Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Resettled in Serbia, Where the Government Wants to Get Rid of Him


Former Guantanamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi in a screenshot from a video made by Canada's CBC Radio last month. 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.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have long taken an interest not just in getting the prison closed, and telling the stories of the men still held, to dispel the enduring myth that they are “the worst of the worst,”, but also in following up on prisoners after their release, and to that end we are delighted that Jessica Schulberg of the Huffington Post has recently highlighted the story of Mansoor Adayfi.

A Yemeni, Adayfi (identified in Guantánamo as Abdul Rahman Ahmed or Mansoor al-Zahari) was resettled in Serbia in July 2016, nine months after he was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process introduced by Barack Obama in his last three years in office, which led to 36 prisoners being approved for release, men who had previously been categorized — often with extraordinarily undue caution — as being too dangerous to release.

Adayfi’s story is fascinating. An insignificant prisoner on capture — with the US authorities eventually conceding that he “probably was a low-level fighter who was aligned with al-Qa’ida, although it is unclear whether he actually joined that group” — he only ended up being regarded as threat to the US because of his behavior in Guantánamo.

As one of his lawyers, Carlos Warner, a Federal Public Defender, explained at the time of his PRB, “between 2002 and 2008 Mansoor was not a model detainee.” He added, “When I met Mansoor in 2008-2009, he was a very angry man who professed his innocence and who waited six years to see a lawyer. He spoke no English and did not understand why he was detained, what legal process was ahead or what his prospects for release were.”

However, when he met Andy Hart, another Federal Defender who sadly died in 2013, his life was transformed. As Beth Jacob, another of his lawyers described it, “Andy encouraged Mansoor to take classes and learn English, and this opened up a whole new world.”

As Warner described it, Andy Hart “approached Guantánamo from a humanitarian perspective,” rather than a legal one. He taught Adayfi English — and learned Arabic in return. As a result, in Warner’s words, “Mansoor now speaks and writes perfect English. Andy encouraged Mansoor to grow while detained and not to waste his life in a cycle of anger.”

In his last years at Guantánamo, Adayfi became a huge enthusiast for US culture, and “a model detainee from the government’s perspective,” leading to his eventual release. However, because third countries had to be found that would take in Yemeni prisoners, because the entire US establishment refused to repatriate any Yemenis because of the security situation in their homeland, he ended up in Serbia, where post-Guantánamo life has not been easy.

Mansoor Adayfi’s troubles first surfaced when an NPR reporter visited him early in 2017, which I discussed here, when he was clearly having difficulties with the Serbian authorities. However, when he next appeared on the world’s radar, it was via some revelatory writing — surely a wonderful tribute to how Andy Hart had helped him to unlock his clearly considerable potential. ‘In Our Prison on the Sea’ was published in the New York Times a year ago, a beautiful account of how the sea meant so much to the prisoners, but how the US authorities generally kept it hidden from them, which I wrote about here.

The Times article was adapted from an essay Adayfi had written for “Ode to the Sea: Art From Guantánamo Bay,” a wonderful exhibition of artwork by current and former prisoners, which was shown at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York from October 2017 to January 2018, and which, in turn, attracted significant media attention after the Pentagon decided to object to it.

In April this year, the BBC decided to focus on Mansoor Adayfi’s story, via a powerful programme for Radio 4, and in July the New York Times published another article he had written, this one about love. I wrote about that here, and was also delighted to promote Mansoor Aayfi’s own newly-established website, and also a fundraiser to help him survive — and to keep writing — launched by Erin Thompson, the main curator of the New York art show.

It was at this time, however, that I first heard about how his future is now uncertain, because this month, as Thompson explained, “his support will be cut off, and his ability to work, study, or even live in Serbia or any other country is in danger.”

Jessica Schulberg’s article provides an update on the story, suggesting that he will now need to “move into a refugee camp and apply for asylum or agree to be sent to a country in the Gulf with a poor human rights record,” neither of which are acceptable. I do hope you’ll read it, and share it if you find it useful. Given the grave problems caused by Donald Trump, who shut down the office of the envoy for Guantánamo closure, which used to be empowered to deal with issues like this, there appears to be no one to approach in the US government, but perhaps we can make our voices heard by contacting the Serbian government, and letting them know that Mansoor Adayfi needs their support, and not their indifference or their hostility.

