The Miami Herald

Guantánamo captive called himself jihadist

An Arab captive found dead inside a steel and cement cell at Guantánamo Bay this week was a Saudi Arabian army veteran who reportedly admitted to being a holy warrior in defense of Afghanistan but was not seeking to kill American soldiers.

Guards discovered the body of Abdul Rahman al Amri, 34, at about 1 p.m. Wednesday inside Camp 5 -- a maximum-security building equipped with interrogation rooms outfitted with video monitors, faux Persian carpets and reclining chairs and an ankle shackle.

But on Thursday, the detention center's new commander, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, and his staff were exceptionally tight-lipped about what went wrong.

"I can't describe the circumstances, " said Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a Guantánamo spokesman. "We will seek to understand what happened and prevent it from happening in the future."

NEVER MET ATTORNEY

A check of military documents and court records indicates that -- like the three Arab men who committed suicide in simultaneous hangings a year ago -- Amri was part of the detainee population who had never met with a U.S. attorney across five years in U.S. detention.

But, in a statement to a military panel at Guantánamo, he cast himself as a mere Islamic foot soldier who answered a call to jihad, or holy war, from Muslim Afghanistan.

A native of Taif, Saudi Arabia, he said he joined the movement after the 9/11 attacks, six months after his discharge from the Saudi military.

As a Saudi soldier, he said, he served nine years and four months and sometimes trained alongside U.S. troops.

"His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go and fight against the Americans, " according to a report written by the U.S. military officer for the Pentagon review panel that subsequently confirmed his status as an "enemy combatant."

"Had he wanted to kill Americans, " the officer wrote, quoting Amri, he could have done it during his military service "while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia."

SAW BIN LADEN

In Afghanistan, he said, he saw al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, from afar; attended a "school for jihad" near Kandahar; then took up an AK-47 but was behind the lines at Tora Bora.

A statement from Guantánamo gave a slightly different account Thursday night.

"By his own account, al Amri volunteered to fight with local Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Al Hanan, and fought on the front lines north of Kabul, " the statement said. "In November 2001, he engaged in combat with U.S. forces in the Tora Bora Mountains."

It called him a "mid-level al Qaeda operative." It said he ran al Qaeda safe houses.

CAUGHT IN PAKISTAN

Amri was captured while surrendering to Pakistani police, presumably fleeing the war zone. He arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002, where he began his U.S. detention in the crude chain-linked-fence prison camp known as X-Ray.

Agents with the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service were at Guantánamo on Thursday investigating the circumstances of the man's death -- and the American Civil Liberties Union in New York urged an independent investigation.

The NCIS is still investigating the triple suicides from last year, the first deaths of detainees in five years of Guantánamo detention and interrogation operations.

"Guantánamo Bay has operated for far too long under a shroud of secrecy, " said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. "The global community and the American public have rightfully lost their trust in the U.S. government after countless reports of abuses and injustices at Guantánamo."

MIAMI-DADE EXAMINER

In perhaps a nod to the distrust, the military said it was bringing in an observer from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office to watch a military pathologist conduct an autopsy. It was not immediately known Thursday which medical examiner was making the 500-mile trip from Miami to southeast Cuba.

In Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a statement confirming that Amri's family had been told of his death and saying plans were underway to repatriate his remains to the kingdom.

A Saudi team was also visiting the isolated island base, at the invitation of the U.S. government, "to see the conditions of the Saudi detainees and bolster efforts to return them home as soon as possible."

There are about 80 Saudi captives at Guantánamo.

They include Mohammed al Qahtani, made famous as the suspected so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker who was subjected to such severe interrogation techniques that FBI agents protested, and a hunger striker whose attorneys say he has been fed through a tube tethered through his nose and into his stomach since 2005.




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