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 »

Video: Tunisian Freed from Guantánamo Calls for the Return of His Compatriots

To mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, both Al-Jazeera and the Guardian turned their attention to the fate of the five Tunisians still held in Guantánamo, who I wrote about almost exactly a year ago, after the unexpected fall of the dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the beginning of the revolutionary movements in the Middle East.

At the time, seven Tunisians had left Guantánamo, to face a variety of fates. Two had been repatriated in 2007, although both had then been imprisoned following show trials, two others were in Italy, where they had been delivered from Guantánamo to face trials in November 2009, and three others had been resettled in early 2010 in three other countries — namely, Slovakia, Albania and Georgia.

Soon after the fall of Ben Ali, the interim Tunisian government announced an amnesty for all political prisoners, paving the way for the return of exiled members of the Islamist party Ennahdha, and also the release of 55-year old Abdallah Hajji (also identified as Abdullah bin Amor), the former Guantánamo prisoner who was still imprisoned after a show trial. It also transpired that the other returned and imprisoned ex-Guantánamo prisoner, Lotfi Lagha, had actually been freed under President Ben Ali in June 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Tunisians Call for the Release of Prisoners in Guantánamo

On Wednesday, in Tunis, Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent prisoners in Guantánamo, held a conference to bring together “key policymakers and members of civil society to discuss Tunisia’s role in bringing about the release of its citizens from Guantánamo Bay.” Speakers included representatives of Tunisia’s major political parties, former Guantánamo prisoners, lawyers and family members of current and former prisoners, and, as Reprieve noted, “Members of the interim government, international and national human rights activists, lawyers, ex-detainees and family members have all pledged their support for this cause.”

The conference was convened to “examine how this support can be turned into action,” and Kamel Eddine Ben Hassan, representing the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, announced that the government was “ready to set up a legal framework” with the US authorities “to study the situation of five Tunisian citizens” still held at Guantánamo, as the website Tunisia-live.net explained. “The state is now taking up the cause of its nationals in Guantánamo,” he told the conference, according to the Associated Press, which explained that he had stated that “Tunisia will soon send a mission to the United States to plead for the repatriation of its five remaining citizens held at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.”

According to Reprieve (as the AP described it), “one of the barriers to the repatriation of the remaining Tunisians” was Ben Ali’s “reputation for torture and human rights abuses,” but Cori Crider, the NGO’s legal director, said “Tunisia’s willingness now to accept the detainees should pave the way for their release.” 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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