Guantanamo inmate cleared for release but has nowhere to go

Published on 14 January 2014 in News
Nasser Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nasser Al-Sakkaf

The U.S. government recently cleared Mahmoud Abdulaziz Al-Mujahid for release. (U.S. Department of Defense)

The U.S. government recently cleared Mahmoud Abdulaziz Al-Mujahid for release. (U.S. Department of Defense)

SANA’A, Jan. 13—When they heard their relative was approved for release from the U.S.’s detention center in Guantanamo, 34-year-old Mahmoud Abdulaziz Al-Mujahid’s family was ecstatic.

However, the family’s joy was cut short once they learned about the conditions laid down by the U.S. government, effectively prohibiting Al-Mujahid’s return to his native country of Yemen.  In order for Yemeni detainees cleared for release to repatriated, the U.S. government has stipulated Yemen house its returnees in a secure rehabilitation center, an endeavor that even optimists predict will not be taking place any time soon.

The American Pentagon on Thursday announced Al-Mujahid’s clearance from the detention facility in Cuba, where he has been detained by the U.S. since 2002.  

According to Al-Mujahid’s brother, as well as Ahmed Arman, the executive manager of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms—known as HOOD—Mujahid was arrested in January of 2002, alleged to have been Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued last week, the Pentagon said, “Continued law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the United States, and Al-Mujahid is therefore eligible for transfer subject to appropriate security and humane treatment conditions.”

According to the Pentagon, Al-Mujahid is eligible for transfer to any country that will accept him.

The statement did not specify a time frame for Al-Mujahid’s physical release.   

Dozens of Yemenis remain behind bars at Guantanamo, despite having been cleared for release. U.S.-imposed restrictions placed on countries that could potentially receive them has prevented their physical release from the detention center. These conditions include specific security procedures and rehabilitation programs in receiving countries.

Eighty-eight of the 155 remaining detainees at Guantanamo are Yemeni.

In August 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama and Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced plans to “establish an extremist rehabilitation program to address the problem of violent extremism within Yemen, which could also facilitate the transfer of Yemeni detainees held at Guantanamo.”

But not everyone is convinced. Al-Mujahid’s brother, Ma’an, said, “This ‘release’ simply moves a prisoner from one jail to another.”

He says Yemen will not be able to meet all the conditions the U.S. has put forward.  

“It is better to send [Mahmoud] to any other country, rather than waiting for Yemen to build a rehabilitation center,” he said.  

Arman believes the U.S. is stalling.

“Prisoners from Afghanistan were returned to their homes even though the situation there is no better than that in Yemen. So the rationale that Yemen lacks adequate security measures and rehabilitation centers is unconvincing,” he said.  

Of the 88 Yemenis still held at Guantanamo, 56 have been cleared for release. According to HOOD, 24 of the 56 are in a group slated for release to any country that will accept them, which also has a secure and appropriate rehabilitation facility approved by the U.S.

“We prefer for detainees to return to their home countries,” said Abdulrahman Barman, a lawyer for HOOD. “However, if we insist on their return to Yemen, they may continue to languish in Guantanamo Bay.”

Barman said Yemen may have to begin calling on its neighbors to receive its citizens. In the past, Yemenis have been resettled in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s foreign affairs minister, Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, said in November the government had plans to build a rehabilitation center for former Guantanamo Bay detainees, but many have doubted both the government’s will and capacity to do so.   

The Yemen Times attempted to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but they declined comment on the story.