He Got Out Of Guantánamo 2 Years Ago. Now He Fears He May Be Deported And Killed.
By Jessica Schulberg, Huffington Post, September 9, 2018

Mansoor Adayfi lives under near-constant surveillance in Serbia and his legal status in the country is uncertain.

On July 11 in 2016, Mansoor Adayfi boarded a plane and left the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The United States had held the Yemeni without charge or trial for more than 14 years before deciding it was safe to release him. There was one catch: The U.S. sent him to Serbia, a country where he knew no one and didn’t speak the language. But could it be worse than spending the rest of his life in Guantánamo Bay?

Now, two years later, the answer to that question is more complicated than you’d expect. Despite being released from prison, he still doesn’t feel like a free man.

The Serbian government has kept Adayfi under intense, near-constant surveillance and blocked his efforts to complete his education or get a job. Earlier this summer, the Serbian government presented him with an ultimatum, Adayfi said. He could move into a refugee camp and apply for asylum or agree to be sent to a country in the Gulf with a poor human rights record. Neither option is a good one. He has heard through informal channels that Serbia is unlikely to grant him asylum. If his application is denied, he could be deported. If he ends up in the Gulf, Adayfi fears, he could be immediately imprisoned — or sent back to Yemen, where a civil war fueled by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has already killed members of his family.

The Serbian government did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Time is running out: Adayfi’s government-issued identification card expired at the end of August. He received a temporary extension but he was told he would lose his apartment and government stipend sometime this month.

Meanwhile, officials in Washington — who claim they are committed to keeping track of former Guantánamo detainees and ensuring they stay away from extremist groups — have turned the other way.

While Adayfi doesn’t want to go back to a life of indefinite detention, the dire options that lie ahead bring him close to despair on some days. In Gitmo, he at least had friends and the hope that his life would eventually get better. “This is worse than Guantánamo,” Adayfi told HuffPost during one conversation. “I don’t feel like I am free … I just live in fear of being snatched off the street.”

Adayfi, who grew up in a rural village in Yemen, never wanted to go to Serbia, he said. U.S. and Serbian officials assured him that he would receive financial support and the opportunity to go to college. But Serbia had never received Guantánamo detainees before and seemed uncomfortable with resettling a man who had, at one point, been accused of being a member of al Qaeda. (The U.S. later backtracked and said no al Qaeda leaders have identified him as a member of the group.)

Adayfi has found hidden cameras in his apartment and discovered spyware installed on his cellphone. He has been interrogated for speaking to journalists about his situation — and the government has harassed foreign journalists who interviewed him. During one Skype interview at a cafe, he pointed out a man seated near him and said he was a government minder tracking his movements. He has struggled to make friends or date because he worries that anyone he interacts with is likely to receive a visit from an official warning them to stay away. Fearing unwanted attention from government authorities, the local mosque asked him to visit less often, he said. When Adayfi tried to get a job driving kids to school, the government blocked him from getting a driver’s license, he claimed.

Assurances from U.S. and Serbian officials that he’d receive an education that would allow him to embark on a career also didn’t pan out. Adayfi and his lawyer spent months pressing the Serbian government to agree to pay for university tuition. He was supposed to start classes in the fall of 2016 — but after he got his student ID card and class schedule, he was told he had to take a last-minute, special admissions exam. He failed the test, which he suspected was a ploy to deny him tuition.

Disillusioned, Adayfi went on a 48-day hunger strike — a protest tactic he had used in Guantánamo. He stopped only after his lawyer and his mother begged him to eat.

Serbia eventually agreed to pay for vocational classes in cell phone and laptop repair. And in the fall of 2017, Adayfi finally started college.

Adayfi settled into a routine. He went to classes in the morning and then headed to the public library to study and write. He published short stories in the New York Times about yearning to see the sea and learning about love. He worked on editing his memoir, a collection of hundreds of short stories he had written by hand in Guantánamo about life in the prison. He wrote about the beatings, force-feeding and torture, but he also described the time he tried to convince the mailman at Guantánamo to let him climb inside a giant box and send himself to his lawyer as “legal mail.” He wrote about the detainee who fell in love with a guard, and another who caused a scene after using toilet paper a guard had doused with pepper spray.

But in June, shortly after finishing his first year of classes, he was summoned to a Serbian government office. That’s when he learned he would be cut off in September.

