Guantánamo: identities of released Yemenis revealed


Yesterday I reported here on the release of four Yemeni prisoners, and told the stories of two of these men: Sadeq Mohammed Said, captured after crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan after being injured in a bombing raid, who may or may not have acted as a courier for the Taliban, and Fawaz Naman Hamoud, a young man with a severe psychiatric illness, who was recruited to fight with the Taliban because he was told that “only the jihad places had magic things inside.” Today the Yemen Observer confirmed the identities of the other two: 27-year old Hani Abdu Shu’alan and 26-year old Ali Saleh.

Shu’alan, who was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in July 2001, of staying in various safe houses associated with the Taliban, and of being in Tora Bora during the US air campaign, told his tribunal that he was a student who went to Afghanistan to find a job and save money, after being told about the possibilities by a sheikh at his local mosque. He explained that he found work as a chef’s assistant near Kabul, and was only passing through Tora Bora on his way to Pakistan after the war started. He added that he traveled with many other people, and that he handed himself in to the Pakistani authorities on arrival.

Saleh did not take part in any tribunals in Guantánamo, and his story is available only through the two-page Unclassified Summary of Evidence for his Administrative Review Board –- the annual reviews set up to assess whether prisoners should still be regarded as “enemy combatants” –- in which it was alleged that he traveled to Afghanistan “in support of the jihad,” but also because, in June 2000, he “heard from friends that the Taliban … would provide a home for those who chose to live there.” It was also alleged that he joined the Taliban on 9/11 and fought with them on the front lines near Bagram, that he was present at the al-Farouq training camp when Osama bin Laden visited and gave a lecture, and that he owned some notebooks filled with pictures of weapons and tools and words in French and Arabic describing various materials used in explosives.

Whilst it’s impossible to know if any of these allegations were true, an additional allegation –- that he was “recognized by a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” –- is one of the more worrying claims made against prisoners in general, as it has been demonstrated in many cases –- and as I discuss in depth in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison –- that these “senior al-Qaeda” figures, whether in Guantánamo itself, or in other secret prisons, may well have been shown a photo album of prisoners in Guantánamo, and asked to come up with stories about them, while being interrogated under duress.

Saleh also probably did himself no favors for many years in Guantánamo by refusing to condemn the 9/11 attacks. This is not to say that he approved of them, but those judging him noted that he “stated that he could not judge if the 9/11 terrorist attacks were wrong, because he is not an Islamic scholar, and said, ‘They were just following the directions of the scholars. That is what we do.’” Under the factors favoring release or transfer, it was reiterated that he wanted to move to Afghanistan because he was unhappy with the quality of his life and wanted to find a wife, and it was also stated that he said that he didn’t like firing a Kalashnikov.

Why these men in particular were chosen for release remains one of Guantánamo’s many mysteries. With the exception of Sadeq Said, they are not among the five men still in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release since at least 2006, although the Yemen Observer possibly shed some light on the arcane by-ways of the administration’s decision-making process by pointing out that a Yemeni security official told them, “Three of the four men were among the Yemeni detainees who met with the Yemen security delegation that visited Guantánamo last year.”

What remains clear, however, is that even with these releases, 94 Yemenis remain in Guantánamo, many of whom had no involvement whatsoever with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. For these men –- who include humanitarian aid workers and missionaries captured in Afghanistan, and students captured in Pakistan –- the truth of their detention, behind the wall of bluster raised by the US authorities, who maintain that many are still held because their government will not cooperate fully with them regarding transfers and continued detention, may in fact have more to do with comments reported in the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for two particular Yemeni prisoners, who were told that one of the reasons for their continued detention was because their government was not perceived as being cooperative enough in the “War on Terror.”

You’d be hard pushed to find a better demonstration that the “War on Terror” is as much about political maneuvring as it is about guilt and innocence.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.


The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:

ISN 225: Hani Abdu Shu’alan (al-Shulan) (Yemen)
ISN 221: Ali Saleh (Ali Mohsen Saleh) (Yemen)

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; and January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

2 Responses

  1. Torture and Terrorism: In the Middle East It’s 2011, In America It’s Still 2001 « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Peninsula, but only one Yemeni ex-prisoner — Hani Abdo Shaalan (aka Hani Abdu Shu’alan), released in June 2007 and apparently killed by Yemeni security forces in December […]

  2. Torture and Terrorism: In the Middle East It’s 2011, In America It’s Still 2001 | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Peninsula, but only one Yemeni ex-prisoner — Hani Abdo Shaalan (aka Hani Abdu Shu’alan), released in June 2007 and apparently killed by Yemeni security forces in December […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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