| Everett Historical

Gitmo detainee makes case for release, but Senate passes bill to make transfers more difficult

A Guantanamo Bay detainee held since 2002 was “probably misidentified” when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a Periodic Review Board has heard.

The hearing into the case of Afghan Abdul Zahir was one of a number to take place over the last month.

But the transfer of any more detainees will be made much more difficult by a provision buried in the Senate National Defense Authorization Bill passed overwhelmingly Tuesday.

One section of the bill bars detainees being sent to countries for which the State Department has an outstanding travel warning. There are currently 37 such countries, including Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, but the list also includes a number of African countries, and Mexico.

The bill also renews a provision blocking the Obama administration from transferring the remaining 80 detainees to facilities in the U.S., which the president announced in February he wanted to do. He has threatened to veto elements of the Senate bill and an earlier one passed by the House, which contained similar provisions on Guantanamo.

The section barring transfer to those countries with a travel warning was described by the White House as a misuse of the system.

"These warnings do not reflect a country's ability to mitigate potential risk with regard to transferred detainees,” the White House said in a statement.

During the Senate debate on the bill, happening as the review hearing into the case of Abdul Zahir was taking place, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "These terrorists are among the worst of the worst.

“They belong at the secure detention facility. Not in facilities here in our communities. Not in unstable countries where they're liable to rejoin the fight and take more innocent life,” the Kentucky Republican said. The bill passed 85-13.

According to the latest figures released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of 676 detainees transferred, 118 have re-engaged, and a further 86 are suspected of taking up arms either against U.S. forces or their allies.

The majority of those transferred and known to have re-engaged were sent to another country during George W. Bush’s term in office. Seven are known to have re-engaged since President Obama took office.

Zahir, 44, arrived at Guantanamo in October 2002 after U.S forces captured him during an Afghanistan raid.

They were targeting another individual named Abdul Bari, believed involved in chemical and biological weapons production and distribution for al-Qaida. The supposed chemical or biological agents that U.S. forces seized turned out to be salt, sugar and petroleum jelly.

An unidentified female voice read from his declassified assessment. She said he has offered "no actionable information relative to al-Qaida's weapons network, and we assess that AF-753 [Zahir's Guantanamo designation] was probably misidentified as the individual who had ties to al-Qaida weapons facilitation activities." 

The assessment states he was likely a low-level member of a Taliban cell from March 2002 until his capture in July 2002. He worked as a translator for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi from 1995 to the end of 2001, the assessment states.

“While AF-753 has admitted to working for al Iraqi and the Taliban, he says that he was coerced to do so under threats to his family's safety and he has denied any direct involvement with the Taliban outside of his role as a translator,” the assessment continues.

In a statement, his lawyer Robert Gensburg told the board: “He supported his family doing odd taxi driving, sheep herding and eventually becoming a full-time translator between his government and Abdul al Hadi al Iraqi, one of the high-value detainees. It is Abdul Zahir's association with al Iraqi that landed him in Guantanamo.”