Reflections On Mohamed Jawad’s Release From Guantánamo

2.9.09

Mohamed Jawad after his release from Guantanamo, August 24, 2009Long-time readers of my work will know that I championed the cause of Mohamed Jawad, the Afghan prisoner released from Guantánamo on August 24, for nearly two years, from the moment that he was, ludicrously, put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan translator in a marketplace in Kabul in December 2002, even though it was clear from his testimony alone that he was a teenager at the time of the attack, that he had been duped into joining an insurgent group, that he was drugged at the time of the attack, and that a confession had been coerced out of him while in Afghan custody. His case was also, at the time, the most obvious example of how the Bush administration, in its “War on Terror,” had warped existing war crimes legislation, and was attempting to claim that anyone who opposed US forces in a wartime situation was engaged not in legitimate warfare, but in a criminal enterprise.

Since then, I have assiduously covered the various twists and turns in his story, including, in particular, the crisis in the Commission system that was precipitated in September 2008, when his military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned, declaring that the Commission system was unable to deliver justice, and explaining how he had gone from being a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived,” the incidents in October and November 2008, when his military judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, refused to accept the confessions made by Jawad shortly after his capture (both in Afghan and US custody), because they had been extracted through threats of torture, an explosive statement by Lt. Col. Vandeveld in January this year, to accompany Jawad’s habeas claim, in which the former prosecutor delivered an even more comprehensive denunciation of the Commissions’ systemic failures, his lawyers’ discovery in May that Jawad may have been as young as 12 when he was first seized, the savage denunciation of the government’s case that was delivered by Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle during his habeas corpus hearing in July, when she condemned the Justice Department for its persistent obstruction, and repeatedly stressed that the government did not have a single reliable witness, and that the case was “lousy,” “in trouble,” “unbelievable,” and “riddled with holes,” and statements to a Senate and House Committee in July by Lt. Col. Vandeveld and by Jawad’s military defense attorney, Lt. Col. David Frakt.

These not only provided the final word on the whole of the sordid story of Jawad’s imprisonment and ill-treatment, but also provided — in Frakt’s electrifying testimony, in particular — a comprehensive account of the fatally flawed genesis and development of the Commissions, which should have convinced the administration and the politicians that their proposal to revive the Commissions in a revised form is doomed to failure, and that they should be consigned to the scrap heap of history, along with every other innovation dreamt up by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisors.

I extend my belated congratulations to these brave and principled men and women for securing Mohamed Jawad’s release and for defending the values on which the United States prides itself, and am delighted to note that, on Jawad’s return, he was reunited with his family, and was even granted an audience with President Hamid Karzai, who offered to help the former refugee readjust to his new-found freedom by providing him with a house. The Associated Press reported that “Turbaned men, many who had traveled to Kabul from villages in a nearby province, greeted him with a flurry of hugs and wide smiles,” and added that Jawad, standing in a courtyard surrounded by family members, stated, “I am bursting out of my clothes. I spent a long time in prison and now I am very happy to be back with my family.” The London Times also reported that the Defence Minister, Abdul Rakhim Wardak, “offered to pay for him to study overseas,” following a statement by Jawad, in which he announced that he would like to study to become a doctor.

Below is a video from al-Jazeera (via YouTube) featuring a report on Jawad’s return and a brief interview. He also spoke to a number of other media representatives, including Jeremy Page of the London Times, who reported that Jawad “furrowed his brow and fidgeted nervously as he struggled to explain his extraordinary ordeal over the past seven years.” “This is one of the happiest moments in my life — to be back in Afghanistan after all this time,” he explained, adding, “I hadn’t done anything — they took me for nothing. All I could do was hope that one day I’d be free and back home in Afghanistan with my mother.”

Page noted that, when Jawad was finally reunited with his mother, “she refused initially to believe he was her son because he had changed so much, and fainted in a fit of hysterics,” according to Sher Khan Jalalkhil, a close friend of Mr. Jawad’s late father. Jalalkhil added, “Only when she came round and checked for a distinctive bump on the back of his head, did she embrace him as her offspring.” He also explained that the family had searched for Jawad for nine months after his initial disappearance. “We didn’t know if he had been killed, or kidnapped, or got lost. His mother went crazy,” he said, adding that they did not realize that he was in Guantánamo until a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross came to visit them.

At a press conference on August 27, one of Jawad’s lawyers, Marine Maj. Eric Montalvo, stated that Jawad planned to sue the US government for compensation for his long ordeal, although Jawad himself refused to elaborate. Maj. Montalvo explained that he “did not want any perceived anti-American statements to jeopardize his legal claim for compensation.” “If he starts speaking out in the coming days, he could put himself at risk,” Maj. Montalvo said. When he was asked if the “risk” referred to the US government, he said only that “it had not ended well” for other Guantánamo prisoners.

