Published on Thursday, February 25, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Four Prisoners Freed From Guantánamo: Three in
On Wednesday, four prisoners were released from Guantánamo: an Egyptian, a Libyan and a Tunisian arrived in
The Spanish government, which declared last week  that it would take up to five cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, announced that the first of these men arrived in
As well as accepting the Palestinian, the newspaper Periódico reported that other prisoners, "believed to include a Syrian and a Yemeni citizen," were "expected to arrive in Spain shortly," adding that they will be "placed in different locations under the care of NGOs," and will also be "placed under surveillance not only to protect the Spanish public, but also to protect the individuals from al-Qaeda reprisals over their possible revelations to US intelligence services."
Cementing its role as America's closest ally when it comes to clearing up "the mess" that is Guantánamo (to quote President Obama's words  from last May), the Albanian Ministry of Interior announced on Wednesday  that it had accepted three cleared prisoners, who could not be repatriated because of the fears outlined above. Albania has now taken eleven cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, having accepted eight in 2006, when no other country in the world was prepared to do so (five Uighurs , an Algerian , an Egyptian  and an ethnic Uzbek from the former Soviet Union ).
Announcing the arrival of three prisoners in
Their stories, like those of the majority of the 584 prisoners released from Guantánamo, demonstrate, yet again, that, behind the blustering rhetoric of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his swarming acolytes, the majority of the men held at Guantánamo had no involvement with terrorism, and that a disturbingly large number of them were innocent men seized by mistake.
Of the three men rehoused in Albania, for example, one was a businessman, living in Europe, who had traveled to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid, one was a veteran of Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union, who had married an Afghan woman, and was seized in a house in Lahore, Pakistan, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, and the other man, as was common in 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, had been persuaded to travel to Afghanistan to help the Taliban defeat their enemies, the Northern Alliance, in a long-running civil war that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism, and had not raised a finger against US forces.
Sherif El-Mashad: An Egyptian businessman and humanitarian aid worker
Sharif al-Mishad (also identified as Sherif El-Mashad) is an Egyptian, born in 1976. A talented athlete and carpenter in his youth, he enrolled in a technical school to learn woodworking, cabinetmaking, painting, tiling, plumbing and roofing, and, after graduating, spent three years working in Sinai at some of
Once he had secured a work permit, he worked in a restaurant and a bar, but soon found that his skills as a craftsman would pay better. After working as an apprentice with two painting companies, he obtained a license from the Chamber of Commerce in
In the spring of 2001, he met a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman, who encouraged him to travel to
As a result of this meeting, El-Mashad booked a round-trip ticket, intending to stay in
His mother, who is the deputy principal of a school in
After that, he effectively disappeared off the face of the earth, until his uncle called to say that he had received a postcard from Guantánamo (via the International Committee of the Red Cross), in which he wrote that "he had been visiting a friend in Afghanistan and subsequently enlisted in a 'rescue organization' that offered 'humanitarian aid to the Afghani people.'" Although he ended up staying in Afghanistan for longer than he intended, helping his friend, who, as he explained in Guantánamo, "passed out donations to help the Afghani people," they remained safe in Kabul until November 2001, when, with the Northern Alliance approaching, and rumors spreading that Arabs were no longer safe, they set off for the Iranian border, intending to return home. As he also explained, "I had a valid visa to
There seems to be no reason to dispute this story, and El-Mashad clearly explained it at length to his interrogators in Guantánamo, telling them how he traveled to Kabul, how he met up with the Kuwaiti businessman, how he "heard of the attacks in America while listening to the radio," how he and "all who were present with him were sorrowful and none of them were happy," and how he fled from Afghanistan and was seized.
However, once he was in US custody, he became the victim of patently false allegations made by other prisoners, either through coercion or torture, or through the promise of preferential treatment, of the kind that are disturbingly familiar  to those who have studied closely  the rulings in the prisoners' habeas corpus petitions  over the last year and a half.
One of these allegations was made by a prisoner who was rescued by US forces from a prison in
He also told his lawyers that, in the early days of his imprisonment, "I was first accused of aiding the Arabs in
"Throughout my life, I was never involved in any banned or illegal activities by any means," he told Cori Crider of Reprieve in August 2008, during his first visit with a lawyer from the legal action charity, adding, "I don't have any file with any police office or any bad record with any authority." He also explained that Italian agents had visited him in Guantánamo and had confirmed that there was no case against him. "They told me they knew I was innocent and they would ask the
Abdul Ra'ouf al-Qassim: A Libyan seized in
Abdul Rauf al-Qusin (also identified as Abdul Ra'ouf al-Qassim, and named in court documents as Abu Abdul Raouf Zalita) is a Libyan, born in 1965, who was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2006. A soldier in the Libyan army from 1983 to 1989, he had then deserted, traveling to
Al-Qassim was captured in
Although al-Qassim stated that a Libyan delegation, who visited Guantánamo in 2004 (and were actually flown there by the CIA), told him that they "knew he was with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group only by name," that he was "obligated to be with them," and that they would "take care of him," he repeatedly told his Assisting Military Officer that he was "afraid of returning to Libya." His AMO reported, "He said he does not want to go to
In spite of this, the
The Government has cleared him for transfer from Guantánamo, and has twice attempted to repatriate him to
Saleh Sassi: An insignificant adventurer
The third man released in
A welder and a skilled laborer, he moved to
In Guantánamo, as his lawyers at Reprieve noted , he was often held "in brutal conditions." The vast majority of his imprisonment was spent in isolation, which caused him to suffer clinical depression. In discussions with his lawyers, he explained that his imprisonment was "a long and unending nightmare." He was also visited by teams of foreign interrogators — both Italian and Tunisian. In late 2002, Tunisian agents came to Guantánamo and left no doubt about what awaited him if he were to be returned to
What now, and what next?
With the release of these four men, 188 prisoners remain in Guantánamo, but while the Albanian and Spanish governments are to be congratulated for offering homes for men who would otherwise rot in Guantánamo for the rest of their lives, the Italian government, which is only interested in taking prisoners who can be put on trial in Italy (as demonstrated with the transfer of two Tunisians  in December) ought to be ashamed that it did not accept Sherif El-Mashad, who was so clearly seized by mistake, and who, with family in Italy and viable skills that he could use once more, has, essentially, been betrayed by the country which he once called home.
Above all, though, the greatest shame must settle on the
Two of these, who have been offered a new home in Switzerland , are amongst the remaining seven Uighurs, another is an Uzbek who has been offered a new home in Latvia , and three others (plus one of the Yemenis) are, as mentioned above, expected to arrive in Spain shortly. However, that still leaves 36 men waiting for new homes, and it seems probable that the countries of Europe, which, before Wednesday, had taken 12 cleared prisoners (with Bermuda  and Palau  also taking another ten of the Uighurs), will run out of largesse before all 36 are rehoused, leaving the US government — and its people — with a stark choice: hold them forever, or, as was planned last April  (before Obama scuppered the proposal), bring some of them to live in the United States.
This is not only the right thing to do; it will also demonstrate to the American people — and to its surplus of hysterical pundits and politicians — that not everyone who was held at Guantánamo was a terrorist, bent on the destruction of the United States. Why is it, I wonder, that Europeans — in Albania, Belgium , France, Hungary , Ireland , Portugal , Slovakia , Spain and Switzerland — can understand that between 90 and 95 percent of the men held at Guantánamo had no connection to terrorism, and that many of these men are still imprisoned, awaiting an end to their long and lawless ordeal, but Americans cannot?
Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/02/25-7
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