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This Detainee Has Been Held at Guantanamo for 13 Years Because of a Mistaken Identity

Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri was believed to be a high-level al Qaeda facilitator and trainer. But after years of being held at the military prison without charge, Pentagon officials recently said that he was in fact a low-level foot soldier.
December 2, 2015, 4:50pm
Photo de Brennan Linsley/AP

A 37-year-old Yemeni who has been held at the US prison on Guantanamo Bay for 13 years has been the victim of confusion over his identity, US officials have admitted.

When he was captured in 2002, Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri was believed to be a high-level al Qaeda facilitator and trainer. But after years of being held at the military prison without charge, Defense Department officials recently said that he was in fact a low-level foot soldier to whom they had mistakenly ascribed responsibility for the actions of others whose names or aliases were similar to his own.

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"We now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists," officials wrote in a detainee profile dated September 25, but which was submitted Tuesday as part of a periodic review of Shamiri's indefinite detention.

Related: The Paris Attacks Will Really Complicate Obama's Plan to Close Guantanamo

Officials in the profile did link Shamiri to fighting in Bosnia in 1995 and involvement in the Yemeni civil war the next year through "fragmentary reporting." The profile also said he was involved in carrying out activities for the Taliban in 2000-2001 against US forces, during which time he "probably took explosives training at a camp in Afghanistan, and he may have been collocated at a safehouse in Yemen with operatives who plotted the USS Cole bombing," according to the profile. But officials also noted that there "are no other indications that he played a role in that operation."

Officials also wrote that Shamiri was "supportive of fighting to protect other Muslims, but not of global jihad, and there are no indications that his views have changed."

In a written statement to the periodic review board, Shamiri's personal representative said that the detainee has been very "enthusiastic" and "cooperative" and is "earnestly preparing" for life post-Guantanamo by looking to get an education and job to provide for his future wife with whom his family has arranged a marriage after his release.

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"Mustafa will show you today that he is not a continuing significant threat to the United States of America," the representative wrote. "During his time in detention, he has attended English and art classes, in addition to acquiring carpentry and cooking skills."

Related: In Emails, Hillary Clinton Praised the Release of Guantanamo Detainee Omar Khadr

The statement also noted an incident in which Shamiri baked more than 30 plates of pastries for his fellow detainees, saying he did it "because it makes him feel like he can give back and share with people."

Shamiri appeared before the review board on Tuesday wearing a beard and white T-shirt, the Guardian reported. Journalists were allowed to witness the first 17 minutes of the hearing via video link, but were then told to leave when classified information was discussed, the paper said.

"Mustafa does have remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life," Shamiri's representative wrote in the statement. "He has vocalized to us that while he cannot change the past, he would definitely have chosen a different path. He wants to make a life for himself."

Watch the VICE News documentary Life After Guantanamo: Exiled in Kazakhstan

Shamiri is one of 107 prisoners currently in the US prison in Cuba. So far, 48 of those detainees have been cleared for release as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to whittle down the population and close the prison.

Yet in late November, the president signed a defense authorization bill that will stifle his own ability to close Guantanamo before he concludes his presidency. The legislation authorizing military spending bars the White House from using funds to transfer the remaining detainees to the US or to "construct or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any Guantanamo detainee."

In a signing statement attached to the bill, Obama said provisions in the bill may be unconstitutional and maintained that his administration must have "flexibility, with regard to the detainees who remain at Guantanamo."