The Stories of the Two Somalis Freed from Guantanamo

Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald broke the news on Saturday that 12 prisoners have been released from Guantanamo.

Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald broke the news on Saturday that 12 prisoners have been released from Guantanamo. The news followed hints in the Washington Post
on Friday that six Yemenis and four Afghans were set to leave, but
Rosenberg - and the East African media - reported that the men had
already been freed and that two Somalis were also released. I'll be
writing soon about the Afghans and the Yemenis, but for now I'd like to
focus on the stories of the two Somalis: Mohammed Sulaymon Barre and
Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad (identified as Ismael Arale).

Rosenberg reported that the two men "were processed by the
Somaliland government and then released to rejoin their families in
Hargeisa," the capital of "the breakaway region in northern Somalia
that has its own autonomous government." She added, "The United States
does not recognize the government in Somaliland and there were no
official statements on how Arale and Barre arrived there. A local
newspaper, the Somaliland Press,
said they arrived aboard a jet provided by the International Committee
of the Red Cross, suggesting that the United States had released the
men to the Red Cross in a third country."

As President Obama attempts to close Guantanamo, with the administration recently announcing its intention
of purchasing a prison in Illinois to hold some of the prisoners, the
release of these two men - as with the overwhelming majority of
releases from Guantanamo - yet again demonstrates how hysterical and
unsubstantiated are Republican claims that Guantanamo is full of
hardcore terrorists, as their stories demonstrate:

Seized in Pakistan: Mohammed Sulaymon Barre

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, who was 37 years old at the time of his
capture, was one of the first men to be seized in the "War on Terror."
As I explained in my book The Guantanamo Files,
he had been living in Pakistan as a UN-approved refugee since fleeing
his homeland during its ruinous civil war in the early 1990s, and was
seized at his home in Karachi on November 1, 2001 "by police and
intelligence agents who had made two previous visits to check his
papers, and who seem, therefore, to have seized him on this third
occasion because they were looking for easy targets to hand over to the

As I also explained in The Guantanamo Files:

Barre worked from his home as the Karachi agent for the
Dahabshiil Company, a Somali organization with branches around the
world, which provides essential money transfer operations for the
Somali diaspora. According to the Americans, Dahabshiil was "closely
related to al-Barakat, a Somali financial company designated as a
terrorism finance facilitator," [which had been added to a US terrorism
watch list and had its assets frozen]. Barre said that he knew nothing
about this allegation, pointing out that his job only involved making
small transactions on behalf of Somalis living in Pakistan.

In fact, as was noted in a report in 2004
[for a UN conference on Trade and Development], the enforced US-led
closure of money transfer operations with suspected links to terrorism
was "disastrous for Somalia, a country with no recognized government
and without a functioning state apparatus. After the international
community largely washed its hands of the country following the
disastrous peacekeeping foray in 1994, remittances became the
inhabitants' lifeline. With no recognized private banking system, the
remittance trade was dominated by a single firm (al-Barakat)."
Crucially, the report added that, although the US authorities closed
down al-Barakat in 2001, labeling it "the quartermasters of terror,"
only four criminal prosecutions had been filed by 2003, "and none
involved charges of aiding terrorists."

Nevertheless, the authorities at Guantanamo - operating in a bubble
of terror-related allegations that largely bore no relation to the
realities of the outside world - had no time for Barre's protestations
of innocence. "I am convinced that your branch of the Dahabshiil
company was used to transfer money for terrorism," the presiding
officer of his tribunal at Guantanamo told Barre in 2005. "What I am
trying to find out is if you think maybe there were some people that
were using your company and using your branch to transfer money, or
whether you were just totally not paying attention."

A year later, as the BBC reported
in August 2006, al-Barakat had been removed from the US watchlist of
terrorist organizations. The report explained that al-Barakat had been
included on the watchlist because US intelligence analysts thought it
had been used to finance the 9/11 hijackers, but the 9/11 Commission
had investigated the claim and had found it baseless. In February 2009,
in a report for the Washington Post,
Peter Finn noted that, in the allegations against Barre at Guantanamo,
Dahabshiil's alleged ties to al-Barakat had been dropped by 2006,
although even then the taint of the allegation was not entirely removed.

In a letter to the Post, an attorney for Dahabshiil was
obliged to point out that the firm has "never been the subject of any
investigation in relation to alleged terrorist funding" and that it
"has no involvement whatsoever with money laundering or the funding or
of terrorist organizations and ... places the highest importance on money
laundering compliance." As the Post noted ruefully, "Dahabshiil should have been given an opportunity to comment for the article."

Shorn of this central allegation, it is no wonder that, as Barre's
lawyers explained in a court filing in connection with his habeas
corpus petition, the allegations against him have "varied
dramatically." In 2006, for example, presumably through a false
allegation coerced from some other prisoner, the authorities claimed
that he was not in Pakistan in 1994 and 1995 - despite the existence of
UN papers documenting his meetings in Pakistan in those years - but was
actually working in Osama bin Laden's compound in Khartoum, Sudan, an
allegation so worthless that his lawyers described it as "implausible
and unsubstantiated."

