Man Held at Guantánamo for 13 Years a Case of Mistaken Identity, Say Officials

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 on Tuesday.


Officials admitted that Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, 37, was a low-level Islamist foot soldier and not an al-Qaida courier and trainer as previously thought, during a Guantánamo 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-Qaida. 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-Qaida members in Afghanistan,” the unclassified detainee profile said. “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 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.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close