OPINION

Ex-detainee became suicide bomber, says U.S.

Ewen MacAskill

The involvement of an ex-Guantanamo detainee in an Iraq bombing will make it harder for the civil rights lawyers who have been fighting for the release of the remaining prisoners.

The Pentagon confirmed on Wednesday that a Kuwaiti released from the United States detention camp at Guantanamo Bay three years ago carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq last month.

The involvement of an ex-Guantanamo detainee will make it harder for civil rights lawyers in the U.S. and Britain, who have been fighting for the release of the remaining prisoners at the camp complex in Cuba.

Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi and two other Kuwaitis are reported by their families to have taken part in an attack on Iraqi security forces in Mosul, a northern city that is the scene of intense fighting. Although the families did not specify a date, seven persons were killed in a suicide attack in Mosul on April 26. Civil rights lawyers claim that most of the detainees are innocent, while the U.S. military claims they present a danger and would take up arms if released.

The U.S. military opposed Ajmi’s release, saying there was a risk that he presented a continuing danger, but he was freed after being transferred to Kuwait. A spokesman for the U.S. central command, navy commander Scott Rye, told the Associated Press that he did not know the motives behind the suicide bombing.

Ajmi, 30, a former Kuwaiti soldier, was taken to Guantanamo as part of a general sweep in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. He was accused of fighting with the Taliban, a charge he repeatedly denied. He was transferred from Guantanamo to Kuwait in 2005. Alleged evidence obtained at Guantanamo was not allowed in a Kuwaiti court, which acquitted him and four others of terrorist-related charges. The court ruled that alleged testimony from Guantanamo was inadmissible because he had not signed it.

His cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told al-Arabiya television last Thursday that a friend of Abdallah had informed the family that he had carried out an attack in Mosul. “We were shocked by the painful news we received this afternoon ... through a call from one of the friends of martyr Abdallah in Iraq,” Salem said.

Ajmi disappeared two weeks ago and his family learned he left Kuwait illegally for Syria, a regular transit point for jihadists travelling to Iraq. He had sent messages to his wife from Iraq. He had a son after being released from Guantanamo. Ajmi’s cousin said he had given no indication that he was planning to leave Kuwait to join the insurgency in Iraq, though he had become more withdrawn recently.

The U.S. military claimed that he had deserted the Kuwaiti armed forces to fight with the Taliban for eight months in 2001 against the Northern Alliance, which after 9/11 was backed by the U.S. As the Northern Alliance took Kabul with U.S. help, Ajmi is alleged to have fled south to Tora Bora and was captured attempting to cross into Pakistan. He insisted he had gone to Pakistan to memorise the Koran, had never been in Afghanistan and had never heard of Tora Bora.

There are 275 detainees at Guantanamo, down from a high of 775. The U.S. commander at the camp, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, said in February that he expected about 80 to go on trial. Of the remainder, 80 have already been cleared for release but cannot find a country that will take them. The others are awaiting clearance. The Democratic and Republican candidates to replace President George Bush in January next year have promised to close the camp.

The first hearing at a new court complex at Guantanamo on Wednesday suffered a technical glitch. Journalists watching the proceedings from behind a glass panel had no sound. The case being heard was of a Yemeni, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, who is accused of serving Osama bin Laden as a bodyguard and Al-Qaeda recruiter.

The U.S. military spent $12 million on the new court complex. After the sound was sorted, there was a power failure and the lights went out. When sound and light was restored, Bahlul declined to enter a plea. He held up a sign saying he was boycotting the court and refused to distance himself from bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda.

Charges are pending against 14 prisoners in the special court set up to try captives the U.S. considers to be unlawful enemy combatants who do not merit trial in civilian and military courts. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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