Meet one Gitmo inmate who can't be described as 'the worst of the worst.'

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

THERE ARE roughly 10 bills or amendments pending in Congress with some nexus to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The most modest call on the administration to provide more information before releasing or repatriating a detainee; the most extreme aim to ban transfer or release altogether. Most in the latter group are based on the premise that those still being held at Guantanamo are the "worst of the worst" -- committed terrorists intent on doing damage to the United States and its interests.

A recently declassified judicial opinion in the case of one of those detainees puts the lie to this assertion.

Mohamed Mohamed Hassan Odaini is a 26-year-old Yemeni who was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and has been detained in Guantanamo ever since. According to court documents, Mr. Odaini was sent to Pakistan by his father, a Yemeni government worker, in mid-2001 for religious studies. Mr. Odaini eventually enrolled at Salafia University, where he lived in a dormitory. On March 27, 2002, a friend invited Mr. Odaini to his home, which was in an off-campus guest house. Mr. Odaini made the life-altering decision to spend the night. At 2 a.m., Pakistani police raided the house, alleged to have been a haven for al-Qaeda operatives, and arrested Mr. Odaini and 12 other men.

For the past eight years, Mr. Odaini has maintained that he was a student, had no knowledge of or ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and had no interest in joining with terrorist forces. The other arrested men independently and consistently identified Mr. Odaini as a student who came to the house for that one night. The government offered no other credible evidence against Mr. Odaini; on separate occasions officials in the Bush and Obama administrations recommended his release. Yet Mr. Odaini inexplicably and inexcusably continued to languish behind bars.

The government has "kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six," wrote Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. in a decision made public on June 10. "They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career. The evidence before the Court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure." Judge Kennedy, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, concluded that there is "no evidence that Odaini has any connection to Al Qaeda. . . . The Court therefore emphatically concludes that Odaini's motion" for release "must be granted."

Yet Mr. Odaini may not soon see freedom. The Obama administration stopped all detainee transfers to Yemen after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner by a man who received terrorist training in Yemen. This freeze generally is sensible, given that the Yemeni government is probably incapable of keeping tabs on detainees who do pose a risk. But the administration should consider making an exception for Mr. Odaini, a young man from what is believed to be a good family and whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alternatively, officials should do everything in their power to find a suitable third country. Whatever the approach, the administration must correct this injustice.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company