Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Adel Al-Gazzar Returns Home to Egypt and Is Arrested

14.6.11

Yesterday, former Guantánamo prisoner Adel al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), who had been living in Slovakia since being freed last January from America’s notorious prison on Cuban soil, returned, for the first time in ten years, to his home county, Egypt, where he was promptly arrested.

This was not because of anything he had done, but because, as a critic of the regime, he had left the country in 2001, and had been in Pakistan, undertaking humanitarian work in a refugee camp when he was caught in a US bombing raid (which, with subsequent medical neglect on the part of the US authorities, led to him losing a leg). As a result, following his departure from Egypt, he had been given a three-year sentence in absentia by the Egyptian State Security Court for his alleged part in a supposed plot that was known as al-Wa’ad.

This, as the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm explained, was “the first major terrorism case in Egypt” after the 9/11 attacks, in which the defendants — 94 in total — were charged with “attempting to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory.” However, the case “was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents,” and this was an interpretation that carried considerable weight, as “[m]ore than half of the suspects were subsequently released.”

From America, Adel al-Gazzar’s attorney, Ahmed Ghappour, “call[ed] for the charges to be dropped.” By phone from New York, he told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “I think primarily they should be dismissed on humanitarian grounds because of what he suffered.” That was an assessment of al-Gazzar’s time in US custody, but reflecting on the Egyptian side of his story, and the trumped-up charges that led to his in absentia sentence, he added, “Such cases were often used as a tool by the Mubarak regime to silence dissent.”

Al-Gazzar’s story, in his own words, can be found in an extraordinary interview conducted in Slovakia last year by former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, but to recap briefly, as Ahmed Ghappour explained in a press release yesterday:

Mr. al-Gazzar was handed over to the US while recovering in a Pakistani hospital from injuries sustained while volunteering with the International Committee of the Red Crescent on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. He was hit by a US air strike while helping refugees displaced by the onset of war.

In the midst of his recovery, he was transferred to a US prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was subject to severe beatings, exposure to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation for days on end, and suspension by the wrists. He received no medical attention during his time in Kandahar, and as a result, his leg was infected with gangrene so severe that it had to be amputated.

Ahmed Ghappour stated, “Mr. al-Gazzar has literally lost life and limb as a result of his unlawful detention by the United States. The last thing he deserves is to return to prison for a sham prosecution that was initiated by the abusive Mubarak regime.”

Nevertheless, he told Al-Masry Al-Youm of his concerns that al-Gazzar would be convicted and imprisoned after another sham trial, even after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s hated regime. “The Egyptians have a track record of abuse and one that we’ve seen continued in the post-Mubarak era,” Ghappour said, reflecting on the mixed record of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over the government after Mubarak’s resignation in February — on the one hand, the announcement of the trial, in August, of former President Mubarak, his two sons Gamal and Alaa and businessman Hussein Salem, who will face charges of “intentional murder, attempted murder of demonstrators, abuse of power to intentionally waste public funds and unlawfully profiting from public funds for them and for others,” but, on the other, the sentencing of at least 7,000 civilians in military courts since Hosni Mubarak was ousted, a much higher number than before the dictator’s fall.

“I think there is a bigger picture here, to be honest,” Ghappour added. “The question is: how will the transitional regime receive him, considering that the prosecution was based on a political crime of dissent? Does Mubarak’s departure mark a game change for the post-9/11 cases? Will he be treated differently because he was in Guantánamo Bay?”

That question has not yet been answered. As Al-Masry Al-Youm reported, “Following his arrest, the officers allowed [al-Gazzar's] wife and four children to meet with him and check up on him at the airport after his lengthy absence from the country. The authorities then proceeded to begin the legal paperwork needed to send Gazzar to the prosecution so they could determine their position regarding his case.”

Abdul Ghappour also explained that he had spoken with al-Gazzar on Sunday, as he was preparing for his flight. “He seemed really hopeful to come back home,” he said, adding, “Mr. al-Gazzar, you’d call him a true patriot. He loves Egypt and he has been dying to go back home for 10 years to be reunited with his countrymen and his family.” As his London-based lawyers at Reprieve also explained:

He had not seen his family, including his wife and four children, for a decade. Efforts by his family to visit him in Slovakia were thwarted. And, recently, his mother suffered a cerebral haemorrhage which has left her paralysed and requiring full time care.

