The Department of Justice Saturday evening announced that two detainees had been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Ireland, and one had been transferred to Yemen.
There are more than 220 detainees remaining at the prison. In the last couple months, the White House has made it increasingly clear that the President will not make his self-stated January 22, 2010 deadline to close to prison.
Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a native of Yemen, was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and returned to Yemen today. The Yemeni Embassy to the US issued a statement saying the country welcomed, "with enthusiasm, the release and transfer of its citizen."
Known at Gitmo as Captive 692, the government labeled Ali Ahmed an "enemy combatant," saying he "was associated with Al-Qaeda. He was present on the front lines in Bagram, Afghanistan. He was identified by a senior Al-Qaeda facilitator as having been a resident at a safehouse in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2000 (his individual also saw the detainee at a safehouse located in Faisalabad, Pakistan in February 2002 with a group of Yemenis who had fled Afghanistan). Finally, the Detainee was identified by another individual, a senior Al-Qaeda operational planner, as having resided at a safehouse located in Kandahar in 2001."
Al Ahmed denied almost all of the charges.
"I never went to Afghanistan, ever. You have to prove how you came to the conclusion that I am a member of the Taliban," he told a military commission.
Al Ahmed claimed he left Sana'a, Yemen around 2000 for Karachi, Pakistan to learn about textiles, with $3,500 — most of which was from his mother — in his pocket.
After several months of partying — "We spent the whole six months going out, having fun, ladies," he says of one leg of his journey — he ended up in a house full of university students in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
"I didn't have any relationships with anyone in that house," Al Ahmed testified. "They were trying to inspire me and to do the religious things, like look at my religion because most of the students were studying the Koran…They realized that we weren't really in harmony together because I used to use drugs and hashish and things like that. I used to read magazine. Most of the time, I would stay in the backyard, so I was keeping my distance from them."
"I stayed two weeks and the Pakistani government came and captured all of us," Ali Ahmed said.
The government alleged that the home in which Ali Ahmed was residing was "run by a high-ranking al Qaida operative…Several of the individuals arrested in the March 2002 raid on the guesthouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan were identified as al Qaida associates who had received training in, or fought in, Afghanistan."
In May, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler found the government's case rather wanting and ordered Ahmed released.
In her ruling, Kessler said that "it is clear that the accuracy of much of the factual material contained in those exhibits is hotly contested for a host of different reasons ranging from the fact that it contains second- and third-hand hearsay to allegations that it was obtained by torture to the fact that no statement purports to be a verbatim account of what was said."
Evidence that Ali Ahmed had traveled to Afghanistan or was associated with al Qaeda came from four sources, Kessler said.
One is "an individual whose credibility has been cast into serious doubt — and rejected — by another Judge in this District." That witness, a Gitmo detainee, claimed to have overheard conversations at Gitmo about Ali Ahmed's travels in Afghanistan. "He does not identify who made these statements and under what circumstances, or any details of the conversation."
The second statement was "riddled with equivocation and speculation," she said.
The third witness claims to have been tortured at Bagram or Dark Prison, and the "Government has presented no evidence to dispute the allegations of torture." He had made the claim against Ali Ahmed, recanted it, then reaffirmed it.
The fourth witness is believed to be Mohammed Al Qahtani — believed to be a member of al-Qaeda who was planning on taking part in the 9/11 attacks — though much of Kessler's ruling has been redacted. Al Qahtani stated that Ali Ahmed "received military training in Afghanistan near Kabul." But Kessler ruled that evidence to be a "nine word hearsay allegation" with no details to back it up.
She ruled that the government failed to prove Ahmed was "part of, or substantially supported Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."
The Ireland deal has been in the works since at least March.
On July 29, as we covered at the time, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Ireland had agreed to accept two Uzbek detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen told CNN at the time that "it is incumbent on us, those who called for [Guantánamo’s] closure, to assist the United States now in ensuring that certain prisoners be relocated elsewhere."
“Obviously we will keep an eye on them very closely,” he said.
Irish Justice Minister Demot Ahern said in July that Ireland would “adhere to the norms of official procedure in respecting the rights of the two men to their privacy."
The Obama administration did not name the detainees released to Ireland. "Pursuant to a request from the government of Ireland, the identities of these detainees are being withheld for security and privacy reasons," read a statement from the Justice Department. Amnesty International has been lobbying Ireland to accept Uzbek national Oybek Jamoldinivich Jabbarov, and another Uzbekh.
At the time of his detention by U.S. forces in 2001, Jabbarov, now 31, lived with his pregnant wife, infant son, and mother lived with other Uzbek refugees in northern Afghanistan in 2001 when fighting broke out between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
“Oybek was not captured on the battlefield, nor was he armed,” his attorney Michael Mone testified before Congress in May 2008. “Instead, he accepted a ride from a group of Northern Alliance soldiers he met at a roadside teahouse who said they would give him a ride to Mazar-e-Sharif. Unfortunately, instead of driving him to Mazar-e-Sharif, the soldiers took Oybek to Bagram Air Base where they handed him over to U.S. forces, undoubtedly in exchange for a sizable bounty. In a desperately poor, war-torn country, Oybek was an easy mark for soldiers responding to leaflets dropped throughout Afghanistan by the U.S. military offering thousands of dollars in cash rewards to anyone who turned over a Taliban or foreign fighter.”
Before the Combatant Status Review Board, Jabbarov was accused of having “supported the Taliban and al Qaida.”
The U.S. government claimed that Jabbarov “admitted that he was a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” which appears in the United States Department of Homeland Security 'Terrorist Organization Reference Guide,’ and having attended IMU training camps.
The government said he “stayed in a safe house owned by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group,” which also appears on the 'Terrorist Organization Reference Guide,” and “reportedly is used by al Qaida to obtain travel documents.”
“These allegations are not true,” Jabbarov said before the US tribunal. “I served in the national army of Uzbekistan; and I’ve been fighting against the IMU and these Islamic terrorist organizations. I agree that the IMU is a terrorist organization, but I have nothing to do with them. As a soldier in Uzbekistan, I have been fighting against these groups. I took the oath, and I swear it, that I will fight these groups, as a soldier, I took the oath.”
He denied having attended an IMU terrorist camp, having stayed in a safe house owned by the LIFG, never having heard of the LIFG before coming to Guantanamo, or ever even having seen any Arabs before he was brought to Guantanamo.
He said he was only in Afghanistan to buy and sell livestock to support his family. The government asserted that he “made a conscious decision to fight with the Taliban.”
“That’s not true,” Jabbarov said. “I never made that decision. I never supported the Taliban and I’m against their laws and rules.”
The government asserted that he “participated in fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.” “So far I haven’t seen any war,” he said. “I never picked up or touched a gun.” He asked of the woman reading the list of accusations: “where did she get all this information” Does she have any proof? At least if one of these had evidence, if it was true, people could read."
Jabbarov was cleared for release in 2007.
The Obama administration informed Congress and the Supreme Court earlier this month that it intends to transfer eight of the detainees to the obscure Pacific nation of Palau.
The eight are Uighurs — a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China — who were living in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan run by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur independence group the State Department designated as terrorist three years after their capture.
Evidence indicates that some of the Uighurs intended to fight the Chinese government and received firearms training at the camp.
They fled to Pakistan after U.S. aerial strikes destroyed their camp after September 11, 2001 and were turned over to the U.S. military and detained as “enemy combatants" though they had no apparent animus towards the U.S.