A man who has spent 13 years in the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was arrested partly in a case of mistaken identity, US officials conceded Tuesday.
Officials admitted that Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, 37, was a low-level Islamist foot soldier and not an al-Qaeda courier and trainer as previously thought, during a Guantanamo hearing.
Wearing a beard and voluminous white T-shirt, and accompanied by a linguist and two personal representatives, the Yemeni appeared before a panel assessing whether he can be released.
A profile published by the Department of Defense maintains he fought in Afghanistan and mixed with members of al-Qaeda. But officials concede that they wrongly believed he had a more significant role because he was confused with others who had a similar name.
“Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri (YM-434) fought in several jihadist theaters and associated with al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan,” the unclassified detainee profile said.
“It was previously assessed that YM-434 also was an al-Qaeda facilitator or courier, as well as a trainer, but we now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to YM-434’s.”
The profile added that fragmentary reporting links al-Shamiri to fighting in Bosnia in 1995, and he told interrogators that he fought in Yemen’s civil war in 1996 and in Afghanistan for the Taliban from 2000 to 2001 – including against the Northern Alliance and US forces – before his capture near Mazar-e-Sharif. He has since been an indefinite detainee, considered too dangerous to release but without adequate evidence to bring to trial.
A statement from al-Shamiri’s personal representative described him as very cooperative, enthusiastic and supportive in the preparation for the board hearing. “From the onset, he has demonstrated a consistent positive attitude towards life after Gitmo,” he said. “He has a strong desire to obtain an education in order to provide for a future spouse that his family has already located for him.
“Mustafa will show you today that he is not a continuing significant threat to the United States of America. He is earnestly preparing for his life after Gitmo. During his time in detention, he has attended English and art classes, in addition to acquiring carpentry and cooking skills. During the last feast, Mustafa generously took the time to prepare over 30 plates of pastries for his fellow detainees. When I asked him why he would make pastries for his fellow detainees, he said it’s because it makes him feel like he can give back and share with people.”
The statement added: “Mustafa does have remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life. 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. He is aware that Yemen is not an option and he is willing to go to any country that will accept him.”
The 17-minute opening of the hearing was broadcast via video link to journalists in Arlington, Virginia. They were then required to leave before classified details were discussed.
Al-Shamiri has been held as an enemy combatant without charge at Guantánamo since 2002. He is one of 107 prisoners at the controversial base, 48 of whom have been cleared for release. It is not certain when he will learn if he is to become number 49.