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The Torture of Two Innocent Men Who Just Left Guantanamo

The release of Mohammed Sulaymon Barre and Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad is another example of the hysterical and false claims that Guantanamo is full of hardcore terrorists.

Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald broke the news on Saturday that 12 prisoners have been released from Guantánamo. The news followed hints in the Washington Post on Friday that six Yemenis and four Afghans were set to leave, but Rosenberg -- and the East African media -- reported that the men had already been freed and that two Somalis were also released. I'll be writing soon about the Afghans and the Yemenis, but for now I'd like to focus on the stories of the two Somalis: Mohammed Sulaymon Barre and Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad (identified as Ismael Arale).

Rosenberg reported that the two men "were processed by the Somaliland government and then released to rejoin their families in Hargeisa," the capital of "the breakaway region in northern Somalia that has its own autonomous government." She added, "The United States does not recognize the government in Somaliland and there were no official statements on how Arale and Barre arrived there. A local newspaper, the Somaliland Press, said they arrived aboard a jet provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, suggesting that the United States had released the men to the Red Cross in a third country."

As President Obama attempts to close Guantánamo, with the administration recently announcing its intention of purchasing a prison in Illinois to hold some of the prisoners, the release of these two men -- as with the overwhelming majority of releases from Guantánamo -- yet again demonstrates how hysterical and unsubstantiated are Republican claims that Guantánamo is full of hardcore terrorists, as their stories demonstrate.

Seized in Pakistan: Mohammed Sulaymon Barre

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, who was 37 years old at the time of his capture, was one of the first men to be seized in the "War on Terror." As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, he had been living in Pakistan as a UN-approved refugee since fleeing his homeland during its ruinous civil war in the early 1990s, and was seized at his home in Karachi on November 1, 2001 "by police and intelligence agents who had made two previous visits to check his papers, and who seem, therefore, to have seized him on this third occasion because they were looking for easy targets to hand over to the Americans."

As I also explained in The Guantánamo Files:

Barre worked from his home as the Karachi agent for the Dahabshiil Company, a Somali organization with branches around the world, which provides essential money transfer operations for the Somali diaspora. According to the Americans, Dahabshiil was "closely related to al-Barakat, a Somali financial company designated as a terrorism finance facilitator," [which had been added to a U.S. terrorism watch list and had its assets frozen]. Barre said that he knew nothing about this allegation, pointing out that his job only involved making small transactions on behalf of Somalis living in Pakistan.

In fact, as was noted in a report in 2004 [for a UN conference on Trade and Development], the enforced U.S.-led closure of money transfer operations with suspected links to terrorism was "disastrous for Somalia, a country with no recognized government and without a functioning state apparatus. After the international community largely washed its hands of the country following the disastrous peacekeeping foray in 1994, remittances became the inhabitants' lifeline. With no recognized private banking system, the remittance trade was dominated by a single firm (al-Barakat)." Crucially, the report added that, although the U.S. authorities closed down al-Barakat in 2001, labeling it "the quartermasters of terror," only four criminal prosecutions had been filed by 2003, "and none involved charges of aiding terrorists."

Nevertheless, the authorities at Guantánamo -- operating in a bubble of terror-related allegations that largely bore no relation to the realities of the outside world -- had no time for Barre's protestations of innocence. "I am convinced that your branch of the Dahabshiil company was used to transfer money for terrorism," the presiding officer of his tribunal at Guantánamo told Barre in 2005. "What I am trying to find out is if you think maybe there were some people that were using your company and using your branch to transfer money, or whether you were just totally not paying attention."