Guantánamo’s Difficult Diaspora: Former Prisoner Hussein Al-Merfedy, in Slovakia, Still Feels in a Cage

Hussein al-Merfedy, a Yemeni and a former Guantanamo prisoner, photographed in Zvolen, Slovakia, where he was released in November 2014 (Photo: Alex Potter for Newsweek).Please support my work! 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.





 

Over the last few months, I’ve been catching up on some stories I missed, about former Guantánamo prisoners seeking — and often struggling — to adjust to life in third countries, which took them in when the US government refused or was unable to repatriate them after they had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes.

Since 2006, dozens of countries have offered new homes to Guantánamo prisoners, and the examples I have looked at have mostly focused on men resettled in various European countries — see Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Released in Serbia Struggles to Cope with Loneliness and Harassment (about Mansoor al-Dayfi, released in July 2016), Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights (about Tariq al-Sawah, released in January 2016), and Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo” (about Ahmed Abdul Qader, released in January 2015). In The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland, I also wrote about the difficulties faced by Hammami, a Tunisian first released in Georgia, who returned to his home country after the Arab Spring, only to find that he faces “a constant regimen of police surveillance.”

One day, I hope, all the men released from Guantánamo will have lawyers successfully negotiate an acceptable basis for their existence with the US government. As it currently stands, they are regarded as “illegal enemy combatants” or “unprivileged enemy belligerents,” even though almost all were never charged with any sort of crime, and their status, compared to every other human being on earth, remains frustratingly and unacceptably unclear. This is especially true, I believe, for those settled in third countries, as no internationally accepted rulebook exists to codify their rights, and the obligations of those taking them in. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Yemeni Prisoners Released from Guantánamo to Ghana; 105 Men Remain

Guantanamo prisoner Mahmoud Bin Atef, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it had released two Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo to new homes in Ghana. These releases are the first since November, when five Yemenis were given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, releases that followed the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, at the end of October. With these releases, 105 men remain at the prison — including 46 also approved for release, ten facing (or having faced) trials, and 43 others awaiting reviews promised five years ago but not yet delivered. Three others had their ongoing imprisonment approved by the review boards, and another three are awaiting the results of theirs.

The release of these two Yemenis is progress, of course, and, as we heard last month, another 15 releases are expected in the near future. With the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo taking place on Monday, this is a good time for President Obama to be making sure that men are being freed, to maintain the focus on his intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, and to neutralize the sting of critics pointing out that, on January 22, it will be seven years since he promised to close Guantánamo within a year.

The two Yemenis released — who were both born in Saudi Arabia, but to Yemeni parents — are men I identified in June 2012 in a major article about the failures to release prisoners approved for release, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago.” The five years in the title, of course, is now eight and half years, and both of these men were first approved for release long before President Bush left office. They were then approved for release again under President Obama, following the deliberations of the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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