By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008
A Kuwaiti man who complained about maltreatment during a three-year stay in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was involved in a deadly suicide bombing in northern Iraq last month, the U.S. military confirmed yesterday.
Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, 29, whom the U.S. military accused of fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and wanting to kill Americans, was involved in one of three suicide bombings that killed seven Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, Defense Department officials said.
They said that after his release in Kuwait, Ajmi traveled to Iraq via Syria -- a common way for foreign fighters to enter Iraq through porous borders. Military officials said Ajmi's motives were unclear, but in a lengthy martyrdom audio recording before his death, Ajmi implores people to take part in suicide bombings to attack Americans.
In portions of the recording translated by the Bethesda-based SITE Intelligence Group, Ajmi decries the conditions at Guantanamo as "deplorable" and urges others to fight.
"Whoever can join them and execute a suicide operation, let him do so. By God, it will be a mortal blow," Ajmi says. "The Americans complain much about it. By God, in Guantanamo, all their talk was about explosives and whether you make explosives. It is as if explosives were hell to them."
The suicide bombing is the first such attack in Iraq linked to a former Guantanamo detainee, though the Defense Intelligence Agency has estimated that as many as three dozen former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorist activities.
International human rights groups and lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have disputed that estimate, saying only a handful of former detainees have left U.S. custody and gone on to fight U.S. forces.
"Our reports indicate that a number of former Guantanamo detainees have taken part in anti-coalition militant activities after leaving U.S. detention," said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. "As these facts illustrate, there is an implied future risk to U.S. and allied interests with every detainee who is released or transferred from Guantanamo."
Approximately 500 detainees have been released from Guantanamo or transferred to other governments since the facility opened in January 2002. Of the 270 who remain, about 65 more detainees have been cleared for release or transfer.
Ajmi was held at Guantanamo until late 2005, when he was transferred to the custody of the Kuwaiti government as part of a diplomatic arrangement. In hearings at Guantanamo, Ajmi maintained his innocence and said he never fought with the Taliban or meant anyone any harm.
He also said he did not have a "grudge" against his American captors -- a claim belied by his later martyrdom statements. In the audio clip, accompanied by a propaganda video with an image of Ajmi and a young child, Ajmi said detainees were "like guinea pigs for experiments."
Referring to one detainee at Guantanamo -- Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi national -- Ajmi said that the detainee used to stand up for other detainees "every time a soldier or an officer hurt us" and that he "took revenge for us." The Defense Department reported that Zahrani died in June 2006, when he allegedly took part in a coordinated suicide with two other detainees, an act that defense officials called an asymmetric attack on his captors.
Ajmi disagreed, saying: "The Americans killed him and said he hanged himself."
In 2006, Ajmi was tried in a Kuwaiti court, along with a group of other alleged terrorists, but was acquitted and released. Defense officials said he apparently had been living a "productive life" in Kuwait since his release, and an attorney for him in the United States said yesterday that Ajmi had fathered a child shortly after returning home.
But Thomas Wilner, a Washington lawyer who represented Ajmi in seeking a habeas corpus hearing during his stay at Guantanamo, said yesterday that Ajmi was young and not well educated, and that he appeared deeply affected by his incarceration at the U.S. facility.
Ajmi told Wilner in five 2005 meetings that he had been badly abused after his capture in Afghanistan and later at Guantanamo, at one point coming to a meeting with a broken arm Ajmi said he sustained in a scuffle with guards.
Wilner said that over the course of the visits, Ajmi became "more and more distraught . . . about the way he was treated and the fact that he couldn't do anything about it." Wilner called the suicide bombing a "horrible tragedy" and a result of the absence of appropriate legal processes at Guantanamo. "All we sought for him was a fair hearing, a process, and he was released by the U.S. government without that process," Wilner said.
"The lack of a process leads to problems. It leads to innocent people being held unfairly and not-so-innocent people going home without any hearing. The [U.S.] government decided to release this guy, and why, we'll never know," Wilner added.