Tuesday, February 24, 2009

# Posted 11:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM GITMO TO SUICIDE BOMBER: Kuwaiti citizen Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi was released from Guantanamo in the fall of 2005. After his acquittal by a Kuwaiti judge, al-Ajmi began associating again with radical Islamists. In early 2008, he travelled to Iraq, where he killed 13 Iraqi soldiers by driving a truck full of explosives into their compound.

This is an important story and I'm glad it made the front-page of yesterday's WaPo. There are several points in the story worth emphasizing. The Post reports, "The U.S. government was not willing to share evidence that conclusively linked Ajmi or any of the four others to terrorist activities." Thus al-Ajmi acquittal was almost assured. Afterward, the Kuwaitis apparently did nothing to prevent al-Ajmi from falling in with radicals.

The Post's story is also constructed in a manner to suggest that Guantanamo transformed al-Ajmi from a rank-and-file gunman into a suicide terrorists. Here are the story's closing paragraphs:
When [al-Ajmi's attorney] Thomas Wilner learned that his client had become a suicide bomber, he said he felt physically ill. He thought of the victims, and he thought of Ajmi. "Here was this poor, dumb kid -- I really don't think he was a bad kid -- who was thrown into a hellhole of a prison and who went mad," he said. "Should we really be surprised that somebody we treated this way would become radicalized, would become crazy?"

The bodies of 13 Iraqi soldiers -- all of them Muslims -- were recovered from the rubble at Combat Outpost Inman. Ajmi's body was never found.

A few days after the attack, Mansur Ajmi received a telephone call. "I have good news for you," the caller said. "Your brother is a martyr."
Not exactly a balanced ending. But not a purely implausible hypothesis either. On other hand, al-Ajmi's decision to leave his home in Kuwait in order to fight with the Taliban suggests he was on the road to radicalization long before he made it to Gitmo. Perhaps even more important was the opportunity al-Ajmi had to associate with radicals in Kuwait after his release:
Although Ajmi's family tried to get him to move on, to forgive and forget, he did not want to let go. He filled his computer with gruesome images of killings in Iraq. He started listening to religious songs that glorified violence. He developed friendships with young men who espoused war in the name of Islam.

His new friends began calling him "The Lion of Guantanamo." To them, he was a hero, a survivor. They wanted to hear his stories of life behind the concertina wire in Cuba. He told them of beatings, of being interrogated by a woman who wore nothing but underwear.
Should we trust al-Ajmi's account of what happened? It may not matter. Al-Ajmi and his friends believed it. There was nothing to stop his radicalization. As we get ready to close down Gitmo, the real question may be whether US and foreign governments have good plans to keep the inmates under control once they're released.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Should we believe his account of being interrogated by a woman in her underwear? Ahem. His lawyer needs a reality check. As you note--he wasn't picked up playing video games at home, he was picked up fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does something to the presumptions, no?

I wonder, though, if the U.S. had such strong evidence against him and released him to Kuwait for trial, why did it withhold that evidence fomr the courts and prosecutor? Basically, they freed him through a middleman.
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