URGENT ACTION REQUIRED for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners Repatriated to Yemen from the UAE

28.7.21

The six men who have just been repatriated to Yemen, where their safety and liberty cannot be guaranteed, from the UAE, where they were imprisoned, rather than being integrated into Emirati society as promised, after their transfer from Guantánamo in November 2015 and August 2016. Top row, from L to R: Khalid al-Qadasi (ISN 163), Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511) and Saeed Jarabh (ISN 235). Bottom row, L to R: Jamil Nassir (ISN 728), Mohammed al-Adahi (ISN 033) and Mohammed Khusruf (ISN 509).

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In a shocking development, the government of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has repatriated six former Guantánamo prisoners — out of 18 Yemenis in total who were sent to the UAE between November 2015 and January 2017 — even though the security situation in Yemen is horrendous, because of the ongoing civil war, and their safety cannot be guaranteed.

The six men, whose stories I reported here and here, when they were transferred in November 2015 and August 2016, are Khalid al-Qadasi (ISN 163), Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511), Saeed Jarabh (ISN 235), Jamil Nassir (ISN 728), Mohammed al-Adahi (ISN 033) and Mohammed Khusruf (ISN 509). Jarabh, the youngest, was born in 1976, and is now 44 or 45 years old, while the eldest are al-Adahi, born in 1962, who is 58 or 59 years old, and Khusruf, reportedly born in February 1950, which would make him 71.

When they were first sent to the UAE, the Yemenis — and four Afghans and a Russian who were also transferred with them — were told that they would be integrated into Emirati society after spending time in a rehabilitation center, but instead they found themselves indefinitely detained in abusive conditions in secret prisons, even though they had all been unanimously approved for release either by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, or by Periodic Review Boards, the two high-level US government review processes for the Guantánamo prisoners that were established under President Obama, which assessed that they did not pose a threat to the US.

The alarming story of their betrayal and mistreatment first surfaced via the Washington Post in May 2018, which I reported in an article at the time. I subsequently became involved in discussions in the UK about what might be done for Ravil Mingazov, the Russian, whose family had successfully sought asylum and were living in London, where I met his son, who told me of his father’s despair, and of sporadic phone calls cut off whenever his father tried to discuss his situation. However, the consensus of opinion was that the UAE would respond badly to public criticism, and it was better to continue to try exerting pressure on the Emirati authorities behind the scenes.

At the end of 2019, three of the Afghans were repatriated as part of Afghan peace negotiations, but there was still no news about the fate of the 20 others. In summer 2020, the United Nations ran out of patience, sending a letter to the Emirati authorities decrying the treatment of Mingazov, who was threatened with repatriation to Russia, where he faced torture or other ill-treatment, and again condemning the UAE in October, when proposals first emerged regarding the enforced repatriation of the Yemenis.

Just three weeks ago, the UN’s human rights experts again condemned the Emirati authorities, after reports suggested that Mingazov’s enforced repatriation was imminent, and also reiterated their concerns about the other prisoners still held in what they described as “indefinite detention at an undisclosed location, without charge or trial, with extremely restricted family contact, no legal representation and recurrent periods of prolonged solitary confinement.”

Now, however, with Mingazov’s fate still hanging in the balance, six of the Yemenis have been repatriated, without any official announcement taking place. The American Center for Justice, based in Michigan, noted in a press release on July 25 that they had arrived in the city of Mukalla, with the other 12 Yemenis scheduled to arrive in the near future.

It might seem reassuring that the Yemenis have finally been freed from the Emirati prison and returned to their home country, but there is, sadly, nothing to celebrate. On arrival, the men were transferred to the custody of the Yemeni intelligence services, and their families were called, and invited to come to the prison to discuss their relatives’ cases, but there is no guarantee that they will be freed, and, in some cases, their relatives can’t afford to travel to Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut, or it is not safe to do so, as much of the country, including the capital Sana’a, is under the control of the Houthis opposed to the government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Missing in all of the above is the US government, even though the State Department is clearly aware of the disgraceful situation in the UAE. As the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, explained during a question and answer session with young people during a recent visit to France, “if … you’re considering sending somebody from Guantánamo to another country in order to close Guantánamo, we must have a guarantee that the rights of these people will be protected in that country.” That, he added, “is not easy.”

Nevertheless, it is imperative that the men sent to Yemen are not abandoned by the US government, as they were when they were so shamefully betrayed in the UAE.

The American Center for Justice called on the Yemeni government “to receive the detainees, protect them, provide safe shelters, job opportunities, provide health care and all the requirements of a decent life, hand them over to their families, and continue full care for them to help them integrate into society and practice their normal lives.” This is an admirable roll call of demands, but it means nothing if the US government isn’t prepared to act to ensure the safety of the men who have just arrived in Yemen from the UAE.

