of his eyes. He has back pain, which prevents him sometimes from moving and he is the only financial supporter for my other and sisters,” Dayfi shared. “My mother is about 70 years old, and she has some health problems. She has missed me so much. She told me in a phone call, ‘My son, I wish to see you and hug you, then, if I die I will be happy and satisfied. I’m afraid that the sorrow and the longing for you my son will kill me before I see you.'”

On behalf of his mother, Dayfi informed the PRB that his mother had a message: she would “send all her gold to the U.S. government” if they agreed to release him.

He added, “My mother is a villager, who knows nothing about the outside world. She never heard about America until 2007, when she was told that I was detained” at Guantanamo.

“I miss my parents, and I’m afraid of losing any of them while I’m here,” Dayfi declared. “I pray every day for them so I can see them again and also they can see my children. It is very hard to wait for a phone call just to hear that my parents and family are still alive, especially under the current circumstances in Yemen.”

The PRB recommended he be transferred to a country other than Yemen, even though that is where his family lives.

A “detainee profile” from July 24, 2015 [PDF], noted Dayfi “probably has exaggerated his involvement in and knowledge of terrorist activities during some of his interrogations.”

Of course, interrogators tortured and abused prisoners in order to push them to say what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately for Dayfi, it took the U.S. military just over thirteen years to conclude he had never played a “senior role in terrorist activities” and never has been associated with any al-Qaida leaders or associated figures. In fact, no al-Qaida leaders or associates have ever identified him as an al-Qaida member.

Astoundingly, Dayfi’s profile puts some blame on his family for not doing more to stop him from becoming “radicalized” and traveling to Afghanistan. It argues his family may not be able to dissuade him if he chooses to “reengage” as some kind of militant involved in jihad. This is stated in spite of the fact that his family openly disapproved of his past involvement with extremist groups. And it would appear this forms part of the basis for recommending he go to a country that is much more stable than Yemen.

Dayfi has spent most of his time at Guantanamo trying to “rehabilitate” himself or learn skills so he can go to college, get a job, and support a family when he is finally released from Guantanamo. He had an Ohio public defender named Andy Hart, who died some years ago. Hart suggested Dayfi learn English and that led to Dayfi developing an appreciation for American culture, something which has clearly helped convince U.S. military personnel that he no longer poses a threat to America.

He was even part of a group of prisoners at Guantanamo which developed a “Yemen Milk and Honey Farm” business proposal. This was a project that had practical use and could be carried out if he ever returned to Yemen.

“I don’t want to keep reliving the past. I do not want the Guantanamo experience to affect the rest of my life. What has been done is done. I miss my family, my sisters, and my brother. I miss my life and my freedom. I miss the world,” Dayfi said.

But Dayfi will apparently not be permitted to return to Yemen. He could wait months if not years to be sent to another country. His parents may both be dead by that time and, if they are alive, it is unclear what the U.S. government will do to reunite a family that has been separated for so many years because of the cruelty and indifference of a government that has not yet released a completely innocent man.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."