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Evidence Of Innocence Rejected at Guantanamo

Combatant Status Review Tribunals, created by the Pentagon, have overwhelmingly supported continued detention of those at Guantanamo Bay.
Combatant Status Review Tribunals, created by the Pentagon, have overwhelmingly supported continued detention of those at Guantanamo Bay. (Photos By Brennan Linsley -- Associated Press)

Some of Kurnaz's experience -- including the existence of official documents suggesting that he was detained by mistake -- is well known. In March 2005, The Washington Post wrote about Green's decision after court officials inadvertently declassified portions of it. Kurnaz was released from Guantanamo Bay in August 2006, a few months after new German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Bush in a private meeting that obtaining the detainee's freedom was one of her top priorities.

But the text of the internal government memos exonerating Kurnaz, the Army general's memo supporting Kurnaz's continued incarceration and key portions of Green were not disclosed earlier because the U.S. military official overseeing Guantanamo Bay argued that their release would compromise national security.

Kurnaz was born in Turkey and had lived nearly his entire life in Germany. He traveled to Pakistan on Oct. 3, 2001, to visit religious sites, connecting at one point with a missionary group that U.S. military officials have said promotes jihadi ideology and has been used as a cover by members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

In December 2001, Pakistani police pulled Kurnaz and missionaries off a bus and handed him to U.S. troops. Four weeks later, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay -- one of the first detainees to arrive in the newly opened prison.

German and American intelligence officers interviewed Kurnaz in September 2002, records show. They jointly concluded that nothing was linking the man from Bremen to terrorist cells or enemy fighters and that he should be freed. In a memo dated May 19, 2003, the commanding general of the Criminal Investigation Task Force, a Pentagon intelligence unit that interrogates detainees and collects evidence about them, wrote that "CITF is not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a member of al-Qaeda. CITF is not aware of any evidence that Kurnaz may have aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of terrorism."

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Guantanamo Bay prisoners could not be held indefinitely without fact-finding by an objective tribunal, the Pentagon hastily assembled panels of field-grade officers to serve as Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Since they began, the panels have overwhelmingly supported continued detention of those at Guantanamo Bay, ruling that 534 detainees were "enemy combatants," while only 38 were not.

In September 2004, one such panel cited intelligence on a suicide bombing by someone Kurnaz allegedly knew -- an account later found to be incorrect -- in concluding that Kurnaz was "properly classified as an enemy combatant" and was a member of al-Qaeda.

In a previously classified passage of her ruling, Green said the panel ignored "conflicting exculpatory evidence in at least three separate documents," thereby raising questions about its impartiality. The only solid information in Kurnaz's file showed that the CIA, U.S. military intelligence and German intelligence found nothing linking him to terrorist groups, she said.

Green complained about the panel's reliance on an unsubstantiated memo, dated June 25, 2004, written by Brig. Gen. David B. Lacquement, then head of U.S. Southern Command's intelligence unit, to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Much of Lacquement's memo is still redacted. But besides noting Kurnaz's prayers during the U.S. national anthem, the newly declassified portions also state that he "asked how tall the basketball rim was" in the prison yard, which Lacquement said revealed a desire to escape. In addition, Kurnaz "attempted to obtain information concerning detainee transfers" and "to discuss the current work schedule of the guards," the memo notes.

Green expressed doubt that Lacquement had developed compelling new information about terrorist links that tipped the scales. Lacquement, who is now a major general commanding the Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, did not respond to requests for comment.

At a minimum, Green wrote, the documents raised the question of what specific information could have been discovered between the May 2003, memo stating that there was no evidence that the detainee was a member of al-Qaeda or was in direct contact with any Taliban recruiters, and the June 2004, memo by the general stating that the detainee was a danger.

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