Guantanamo inmate mistakenly held for 13 years due to name mix-up

© Joe Skipper
US officials have admitted they held the wrong man at Guantanamo Bay prison for 13 years because his name was similar to that of a high-profile terrorist suspect. The wrongly imprisoned man, Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, is now getting ready for reintegration into society.

The truth emerged Tuesday during a panel hearing for al-Shamiri’s release, according to The Guardian. It had been previously alleged that al-Shamiri, 37, was a high-level Al-Qaeda courier and trainer. It turns out now he is actually a low-level foot soldier – contrary to what his profile says, published by the Department of Defense.

The profile also says that al-Shamiri accused fought in Bosnia in 1995, Yemen’s civil war in 1996 (to which he allegedly admitted) and in the Afghan Taliban’s ranks in 2000-2001. He was allegedly captured in Mazar-e-Sharif, in north Afghanistan, and has since been in detention at Guantanamo.  

The reason for his lengthy stay is that he was considered too dangerous for release, but that there was inadequate evidence for a trial.

Al-Shamiri’s accusers now paint a completely different picture, and confess it was a bureaucratic cock-up over his name.

“Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri (YM-434) fought in several jihadist theaters and associated with al-Qaida members in Afghanistan,” the prisoner’s profile says. “It was previously assessed that YM-434 also was an al-Qaida 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 statement said.

The statement adds that al-Shamiri remained remorseless throughout, and that fragmentary and dated reporting pointed to his ambition of fighting to protect Muslims, “but not of global jihad, and there are no indications that his views have changed.”

However, “he boasted that he is willing to remain in detention indefinitely, and has expressed no plans for the future apart from a desire to get married and a willingness to work at his family’s shop in Sanaa, Yemen.”

On Tuesday, al-Shamiri appeared at a panel hearing to determine whether he was fit for release. Accompanied by an interpreter and two representatives, he was making his case for release. The first 17 minutes of the hearing were broadcast to journalists in Virginia, before a discussion of classified details began.

“From the onset, he has demonstrated a consistent positive attitude towards life after Gitmo,” al-Shamiri’s lawyers said in their remarks. “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,” the statement added.

“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 goes on to say the following: “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 accused has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. There are still 107 detainees at the facility, 48 of whom have been cleared for release. Authorities are not divulging any details of al-Shamiri’s possible release date, if the panel approves it.