Gitmo Prisoner Held For 13 Years Was Victim Of 'Mistaken Identity'

U.S. officials said Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri was not a significant member of al-Qaeda as previously suspected.

He’s been held without charge at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years. Believed to be an al-Qaeda courier or trainer, he was deemed dangerous enough to be held for an “indefinite” amount of time at the prison camp.

But on Tuesday, in documents released at a Guantánamo hearing, U.S. officials admitted that the man -- a Yemeni named Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri -- was not who they thought he was. His arrest, they conceded, had been partly a case of “mistaken identity.”

Al-Shamiri, the documents revealed, had been a low-level Islamic fighter -- and not a significant member of al-Qaeda as had previously been suspected.

“It was previously assessed that YM-434 (al-Shamiri) also was an al-Qaeda facilitator or courier, as well as a trainer, but we now judge these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to YM-434’s,” officials said.

They stressed, however, that al-Shamiri did fight in Bosnia and Yemen in the 1990s. He later also fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance before being captured near Mazar-e-Sharif. He's been detained at Guantánamo since 2002.

Al-Shamiri, now 37, had previously been suspected of being involved in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole; however, officials said that while the man may have lived in the same safe house as the individuals involved in the attack, there were “no other indications that he played a role in that operation.”

On Tuesday, al-Shamiri appeared before the Periodic Review Board, a panel of government officials who will decide whether or not he can be released from Guantánamo. The board, the Associated Press notes, is part of a “larger effort to reduce the number of men held and eventually close the prison.”

Al-Shamiri is one of 107 prisoners still at Guantánamo. Almost 50 of them have already been cleared for release.

U.S. military guards walk within the Camp Delta military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, in 2006.
U.S. military guards walk within the Camp Delta military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, in 2006.

At the hearing, al-Shamiri's representative described him “as very cooperative, enthusiastic and supportive in the preparation for the board hearing,” reports The Guardian. The rep also stressed that al-Shamiri is not a threat to the U.S., and is contrite for once “choosing the wrong path early in life.”

“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,” the representative said. “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 Defense Department previously labeled al-Shamiri an “enemy combatant,” reports CNN. He was reportedly recommended for continued detention at the prison camp as recently as 2010.


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