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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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Less is known publicly about Nasseri, who was 35 years old at the time of his capture in Afghanistan, because he refused to take part in any of the military review processes at Guantanamo (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and the annual Administrative Review Boards), although it was noted that he refuted all the allegations against him. Some of these related to the Italian arrest warrant mentioned above, a claim that he fought in Bosnia may have come from the Tunisian government (which gave him a ten-year sentence in absentia for being a member of a terrorist organization operating abroad), and no clue whatsoever was provided to back up an allegation that he "led a band of thieves in Italy and Spain who cooperated with Algerian terrorists."

Most worrying is the claim that he was "the head of the Tunisians in Afghanistan," which may, of course, be true, but what makes it suspicious in the context of the intelligence-gathering at Guantanamo is that it comes from an allegation that he was "identified by a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant as having trained at the Khaldan camp and that he eventually took over as the Emir of the Tunisian Group in Afghanistan."

References to "a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant" in proceedings at Guantanamo invariably refer to "high-value detainees," who, at the time, were held in secret CIA prisons where they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel; in other words, where they were tortured.

There is, of course, no indication as to who this particular "high-value detainee" was, but as the reference is to the Khaldan training camp, it seems likely that the allegation was made either by Abu Zubaydah  (the gatekeeper of the camp, and the CIA's most well-known torture victim, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the CIA's most famous "ghost prisoner." Tortured in Egypt in 2002, al-Libi made a false confession about links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Rendered to various other prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA in the four years that followed, he was returned to Libya in 2006, where he died in May this year, reportedly by committing suicide.

With al-Libi conveniently out of the picture, and Abu Zubaydah psychologically destroyed (in April this year, one of his attorneys, Joe Margulies, wrote that he "has permanent brain damage," and that, "In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures"), it seems unlikely that any of these doubts about Nasseri will ever be addressed.

For their part, the Italian authorities seem to be relying heavily on an informer, Lazhar Ben Mohamed Tlil, a Tunisian who traveled to Afghanistan to undertake military training and who is now the main source of information - for US officials as well as the Italian authorities - on the movements of Tunisians and others in Afghanistan and Europe. Three weeks ago, Italian prosecutor Elio Ramondini told the Associated Press that, without Tlil, the prosecution of the Guantanamo suspects in Italy "is not difficult, it is impossible."

Whether Tlil deserves this star billing is unknown. His testimony may, for example, be unreliable, but perhaps a court can sort that out if he remains cooperative. For now, his lawyer has explained that he is "unhappy with Italy's witness protection program," and feels "abandoned," and that, as a result, he is "threatening to withhold testimony," both from the Americans, who want him to testify in the United States, and also from the Italian prosecutors.

Just as troubling, given the lack of information about the circumstances of the men's transfer to Italy, is the fact that the Italian government announced on Tuesday that it was still looking at a number of other cases of prisoners in Guantanamo. Franco Frattini, the foreign minister, said that Italy has agreed "to take in others," but added, "we haven't pinpointed yet" which prisoners to take.

If trials are justified on the basis of genuine evidence of wrongdoing, then it will presumably be acceptable that extraditions, expulsions or "renditions to justice" are a new tool for a president who has allowed so many doors to shut on his plans to close Guantanamo, but without transparent and reliable assurances that trials will be fair, and that the men will receive credit for their lost years in Guantanamo, I fail to see how this deal between Barack Obama and Silvio Berlusconi can be regarded as a valid step forward in bringing to an end the injustices of Guantanamo and the "War on Terror."