Innocence Rings Hollow for Detainee’s Appeal

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit overturned a federal judge’s order to release a Guantanamo Bay detainee accused of supporting al-Qaida.

     Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi petitioned for released from Guantanamo Bay, where he has been detained since 2003. Originally captured in Tehran by Iranian authorities about three or four months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Almerfedi was later transferred to the custody of Afghanistan and then to the United States.
     Almerfedi claimed he left his home in Aden, Yemen, with his life savings to seek a better life in Europe. He said he travelled to Pakistan and stayed in an Islamic missionary guest house for two months, then paid a man he met there to smuggle him into Greece. After taking much of Almerfedi’s life savings, this man, Mohammad Ali, instead allegedly took Almerfedi to Mashad, Iran.
     The Iranian authorities reported that Almerfedi had $2,000 on him at the time of his arrest.
     Humoud al-Jadani, one of Almerfedi’s fellow inmates at Guantanamo, told authorities there that Almerfedi stayed spent a few months of 2002 or 2003 at Jama’at Tablighi, an al-Qaida guesthouse in Lahore, Pakistan, that the United States has designated as a Terrorist Support Entity.
     Al-Jadani also claimed that other detainees recognized Almerfedi as Hussain al-Adeni, an al-Qaida facilitator from the Tehran guesthouse. The name al-Adeni means “from Aden,” Almerfedi’s native city, and there was only one Hussain from Aden at Guantanamo Bay, according to the U.S. government.
     Almerfedi argued that Al-Jadani’s account was incorrect because he was in prison in Tehran at the time. He claimed he stayed at the guesthouse in 2001 and kept to himself because few Tablighi members spoke Arabic. Almerfedi insisted that he continually rebuffed recruitment by the Islamic missionary members.
     Despite calling Almerfedi’s explanations of his travels “perplexing” and unconvincing,” a federal judge had granted the detainee’s habeas petition, deciding that government failed to prove Almerfedi was part of the terrorist group, and that the testimony of a jailhouse snitch was unreliable.
     The government appealed the ruling, claiming the court improperly excluded evidence, such as the account of a “jailhouse gossip,” that it had incorrectly found to be unreliable. Prosecutors also argued that the District Court had failed to give weight to Almerfedi’s own admission that he spent more than two months at the guesthouse in 2001.
     A three-judge appellate panel agreed and blocked Almerfedi’s petition last week, focusing on the detainee’s rent-free stint at a guesthouse “closely aligned” with al-Qaida, his direction of travel and the amount of cash he carried at the time of his arrest.
     Almerfedi’s “innocent explanation for his travels” does not explain his reasons for staying at the Islamic missionary headquarters, Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman wrote for the court. “He does not explain how they spoke to him since he contends he only spoke Arabic, or why they permitted him to remain at the headquarters despite his continued rebuffs,” according to the 19-page ruling.
     Al-Jadani’s accounts alone are not enough to prove Almerfedi’s involvement with terrorism, the judges agreed. “But if we add Almerfedi’s travel route, which is quite at odds with his professed desire to travel to Europe (and brought him closer to the Afghan border where al Qaeda was fighting), and also that he had at least $2000 of unexplained cash on his person when captured, notwithstanding his claim to have given that much to Ali (which was all he brought from Yemen), the government’s case that Almerfedi is an al Qaeda facilitator is on firmer ground,” Silberman wrote.
     Considering those three facts together, the “government’s burden of deploying ‘credible evidence that the habeas petitioner meets the enemy-combatant criteria,” according to the ruling.

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