Yemeni Prisoner Zaher Hamdoun Says He Is “Buried in a Grave Called Guantánamo”
Guantanamo prisoner Zaher Hamdoun (aka Zaher bin Hamdoun) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On Friday, the Guardian published words from Guantánamo written by Zaher Hamdoun (ISN 576), also identified as Zaher bin Hamdoun (or Zahir bin Hamdoun), a Yemeni held at the prison since May 2002. Hamdoun’s words were interspersed with commentary by his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei, a Senior Staff Attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
I’m cross-posting the article below, which is worth reading not only for Hamdoun’s own words about his long ordeal, but also for Pardiss Kebriaei’s frustration with the review process — the Periodic Review Boards — established by President Obama in 2013 to examine the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office who were not subsequently approved for release in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force he appointed (44 of the 116 men still held) or who have not been put forward for trials (just ten of the men still held).
Hamdoun is one of 47 men awaiting a chance to pitch for his release through a Periodic Review Board, a process that, as Kebriaei notes, is appallingly slow. “At the rate prisoners’ reviews are going,” she writes, “the administration will not finish by the time Obama leaves office.”
Just 17 reviews have taken place since November 2013, and, as a result, ten men have been approved for release (but just two have been freed), four others have had their ongoing detention approved (but two are awaiting the results of a second review), and three others are awaiting the results of their reviews.
Kebriaei doesn’t write about how her client, seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002, came to be on the list of prisoners eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but that too is enlightening, as he is one of dozens of men who were regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this means, of course, is that the information relied upon by the government is fundamentally untrustworthy, consisting primarily of statements made by the prisoners’ fellow inmates, largely in circumstances that were not conducive to them telling the truth.
Examples in Hamdoun’s file — in which the authorities tried to claim, improbably, that, although he was just 22 or 23 years old at the time of his capture, he was an al-Qaeda member, who had been a trainer in a military camp — came, for example, from the notorious torture victim Abu Zubaydah, for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was first developed, from Yasim Basardah, a Yemeni well-known as the most prolific liar within Guantánamo, and from Adel al-Zamel, a Kuwaiti who has stated publicly that, under duress, he made false statements about people he didn’t know.
‘I have become a body without a soul': 13 years detained in Guantánamo
By Pardiss Kebriaei, the Guardian, August 28, 2015
It’s been four years since the Obama administration promised to review indefinite detentions. For my client there, it’s been one long nightmare.
I feel like there is a heavy weight on my chest – it’s as if I’m breathing through a needle hole. And then I ask myself, “If I write or say something, is anybody going to listen to me? Is it really going to make any difference?”
Zaher Hamdoun is a 36-year-old Yemeni man who has been detained in Guantánamo without charge since he was 22, one of 116 prisoners still detained there six years after Obama promised to close the facility. After I visited him earlier this summer, he followed up with a letter filled with questions.
Will there be a day when I will live like others live? Like a person who has freedom, dignity, a home, a family, a job, a wife and children?
Hamdoun is not among the 52 men approved for transfer from Guantánamo, nor is he in a dwindling group of detainees the government plans to charge. He is in a nebulous middle category of people the Obama administration has determined it is not going to charge but doesn’t know if it is ever going to release. Though the president in 2011 ordered periodic administrative reviews of men in this group to ensure that any continuing detentions were “carefully justified,” the reviews didn’t start until a mass hunger strike broke out in 2013 and forced Guantánamo back onto the administration’s agenda. Still today, the majority of men haven’t been reviewed, including Hamdoun.
Though he has been a Guantánamo prisoner for almost 14 years without charge, and doesn’t know if he will ever be released, the administration says this is not indefinite detention. When I met with him, he asked me questions I couldn’t answer.
Will Obama’s conscience weigh on him when he remembers that tens of human beings who have fathers, mothers, wives and children have been waiting here for over 13 years, and some of them died before even seeing their loved ones again? Will his conscience weigh on him and make him finally put an end to this matter? Or are we going to remain the victims of political conflicts, which we have nothing to do with?
We discussed the reasons for the fits and starts of progress on Guantánamo – the political fear-mongering, judicial abdication, administration dysfunction, the public exhaustion.
Many people have written, demonstrated, spoken out, filed lawsuits in courts, held sit-ins and repeatedly gone on hunger strikes for long periods of time. Hopelessness has, without a rival, become the master of the situation. Mystery surrounds us from every direction, and hope has become something that we only read about in novels and stories.
At the rate prisoners’ reviews are going, the administration will not finish by the time Obama leaves office. Of those reviewed, most have been approved for transfer, but they continue to languish. They’ve been added to the administration’s long list of people waiting for release, most for years.
The reviews are far from a panacea. They don’t reach the underlying harm of the administration’s sanction of perpetual detention without charge. They can only limit the incidence, and in even this they are so far failing.
I have become a body without a soul. I breathe, eat and drink, but I don’t belong to the world of living creatures. I rather belong to another world, a world that is buried in a grave called Guantánamo. I fall asleep and then wake up to realize that my soul and my thoughts belong to that world I watch on television, or read about in books. That is all I can say about the ordeal I’ve been enduring.
I’ll see Hamdoun again soon. He is still waiting to be heard.
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 debut album, ‘Love and War,’ was released in July 2015). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for 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).
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, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
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