Guantánamo Detainee Refuses Offer of Release After 14 Years in Prison
Three Guantánamo detainees were slated to leave the American prison in Cuba this week after about 14 years in captivity. But early Wednesday morning, only two were willing to board the plane.
The third — Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir of Yemen — balked at the last minute, even though he has a history of hunger striking to protest his indefinite detention without trial. In recent days, Mr. Bwazir was “frightened” to leave the prison and go to a country where he has no family, his lawyer, John Chandler, said. The country has not been identified.
Mr. Chandler also said his client — who was born around 1980 and brought toGuantánamo in 2002 — was depressed. He compared his client to a character in the prison movie “The Shawshank Redemption” who has spent so much of his life behind bars that he cannot handle life on the outside after finally being paroled.
“Can you imagine being there for 14 years and going to a plane where you could finally leave, and saying ‘No, take me back to my cell?’ ” Mr. Chandler said. “This is one of the saddest days of my life.”
Mr. Chandler said that he had spoken to Mr. Bwazir by phone repeatedly in recent weeks, and that his client had said that he wanted to go to a country where he had relatives like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia. Mr. Bwazir had reluctantly said he would go when they last spoke on Tuesday night, his lawyer said, but apparently changed his mind. Mr. Chandler said he understood that the door was now closed on the opportunity.
Ian Moss, the chief of staff for the State Department’s office of Guantánamo Bay closure, confirmed the episode but would not say which country had agreed to take in Mr. Bwazir or whether the department was negotiating with it to take someone else instead. “I cannot discuss the details of Mr. Bwazir’s decision other than to say that, yes, he declined to accept an offer for resettlement in a third country,” he said.
Earlier in the Obama administration, five Uighur detainees — Muslims from China — rejected offers to be resettled in Palau or the Maldives, spending several more years at Guantánamo before they were finally transferred to El Salvador and Slovakia.
On Wednesday, one of the two detainees who did board the plane was Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah, who was born in Egypt and sent to Bosnia, where he is a dual citizen, according to a leaked dossier.
He was accused of being an explosives specialist for Al Qaeda and was charged in 2008 with conspiracy and material support for terrorism before a military commission. But the case never moved forward, and the charges were withdrawnin 2012. A parole-like review board recommended his release in February.
“In making this determination, the board considered the detainee’s change of ideology and renunciation of violence and his status as one of the most compliant detainees at Guantánamo, as well as his recognition of his health status and his efforts to improve it,” the board said at the time. “The detainee is not in communication with extremists outside of Guantánamo and his family has committed to assist in his reintegration upon transfer.”
The other detainee who boarded the plane was Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ali al Suadi, a Yemeni who was resettled in Montenegro. David Remes, a lawyer for Mr. Suadi, said that it was an ideal place for him and that he would probably fit in well.
“He has a Western sensibility,” Mr. Remes said. “He looks European. When people pass him in the street, they will not even notice him.”
A task force recommended transferring Mr. Suadi in 2009, but poor security conditions in Yemen prevented that. Another lawyer representing him, Erin Thomas, said Mr. Suadi had become fluent in English at Guantánamo and in 2014 enrolled in two correspondence college courses — in math and compositional English — through a program for inmates run by Adams State University in Colorado. He had nearly completed both and was trying to figure out how to take final exams when Montenegro offered to resettle him, she said.
The two departures reduced the prison population to 91, of whom 34 are recommended for transfer. This week, the military disclosed that the review board had decided that two other Yemeni detainees who had previously been deemed too dangerous to release should now be transferred.
The two transfers on Wednesday were the last of an expected flurry of 17 that had been approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter in December. No more transfers are currently approved and pending, officials said.
Source: New York Times