Two Tunisians and four Yemenis leave Guantánamo: at least one – Abdullah bin Omar – faces torture in his homeland


On Tuesday afternoon (US time), the Pentagon announced that it had released six more prisoners from Guantánamo. The first I heard of this was at 11 pm (UK time) when I received a press release from the British charity Reprieve, notifying me that one of the released Tunisians was their client Abdullah bin Omar.

Born in north east Tunisia (in 1956, according to the Pentagon’s records), bin Omar had worked as a mechanic for the Tunisian railways, but left the country for Saudi Arabia in 1989, because of religious persecution. Soon after, he moved to Pakistan, where he was living when he was convicted, in absentia, by a Tunisian court for belonging to a moderate, non-violent Islamist political party called Ennahda, and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Ennahda is just one of many valid organizations and worthy individuals persecuted over the years by the Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power since 1987.

Captured in Pakistan in April 2002, during a frenzied few months when all manner of innocent Arabs were rounded up in Pakistan, Abdullah bin Omar said that he was sold to the Americans by the Pakistanis for $5,000. Much of his subsequent story is unknown. He never took part in any tribunals at Guantanamo, and the US authorities only allowed a representative from Reprieve –- senior counsel Zachary Katznelson –- to meet him once, on 1 May 2007. On that occasion, Katznelson recalled, bin Omar ‘expressed severe concerns that were he to be returned to Tunisia, the authorities there would torture him to force him to confess or to become an informant’. Katznelson added, ‘When Reprieve later learned of Mr. Bin Omar’s Tunisian conviction in absentia –- a conviction Mr. Bin Omar likely does not know about –- Reprieve repeatedly requested additional visits with our client. The United States government failed to respond to any of those requests’.

Summing up bin Omar’s predicament, Katznelson also declared, ‘Abdullah Bin Omar was cleared by the United States –- found not to be a threat and not to have information about terrorism. But the US has not apologized and set him free after five years in Guantánamo. Instead, he has been shipped to Tunisia, where abuse and possibly torture await. What has happened to American justice? How are we any safer by sending cleared men back to notorious regimes in the dead of night?’ He added, ‘Today, Abdullah Bin Omar finds himself a guinea pig in a potentially deadly diplomatic experiment. The United States is so desperate to send people out of Guantánamo Bay, they are willing to ignore Tunisia’s horrific human rights record. Now the world’s focus must shift to Tunisia. Tunisia is faced with a simple choice: will they do the right thing and show the world that they support human rights, or will they revert to their dark past? We are all watching’.

Details of the other Tunisian have not yet been revealed, but the only other Tunisian scheduled to be released from Guantánamo was Mohammed Abdul Rahman (born in 1965, according to the Pentagon), who told his Administrative Review Board in 2005 –- set up to assess whether or not he should still be regarded as an ‘enemy combatant’ –- that his real name was actually Lufti bin Ali. An economic migrant, who traveled to Pakistan from Italy, where he had been living, he said that he went to Pakistan for medical treatment and to find a wife, and denied a barrage of allegations about his purported involvement with terrorists and training camps. Noticeably, when he asked the Board, ‘These accusations, all of them, where did you get them from?’ a Board Member replied, ‘From a compilation of interviews and interrogations and outside sources’ –- in other words, from other prisoners both inside and outside Guantánamo, who were either bribed or coerced. More details on his case will follow if it becomes clear that he has actually been released, although it should already be apparent that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is unlikely to welcome him with open arms. [Note: Abdul Rahman was not released in the end. See here for the story of the prisoner who was released instead].

Of the four Yemenis released, Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald has named two, based on lawyers’ comments: 25-year old Sadeq Mohammed Said (aka Sadiq Ismail), and 26-year old Fawaz Naman Hamoud. Said, who was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in May 2001 and serving as a courier for the Taliban, was captured in Pakistan, having crossed the border after being injured in an aerial bombing attack near Khost, although the US authorities also managed to claim, as they did in the cases of many other prisoners seized elsewhere, that he was captured in Tora Bora, during the ‘final showdown’ with al-Qaeda that never was, as Osama bin Laden and the senior leadership of al-Qaeda slipped away across the unguarded border to Pakistan.

In the case of Hamoud (also known as Fawaz Mahdi), the US authorities should be thoroughly ashamed that he has spent so long in Guantánamo. Under the factors favoring release or transfer, in the Unclassified Summary of Evidence for his ARB (which he did not attend), it was clearly stated, ‘Mahdi is severely, psychiatrically ill. Since his arrival in June 2002, he has been seen over 70 times by psychiatric professionals. As a part of his psychiatric care, he has been treated and evaluated by three different psychiatrists. Each doctor concluded that Mahdi is seriously mentally ill. Each doctor concluded Mahdi has a psychiatric disorder’.

Despite this, he was earlier found to be an ‘enemy combatant’, even though, in the tribunal responsible for confirming that he had been correctly assessed as an ‘enemy combatant’, he explicitly confirmed his precarious mental state, telling the tribunal that he went to Afghanistan ‘because I was told only the jihad places had magic things inside’, and adding, ‘I have witnesses in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. I was told I have magic disease’. Although he admitted training and fighting in Afghanistan, he explained, ‘I was a fighter against Ahmed [Shah] Massoud [the leader of the Northern Alliance, assassinated two days before 9/11]. I did not know they were US allies. I did not want to fight at all. But my friends and the Mullah told me to fight. I tried to pray to the Koran, to cleanse my soul. I had to fight jihad as a last resort to cleanse my soul’. He also denied the most serious allegation him, that he ‘signed an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden’, saying, ‘I accused myself in front of the interrogators of many things to hasten my assumed execution rather than going to prison’.

While the full details of these latest releases from Guantánamo have yet to be confirmed, there is little reason to suppose that they will reveal the US administration in a more flattering light. Two innocent men are returned to the whims of a dictator, and a young man with severe mental illness is finally returned home. All were held for over five years, without charge or trial. These are examples of 21st century American justice, and an insult to the values that decent American people hold dear.

For more on Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.


The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:

ISN 721: Abdullah bin Omar (bin Amor, ben Amor) (Tunisia)
ISN 69: Sadeq Mohammed Said (Yemen)
ISN 678: Fawaz Naman Hamoud (Fawaz Mahdi) (Yemen)

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

4 Responses

  1. Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] release from Guantánamo could be repatriated, two prisoners who were returned — Lotfi Lagha and Abdullah bin Omar — reported that they were threatened and mistreated in Tunisian custody. They were then subjected […]

  2. amal says...

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  3. Four Men Leave Guantánamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials In Italy « says...

    […] them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 […]

  4. Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait « says...

    […] them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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