According to Emi MacLean of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
which represents Barre, most of his problems at Guantanamo stemmed from
his opposition to the regime at prison, and his involvement in several
hunger strikes. "If you were detained for seven years without charge
and any fair process, you might be engaged in activities that would be
considered disciplinary violations that are really protests for your
detention," she said.

The truth, as Barre himself noted at his tribunal in 2005, was that
"A lot of interrogators said to me that ... a lot of mistakes were made
and they must be corrected. They told me many times that I am here by
mistake." Sadly, this was not enough to prevent him from suffering in
Guantanamo, and also in US custody in Bagram before his transfer to
Guantanamo in 2002, when, as he explained in his tribunal:

They interrogated me and one of the interrogators told me I was from al-Wafa [a Saudi charity that was also regarded with suspicion
by the US authorities] and I needed to confess to that. You have no
choice. I told them it wasn't true. They pressured me. They whispered
something then spoke to the guard. The guard came in, grabbed me by my
neck and threw me. He took me in a bad way to isolation. All my
blankets, except one, were taken from me. It was freezing cold. They
didn't feed me lunch and sometimes they didn't feed me twice. At night
it is very cold and if you don't eat dinner it gets colder. This
torture lasted fifteen to twenty days. My feet and hands were swollen.
I wasn't able to stand because I was in so much pain. I asked for
treatment and an interrogator brought a nurse and asked if I wanted
treatment. They told me they could cut my legs to stop the pain. They
did this so I would confess to the accusations that I didn't do.
Nothing happened. After the torture ended, I met another interrogator
who told me injustice was done to me and I didn't have anything to do
with this. He said he would do a report so I could go home. He told me
I would be released. Suddenly, I was taken back to Kandahar and then to

Seized in Djibouti: Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad was one of the last
prisoners to arrive at Guantanamo, one of just six men flown to the
prison after the arrival of 14 "high-value detainees" in September
2006. Identified by the Pentagon as Abdullahi Sudi Arale, he arrived
with little fanfare in June 2007, and, as I explained in an article in September 2007:

Possibly ... his arrival was little trumpeted because it
involved the deliberately under-reported "War on al-Qaeda" in the Horn
of Africa, and because the administration had very little information
to offer about him. In almost questioning terms, Arale was described as
a "suspected" member of "the al-Qaeda terrorist network in East
Africa," who served as "a courier between East Africa al-Qaeda (EAAQ)
and al-Qaeda in Pakistan."

In a press release,
the DoD added that, after returning to Somalia from Pakistan in
September 2006, he "held a leadership role in the EAAQ-affiliated
Somali Council of Islamic Courts (CIC)," and noted, with distressing
vagueness, that there was "significant information available" to
indicate that Arale had been "assisting various EAAQ-affiliated
extremists in acquiring weapons and explosives," that he had
"facilitated terrorist travel by providing false documents for AQ and
EAAQ-affiliates and foreign fighters traveling into Somalia," and that
he had "played a significant role in the re-emergence of the CIC in
Mogadishu." Unmentioned, of course, was the subtext of the situation in
Somalia: the role of the CIC in returning some semblance of order to
one of the world's least-governed countries, and the US government's
use of Ethiopia as a proxy army in yet another secret, dirty war.

It took some time for the truth about the Pentagon's "distressing
vagueness" to be explained, in part because the US authorities released
no further information about him, and, in two and a half years, do not
appear to have conducted a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, to
ascertain whether he was correctly designated as an "enemy combatant."
However, when Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers
represent dozens of Guantanamo prisoners, became involved, another
narrative emerged, in which Muhammad not only had no connection to
al-Qaeda, but was, in fact, "an English teacher and centrist political

Born in Mogadishu in 1970, Muhammad had remained in the capital
throughout the civil war of the 1990s until the security situation
deteriorated to such an extent that he moved north to Somaliland,
establishing the first English school in the new country, and working
as a journalist. In 1998, he traveled to Pakistan, where he studied
English Literature at the International Islamic University, and became,
as Reprieve described it, "a respected leader of the Somali community in the country."

When his father died, he moved back to Mogadishu, "where the rule of
the Union of Islamic Courts had brought relative stability to the
war-torn capital," but at the end of 2006, when, backed by the US, the
Ethiopian Army invaded, he moved north one more. Opposed to the
Ethiopian invasion, he was asked, "as a respected member of the
community ... to attend a conference in Eritrea aimed at organizing a
political campaign" to ensure that the Ethiopians left.

It was while he was on his way to this conference that he was seized
by local police in Djibouti, "apparently at the behest of the
Americans." Handed over to the US military, he was taken to Camp
Lemonier, the US military base that played a key role in American
interference in the Horn of Africa, where other prisoners have been held,
possibly including an unknown number of "ghost prisoners." There, as
Reprieve explained, "he was held in a shipping container and
interrogated by Americans."

Compared to Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, Ismael Mahmoud Muhammad was
fortunate that his wrongful imprisonment lasted for only two and a half
years, but as the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo
approaches, the release of these two men - neither of whom was cleared
until the Obama administration's inter-agency Task Force began its
deliberations this year - demonstrates, yet again, that, when it comes
to undoing the shameful legacy of Guantanamo, much work still remains
to be done.

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