After his release, Jawad had privately described the abuse he had suffered in US custody, reinforcing the claims made by his lawyers, and by Lt. Col. Vandeveld. His uncle, Gul Nek, who met with him “for a long time” on the afternoon of his return, as the Associated Press described it, said that his nephew “recounted tales of torture by sleep deprivation,” and explained, “You can see in his face that he has been tortured.”

Andy Worthington is the author of 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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the twelve prisoners released from February to August 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; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; 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).

19 Responses

  1. mara ahmed says...

    excellent work on this andy. great denouement. congrats!

  2. Eleanor Boyd says...

    Thanks, Andy. I am so glad this young man has been released.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for dropping by, Mara. I really appreciate your understanding of how much work I put into covering this tragic and pointless case.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Eleanor. Me too. I was so glad to see the photos of him, as the first photos (snaps of him before his capture) were only released a few months ago, and before that he was one of the many faceless prisoners whose stories I was trying to bring to life.
    I was also delighted when I found out the news (after popping into an internet cafe in a Spanish hill-town while on holiday). It’s reassuring to have some good news once in a while …

  5. AniTa H says...

    I am so happy for him. Poor guy..what he has suffered at US hands. I can only wonder about the fate of the rest of them in Guantanamo. I hope there will be many more releases. Thankyou for your fantastic work Mr. Worthington.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Anita. This was certainly one of the more miserable stories — in particular because of Mohamed’s age — but there are still many more men in Guantanamo who have endured nearly eight years of imprisonment without charge or trial and who clearly have no connection whatsoever to international terrorism.

  7. Trudy Bond says...

    Another very significant piece of Jawad’s story is that of the BSCT psychologist who told her attorney that if called to testify she would plead the fifth amendment rather than testify to her actions. Holding her accountable remains an unresolved piece of Jawad’s case.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Trudy,
    Thanks for providing that information. I hadn’t heard that the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) psychologist had told that to her attorney, but recall that this was how Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld explained his discovery of a copy of the psychologist’s report. He was disturbed to discover that

    The psychological assessment was not done to assist in identifying and treating any emotional or psychological disturbances Mr. Jawad might have been suffering. It was instead conducted to assist the interrogators in extracting information from Mr. Jawad, even exploiting his mental vulnerabilities to do so. This rank betrayal of a supposed healer’s professional obligations towards a detainee struck me as particularly despicable.

    Here’s the source:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/01/14/former-guantanamo-prosecutor-condemns-chaotic-trials-in-case-of-teenage-torture-victim/

  9. Reflections On Mohamed Jawad’s Release From Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] by Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 4 Sept. 2009 [...]

  10. Charlie Lammers says...

    I’m so happy for him to finally be released, reunited with his family….and hopefully….get some measure of justice. One question that should come to mind when considering how to compensate Jawad for his unjust imprisonment
    is “How is it even possible to adequately compensate a person who has been deprived of a normal life throughout his teen years”? Had I been the one to go through his ordeal and have those years taken away I would feel that I had been robbed of something priceless which should result in astronomical compensatory damages. In a fair and ideal world GWB and his cronies would pay the damages out of their own pockets. I am very sorry for all that he has endured.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment, Charlie. I agree that it’s difficult to conceive of how to compensate someone financially for the loss of their teenage years, but as it stands right now, we’re still a long way from seeing a single prisoner compensated for their ordeal. It will take many, many years, I think …

  12. Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo And Bagram On Antiwar Radio « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] by Maj. David Frakt, the former military defense attorney for Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan prisoner released in August after a judge granted his habeas corpus petition and condemned the government for having no [...]

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

    [...] (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni, 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and [...]

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

    [...] (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni, 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and [...]

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

    [...] (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni, 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and [...]

  16. Prosecuting a Tortured Child: Obama’s Guantanamo Legacy : STATESMAN SENTINEL says...

    [...] (those of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul), as well as the judge in the case of Mohamed Jawad (released in August 2009), rejected the supposed crime, “each ruling that the mere status of [...]

  17. Prosecuting a Tortured Child: Obama’s Guantánamo Legacy. By Andy Worthington « Kanan48 says...

    [...] (those of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul), as well as the judge in the case of Mohamed Jawad (released in August 2009), rejected the supposed crime, “each ruling that the mere status of unprivileged [...]

  18. David Knopfler says...

    Watching what this young man went through in the Documentary “Doctors of the Dark Side” – This should be a “must see” for everyone – even those like me, who think they get it.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, David. I wrote a lot about Mohamed Jawad’s case before his release. The film reminded me of how important and distressing his case was.

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