Before he was released from Guantanamo, a Saudi detainee insisted he had only wanted to help refugees and was not a fighter. Now, as an Al Qaeda field commander sporting a bandolier of bullets, he is threatening the United States and has been hailed by a militant Web site as a veteran guerrilla and “a fomenter of war.”
The story of Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi underscores the dilemma Barack Obama’s administration finds itself in: Keeping men locked up without trials invites global criticism but releasing them without a fair and diligent process to distinguish enemies from noncombatants exposes the U.S. and its allies to danger. It also shows how hard it is to separate truth from lies.
Al-Oufi was one of two former Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, who resurfaced last week in video clips as Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. Their identities were confirmed in recent days by a U.S. counterterror official. Al-Oufi was detainee number 333 at Guantanamo.
On Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors extremist Web sites, provided a translation of al-Oufi’s biography contained in an online militant forum. The personal history was completely at odds with how al-Oufi had characterized himself as he tried to convince a panel of U.S. military officers at Guantanamo that he was an innocent man who had been swept up in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
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