Saudi who protested Guantánamo groin searches goes home

Saudi Mohammed Shimrani, now 40, was approved for release Sept. 11, 2015. This photo was attached to his leaked October 2008 Guantánamo profile.
Saudi Mohammed Shimrani, now 40, was approved for release Sept. 11, 2015. This photo was attached to his leaked October 2008 Guantánamo profile.

The Saudi Kingdom on Monday fetched a Saudi prisoner from Guantánamo who was last year approved for release by the national security parole board, marking the start of the 15th year of the detention center in Cuba with 103 captives.

Mohammed Shimrani, 40, became the fourth captive transferred in six days as the Pentagon edges towards releasing 17 prisoners this month. Two were sent to resettlement in Ghana and a third was repatriated to Kuwait.

A Saudi jet collected Shamrani in keeping with a long-standing kingdom commitment to start its freed captives’ rehabilitation on the remote base airstrip. More typically, the U.S. Air Force delivers the captives to host nations.

The transfer meant that, as of Monday morning, 44 of Guantánamo’s last 103 captives are cleared for repatriation or resettlement in another country, with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. The Pentagon disclosed the release after the Saudi flight left the base.

It took Shimrani’s case two trips to the parole board to gain approval to go home to a Saudi rehabilitation program whose graduates on occasion have made their way to Yemen to join forces with al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula.

In June 2014 he boycotted his first hearing to protest Guantánamo’s practice of hand-searching around the genitals of prisoners before and after meetings with their attorneys and other appointments, such as a parole board hearing. He notified the board that the searches were “humiliating and degrading.” The national security board responded that it could not evaluate his “mindset” without a personal appearance.

He showed up last August, a time when the guards had apparently returned to using metal detectors for groin searches and sat with a U.S. military officer who argued on the Saudi’s behalf that the captive “has slipped quietly into middle age” in his years of U.S. detention.

He got to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba on Jan. 16, 2002 as a suspected recruiter for al-Qaida and the Taliban who joined the jihad in Afghanistan.

His leaked 2008 U.S. intelligence assessment described him as among dozens of men who fled Afghanistan from Tora Bora to Pakistan, whose forces rounded them up and sent them to U.S. troops back in Afghanistan. More recent, 2014 and 2015 intelligence estimates described him as a trouble-making religious leader among the Guantánamo detainees. One also noted that he had followed the growth of the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq “with apparent interest.”

The parole board said on Sept. 11, 2015 in a brief, three-paragraph decision that it had faith in the Saudi rehabilitation program and the kingdom’s ability to subsequently monitor Shimrani’s movements.

It also said that the Saudi admitted to being a former combatant but was more inclined to spend time with family than jihad or on the battlefield.

Shimrani’s attorney, Martha Rayner, said Monday that the Saudi “looks forward to participating in the Saudi rehabilitation program and reuniting with his family and establishing a peaceful and productive life in his home country.”

The release, which was negotiated last year, comes at a time of U.S. criticism of the kingdom for its execution of 47 people, including prominent Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr. The State Department Jan. 2 urged the Saudi government “to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases.”

Monday’s announcement by the Department of Defense of the Guantánamo prisoner release expressed the U.S. government’s gratitude to “the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

It added: “The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg