Freed Bosnian Calls Guantánamo the “worst place in the world”

18.12.08

As three Bosnian Algerians — Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella and Mohammed Nechla — returned to their families in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday, Ait Idr spoke briefly to reporters. “For almost seven years,” he said, “I was at the end of the world, at the worst place in the world. It would have been hard even if I had done something wrong, but it is much harder if one is totally innocent.”

Back in the United States, meanwhile, one of the men’s lawyers, Rob Kirsch, called their release “a vindication for our legal system.” Kirsch was correct, as the three men are the first to be released from the prison as the result of a decision made in a US court, after District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled in a habeas corpus hearing last month that the government had provided no credible evidence that, as was alleged, the men intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against US forces.

In addition, the refusal of the government to appeal Judge Leon’s decision “may mean,” as Carol Williams declared in the Los Angeles Times, “that the Bush White House has come to accept that its Guantánamo tactics are finally doomed.” In his ruling, Judge Leon made a point of imploring the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies not to appeal his verdict, explaining, “It seems to me that there comes a time when the desire to resolve novel, legal questions and decisions which are not binding on my colleagues pales in comparison to effecting a just result based on the state of the record.”

Even so, it remains an appalling indictment of the Bush administration’s detention policies that it took nearly seven years for their case to be reviewed, and, as I reported last month, that throughout their long ordeal the men have been subject to chronic abuse and coercive interrogations aimed at milking them for their non-existent intelligence value, even as the supposed reason for their detention — an alleged plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo — disappeared like a mirage.

Moreover, the nation’s politicians must also accept their share of the blame, and Barack Obama, who has pledged to close Guantánamo and to restore America’s moral standing, should be asking tough questions of his colleagues in Congress, as it was their support for two ill-conceived (and at least partly unconstitutional) pieces of legislation — the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — that prevented the men’s release four years ago. In June 2004, the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners habeas corpus rights (the rights they used to secure their release on Tuesday), but the DTA and MCA sought to strip the men of these rights, and it was only in June this year, when the Supreme Court revisited its ruling, granting the prisoners constitutional habeas corpus rights, that their road to freedom finally opened up.

Celebrations for the three released men were muted by the knowledge that two other prisoners whose release was ordered by Judge Leon remain in Guantánamo. Lawyers for Sabir Lahmar and Lakhdar Boumediene explained that, although the government had offered no explanation, they believed that they were not released because Lahmar was only ever a Bosnian resident, and Boumediene was stripped of his citizenship after a disagreement with the Bosnian authorities. However, the website Balkan Insight explained that local media were reporting that the two men “could soon be joining” Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella and Mohammed Nechla.

The time for their release is clearly long overdue. As another of their lawyers, Stephen Oleskey, explained, Boumediene “has been on a hunger strike to protest his detention.” In the meantime, however, spare a thought for other prisoners, still largely unknown after nearly seven years in “the worst place in the world,” whose habeas cases may also show that the government has no credible evidence against them, and for the 17 Uighurs, wrongly detained Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, whose release into the United States was ordered by Judge Ricardo Urbina on October 7, but who remain in Guantánamo because the government has appealed the ruling, even though no other country has been found that will accept them.

POSTSCRIPT: Mustafa Ait Idr spoke to Reuters after his return, explaining that “his US interrogators never questioned him on the main terrorism allegation against him.” “They’ve never asked anything about charges which were brought against us. They’ve never asked about Afghanistan,” he said. “They only questioned me about Islamic organizations working in Bosnia … I’ve spent many years in the worst place on earth for doing nothing.”

Reuters explained that Ait Idr, a computer science engineer who saw his youngest child Abdullah for the first time on Tuesday, looked “frail after his years in detention.” Reiterating complaints that he made to his lawyers in Guantánamo, he said that he had been denied crucial medication during his imprisonment. He also said that he was “often beaten” — and displayed a finger that was broken in US custody — and explained how “US medical personnel advised military staff where to hit prisoners in sensitive spots.” He added that he “was kept for four months, lightly dressed, in a very cold refrigerated container. For short periods of the day he was taken outside, where it was very hot. Other prisoners were subjected to long periods in total darkness or very bright light.” “There was torture every minute,” he stressed. “It did not matter to them if we were terrorists or not.” Even so, he said that the gravest offense was the desecration of the Koran.

However, he bore no malice towards the US military, and explained that he did not hate Americans. “They only did what they’ve been ordered to do,” he said. “They did not hate us but had to obey their superiors.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, 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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post.

Note:

The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:

ISN 10003: Mohammed Nechla (Nechle)
ISN 10004: Mustafa Ait Idr
ISN 10006: Hadj Boudella (Boudella al-Hajj)

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

9 Responses

  1. the talking dog says...

    “They only questioned me about Islamic organizations working in Bosnia … I’ve spent many years in the worst place on earth for doing nothing.”

    No, not nothing: Cheney, Addington, and let’s face it, George W. Bush, wanted to demonstrate their manliness by demonstrating literally that they could get away with all of this, both legally (check) and politically (check). Under this analysis, the more outrageous and unjustified the conduct, the better: this was all a demonstration project as to just how far the limits of executive power could be abused before someone pushed back. Answer: pretty damned far. That actual human beings were involved, most completely innocent of anything remotely connected to terrorism and often, as in the case of the Bosnians, picked up thousands of miles from “the war”.

    The American military probably would have revolted at some point (at least we sincerely hope so) if they were asked to run all-out death camps as opposed to just torture camps where some people died occasionally (at Guantanamo, only 4 so far, that’s not even 1 a year)…
    the thing is, it’s understood that in wars, people can be killed. The novelty here was to try to shake up and redefine some of the most agreed-upon tenets of civilization– that torture is never EVER justified, period, no exceptions.

    Unfortunately, I fear my college classmate Barack Obama’s “pragmatism” (regardless of whether he will “close Guantanamo…” for which he seems to have now given himself up to two years more) will dictate that he not pursue accountability for those responsible (up to and including his predecessor), thereby allowing this unlawful, unConstitutional, and uncivilized precedent to stand. Here’s hoping I’m wrong about that.

  2. Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] release was ordered after their habeas reviews, but who are still held in Guantánamo. (To date, just three men have been released since being cleared by the [...]

  3. Four Men Leave Guantánamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials In Italy by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] although three of the five men — Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella and Mohammed Nechla — were released within weeks of the decision, the fourth, Lakhdar Boumediene, had to wait until May to be freed, when he was accepted by the [...]

  4. Four Men Leave Guantánamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials In Italy « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] although three of the five men — Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella and Mohammed Nechla — were released within weeks of the decision, the fourth, Lakhdar Boumediene, had to wait until May to be freed, when he was accepted by the [...]

  5. Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; ; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam [...]

  6. The Stories Of The Two Somalis Freed From Guantánamo « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; ; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam [...]

  7. Who Is the Palestinian Released from Guantánamo in Spain? « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; ; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam [...]

  8. AWorthington: Guantanamo Habeas Results, Prisoners 34 – Government 13 « On Now says...

    [...] Kidnap Victims. For Judge Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here. For the releases in Bosnia, see: Freed Bosnian Calls Guantánamo the “worst place in the world”. For the release of Boumediene in France, see: Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government. For [...]

  9. Cleaning Up the Guantanamo Mess: Worthington Provides Some Valuable Details | The Rag Blog says...

    […] that, as alleged, they had intended to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces, but to date only three of the men have been repatriated, and the other two still languish in Guantánamo, as the Bosnian government […]

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