Good News! Former Guantánamo Prisoners Released from UAE to Afghanistan

Two of the three Afghan nationals and former Guantánamo prisoners who were recently repatriated to Afghanistan, having initially been released from Guantánamo to the UAE in 2016-17. On the top row: Hamidullah (aka Mawlawi Hamdullah Tarakhail) photographed at Guantánamo over a decade ago, and subsequently photographed after his return to Afghanistan. On the bottom row: Obaidullah, photographed before his capture at the age of 18, and subsequently photographed after his return to Afghanistan.

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At the start of the year, I stumbled across a couple of news sources reporting that three former Guantánamo prisoners — all Afghan nationals — had been repatriated to Afghanistan from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they had been sent by Barack Obama between November 2015 and January 2017, just before Donald Trump took office.

The reason for the men’s release wasn’t given in these reports, and while I picked up a few hints about what had happened on my US trip to call for the closure of Guantánamo (from January 10-20), it wasn’t until last week that I was alerted to a more thorough explanation of their repatriation, via the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), “an independent non-profit policy research organisation,” established n 2009, and, specifically, via ‘Freed at Last: Three Afghans sent to Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003 are finally home,’ an article by Kate Clark, who has been involved wth Afghanistan since 1999 when she was the BBC’s Kabul correspondent, and who, in 2016, authored a detailed report, “Kafka in Cuba: The Afghan Experience in Guantánamo.”

In total, 23 men were sent from Guantánamo to the UAE — five Yemenis in November 2015, 12 Yemenis and three Afghans in August 2016 (see here and here), and one Russian, one Afghan and one Yemeni in January 2017 — but as Kate Clark explains, although the men “sent to the UAE believed — as did their families and lawyers — that they were also heading for temporary detention and then resettlement and family reunion,” what transpired instead was that, “for almost all of the last three years, the UAE authorities … held them in al-Rizan maximum security prison”, where they “were allowed family visits, but were not permitted to see their lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”

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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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