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Four Men Leave Guantanamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials in Italy

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it had transferred four prisoners from Gitmo: one to France, one to Hungary, and two to Italy.

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La Repubblica suggested that Roberto Maroni, the Minister of the Interior (and a member of Italy's notoriously right-wing Northern League), only approved their transfer when he received reassurances that they would not be set free, and this was confirmed in an article in the Christian Science Monitor, in which reporter Anna Momigliano wrote that Maroni, whose party was bluntly described as "oppos[ing] the presence of Muslim immigrants" in Italy, stated, "I oppose taking [the prisoners] in, as long as we are not sure they will be kept behind bars."

La Repubblica added that the prisoners would not receive "credit" for their seven years in Guantanamo, and noted that, in 2007, the Milanese Public Prosecutor's Office had requested extradition of two of the men, but the Ministry of Justice refused to forward the extradition request to the US government because Guantanamo was "not US territory." As a result, it is understood that the US government's transfer of the men to Italian custody will not involve extraditing them, but rather expelling them, and the Italian government can therefore treat them not as prisoners who have already served a jail sentence, but as fugitives who are obliged to serve a full term. As a source in the United States explained, this novel approach to disposing of prisoners in Guantanamo is actually a form of "rendition."

These fears have not been allayed with the transfer, under the cover of a Memorandum of Understanding, of two of the three men mentioned in July. Both were taken into custody on their arrival in Milan, and are currently being questioned, and no indication has yet been provided as to whether they will face a trial, and whether their lost years in Guantanamo will be taken into account should they be sentenced.

The Fog of Evidence

In the fog of rumors and allegations surrounding the men, it is difficult to know where the truth lies. According to Italian prosecutors, both were involved with an Islamic center in Milan that had connections with al-Qaeda, and arrest warrants for both men were issued while they were in Guantanamo. In 2005, Boughanmi was accused of "international terrorism, falsification of documents, aiding illegal immigration, theft and drug trafficking," and in 2007 Nasseri was accused of "organizing in Afghanistan the logistics for fighters coming from Italy 'where they were trained in the use of weapons and in preparation for suicide attacks,'" and was also described as "the head of the Tunisians in Afghanistan, 'from where he maintained constant relations with the structures in Italy and Milan.'"

However, Boughanmi, who was 31 years old when he was seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan, explained to his lawyers that he worked in restaurants in Naples and Rome, and as a barber in Milan, and stated that he traveled to Afghanistan in early 2001, "because I became a Muslim when I was in Europe. My country was very tough on the Muslims. Afghanistan was a country where they were willing to take anybody, you don't need any money to live there, and they welcome all the Muslims."

In addition, as I explained in July:

In Guantanamo, he [Boughanmi] denied an allegation that he was part of a terrorist network in Italy, and that he "possibly" falsified passports "for fleeing al-Qaeda combatants who make it to Europe" (that use of the word "possibly" generally indicating that even the US military regarded the allegation as unreliable). He also refuted allegations that he was an "extremist" in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the civil war, and, to prove it, showed the tribunal the visa stamps in his passport, which he requested as evidence. The information about his purported activities in the former Yugoslavia was apparently provided by the Tunisian government, which had sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison for allegedly being a member of a terrorist organization operating abroad.