Adayfi believes the Serbian government is trying to get rid of him, in part, because he has publicly complained about his living conditions. Muhammadi Davlatov, another former Guantánamo detainee living in Serbia, has had an easier time adjusting and has kept a lower profile. Davlatov’s lawyer did not respond to request for comment about his client’s legal status.

Since the June meeting, all Adayfi can think about is what to do next — and all of the available options make him fear for his life.

“I have no rights, I have no status. They can arrest me at any time. They can ship me off anywhere,” Adayfi said. “They can do whatever they want.”

Adayfi and his lawyers have asked several countries if they’d consider taking him in. Most places either haven’t answered or have told him he needs to be physically present in the country to apply for asylum. Adayfi doesn’t have a passport and has been unable to obtain travel documents from the Serbian government.

Before President Donald Trump was elected, the U.S. State Department tried to ensure that the countries that agreed to resettle former Guantánamo detainees provided former detainees with long-term support.

“We didn’t feel we had to take responsibility for former detainees’ well-being on an indefinite basis, but we did feel that we had a security imperative to make sure individuals who had been in Guantánamo were in an environment where they could move on with their lives productively and not pursue alternative, and potentially problematic, life paths,” Lee Wolosky, the former State Department special envoy for Guantánamo closure, said in an interview.

Under the Obama administration, Wolosky’s office entered detailed understandings with countries that took in Guantánamo detainees and carefully tracked the former prisoners. The concern wasn’t just humanitarian. State Department officials wanted to make sure former prisoners didn’t go off the grid and join a terrorist organization.

The goal of the agreements with third countries was permanent resettlement. “We never would have entered into an agreement with the expectation that the person would only be there for two years,” Wolosky said. When problems arose between former detainees and the host countries, the State Department office for Guantánamo closure worked to smooth things over.

But that office was disbanded after Trump entered office and State Department officials who were tasked with keeping track of the hundreds of people who have been released from the military prison — people Trump and his allies have long claimed are dangerous militants — were moved into other roles.

A State Department spokesperson said the agency still closely monitors former Guantánamo detainees who were transferred to other countries. “Our top priority is making sure that former GTMO detainees do not pose a threat to the United States and the international community,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

The spokesperson claimed the State Department continues to engage with countries that resettle former Guantánamo detainees but declined comment on Adayfi’s case.

At least two former Guantánamo detainees have disappeared since the office was disbanded. The two Libyans were sent to Senegal in 2016. At the time, Wolosky said, Senegalese officials “were very engaged in the resettlement at the highest levels.” But Senegal deported the men to their home country in April of this year. They disappeared. Adayfi was friends with the men and fears they may have been imprisoned or killed by a militia group.

“Something clearly went very wrong,” Wolosky said. “Suddenly they had no one to talk to in Washington.”

Meanwhile, Adayfi, who has spent the past two years trying to rebuild his life, feels he has been abandoned by both the Serbian and U.S. governments.

“I try to stay positive, I try to do something good, I try to read, I try to learn — but you need some goal in your life, you need some stability in your life,” Adayfi said.

“Imagine, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow to you. If you are going to live or not. If you are going to be in jail. If you are going to be deported. If you’re going to a refugee camp. If you’re going to end up homeless. How are you going to feed yourself? How are you going to eat? What’s going to happen?”

“I can’t stay here,” he said. “I can’t live like this.”

Note: See here for the video from which the screenshot at the top of this article was taken.

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 2017 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.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a cross-post, with my own commentary, of an article by Jessica Schulberg of the Huffington Post about Mansoor Adayfi, a talented writer resettled in Serbia on his release from Guantanamo in July 2016, who has been told that the Serbian government no longer wants to support him, and is trying to send him to a Middle Eastern country with a poor human rights record. This would be a disaster, and is only possible because Donald Trump scrapped the State Department office that dealt with prisoner re-settlements.
    If you can, please write to the Serbian government to demand that they continue supporting Mansoor in his new home, and, if you can, donate to a fundraiser set up by Erin Thompson, a New York academic who worked with him on an exhibition of Guantanamo prisoners’ artwork in New York last year: https://www.gofundme.com/support-mansoor039s-guantanamo-memoir

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Thank you Andy, I really appreciate your work. You are always there for the detainees.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Wonderful to hear from you, Mansoor. Please feel free to keep me updated about what’s happening with you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Andy, Ok. I will.

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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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