A Guantanamo prisoner is quietly released: the low-profile finale to an ignominious tale



You surely don't know the name nor should you, really. But Jawad Jabbar Sadkhan Al-Sahlani was quietly given his freedom Thursday by the U.S. Government and finally allowed to exit the prison at Guantanamo Bay.


"Our client, Jawad Al-Sahlani, was released from GTMO today," Chicago lawyer Jeffrey Colman informed me late in the evening. "He should never have been there."


His client was never charged with a crime after being labeled an enemy combatant as a result of claims he'd been associated with the Taliban. He denied the charges and was not allowed to call witnesses to refute the claims. Nobody ever alleged he was with al-Qaeda or was involved in any hostilities against us or any of our allies.




The decision to transfer him to the custody of the Iraqi government was made by a task force created by President Obama and came days before a federal court hearing in Washington on a habeas corpus petition by his attorneys, all of whom worked for free. They are Bill Wertheimer of Detroit and three lawyers from Chicago's Jenner & Block, namely Colman, Sapna Lalmalani and Sarah Crane. Colman was nominated for the federal bench by President Clinton but never made it due to Senate Judiciary Committee wrangling unrelated to the merits of his selection.


According to a formal statement by the lawyers, "Mr. Al-Sahlani is an innocent refugee from Basra, Iraq, who was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for over seven years without any charged ever filed against him. He has four children, the youngest of whom he has never met because she was born after he was imprisoned."


His lawyers' version of events is straightforward: Al-Sahlani and family fled Iraq and Saddam Hussein in 1996, sought refuge in Iran and Pakistan. The family sought asylum in Pakistan but could not obtain it, sought to return to Iran but were left stranded by guides in Afghanistan. He was turned over to U.S forces in January, 2002, for a ransom after, his lawyers alleged, he couldn't pay a bribe to supporters of a notorious warlord. He wound up in Guantanamo.


Nearly six years ago, the U.S. military recommended he be released from Guantanamo after apparently lengthy interrogations. The Bush administration would not do so.


"Mr. Al-Sahlani is an Arabic-speaking Shi'ia from Iraq," the four lawyers noted. "The unclassified---and baseless---allegation against Mr. Al-Sahlani was that he was a leader in the Pashtu-speaking Sunni Taliban in Northern Afghanistan. The United States failed to raise any credible allegations of any wrongdoing against Mr. Al-Sahlani. The Republic of Iraq strongly supported the continuous efforts of counsel to free Mr. Al-Sahlani from Guantanamo."


The lawyers' formal statement echoed what Colman had contended succinctly to me, namely that Al-Sahlani "should never have spent one day---let alone more than seven years---at a prison at Guantanamo Bay."


So he was transferred to the Iraqi government and there's the hope they'll release him promptly so he can get on with a life with his family, including the child he's never met.


He's presumably also never met the likes of former Vice President Cheney who, one might just hope, would concede that occasionally we really did screw a few innocent people, despite his fervent defense of the war on terror and the Guantanamo prison.



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James Warren is the Chicago editor of the Daily Beast/Newsweek and an MSNBC analyst. He's former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. More

James Warren is a former manager, editor and Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune. An ink-stained wretch, he's labored at The Newark Star-Ledger, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Tribune in a variety of positions, including financial reporter, legal affairs reporter-columnist, labor writer, media writer-columnist and features editor. The Washingtonian once tagged him one of the town's 50 most influential journalists (he thinks he was 46, the number worn by Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees). He's a political analyst for MSNBC. He was recently publisher and president of the Chicago Reader, and is now policy columnist for Business Week and twice-a-week Chicago columnist for The New York Times (you can find his handiwork on the paper's website and on new Chicago pages produced for Friday's and Sunday's Midwest print editions by the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative, which he held to start). A native New Yorker, he's a happy resident of the wonderful, if ethically challenged, City of Chicago, where he lives just north of decaying Wrigley Field with his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Cornelia, and their sons, Blair and Eliot. Blair's t-ball team is, yes, the Yankees.

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