WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Salem Gherebi’s Letter Explaining Why He Voluntarily Returned to Libya from Senegal Despite the Danger in Doing So


Former Guantanamo prisoner Salem Gherebi, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.


Two weeks ago, I published an article about the Senegalese government’s disgraceful intention to repatriate two Libyans released from Guantánamo and given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, and expressed my alarm that doing so was a fundamental betrayal of the terms of the agreement made by the US when the men’s resettlement took place, which was supposed to guarantee that they wouldn’t be sent back to Libya, because of the dangerous instability in their home country.

That initial article drew on reporting by the Intercept, and also on correspondence with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, a British resident and Libyan national who knows both men, and who I got to know during the filming, and subsequent touring of the documentary film I co-directed, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ which was released in 2009. A week later the New York Times — and Omar Deghayes, again — confirmed that one of the two men, Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had returned to Libya voluntarily, because he wanted to be reunited with his family, and because he hoped that his connections in the country would prevent him from coming to any harm. My update on the story is here.

Unfortunately, on his return, Salem Gherebi was imprisoned by a militia, Rada, that has a prison at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, where human rights abuses have been widely reported. The British NGO CAGE subsequently reported that the other Libyan, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), who didn’t want to be repatriated, had also been sent back to Libya, where he too was imprisoned at the airport. I provided an update about this yesterday.

As CAGE noted, in light of this news, the very minimum that is required is for the US government “to fulfil its obligation towards these men who it imprisoned and abused without charge, trial or redress for 14 years,” and to “ensure beyond all reasonable doubt that they are safe from further arbitrary imprisonment and torture.”

Below I’m posting the translation of a letter, originally written in Arabic, that Salem Gherebi (described as Salem Ghariba) wrote, explaining why he voluntarily decided to leave Senegal and return to Libya. Omar Deghayes told me that he “gave a copy to the Senegalese government and the Libyan Embassy” and also told me that he “asked me to publish it if he was locked up in Libya.” He has made the translation of the letter available to me, which is posted below.

The letter reveals a catalog of complains about the treatment he received from the Senegalese government, which, he says, severely restricted his movement (and that of Omar Khalifa), and claims that they did not even feed them properly. He also says that they failed to cater to his medical needs, and refused to provide them with any kind of ID. On his core complaint as reported previously — the refusal of the Senegalese government to allow his family to visit — it turns out that his wife and children were allowed to visit him, but it took a year to arrange, and, on their arrival, the length of their stay was restricted, and Gherebi was not provide with any kind of financial assistance to support them, even though he evidently had no sort of independent income.

It is, of course, not possible to independently verify Salem Gherebi’s assessment of his treatment, but it is not unusual for men resettled from Guantánamo in third countries to receive less than adequate treatment, and what it highlights above all is the need for responsible monitoring by the US — something that, sadly, has conspicuously failed to happen under Donald Trump, who has abolished the role of special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, which was established under President Obama, and which involved liaising with other countries regarding the transfer of prisoners, as well as monitoring those transferred. This was obviously useful for America’s national security, but it also helped to ensure that those resettled in third countries after being approved for release by high-level US government review processes (like Gherebi and Omar Khalifa) don’t get mistreated because of their fundamental status as stateless people with no essential rights and no body of law to draw on to ensure their protection. 

This fundamental problem for former prisoners — their fundamental lack of any rights whatsoever — is clearly something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, especially as former prisoner Moazzam Begg, CAGE’s Outreach director, stated last week, “Our fear now is that handing ex-Gitmo prisoners over to abusers may be a new phase in the US ‘resettlement policy’, and that other countries may follow suit. I have been told by another ex-Gitmo prisoner that he has now been threatened with the same treatment by the country in which he has been resettled.”

Salem Gherebi’s Letter Explaining Why He Voluntarily Returned to Libya

In the name of God the Merciful the Beneficent,

My name is Salem Abdus Salam Imran Ghariba, a Libyan national. For the following reasons I made the difficult decision to return to Libya even though I know that the situation there is very bad and dangerous and there is no central government:

1) The Senegalese authorities have refused to allow my wife and children to reside in Senegal with me and even after they came to visit me after a request that took one whole year, they were not allowed to stay with me for longer than the time granted to them and they did not assist me with any expenses during their stay.

2) I have not received any of the medical care I require.

3) I have not received any identity documents. Instead they have placed us under continual 24 hour guarded surveillance and we did not get any ID documents. 

4) When we arrived, they treated us extremely badly and did not allow us to leave the flat for two months and did not even provide us with personal hygiene items. They continued to control what we eat and only gave us a small amount which was not even enough for one person. As a result we lost weight. This continued for ten months.

5) There has been no initiative by the Senegalese government to improve our situation or to grant us residency. They surprised us with the decision to deport us to Libya.

6) I also hold them responsible for the theft of our flats.

For all of these reasons I made the decision to return to Libya.

Date: 3 April 2018
Salem Abdus Salam Imran Ghariba

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s a world exclusive – the letter that former Guantanamo prisoner Salem Gherebi wrote to explain why he voluntarily chose to return to Libya from Senegal, where he was given humanitarian asylum two years ago. Unfortunately, Gherebi and the other Libyan resettled in Senegal, who didn’t want to be repatriated, have been sent back and are now imprisoned by a militia at Mitiga Airport. The letter was made available to me by former prisoner Omar Deghayes who said that Gherebi “asked me to publish it if he was locked up in Libya.”
    There are currently grave fears for the men’s safety, and it is clear that Donald Trump’s administration has shamefully abandoned its obligations, but Gherebi’s letter also spells out in detail how the Senegalese government failed him, severely restricting his movement, and not even feeding them properly, failing to cater to his medical needs, and refusing to provide him with any kind of ID. He also complained about how it took a year for his wife and children to be allowed to visit him, and how the length of their stay was restricted.

  2. june cutright says...

    good god. i don’t know how these men – at best – re-integrate with their families. i’m sure you’ve heard & said it all before but the $$ that could be spent on family, social, rehabilitation, health, education services all caught up in housing a bureaucracy to hold whats now 41 captives. guns over butter as one of my economics profs called it. thnx for updating

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalya Wolf wrote:


  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Natalya. I was honored that Omar asked me to publish this, but the circumstances of its publication are profoundly depressing, with Salem only wanting it published if he was imprisoned, something that he hoped wouldn’t happen.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, June. Thanks for your interest and support!
    Yes, we have unfortunately gone backwards with Trump in the White House, as the organs of government are allowed to wither, because of Trump’s contempt for functioning bureaucracies, and the insane cost of Guantanamo is brushed aside as Trump also insists on seeking to revive the unsalvageable initial enthusiasm of Bush’s “war on terror” for holding people – Muslims – indefinitely and without due process.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    After all they’ve been through, how awful to have to continue the suffering

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s so disgraceful, Tashi. And behind it all is the lack of a US presence. I can’t imagine the State Department under anyone other than Trump being so absent.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    It’s terrible, he needs the help of a lawyer.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    He does, but unfortunately he’s entered a largely lawless zone, Aleksey. There are people behind the scenes working on contacts within the Libyan government, which we must hope are successful. It makes me feel so powerless. The State Department ought to be playing a robust role as the representative of the US, but under Trump it’s as though it’s disappeared. What an ignorant brute Trump is, damaging the US in countless ways.

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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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