The Guantanamo parole board on Thursday approved the release of a captive who has been held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison in Cuba as a victim of mistaken identity.
The so-called Periodic Review Board heard the case of Mustafa al-Shamiri, 37, on Dec. 1. His story captured the world’s attention because an intelligence assessment released at the time of the hearing disclosed that he had been for years incorrectly profiled as a captive of consequence, an al-Qaida facilitator or courier.
But, in fact, the assessment concluded he was a run-of-the-mill jihadist who had been wrongfully linked to activities of other terrorists with similar names.
The episode served as a cautionary tale about the military’s system of profiling Guantanamo’s captives, and the unreliability of 2008-era U.S military assessments of the captives that were leaked in later years by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The assessments, carried out by the prison’s Joint Task Force, sought to ascribe to each prisoner risk and threat levels as well as a value for the information each man might be able to provide U.S. military intelligence.
In al-Shamiri’s case, his 2008 profile called him a high risk who presented a medium threat to the detention center and possessed medium intelligence value. It called him “a senior trainer at the al-Faruq Training Camp as well as an al-Qaida guesthouse logistician.” But in September, U.S. military intelligence concluded in a new assessment “these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to” al-Shamiri, whom the U.S. military holds as prisoner Detainee 434.
The parole board said in a three-paragraph statement that he could be transferred, “preferably to an Arabic-speaking country,” with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
“In making this determination, the board noted that the most derogatory prior assessments regarding the detainee’s activities before detention have been discredited, and the current information shows that the detainee has low-level military capability.” The document was dated Jan. 12 but released Thursday.
Al-Shamiri arrived at Guantanamo in June 2002, and according to his latest U.S. intelligence profile, dated Sept. 25, apparently joined the fight as a child soldier. The assessment called him a “veteran jihadist” who fought in Bosnia in 1995, when he would have been 16 or 17.
Back in 2008, the U.S. military believed that the U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured al-Shamiri in Afghanistan in late November 2001 and held him for a time in a crammed fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif where captives staged an uprising in which CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed. He was then supposedly handed over to the U.S. military.
The board made up of delegates from six U.S. national security divisions noted that al-Shamiri has been “largely compliant with the guard force” at Guantanamo, showed no “evidence of an extremist mindset” at his December hearing and described earlier life decisions “as mistakes.”