If you’re based in the US, contacting the State Department is a start, but it would also be extremely helpful if campaigners are able to organize a protest outside the State Department, based in the Harry S. Truman Building at 2201 C Street NW, to demand that the US government does all it can to protect these men and to provide them with the safety, security and financial support they need to rebuild their lives now that they have escaped the hell of their abusive imprisonment in the UAE.

I’m also wondering if it might be possible to set up a fundraising appeal to raise money for the families who are unable to get to Mukalla from their homes in other parts of the country. Do get in touch if you have suggestions, or want to be involved.

POSTSCRIPT, July 28: I’ve just had some good news. Three of the men are back with their families after 14/15 years imprisoned in Guantánamo and 4/5 years imprisoned in the UAE. I can’t imagine how joyful that must be for them. However, the security situation in Yemen is still perilous, they have no support for building a new life, and the other three men are still held in Mukalla, with 12 more to follow. It remains important, I believe, for people to urge the State Department to act on their behalf.

POSTSCRIPT 2, August 1: I’ve been informed that all six men have now been reunited with their families. Below is a photo of Al-Hajj Abdu Mohammed al-Muhajiri, 51, known to the US authorities as Jamil Nassir (ISN 728) Abdu has just been reunited with his son Shamil, who he last saw when he was just two months old.

As Moazzam Begg explained when he posted the photo, “Al-Hajj Abdu Mohammed al-Muhajiri was held without charge or trial for 14 years in Guantánamo. In 2016, he joined 22 others who were told they’d start new lives in UAE where they were to be resettled. However, just like all the others, Abdu remained in prison for the entirety of his time in UAE. Four Afghans from among the group who were finally released last year told me that the conditions and treatment had been far worse than Bagram or Guantánamo. One of them said it was even worse than his imprisonment by the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan.”

As Moazzam also noted, “It is expected that the remaining 12 Yemenis will be home very soon too — in sha Allah.” However, that will still leave one former Guantanamo prisoner in the UAE — “Ravil Mingazov, a Russian Tatar who has a son in the UK he’s never seen”, as Moazzam explained, adding, “I spent several weeks imprisoned with him in Bagram and, just as others have confirmed to me, he is a brother whose strength, passion and sincerity leave an indelible mark on those who meet him.” As Moazzam also stated, “Full efforts are being made to try and prevent the UAE from sending Ravil to Russia where he faces imminent imprisonment and abuse. He too must be reunited with his child.”

As Moazzam also explained,  “I often wonder what history teachers will tell children in the schools of advanced countries like the USA or wealthy ones like UAE about their role in destroying so many lives. But, then I remember, history is one of those subjects at school they never really teach. It’s just too revealing and embarrassing.”

Al-Hajj Abdu Mohammed al-Muhajiri, 51, known to the US authorities as Jamil Nassir (ISN 728), reunited with his son Shamil, who he last saw when he was just two months old.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a call for action following the disturbing news that six former Guantanamo prisoners have been repatriated to Yemen from the UAE, where they had been arbitrarily detained in abusive conditions since their transfer from Guantanamo in 2015 and 2016, after they were unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes.

    Although this sounds like a positive move, their safety cannot be guaranteed in war-torn Yemen, and I urge campaigners to call on the State Department to take urgent action to support them, and to guarantee their safety. They are currently being detained by the Yemeni intelligence services in Mukalla, and although their families have been notified of their return and have been asked to come to Mukalla to discuss their cases, some cannot afford to do so, and it is also unsafe for many of them to travel across the country.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, thank you for the update, good news for a few, grateful for that. Hope everyone else can return home soon.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Asiya. I am so relieved that three of the men are back with their families, and, like you, I hope the others follow soon.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Kelley Wear wrote:

    Awful! Thank you for keeping the story alive.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s a particularly bleak story, Kelley. Other men held at Guantanamo and then resettled in third countries have had problems, but the example of the UAE was one of the worst, and the shame is that it involved so many people – 23 in total. We can all only hope that the Yemenis will be able to finally resume their lives in peace.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Andy, beautiful news!!!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s going to be difficult for them with the instability in Yemen, Natalia, which is why I think it’s important for the US government to accept responsibility for these men’s futures, but it must be wonderful for the three men who have finally been reunited with their families.

  8. Anna says...

    As Happy an Ending as possible under the circumstances for six victims :-). It certainly brightens this rainy day.
    If a fundraiser for Yemeni (or other) released prisoners will indeed materialise, do let me know.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna – and yes, it’s certainly as happy an ending as possible after that long and cruel betrayal by the Emirati authorities. I haven’t heard back from anyone else regarding a possible fundraiser. It would need to involve someone who could handle the distribution of funds in Yemen, and I’m not sure how easy that would be.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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