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Review Board Admits Military Wrongfully Detained Guantanamo Prisoner For 13 Years

The Periodic Review Board, which reviews cases of prisoners still held at Guantanamo Bay, conceded a Yemeni prisoner was wrongfully detained.

U.S. military forces transferred Mustafa al-Shamiri from Afghanistan to Guantanamo on June 12, 2002. According to a 2008 detainee assessment brief released by WikiLeaks, officials believed Shamiri was a member of al Qaida, as Yemeni intelligence had identified his name on “al Qaida affiliated documents.” They believed he was part of a Yemen-based cell that attacked the U.S.S. Cole.

“It was previously assessed that [Shamiri] also was an al Qaida 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 [Shamiri’s],” the Board concluded in a summary of Shamiri’s case [PDF].

Shamiri, for the time being, remains a “forever prisoner,” someone indefinitely detained at Guantanamo. The Board will now determine whether he should be cleared for release.

In other words, for over 13 years, Shamiri has been wrongfully detained in a U.S. military prison.

The Periodic Review Board noted Shamiri had fought in Bosnia in 1995, in Yemen’s civil war in 1996, and had told interrogators he fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001. The Board still believed he had been in a “safe house” with other operatives, who plotted the U.S.S. Cole bombing.

Shamiri’s public representative, who was present to help him make a case that he should be cleared for release, told the Board why he is not a “continuing significant threat” to the U.S. [PDF]

“He is earnestly preparing for his life after GTMO,” the public representative declared. “During his time in detention, he has attended English and Art classes, in addition to acquiring carpentry and cooking skills. During the last feast, Mustafa generously took the time to prepare over thirty plates of pastries for his fellow detainees. When I asked him why he would make pastries for his fellow detainees, he said it’s because it makes him feel like he can give back and share with people.”

Shamiri has apparently accepted the U.S. will not allow him to be transferred to Yemen and will “go to any country that will accept him.” He has a “large family” ready to provide “emotional, spiritual, or financial” support wherever he resettles. (It is unclear if family would move if he were transferred.)

But the Periodic Review Board’s assessment of Shamiri is contradictory. On one hand, the Board recognizes he is compliant with guards, but then they claim he is “uncooperative with interrogators.” The Board notes he believes in fighting to “protect other Muslims,” however, the Board concedes this does not mean he believes in “global jihad.”

Apparently, Shamiri at one time or another claimed he would be willing to remain in indefinite detention. The Board suggests he has “expressed no plans for the future,” but then goes on to note he would like to “get married” and “work at his family’s shop in Sanaa, Yemen,” which are, in fact, plans for the future.

The assessment additionally mentions the fact that Shamiri has corresponded with former Guantanamo prisoners and regards the former prisoners as individuals “well-placed to facilitate re-engagement in terrorism should he choose to return to jihad.” But this statement laden with hype is immediately undercut by the admission that Shamiri has apparently never discussed “terrorism, regional conflicts, or violence” with them.

The military is afraid, if Shamiri returned to Sanaa to live with family, he might be swept up in fighting by al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or fighting by “other Sunni extremists” against Houthis and the Yemeni government. (The fear could probably be extended to the possibility that Shamiri might take up arms against the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition forces savagely bombing Yemen.)

However, the Board finds there are “no indications that [Shamiri’s] family members are engaged in terrorist activity.”

Yemeni prisoners like Shamiri continue to face discrimination because of their nationality.

Tariq Ba Odah, a 75-pound prisoner who is gravely ill and cleared for release, remains at the facility. President Barack Obama’s administration has fought to prevent a court from ordering his release.

In early November, the Board cleared Mansoor Abdul Rahman al Dayfi, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo since February 2002. Dayfi longs to return to Yemen to see his 70-year-old mother and 75-year-old father, who each have various health problems. But the Board recommended he be transferred to a country other than Yemen.

Five Yemeni prisoners were released from Guantanamo on November 13, but they were resettled in the United Arab Emirates.

The day before Thanksgiving, Obama signed a defense bill that will make it much more difficult to close Guantanamo and further complicate his administration’s ability to release innocent prisoners who have long been cleared for release.

There are currently 107 men who remain detained at the prison. Forty-eight have been cleared for release. Thirty-nine of the men cleared for release are Yemenis, and they remain at the facility because of their Yemeni citizenship.

As Omar Farah, staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented multiple Guantanamo prisoners, previously declared, “The Obama administration has long regarded the Yemenis at Guantánamo as a political liability to manage, rather than as individuals it has a moral obligation to release.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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