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Gitmo's General

The U.S. can't risk releasing detainee Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi.

12:00 AM, Mar 18, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Last week, a D.C. district court dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of a Guantánamo detainee named Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi. The 34 year-old Saudi told the court that he did not want to proceed with the case, which was originally brought by al Sharbi's father to challenge his son's detention. So, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted al Sharbi's wish, leaving it to the Obama administration to decide his fate.

It is not surprising that al Sharbi did not want to challenge his detention at Guantánamo. He is a remorseless terrorist. And at the time of his capture, al Sharbi was admittedly plotting future attacks on American and allied forces in Afghanistan. It's possible that he was prepared to do much more. Al Sharbi is, after all, one of the select al Qaeda members tasked with receiving flight training alongside the September 11 hijackers.

Al Sharbi was captured on March 28, 2002, when American and Pakistani officials raided top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah's safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. At least ten current Guantánamo detainees were netted in the raid. Authorities also found various bombs and the equipment necessary for manufacturing them.

Al Sharbi was interrogated by Pakistani authorities and then turned over to the United States. American interrogators then began piecing together the details of al Sharbi's al Qaeda career. They learned that he was close to Zubaydah--so close that his fellow Guantánamo inmates would later call him Zubaydah's "right hand man." For years, Zubaydah ran al Qaeda's Khalden camp, which graduated hundreds of terrorists, in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Zubaydah was also a key facilitator for al Qaeda's attempted millennium bombing of the LAX airport in California as well as other attacks around the world.

In early 2002, Zubaydah was plotting attacks against American forces in Afghanistan and possibly a terrorist attack inside Israel. Zubaydah was also involved in al Qaeda's post-9/11 plotting against the American homeland.

Zubaydah and other top terrorists selected four al Qaeda members to receive specialized training on improvised explosive devices (IED's). Al Sharbi was one of the four selected, as were the recently released Binyam Mohamed, the convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, and another Guantánamo detainee named Jarban Said Bin al Qahtani. The four were initially going to be dispatched to Afghanistan where they could put their IED skills to use.

Al Qaeda's plans for Mohamed and Padilla changed, however. According to U.S. government documents, Mohamed and Padilla were repositioned for an attack on American soil. One of the plots considered by senior al Qaeda terrorists involved the use of a "dirty bomb," which is comprised of loose radiological material.

As Gordon Cucullu explains in his book Inside Gitmo: The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantánamo Bay, al Sharbi translated the dirty bomb instructions for Mohamed and Padilla at an al Qaeda safe house in Lahore, Pakistan. Whether or not Mohamed and Padilla intended to attempt a dirty bomb attack, or some other operation on U.S. soil, is not known. Senior al Qaeda members allegedly discussed a range of options for Mohamed and Padilla, including an attack utilizing natural gas lines inside Chicago apartment buildings. Both Mohamed and Padilla were captured before they could commence any attacks.

Al Sharbi has been rather forthcoming about his involvement in al Qaeda's plotting against American forces in Afghanistan. Cucullu reports that during an administrative review board hearing at Guantánamo al Sharbi brazenly stated: "I'm going to make it easy for you guys I fought against the United States. I took up arms. I'm proud of what I did." Cucullu also says that Michael Bumgarner, the former commander of Camp Delta at Guantánamo, once teased al Sharbi about being a mechanical engineer. Al Sharbi, who speaks English fluently, responded: "Knock it off, Bumgarner. You know I'm an electrical engineer. I'm a bomb maker!"

But did al Qaeda have something more planned for al Sharbi?