Amid Clashing Evidence, Gitmo Board Told of Cats

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Feline friends that Osama bin Laden’s accused bodyguard has made at Guantanamo Bay factored in to a hearing Thursday calling for the man’s release after nearly 14 years without a trial.
     Sanad Ali Yislam al-Kazimi, 46, is among the “forever prisoners” at Guantanamo, those the U.S. has held without charge or trial, but previously deemed too dangerous to release.
     “He has also shown a gentle side while describing how he cares for a cat and her kittens within the camp,” al-Kazimi’s personal representative told the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board in her public, unclassified statement Thursday.
     The U.S. alleges that al-Kazimi trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, associated with some of the group’s senior members, and helped plan attacks against U.S. and British ships docked in the United Arab Emirates.
     Using her client’s first name, but not giving her own, the representative assured the board that al-Kazimi no longer poses a threat to U.S. national security.
     “We are certain that Sanad’s desire to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantanamo is genuine and that he does not represent a continuing significant threat to the United States of America,” the representative said, donning military fatigues and short, blond hair.
     Streamed live to the Pentagon, video of the hearing at Guantanamo showed Al-Kazimi wearing a white shirt with sleeves down to his elbows. A pair of eyeglasses hung on a slim chain around his neck, which he slid on and off throughout the public portion of proceedings.
     As he fidgeted, rubbing his eyes and touching his sizeable black beard, the representative described al-Kazimi as “open, honest, polite, passionate and very enthusiastic.”
     Though the representative described al-Kazimi as forthcoming in answering questions, his government profile says otherwise.
     Known as YM-1453, the U.S. bills al-Kazimi as “highly non-compliant,” and alleges that prior to mid-2014 he repeatedly assaulted detention staff.
     “His cooperation has been inconsistent with interrogators, ranging from providing information of value to refusing to answer questions and attempting to assault the interrogators,” his detainee profile says.
     “He has provided contradictory information about his views on al-Qaeda and terrorist activities to interrogators, boasting of his al-Qaeda knowledge and insights while criticizing the group’s ideology,” the profile continues.
     Despite the contradictions, the U.S. says al-Kazimi has “voiced extremist and anti-US sentiments.”
     Al-Kazimi was captured in the United Arab Emirates in January 2003. The U.S. says al-Kazimi joined an al-Qaida cell led by Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole.
     The cell tasked him with smuggling explosives into the UAE to attack U.S. and British ships.
     That information has since been called into question, however, as the U.S. says it has no evidence to prove al-Kazimi delivered the explosives. It still alleges though that he provided “other forms of logistical support before Nashiri abandoned the plot.”
     The U.S. acknowledges that al-Kazimi has denied supporting the plot. “His only interest was in receiving money from Nashiri,” according to his detainee profile, which a female voice read aloud for the review board.
     After the UAE captured al-Kazimi, they handed him over to the U.S. rather than transferring him to the custody of the Yemeni government. About eight months later, he landed in a CIA “black-site” known as the “Prison of Darkness” near Kabul, Afghanistan.
     The U.S. transferred him to Guantanamo detention center in September 2004, and has detained him ever since.
     Al-Kazimi has said the U.S. tortured him.
     His former attorney, Ramzi Kassem, relayed several accounts of the harsh treatment to journalist Jane Mayer in a 2007 New Yorker piece about CIA black sites. Kassem says interrogators hung him by his arms for long stretches of time and beat him with electric cables, which caused his legs to swell.
     “It’s so traumatic, he can barely speak of it,” Kassem told Mayer.
     Kassem indicated to Mayer that al-Kazimi tried to kill himself three times by repeatedly ramming his head into a wall until he lost consciousness. After medics stitched him up, he tried it twice more – despite being chained up and tranquilized.
     British journalist Andy Worthington has questioned the allegations against al-Kazimi in light of the torture he endured, noting that al-Kazimi says he refused to join al-Qaida in Yemen and eventually revoked his allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
     Al-Kazimi has a wife and four children ranging in age from 15 to 20 waiting for him in Yemen.
     “His wife and children have provided letters and video clips expressing their love and support,” his attorney, James Cohen, told the board. They have kept in touch with him through phone calls facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, he said.
     “He understands that repatriation to Yemen is not feasible at this time and will accept resettlement to whatever country the United States deems acceptable,” Cohen said. “He plans to find full-time employment and support himself wherever he is placed.”
     Al-Kazimi’s family will try to reunite with him wherever his new home may be, the attorney added.
     The Periodic Review Board will likely issue its final determination on al-Kazimi within the next several months. The Department of Defense has accelerated the periodic review board hearings as part of President Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo.
     Cmdr. Gary Ross with the Defense Department’s press operations said it hopes to complete the initial reviews for the remaining detainees by fall.

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