Germany's Guests from Guantanamo: Are the Former Prisoners a Security Threat?

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 2: 'Prison Life Changed Him'

Photo Gallery: Guests from Guantanamo Photos
AP

The state's governor gave the go-head two hours later, and on the same day de Maizière gave a press conference in which he announced the imminent arrival of two men from Guantanamo.

But why only two? There had been talk of three candidates for months. In March, a German delegation had traveled to the US detention camp in Guantanamo to interview the men. In addition to al-Ali and al-Shurfa, Mohammed Tahamuttan, 30, had also made a good impression on the Germans. The eastern German state of Brandenburg had also agreed to accept an inmate. "We were up to the task," says Rainer Speer (SPD), the state's interior minister.

In addition, the Interior Ministry task force charged with the issue had apparently concluded that accepting all three candidates was fundamentally justifiable. The fact that Tahamuttan, a stateless Palestinian, has now been rejected is probably intended primarily to send a political message at home in Germany, where de Maizière felt that he had to show the many members of his party who had opposed reaching an agreement with the United States on Guantanamo that he was not blindly obeying the Americans.

The state governments in Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate only received details on the former inmates they were to receive on Friday. Before then, it had not been decided which of the inmates would go to which state.

Motivated by a Fatwa

At least state officials now have a clearer picture of their future residents, who could be arriving by as early as August.

First, there is al-Ali, the former vegetable vendor. He has a wife and a 10-year-old daughter living in Syria who apparently want to come to Germany to live with him, to which the state politicians dealing with the case have no objections.

Only a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, al-Ali traveled from Kuwait to Afghanistan, via Syria and Iran, motivated by a fatwa, or religious edict, in which Muslims were called upon to support the Taliban.

But he never received any military training or saw any combat. After a few days in Kabul, al-Ali contracted a serious case of diarrhea, for which he was treated in a hospital. He then spent the night in the house of a doctor. By the next day, as he was fleeing from the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban, his big adventure was over. Al-Ali and his companions were captured by an Afghan warlord and robbed. The bandits took his money, his wedding ring and his watch, and he was later turned over to the Americans. However, as with almost all of the inmates in the American prison camp, there is no way to determine whether the details of his story are true.

Al-Ali has been imprisoned for the last nine years, first in Kabul and then in Guantanamo. For years, the Americans classified him as an enemy combatant, and as a threat to America and its allies. In early interrogations, he allegedly reiterated his wish to fight infidels.

Perhaps he was exaggerating or perhaps he became demoralized after years in Guantanamo. In the meantime, he apparently managed to convincingly show that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with terrorism, at least according to the assessment of German and US security officials.

A Brief Afghan Adventure

"The detainee stated that prison life has changed him," a US military evaluation concludes. "He is a new person and is satisfied to live a simple, secluded life. He places his fate in Allah's hands." Besides, the report continues, the detainee had spoken "positively about modernization and the influence of the West in the Middle East. He says that this is a good thing and that it is making life easier for everyone."

The second inmate who was chosen to go to Germany reportedly made similar statements. Ahmed Mohammed al-Shurfa attended a Saudi trade school and then a university in the Gaza Strip before his brief Afghanistan adventure.

The human rights organization "Reprieve," whose attorneys represent more than 30 inmates at the US camp, even characterizes him as "one of Guantanamo's unluckiest prisoners." He was already cleared for release in 2007, but he was kept in Guantanamo because, as a stateless person, he had no country to which he could return.

Like al-Ali, al-Shurfa was responding to a fatwa against the infidels when he went to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. US authorities were convinced that he would have been willing to carry out a suicide attack. But he too never saw armed combat, and in December 2001 he was arrested and imprisoned while trying to flee across the Pakistani border.

Al-Shurfa later told the Reprieve attorneys that he hadn't had the slightest idea what acting on the fatwa meant. He claimed that he had never even heard of al-Qaida until then.

No Special Security Measures

Al-Shurfa reportedly shows clear signs of depression. He says that he wants to attend a university in Germany and start a family. He apparently has ties to the country already, after two of his cousins attended universities there.

In both cases, Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate are preparing to provide extensive assistance to the men. "To the best of our knowledge, special security measures are not necessary," says Rhineland-Palatinate Interior Minister Bruch.

The assistance for the two men will apparently consist primarily of psychological counseling, language courses and intensive integration assistance. The goal is to enable the former inmates to live undisturbed in Germany.

The two states plan to set up a task force at the beginning of this week to discuss where the men will live, what kind of assistance they will receive (from organizations like Caritas and the Workers' Welfare Association), and what their residency status will be. Initially, they will not be permitted to leave the region where they are housed. After an integration period, they are expected to receive an EU-wide residence permit.

The attentive Germans have even given some thought to the travel arrangements for their future charges. They will probably be flown to the Ramstein Air Base on a US military plane.

German authorities are determined to prevent the two men from receiving the same treatment as Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish-born resident of the northern city of Bremen. After his release in 2006, he arrived in Germany in chains.

MATTHIAS BARTSCH, FRANK HORNIG, MARCEL ROSENBACH, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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