From Sudan, Reuters reports on a conference held in the capital, Khartoum, to demand the release of seven Sudanese detainees still held in Guantánamo. Organized by local human rights groups, the conference’s speakers included the wife of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, who is still held in the much-criticized prison, and several released Sudanese detainees, who also “demanded cash payouts and an apology from the United States” for the “mental and physical torture” they suffered during their imprisonment.
Adel Hassan Hamad and Salim Muhood Adem, after their release. They are standing in front of posters showing some of the other Sudanese detainees still held in Guantánamo. Photo © Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla, Reuters.
“We have asked for compensation and an apology,” aid worker Adel Hassan Hamad told the conference, adding that his American lawyers would seek compensation in the US courts, and that two other former detainees were also seeking compensation. Released in December, Mr. Hamad, whose story was explained at length here, wore orange overalls to identify his sympathy with those still held in Guantánamo. Unknown to me, until this article was published, was the distressing news that one of his daughters had died during his imprisonment because his wife could not afford medical treatment.
As reported by Reuters, many of those attending the conference “broke down in tears” when addressed by Aygol Ismailova, the Azerbaijani wife of Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, whose story was reported here –- accompanied by his latest letter from Guantánamo. Mr. al-Haj has been on hunger strike for nearly 400 days, and, like all the other hunger strikers in Guantánamo, is force-fed twice a day in a manner that, as described by his lawyer, is “tantamount to torture.”
His wife, as Reuters explained, “wept as she told the gathering how [her husband] has been urinating blood and [is] suffering from other health problems.” She added, “His son Mohamed always asks me, ‘Where is my father? Who took him? What is prison? What do they do there?’ And I don’t know how to answer him. Do people know that I have no way to contact my husband other than letters that reach him late and are censored? For more than six years I’ve not heard his voice, not seen him. This is torture.”
She also said that all the Guantánamo detainees deserved compensation and an apology, and, in the only upbeat moment of the whole speech, noted that Sudanese government officials had told her that they hoped that her husband would be released by the end of March.
Adel Hamad and another former Guantánamo detainee set up mock prison cells in the conference hall to demonstrate the cramped conditions in which they were held. Repeating claims familiar from other released detainees, Mr. Hamad explained, “Often they’d leave prisoners tied up in very, very cold rooms and refuse to allow them to go to the bathroom so they’d wet themselves.” Speaking of his imprisonment in Afghanistan, before he was transferred to Guantánamo, he added, “I was beaten, made to stand for long periods of time, deprived of sleep for three nights.”
13 Sudanese detainees have been held at Guantánamo. Two were released in April 2004, one in July 2005, and another two –- Adel Hamad and Salim Adem, another aid worker –- in December 2007. None of the seven men who remain –- including Sami al-Haj –- has been cleared for release, but it is to be hoped that some, at least, will be released during the course of this year. As Mr. Hamad’s lawyers have explained, both their client and Mr. Adem had been cleared for release in November 2005, but remained at Guantánamo for another two years because of inexplicable stonewalling on the part of the US State Department.
With this obstacle now, hopefully, overcome, it is clearly time for some of the other Sudanese detainees to be repatriated. Only one of the seven –- Ibrahim al-Qosi –- has ever been formally charged. Regarded as a bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, al-Qosi was put forward for trial by Military Commission in July 2003. The charges were dropped when the Commissions were judged to be illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, but Congress reestablished the Commissions in the Military Commissions Act in autumn 2006, and it is expected that the charges against al-Qosi will be reinstated.
For more on the Sudanese detainees in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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