Der Spiegel Publishes Detailed Profile of the Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Uruguay, Struggling to Adapt to a New Life

Three of the former Guantanamo prisoners resettled in Uruguay last December in their protest outside the US Embassy (Photo: F. Flores/El País Uruguay).Ever since it was first announced, over a year ago, that six Guantánamo prisoners would be resettled in Uruguay, I have followed the story closely. Uruguay was a fascinating choice for resettlement, with its humble, left-wing president who had also been a political prisoner, and in December, when the six men were freed, there was considerably more media interest that there usually is when prisoners are released — or, as with the six men freed in December, resettled, because they either couldn’t be repatriated at all (as was the case for one of their number, the last Palestinian at Guantánamo) or they couldn’t be safely repatriated (as was the case for the other five men, four Syrians and a Tunisian).

Since their arrival, however, the six men have had difficulty adapting to their new lives. This is unsurprising, given that they are almost certainly all suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that they are far from home in a Spanish-speaking country with almost no Muslim population, and, most crucially, that they are separated from their families. I had hoped that their transition to a new life would be smoother, and would have involved them being swiftly reunited with their families, but that has not happened, and instead they have gone public with their dissatisfaction — aimed, it should be noted, primarily at the US government, who, the men believe, is not doing enough for them.

In March, I wrote an article about how the men were struggling to adapt to their new lives, which included a request to the Argentinian government to follow Uruguay’s example and take in more prisoners approved for release from Guantánamo but still held. That request was made by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, one of the Syrians, and a well-known figure in Guantánamo circles, because of his effort, last year, to challenge the US authorities’ force-feeding methods through the US courts. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom

Released Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab in a screenshot from an interview he did with an Argentinian TV channel in February 2015, two months after his release in Uruguay with five other men.In December, the release of six Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay attracted the attention of the world’s media — in part because Uruguay’s President Mujica was a former political prisoner, who had openly criticized Guantánamo and had welcomed the men as refugees.

At the time, the situation looked hopeful for the men — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — but that may just have been because of President Mujica’s attitude. After 13 years in Guantánamo, the reasonable expectation would have been that the released men would have post-traumatic stress disorder, and would find it hard to adapt to life in an alien country with no Muslim population.

In February, the most prominent of the former prisoners, Abu Wa’el Dhiab (aka Jihad Diyab) — a Syrian who had embarked on a hunger strike in despair at ever being released, and had fought in the US courts to prevent the Obama administration from force-feeding him — made what the Guardian described as “a surprising visit” to Argentina, Uruguay’s neighbour, to ask the country to take in other prisoners from Guantánamo, where 55 of the remaining 122 prisoners have also been approved for release, but are, for the most part, in need of third countries to offer them new homes. Read the rest of this entry »

New Life in Uruguay for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Former Guantanamo prisoners released in Uruguay: from left to right, Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Mahmoud Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, pose for a picture after lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14, 2014 (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula, AFP/Getty Images).Good news from Uruguay, where five of the six men released from Guantánamo on December 7 and given new lives in Montevideo have been photographed out and about in the city. From left to right, in the photo, they are: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, photographed by Pablo Porciuncula, after eating lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14. See more photos here.

The sixth man, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian who became confined to a wheelchair whilst at Guantánamo, had been on a hunger strike and had challenged the US authorities in the courts, has not yet been seen publicly, but is apparently recovering from his long ordeal. His lawyer, Cori Crider of Reprieve, commented that he “had difficulty believing he would ever be released until he boarded the plane out of the US military base,” as the Guardian put it. Crider said, “You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”

Immediately after their arrival, the Associated Press reported that Michael Mone, Ali al-Shaaban’s Boston-based lawyer, said that, with the exception of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, “The other men are all up on their feet. They have big smiles on their faces and they are very happy to be in Uruguay after 12 plus years of incarceration.” As the AP described it, Mone was “accustomed to his client being shackled and strictly monitored during meetings in Guantánamo,” and said it was “an emotional experience to see al-Shaaban experiencing freedom for the first time in years.” The AP also reported that al-Shaaban “spoke by phone with his parents, who are in a refugee camp in a country Mone declined to identify, fleeing the turmoil of their homeland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Uruguay?

Photos of five of the six men released to Uruguay from Guantanamo - from L to R: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abdelhadi Faraj, Mohammed Taha Mattan and Abu Wa'el Dhiab. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and the collage is by LeaNoticias.com.Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.

In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who cannot be safely repatriated, and was willing to offer new homes to five men. The BBC reported that the 78-year old president told local media, “The US president wants to solve this problem so he’s asking several countries to host them and I told him I will. They are welcome to come here.” He also told Montevideo’s El Espectador Radio that the men in question were four Syrians and a Palestinian.

Subsequently, the Global Post published an article identifying the men, after working out, from a publicly available list of the prisoners cleared for release (see my article here, for example) that there is only one Palestinian still held at Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and four Syrians who have also been cleared for release.

The Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan, ISN 684), who, like the handful of other Palestinians held at Guantánamo and subsequently released, is essentially stateless, as he can only return with the blessing of the Israeli government, which has no intention of allowing any former Guantánamo prisoner to return home. I most recently profiled his case here, mentioning how he was not only cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009 (like 74 other men still held, including the four Syrians), but had also been cleared for release under President Bush in October 2007. I also mentioned how, sadly, he was one of three prisoners that the German government was planning to accept in 2010, but was the only one left behind in Guantánamo when, for political reasons, a decision was taken to accept just two men instead. 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 (The State of London).
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