Life After Guantánamo: Attorney Tells the Story of a Father and Son Freed, But Separated By 1,850 Miles

Former Guantanamo prisoner Muhammed Khantumani is one of the four boys in this photo, taken many years before his eight-year ordeal in Guantanamo. The photo is a screenshot from an interview on Democracy Now with his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights.Back in 2006, when I began working full-time on Guantánamo, researching the stories of the men held there for my book The Guantánamo Files, which was published in September 2007, the main research I undertook involved a detailed analysis of 8,000 pages of documents relating to the prisoners that had been released in 2006 as a result of freedom of information submissions and federal lawsuits submitted by the Associated Press.

The documents consisted primarily of unclassified allegations against the prisoners and transcripts of various review processes — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and Administrative Review Boards (ARBs) — that had been conducted from 2004 onwards, purportedly to establish the status of the prisoners, although these processes were so one-sided and what passed for evidence was generally so poor that, as the AP put it, all the transcripts generally revealed about the prisoners was “the often vague reasons the United States used for locking them up.”

Also included in the releases by the Pentagon were the first ever lists of the prisoners that had been made public, and, although all the files released required significant cross-referencing to create a coherent account of all the prisoners held at Guantánamo, past and present, I was able, over a period of 14 months, to do just that, producing the first — and still the only — comprehensive account of all the prisoners who, in such a cavalier and unsubstantiated manner, had been described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst.”

The overwhelming majority of the men held — I would say as many as 97 percent of the 779 men held throughout Guantánamo’s history (of whom 116 remain) — had no involvement with terrorism, and were either humble foot soldiers for the Taliban or civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong time and the wrong place while the US was handing out substantial bounty payments to its Afghan and Pakistani allies for anyone who could be packaged up as being involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Death of Three-Year Old Syrian Refugee Aylan Kurdi Appals All Decent People, Please Sign the E-Petition Asking the UK Government to Accept More Refugees

Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy whose body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey. The photo, understandably, went viral and has led to calls for greater support for refugees in Europe, and particularly in the UK, which, by far, has failed to match German generosity.Please sign and share this e-petition to the British government, calling for more asylum seekers to be accepted into the country, as the UK tries to turn its back on this huge humanitarian crisis.

Amazingly, it has gone from 27,000 signatures last night to over 112,000 signatures this morning, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please keep signing and sharing it, however, so that the government knows the depth of feeling in this country. UPDATE 4pm: It has now reached 200,000 signatures.


I’m not posting the photo above of the dead body of three-year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi for sensationalist reasons, but simply because, when it went viral yesterday, it did so because millions of people identified with it, whether they were parents or not.

I am a parent. My son is 15 years old, but I remember vividly when he was three, and when I saw, yesterday, the photo of Aylan’s lifeless body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey, I felt his loss viscerally.

I was at that beach just two weeks ago, aware that refugees from Syria were trying to make their way to Europe via the Greek islands, and aware that some of them were dying in search of a new life. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Asim Al-Khalaqi Dies in Kazakhstan, Four Months After Being Freed

The US flag at Guantanamo (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly/Huffington Post).Vice News broke the news on Thursday that Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, a Yemeni, and a former prisoner at Guantánamo, died in Kazakhstan, just over four months since he was freed, after spending 13 years in US custody without charge or trial.

The 46- or 47-year old, identified in Guantánamo as ISN 152, was one of five men freed on December 31, 2014, 13 years and one day after his capture, on December 30, 2001, in Pakistan. Three weeks later, he was flown to Guantánamo, less than two weeks after the prison opened.

As I explained in an article in 2012, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” al-Khalaqi was approved for release under President Bush, as well as by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009: Read the rest of this entry »

Former Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Uruguay Discuss Their Problems

Abu Wa'el Dhiab (aka Jihad Dhiab) photographed for the Washington Post by Joshua Partlow in March 2015, four months after his release from Guantanamo.

To donate to support the six men released in Uruguay, please follow this link to a Just Giving page set up by Cage for Reprieve.

A month ago, I wrote a well-received article, “Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom,” looking at the problems faced by the six former Guantánamo prisoners given new homes in Uruguay in December. The six men, long cleared for release, couldn’t be safely repatriated, as four are from war-torn Syria, one is from Tunisia, where, it appears, the US is now concerned about the security situation, and the sixth is Palestinian, and the Israeli government has always prevented Palestinians held in Guantánamo from being returned home.

As I pointed out in my article, and in a follow-up interview with a Uruguayan journalist, “Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay,” the former prisoners are struggling to adapt to a new country, in which they don’t speak the language and there is no Muslim community, and in which they are still separated from their families, over 13 years since they were first seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan by or on behalf of US forces.

Most of all, however, I believe that, while there have been murmurings in Uruguay about the men’s apparent unwillingness to work, those complaining are overlooking the fact that all six men are evidently grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their long ordeal in a experimental prison where abusive indefinite detention without charge or trial is the norm. 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 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 »

Disappointment as US Judge Upholds Force-Feeding of Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and District Judge Gladys Kessler, who, earlier this year, ordered the government to preserve all videotapes of his force-feeding and "forcible cell extractions," and who, last month, ordered those videotapes to be publicly released. On November 7, 2014, unfortunately, she refused to order the government to change the way it force-feeds him, and to make it more humane.On Friday, in the latest twist in the legal challenge mounted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker at Guantánamo, District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C., disappointed Mr. Dhiab, his lawyers and everyone who wants personnel at Guantánamo to be accountable for their actions by denying his request “to significantly change the manner in which the US military transfers, restrains and forcibly feeds detainees on hunger strike to protest their confinement,” as the Guardian described it.

Mr Dhiab, a father of four who is in a wheelchair because of the decline in his health during 12 years in US custody, was cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office, but he is still held because of Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and because he needs a third country to take him in (and although Uruguay has offered him new home, that deal has not yet materialized). Last year, he embarked on a hunger strike because of his despair that he would never be released, along with two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and he also asked a judge to order the government to feed him in a more humane manner.

That request was turned down last summer, because of legislation passed under President Bush that was cynically designed to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, but in February this year the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — overturned that ruling and an allied ruling, determining that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” and that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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