Algeria announced on Friday that a former Guantanamo detainee named Sofiane Hadarbache has been acquitted of terrorism charges. Hadarbache was captured by US forces in late 2001 near Kabul, transferred to Guantanamo in 2002, and held until July 2, 2008, when he was transferred to his native Algeria. At Gitmo, Hadarbache was also known as Abdul Raham Houari and given the internment serial number 70.
Little is known about Hadarbache’s trial. According to the Associated Press, Hadarbache’s “lawyers demanded an acquittal, saying that U.S. officials had determined he didn’t represent a security threat before releasing him into Algerian custody.” Declassified files produced at Gitmo suggest otherwise.
In a memo prepared for Hadarbache’s first round administrative review board (ARB) hearing at Gitmo, US military officials noted:
Based upon a review of recommendations from US Government agencies and classified and unclassified documents, detainee is regarded as a continued threat to [the] United States and its Allies.
The memo is undated, but was likely authored in 2005 because most of the first round ARB hearings were held that year. It is not known if Gitmo officials changed their assessment between 2005 and 2008, when Hadarbache was transferred.
The Algerian government has been eager to cut deals with known jihadists and extremists as part of an announced reconciliation process. It is possible that Hadarbache’s acquittal was one such deal.
Ten pages of declassified files prepared at Gitmo, and available on The New York Times‘ web site, fill in some of the details of Hadarbache’s story as it was pieced together by US officials.
US military officials found that Hadarbache was recruited by al Qaeda in France. “The detainee’s travels from France to Afghanistan were facilitated by Al-Qaida members,” one declassified memo reads. US military officials alleged further that once he was in Afghanistan Hadarbache trained at the Taliban’s and al Qaeda’s Malik camp, where he “received training in small arms, RPGs and combat tactics.”
During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) and ARB hearing, Hadarbache denied any affiliation with al Qaeda. He also downplayed his role in Afghanistan, saying he never fought and had no intention to fight Americans. But in the context of his denials, Hadarbache also made some noteworthy admissions.
“For immigration purposes, I was in Afghanistan because I was Muslim,” Hadarbache claimed during his CSRT. “I went there to study for al Jihad.”
Hadarbache also conceded that he received light arms training, while denying any more extensive training. “I bought a Kalishnikov,” Hadarbache said. “The Pakistan people give me a place to stay for studying. There were 4 or 5 of us and they give us the Kalishnikov to us [sic] from the Taliban. Taliban sold me the Kalishnikov.”
And while Hadarbache denied fighting in Afghanistan, his own testimony placed him on one of the jihadists’ rear lines. “I was behind the front line, the line of fighting. I was 20 days behind the fighting line. I did not enter the line of fight.” It is possible, of course, that Hadarbache was simply lying about his role in Afghanistan in order to downplay his ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Hadarbache was close enough to combat to sustain serious injuries. During his testimony at Gitmo, he claimed that he was injured while sleeping. One declassified memo prepared at Gitmo notes that Hadarbache “was captured on his way to the hospital after being injured when a comrade accidentally detonated a grenade” and he “sustained significant combat related injuries.”
At Gitmo, Hadarbache was allegedly a problematic detainee. His “[o]verall behavior has been generally non-compliant and aggressive,” the memo prepared for his ARB hearing reads. “Detainee has failed to comply with guards’ instructions on a number of occasions. He has been informed to keep his clothes on and has repeatedly disregarded those orders and has stood in his cell naked.”
The AP‘s account of Hadarbache’s acquittal notes that he received psychiatric help in Algeria after his transfer from Gitmo. This is consistent with the story outlined in the declassified Gitmo memos. US military officials found that his “recorded behaviors, medication history, and utilization pattern of psychiatric services suggest this detainee is regressing.”
It may be the case that Hadarbache’s psychological state played a role in his acquittal.
During his hearings at Gitmo, Hadarbache denied having any animosity for America. But US military officials found otherwise. “He believes that America is an enemy to Islam,” the ARB memo reads.
US military officials alleged: “[Hadarbache] states that he supports the Taliban belief in a true and complete Islamic state that enforces Islamic law. [Hadarbache] adds that his incarceration has not deterred him and should he be released, and given the opportunity, he would still fight jihad with the Taliban.”
An Algerian court acquitted Hadarbache of belonging to a foreign terrorist organization and counterfeiting. However, given his admitted desire to study “al jihad,” light arms training, close proximity to combat, and serious combat wounds, it is likely that Hadarbache was recruited by al Qaeda and the Taliban to fight in Afghanistan.