It is to be hoped that Adel al-Gazzar will be released soon, as he has already suffered more than enough. Held at Guantánamo for nine years despite being cleared for release back in 2004, he then found himself imprisoned again — in a detention center in Slovakia, described by local media as “a police detention facility for illegal migrants.” He and two other men released in Slovakia were held there while the government failed to sort out their status in the country, obliging al-Gazzar to embark on a hunger strike to raise awareness of their plight and secure them proper housing and residential status, but as another of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, explained:

This is the third time Adel has been punished for completely unsubstantiated allegations. [His] persecution … makes a mockery of everything the revolution stands for. Where is the new dawn? Justice and the rule of law must return to Egypt. We hope the Egyptian military will put an end to Adel’s decade-long ordeal.

This is my hope too, as it would be deeply disturbing if, after all he has gone through, and everything that was done to avoid him being tortured in Egypt, he were to end up abused by the successors to Mubarak’s reign of terror.

Dark ironies nevertheless pepper this case. At the time of his release from Guantánamo, for example, when the US government complied with his request not to be repatriated to Egypt, as he feared torture at the hands of the Mubarak regime, everyone who supported his release — relieved that he had been freed after a six-year wait — politely refused to point out how grimly ironic it was that al-Gazzar — and another cleared Egyptian, Sharif al-Mishad, who was released in Albania in February 2010 — couldn’t be repatriated because of fears that they would be tortured by the same torturers who had been some of the Bush administration’s closest friends when it came to torturing other prisoners seized in the “War on Terror.”

Two of those unfortunate prisoners were Mamdouh Habib, the Australian citizen rendered by the CIA from Pakistan, whose torture was personally directed by Mubarak’s spy chief Omar Suleiman, and Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, a Pakistani religious scholar rendered to torture from Indonesia, where he had been sorting out his late father’s affairs, on nothing more than the vaguest of hunches that he was involved in some way with terrorism (which he wasn’t).

There were others, detailed in an account I compiled for the United Nations in 2010, and undoubtedly others whose stories have not yet surfaced, but the most celebrated prisoner sent by the US to be tortured in Egypt was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, who, after being picked up crossing into Pakistan form Afghanistan in December 2001, was sent to Egypt, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that two al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons. Although he recanted his false confession, it was used to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. As for al-Libi, after his usefulness was finally exhausted, he was rendered back to Libya, where Colonel Gaddafi disposed of him in May 2009, telling the world that he had committed suicide in a prison cell.

On Tuesday, the next step took place in Adel al-Gazzar’s case, as reported in the Egyptian media. Via Mohamed Za’er, the director of the Egypt-based Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners, Daily News Egypt explained that, on Tuesday, military prosecutors had referred him to “an appeals prison not usually used for political prisoners.”

Daily News Egypt also reported that the verdict against al-Gazzar was “contested … before the military court” on Tuesday, noting also that the court “is expected to look into the case within 60 days.” Mohamed Za’er explained, “If approved, al-Gazzar will be granted a re-trial, though it is no longer a crime to be a member in an Islamist group following the January 25 Revolution. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood now has an official political party after being banned for years.”

That ought to be a good sign, but in Egypt, still caught between the end of Mubarak’s rule and a hoped-for transition to free and fair elections, nothing is certain.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

23 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m Digging this now.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, George. And if anyone out there hasn’t read Adel’s extraordinary interview with Moazzam Begg, which was published last October, then it’s here, and thoroughly recommended. In Guantanamo, Adel’s words, reported in the transcript of his tribunal, revealed a fascinating and intelligent man with an inquiring mind, compassion and a sharp sense of humor:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/10/27/moazzam-begg-interviews-ex-guantanamo-prisoner-adel-el-gazzar-in-slovakia/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    Oh no!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh yes, sadly, Louise. I’m really hoping that there are enough communication channels between New York/London and Cairo to keep Adel’s story very public in the West — and in Egypt too. The good thing I’ve noticed is that there’s now a media able to report stories freely.

  5. Virginia Simson says...

    Just too sad and upsetting.

    I cannot imagine the anguish of the families.

    It is to be hoped that this story finally has a happier ending now that the Egyptians are fighting back.

    This is one of the stories that upset me the MOST years back. No one should lose a limb to TORTURE for any reason.

    SHAME SHAME on Bush, Blair, Suliemon and the rest of the sick lot of basTARDS. May justice for them and their ilk finally happen.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Virginia. Very good to hear from you, and I hope there will be a just resolution to this story, and that Adel will be freed, to be reunited with his family.

