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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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In the 1990s, al Sharbi studied at Embry Riddle University in Prescott, Arizona. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. During his time in Arizona, al Sharbi was friends with a man named Hani Hanjour. Al Sharbi and Hanjour were among a group of Arab men who raised the suspicions of a local FBI agent when they all started taking flight classes. The agent famously sent a memo urging further investigation to bureau headquarters in July 2001, but the FBI did not act on its own agent's tip. Less than two months later, Hanjour piloted and crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

While Hanjour was preparing himself for the September 11 attacks, al Sharbi was attending al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden visited one of the camps where al Sharbi trained "about ten times," according to a memo produced for al Sharbi's combatant status review tribunal. And during that time, according to the 9/11 Commission report, al Sharbi swore bayat (an oath of loyalty) to the terror master.

After leaving the camp, al Sharbi sought out another friend who had studied in Arizona named Hamdan al Shalawi. The 9/11 Commission found that Shalawi had been prepared for a "Khobar Towers"-type bombing in Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility that he and al Sharbi were considering a similar operation to the one executed by Iran and Hezbollah in June of 1996.

In November 1999, Shalawi was also involved in a disturbing incident inside the United States. Shalawi and another operative named Muhammad al Qudhaieen were detained after the flight crew aboard a cross-country American West flight reported that Qudhaieen had attempted to enter the cockpit. Both men claimed that Qudhaieen was simply looking for the bathroom. After the September 11 attacks, the FBI raised the possibility that their actions were part of dry run for al Qaeda's greatest day of terror.

Al Sharbi's ties to a 9/11 hijacker, Shalawi, Abu Zubaydah and Osama bin Laden raise the possibility that he could have been tasked with a plot more deadly than IED attacks. At this point, it is difficult if not impossible to know what exactly would have come of al Sharbi if he were not captured in March 2002. We do know, however, that he is proud of his al Qaeda role.

During his combatant status review tribunal at Guantánamo, al Sharbi was defiant. "I did not come here to defend myself, but [to] defend the Islamic nation, this is my duty and I have to do it," he said. Al Sharbi then proceeded to launch into a diatribe condemning America. Some commentators have claimed that al Qaeda does not hate us for our values or for who we are, but merely because of our supposedly skewed foreign policies in the Muslim world. But that is not al Sharbi's view.

During his rant, al Sharbi first condemned Christianity, capitalism, and America's tolerance of homosexuality. Al Sharbi explained:

I found the accusation against you to be many. I will try to count those accusations but they were many so honestly I did not count. It starts from being the infidel against god and [his prophets] and you being against Jesus Christ and making him a god and the son of god and he is [merely] a prophet that was sent like Moses, Abraham, and Mohamed . . . .You left religion or the faith of god and the only thing what was known was Sunday. Well some of you, not all of you, know god only on Sunday and some don't know god at all. You adopted this religion you call democracy and based on this religion being the head of capitalism . . .

Capitalism is a revolution and the money is in few people's hands. Ninety percent of the money in the world is in the hands of ten percent of the people thanks to capitalism. . . . even in your country a father cannot forbid his son to sleep with another man or have sexual relationship with another man under the name of human rights . . .

Only after this tirade did al Sharbi mention his objections to America's foreign policies, including its support for Israel. And then he simply repeated many of the talking points commonly used by al Qaeda terrorists. At the end of his tribunal session, al Sharbi began chanting: "May god help me fight the infidels or the unfaithful ones."

Al Sharbi's unapologetic jihadist ideology has made him a popular figure among his fellow inmates at Guantánamo. In Inside Gitmo, Cucullu explains that al Sharbi holds so much sway with other detainees that he is nicknamed "The General." Officials at the camp have even sought his help in managing the other detainees' often hostile behavior.