Mistakenly profiled Guantánamo ‘forever prisoner’ seeks release

Yemeni Mustafa al Shamiri in a photo taken from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.
Yemeni Mustafa al Shamiri in a photo taken from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.

A Yemeni captive who was wrongly profiled at Guantánamo as an al-Qaida facilitator or courier — rather than a run-of-the-mill jihadi foot soldier — went before a parole board Tuesday seeking release as no threat to the United States.

Mustafa al Shamiri, 37, got to Guantánamo in June 2002, and according to his latest U.S. intelligence profile, dated Sept. 25, apparently joined the fight as a child soldier. The assessment called him a “veteran jihadist” who fought in Bosnia in 1995, when he would’ve been 16 or 17.

The profile said, however, that a recent intelligence review of his case concluded he had been incorrectly described at Guantánamo as an al-Qaida facilitator, courier or trainer, an apparent basis for labeling him an indefinite detainee — or Law of War prisoner — in 2010. Indefinite detainees, known colloquially as “forever prisoners,” are considered too dangerous to release but are held without adequate evidence to face trial.

“We now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to” Shamiri’s, said the assessment, which was released on the eve of the hearing.

Shamiri, seen seated silently in a chair wearing an oversized white T-shirt, followed a script as an Army lieutenant colonel assigned to help him make his case said his family in Yemen’s capital Sana’a have lined up a wife for him but did not specify where she lives. The Army officer also said that while Shamiri realizes he can’t go back to his tumultuous homeland, his family will provide “emotional, spiritual or financial” support wherever he is sent.

Under the rules providing for limited transparency, reporters are only permitted to watch a scripted ceremonial opening of the hearing. The media saw the first 17 minutes of the proceedings, twice as long as necessary, due to sequential English-Arabic translation of a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., reading the assessment, and the captive’s representative on the other end of a video feed at Guantánamo reading a statement crafted with Shamiri arguing he should be released.

Shamiri, the unnamed U.S. military officer said, “is earnestly preparing for his life after” Guantánamo, where he studied English and art. At the Pentagon prison, the officers said, he also learned “carpentry and cooking” — skills the prison has never acknowledged offering in its briefings on special classes taught by Pentagon paid contractors.

The video of the captive was distorted and only showed him above the waist. But he appeared groomed and remarkably similar to a 2008 photo of him obtained by McClatchy Newspapers from the anti-secrecy Wikileaks group.

Shamiri’s latest profile shows him typical of many of the Pentagon’s early war-on-terror prisoners. He was captured near Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, it said, after fighting in several jihadist theaters — including the 1996 civil war in his homeland. He has been uncooperative with U.S. military interrogators in recent years, it said, but seemed more concerned with fighting to protect other Muslims not waging “global jihad.”

His advocate said he had helped guards settle disputes as a block leader and “does have remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life.”

As of this week, the U.S. military held 107 captives at Guantánamo, 48 of them cleared for release. A favorable decision for Shamiri would put him in that category.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg