My Guantanamo Client Is Not Your Yemeni Bogeyman

Today at Guantánamo I met Samir Mukbel, one of Reprieve's Yemeni clients. I'm not allowed to say what he said at this meeting, but I can certainly tell you he bears no resemblance to the Yemeni bogeyman of recent cable news fame.

I know his story well from prior meetings. Samir is a simple man, a poor man, who from age 11 worked in a plastics factory in Ta'iz. His $50 monthly paycheck went entirely to support his family. When a man from his village told him he could make three times that in Afghanistan, Samir took two weeks off work and left Yemen to check it out. This was summer 2001. The Americans were not in Afghanistan when he traveled, but in a few months they would be. Samir was rounded up fleeing the war and taken to Guantánamo. He steadfastly maintains his innocence, and the allegations against him are slim. Had he virtually any other passport, it is obvious that he would have been home long ago.

Surprisingly, and perhaps more importantly, Samir steadfastly maintains a positive spirit. He has been in Camp IV, the communal camp for highly compliant prisoners, for as long as I have been seeing him. It is virtually impossible to imagine him angry, much less committing any violent act. He talks about his parents, and speaks wistfully of finding a wife and settling down.

Samir has every reason to be frustrated with the US for his abuse and his senseless detention. He has some reason to be irritated with me, his lawyer, who keeps having to bring him bad news. News like President Obama caving to panicked demands not to send any Yemeni to Yemen because, gosh, it is apparently an unstable place. Yet he may be the most well-mannered of our clients. World events have overtaken him, but he shows no sign of bitterness or anger.

I cannot say whether we discussed these things at today's visit, but we have discussed them many times in the past. His essential gentleness and politeness never seem to change. All that changes in Samir is that his beard grows a little greyer as the years drone on.

What would the point be of sending someone like this to federal supermax prison? None. No more than there is a point served, other than to demonstrate sheer political cowardice, by failing to release him to his mother and father in Ta'iz.