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CNN Whitewashes Gitmo Detainee’s Career

1:59 PM, Aug 26, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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There has been no shortage of articles written from the perspective of the Guantanamo detainees’ lawyers and advocates. The result, more often than not, is a wildly inaccurate picture. A CNN.com piece (“Ten years on, Kuwaiti inmates fear indefinite Guantanamo detention”) published by Jenifer Fenton earlier this month is typical of the genre.

Fayiz al Kandari

Fenton’s article features the story of a Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee named Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al Kandari (who was given the internment serial number 552). A D.C. district judge denied al Kandari’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, citing the substantial evidence against him, in 2010. According to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment written in 2008, al Kandari was deemed a “high” risk to the U.S. and its allies. JTF-GTMO also recommended that al Kandari remain in detention. And al Kandari’s own lawyers told Fenton that it is “likely” the Obama administration has decided to detain him indefinitely. So the Obama administration, which approved for transfer 65 percent of the detainees remaining at Guantanamo as of January 2009, determined that al Kandari was too dangerous to return to Kuwait.

According to Fenton, however, al Kandari’s “case illustrates the difficulties of establishing who may have had links with al Qaeda and similar groups in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, the strength of evidence against them, and whether they might remain or become a threat today if freed from detention.”

That is certainly true for some of the detainees who have been held at Guantanamo. It is not true for al Kandari.

Fenton’s piece is a 1,900 word whitewash. Only about 100 words are devoted to the evidence amassed by the U.S. government against al Kandari even though there are dozens of declassified and leaked pages dealing with his case. A good example of the piece’s bias is the comparable amount of attention (also about 100 words) given to former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who Fenton describes as a “British Muslim.” This, as I’ve detailed on numerous occasions in the past, is also a whitewash. (See here for my latest piece on Begg.) Begg is an admitted jihadist and U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Begg had numerous ties to al Qaeda terrorists. But Fenton uncritically cites Begg as saying “he never heard another detainee say anything about Al Kandari being associated with known terrorists or terrorists [sic] activities.”

The absurdity of Begg’s claim is easy to demonstrate. Al Kandari’s own admissions, relied on by the D.C. district court in denying his habeas petition, showed that he “associated with known terrorists,” including Osama bin Laden’s chief spokesman. According to evidence entered into the court record and leaked JTF-GTMO files, other Guantanamo detainees implicated al Kandari, too. Several detainees, for example, identified al Kandari as being at the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001.

The rest of Fenton’s piece is filled with claims by al Kandari’s “friends and relatives,” lawyers and advocates. The result is that CNN’s online audience was left with little sense of who Fayiz al Kandari really is.

An “implausible” cover story

Al Kandari’s advocates have long claimed that he was a simple charity worker who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Fenton repeats this canard in the opening lines, telling readers that al Kandari’s “stated purpose” for traveling to Afghanistan “was to do charitable work, assisting with the reconstruction of two wells and the repair of a mosque.” Fenton adds that al Kandari’s charitable trip “was for the sake of his mother who had cancer so there would be ‘more blessings from God on her behalf,’ according to a member of the Al Kandari family.”

Later, Fenton notes in passing that prosecutors say al Kandari’s charity story is “not true,” but she does not bother to investigate why.

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