News from Albania: One Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Becomes A Father, While Another Is Not Allowed to Return Home

In the last week, two Guantánamo stories have emerged from Albania, home to ten former Guantánamo prisoners — all prisoners who could not be safely repatriated after being cleared for release from Guantánamo. Four men are Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) released in May 2006, three others — an Algerian, an Egyptian and a Russian — were freed in December 2006, and three others — a Libyan, a Tunisian and another Egyptian — were released in February 2010.

One of the stories, cross-posted below, concerns Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the Uighurs, who recently became a father, and was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on a recent visit. The other concerns Sherif El-Meshad, the Egyptian released in February 2010.

On March 23, the website Balkan Insight explained that El-Meshad (described as Sherif Almeshad), who is 35 years old, is being prevented from returning to Egypt by the Albanian government, even though “the post-Mubarak government in Egypt says he is welcome to come back.” Representatives of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent El-Meshad, told Balkan Insight that the “Albanian authorities have repeatedly denied El-Meshad’s requests to return home although the new government in Cairo has provided written assurances that he will be welcome in Egypt and faces no risks there.” In addition, the Albanian border police have twice prevented El-Meshad’s Albanian wife from traveling to Egypt, even though she has a valid Egyptian visa. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Adel Al-Gazzar Is Freed in Egypt After Six Months in Custody

When looking at the stories of the released Guantánamo prisoners, one of the most tragic individual stories of last year was that of Adel al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), a former officer in the Egyptian army, who lost a leg in US custody and spent eight years in Guantánamo. Adel returned to Egypt last June, after being freed in Slovakia in January 2010, where he embarked on a hunger strike to protest about the Slovakian government’s inability to look after him adequately, and where, at one point, he was interviewed by his fellow ex-prisoner Moazzam Begg in a powerful and revealing interview available here. On his return to Egypt, he was promptly arrested, and imprisoned based on trumped-up charges that had been used to secure a conviction against him while he was in Guantánamo, and while the now-deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak was in power.

In December, following six months of pressure from his lawyers — at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces agreed to hear his case on December 27, in an appeal for a new trial, and on December 30, as AllAfrica.com reported, “The Military Court of Cassation accepted the claim of Adel Fattouh al-Gazzar for the re-trial,” noting that “Hafez Abu Seada, attorney at law, submitted the claim after Adel was sentenced to three years in prison.”

On January 16, Adel was freed, although the English-speaking media did not report the story, and I did not discover it until last week, when Moazzam Begg told me about it while we were in Brussels for a screening at the European Parliament of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Ten, July to September 2011

The Guantanamo Files

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For nearly six years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last ten years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analysed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

As the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, this is an intolerable situation, as the prison remains as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work in 2006.

Over the last six years of researching Guantánamo and writing about it on an almost daily basis, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Egypt’s Military Government Free Former Guantánamo Prisoner Imprisoned Since June?

Back in June, I wrote about the case of Adel el-Gazzar, who, after eight years in US custody, mostly at Guantánamo, and another 17 months in Slovakia (where he was held in prison-like conditions and only released after embarking on a hunger strike), had returned to his homeland, where he was promptly arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges that were widely regarded as fabricated. Adel had been seized in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he had been working as a volunteer with the Saudi Red Crescent, and had been living in Slovakia since being freed from Guantánamo in January 2010, on the basis that it was unsafe for him to be returned to his home country while it was still under the control of Hosni Mubarak. As I explained back in June:

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on the Talking Progressive Politics Show on Blog Talk Radio

Today, just before I began feverishly packing for my family holiday, I was delighted to take part in a one-hour interview on the “Talking Progressive Politics” Show on Blog Talk Radio with Jim Cullen in Texas and Vicki Nikolaidis in Greece. It’s been a few weeks since I spoke publicly about Guantánamo, so I was glad to have the opportunity to do so, and especially glad that we had an hour, as it meant that there was time to thoroughly explain the many injustices of Guantánamo, past, present and future.

The show is available here — or here on MP3 — or embedded below:

In the show, I ran through the story of the remaining 171 prisoners, explaining the role of the Guantánamo Review Task Force in proposing that 36 of these men should be tried, 46 should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, and 89 should be released — with particular emphasis on how the 46 are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though there is not sufficient evidence to put them on trial (in other words, there is no evidence), and who the 89 are, and why they have been abandoned by the administration, lawmakers and the courts — the 58 Yemenis who cannot be released because of an unprincipled moratorium on releasing any Yemenis, in place since January 2010, and the 31 men from other countries who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture, and are waiting for another country to take them, in the absence of America accepting any responsibility for its own mistakes. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Appeal for Amnesty for Former Guantánamo Prisoner Held in Egypt

Back in June, I reported the story of Adel Al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), an Egyptian and a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been imprisoned on his return to Egypt after a decade away from home.

Al-Gazzar had been seized in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he had been working as a volunteer with the Saudi Red Crescent, and had been living in Slovakia since being freed from Guantánamo in January 2010, on the basis that it was unsafe for him to be returned to his home country while it was still under the control of Hosni Mubarak. As I explained back in June:

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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