Sudanese national Ibrahim al Qosi, often dubbed the ‘Al Qaeda cook', has now spent over nine years in detention at Guantánamo Bay after being captured near the Pakistan-Afghan border in December 2001.
In July last year, al Qosi appeared before a Guantánamo military commission and pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism, acknowledging that he knew Al Qaeda was a terrorist group when he was working in one of the kitchens in Osama bin Laden's Star of Jihad compound in Afghanistan. On 11 August 2010, he was sentenced by a military jury to 14 years’ confinement.
However, the jury was apparently unaware of a pre-trial agreement between al Qosi and Pentagon officials – portions of which have been placed under seal – which capped his sentence at 24 months, subject to Qosi’s adherence to the terms contained in the agreement. As such, a Memorandum for Convening Authority of Military Commissions dated 13 October 2010 recommends that twelve of these fourteen years be suspended. Ibrahim al Qosi should therefore be released on 7 July 2012.
However, there is no guarantee that this will be the case. According to Miami Herald Reporter Carol Rosenberg, a spokesperson for the Pentagon has stated that, “decisions regarding Mr al Qosi’s status after he serves his punitive confinement will be made by the detention authorities at that time”. Spokeperson Army Lieutenant Colonel Tanya Bradsher reportedly characterised the 24-month sentence as “being punished for past acts.” After that, al Qosi could still be subject to “detention under the law of war” as “a belligerent during an armed conflict”.
Reprieve has grave concerns about the apparently open-ended nature of al Qosi’s detention. He has already endured a lengthy period of indefinite confinement in Guantánamo prior to his military commission hearing; the latest ruling merely serves to perpetuate this uncertainty even after his sentence has been handed down. This is doubly disturbing given that it is unclear whether al Qosi’s release is contingent on his co-operation under the terms of a highly confidential pre-trial agreement, or on his arbitrary classification as a prisoner of war.
His lawyer, Navy Commander Suzanne Lachelier, is highly critical of this approach: “Indefinitely detaining a 53-year-old man who will have served his sentence and been in custody more than 11 years for being a cook serves neither our national security or foreign policy interests,” she stated. Rather, “it bludgeons the interests of justice”.
Indeed, in the absence of any transparent reasons justifying al Qosi’s detention past July 2012, Reprieve is concerned that there is a real risk that authorities will simply cook up further reasons to suspend his release – an unpalatable state of affairs that, from a human rights perspective, is very hard to swallow.