Guantánamo parole board clears Yemeni who was victim of mistaken identity

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.

The Guantánamo parole board on Thursday approved the release of a Yemeni “forever prisoner,” dismissing U.S. intelligence that imprisoned the man for 13 years at the Navy base in Cuba as “discredited.”

The so-called Periodic Review Board heard the case of Mustafa al Shamiri, 37, on Dec. 1. His story captured the world’s attention because he was a victim of mistaken identity. Intelligence analysts wrongly cast him as a captive of consequence, an al-Qaida facilitator or courier, rather than a run-of-the-mill jihadist — because his name was similar to actual extremists.

The episode served as a cautionary tale about the military’s system of profiling Guantánamo’s captives, and the unreliability of 2008-era U.S military assessments of the captives that were leaked in later years by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The assessments, carried out by the prison’s Joint Task Force, sought to ascribe to each prisoner risk and threat levels as well as a value for the information each man might be able to provide U.S. military intelligence.

In Shamiri’s case, his 2008 profile called him a high risk who presented a medium threat to the detention center and possessed medium intelligence value. It called him “a senior trainer at the al-Faruq Training Camp as well as an al-Qaida guesthouse logistician.” But in September, U.S. military intelligence concluded in a new assessment “these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to” Shamiri, whom the U.S. military holds as prisoner Detainee 434.

The parole board said in a three-paragraph statement that he could be transferred, “preferably to an Arabic-speaking country,” with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

“In making this determination, the board noted that the most derogatory prior assessments regarding the detainee’s activities before detention have been discredited, and the current information shows that the detainee has low-level military capability.” The document was dated Jan. 12 but released Thursday.

Shamiri 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.

Back in 2008, the U.S. military believed that the U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Shamiri in Afghanistan in late November 2001 and held him for a time in a crammed fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif where captives staged an uprising in which CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed. He was then supposedly handed over to the U.S. military.

The board made up of delegates from six U.S. national security divisions noted that Shamiri has been “largely compliant with the guard force” at Guantánamo, showed no “evidence of an extremist mindest” at his December hearing and described earlier life decisions “as mistakes.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg