A Dream of Freedom Soured: Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Tunisia Face Ongoing Persecution

Salah Sassi, in a screenshot from the Associated Press's interview with him in June 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Back in February — as part of a ongoing effort to cover the stories of former Guantánamo prisoners, as well as maintaining pressure on the Trump administration to close Guantánamo once and for all — I covered the story of Hedi Hammami, a Tunisian who, on release from Guantánamo in March 2010, was given a new home in Georgia, because, at the time, it was regarded as unsafe for Tunisian prisoners to be repatriated. However, after Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown in the first optimistic flourish of the Arab Spring, in January 2011, Hammami “negotiated his return to Tunisia,” as Carlotta Gall described it in an important article for the New York Times.

Gall’s article proceeded to reveal, however, how, although his return began positively, with him “benefiting from a national amnesty for political prisoners and a program of compensation that gave him a job in the Ministry of Health,” the tide soon turned, and Tunisia once more became a repressive regime, with Hammami subject to “a constant regimen of police surveillance, raids and harassment” to such an extent that he told Gall that he had recently visited the Red Cross and “asked them to connect me to the US foreign ministry to ask to go back to Guantánamo.”

Six months on, nothing has improved for Hammami. Reporting for the Associated Press, Bouazza Ben Bouazza found him “on the outskirts of Tunis in a rented room he describes as smaller than his Guantánamo cell.” He told Ben Bouazza,  “I was in a small prison and today I find myself in a larger one in Tunisia.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland

A recent photograph of former Guantanamo prisoner Hedi Hammami (Photo: Youssef Bouafif).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The media circus has currently taken one of its darker turns regarding Guantánamo, after an evidently troubled former prisoner, Jamal al-Harith, a British citizen released 13 years ago, blew himself up in Iraq. Too much of the coverage has focused on the UK’s alleged failure to keep him under surveillance, and on the financial settlement he (and all the other released British prisoners) received from the British government in 2010, and not enough on how disgraceful and unacceptable his treatment was in the first place, and how that might have caused lasting damage.

The full-time surveillance of individuals is an expensive matter, and not one that states that respect the rule of law undertake lightly, especially in relation to individuals against whom no case for wrongdoing was ever established. Al-Harith is one of a number of individuals who were only sent to Guantánamo after they had been liberated by the US from a Taliban prison, where they had been held — and abused — because the Taliban thought they were spies, and it is inconceivable that these men were not damaged in some way by being subsequently sent to Guantánamo to be “held in extrajudicial detention for years and subjected to torture on a regular basis,” as the Guardian described it, adding, in al-Harith’s case, that this was “with the complicity of the UK.”

As the Guardian spelled out, the official reason given for al-Harith’s transfer to Guantánamo was “because the US thought he might have useful information on the treatment of prisoners by the Taliban – who had held him as a suspected British spy – not because he was considered dangerous,” and in the end, although the US authorities “thought some questions remained” about al-Harith, they “concluded he had no links to the Taliban or al-Qaida,” an assessment that seems accurate. It is not yet certain what led him to travel to Syria in 2014 to join Islamic State fighters, but it would be unwise to rule out the effects of the time spent in brutal prisons run by both the Taliban and the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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