    If people want to ask the Egyptian Ministry of Justice for Adel’s release, Cageprisoners has provided the following contact details:

    Ministry of Justice (Egypt)

    Counselor:
    Mohamed Abdel Aziz Ibrahim El gendy

    Address:
    Magles El Shaeb St. Wezaret Al Adl-Cairo

    Phone:
    +20 2 792 2263
    +20 2 792 2265
    +20 2 792 2267
    +20 2 792 2269

    Fax:
    +20 2 795 8103

    E-mail:
    mjustice@moj.gov.eg

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Louise Gordon wrote:

    I hope he is released. How much is one person supposed to endure?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Harsha Prabhu wrote:

    A SHOCKING MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Harsha Prabhu wrote:

    ‎’…the most celebrated prisoner sent by the US to be tortured in Egypt was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, who, after being picked up crossing into Pakistan form Afghanistan in December 2001, was sent to Egypt, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that two al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons. Although he recanted his false confession, it was used to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. As for al-Libi, after his usefulness was finally exhausted, he was rendered back to Libya, where Colonel Gaddafi disposed of him in May 2009, telling the world that he had committed suicide in a prison cell.’

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Harsha Prabhu wrote:

    Thank you again Andy for a remarkable piece of fact finding and truth telling journalism!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Svetlana Konoplev ‎wrote:

    Harsha Prabhu: you’re biased on Gaddafi: Wikileaks did not mention his name. Here is the correct quotes: “Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (ISN 212), the emir of a military training camp for which Abu Zubaydah was the gatekeeper, who, despite having his camp closed by the Taliban in 2000, because he refused to allow it to be taken over by al-Qaeda, is described in these documents as Osama bin Laden’s military commander in Tora Bora. Soon after his capture in December 2001, al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi recanted this particular lie, but it was nevertheless used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Al-Libi was never sent to Guantánamo, although at some point, probably in 2006, the CIA sent him back to Libya, where he was imprisoned, and where he died, allegedly by committing suicide, in May 2009.” http://www.wikileaks.ch/WikiLeaks-Reveals-Secret-Files-on.html

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, Svetlana, Harsha was quoting from my article above, whereas you were quoting from what I wrote for Wikileaks. I changed the wording slightly for this latest article, but I have always suggested that he was murdered by Gaddafi (and I’ve frequently mentioned that it suited the US, and also the Egyptian government, which had been humiliated by the al-Libi torture fallout).

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Andy Worthington wrote:

    Thanks also, Louise and Harsha. I was particularly encouraged by your supportive words, Harsha!

  14. Peace Activist says...

    Most interesting and useful information, thank you most sincerely for this. I will send a donation soon as possible. I was looking for detailed information on Adel al-Gazzar, this site gives copious amounts of detail. Stuff that would require long tedious research without this site.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Peace Activist. Very good to hear from you.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Svetlana Konoplev ‎wrote:

    Andy: Actually, I ‘ve checked the source you’re referring to:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/06/18/world-exclusive-new-revelations-about-the-torture-of-ibn-al-shaykh-al-libi/
    Still, Andy, you have no proof, just speculation whether or not… I wouldn’t post anything I don’t have a strong witness back-up for the reason of NATO intervention in the Libya.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Tim Hartman wrote:

    Great article Andy, and thank you for posting this. This summer I’m working with an org that takes in victims of torture seeking US asylum, and these cases (Gitmo) are important for our organizational activities. I hadn’t heard this from any other source.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Svetlana, I appreciate your concern, but the crimes of Gaddafi against his own people is something that has been important to me for several years, and that I can’t ignore, regardless of contemporary issues.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    And Tim, great to hear from you, and to hear about your work with victims of torture seeking US asylum. Very important!

  20. adam says...

    I just read about adel al-gazzar’s story in an opinion piece on al jazeera (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/06/201161694610955569.html) and found your site in the hunt for more information. To me this is the sort of story that should be headline news all over the world and yet when i search for information (admittedly a fairly quick google search) i find not one uk media outlet (i’m british so that’s where i look first) which runs the story, in the US i find a blog on the washington post web site but not much else. It seems mainstream media outside of the middle east doesn’t consider this to be much of a story. I’d like to thank you, as well as reprieve, cageprisoners and all the other people who work so hard to stop these stories, and the people behind them, from disappearing.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank, Adam. I agree with your sentiments. Fortunately, Al-Jazeera covers many stories that the UK and US media fail to cover, and you can generally count on me to keep an eye out for stories related to Guantanamo, and to cover them here.

  22. Lawyers Appeal For Amnesty For Former Guantánamo Prisoner Held In Egypt - OpEd says...

    [...] of Adel Al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), an Egyptian and a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been imprisoned on his return to Egyptafter a decade away from home.Al-Gazzar had been seized in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he had been [...]

  23. John Galt says...

    It seems that bad luck just seems to follow this poor, innocent, babe-in-the-woods. Either that or being an Islamist radical jihadist isn’t all its cracked up to be. The “I was there for humanitarian assistance” story is bunk, one told by just about every other captured jihadist who didn’t use the “I was in a war zone teaching the Quran” excuse.

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