Two Guantánamo Bay detainees were released on Wednesday, destined for new homes in the Balkans. A third man was also slated to leave the controversial prison for suspected terrorists, operated by the United States at a naval base in Guantánamo Province, Cuba, since 2002, but he chose to remain rather than be relocated to a country where he had no friends or family.
The man who stayed behind, Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, has been in Guantánamo Bay for about 14 years, according to the Miami Herald. Bwazir would have been the final prisoner in a group of 17 who have been released or transferred since December. His decision to stay leaves the prisoner population of Guantánamo Bay at 91.
According to the New York Times, Bwazir actually staged hunger strikes to protest his indefinite detention without trial. But when it came time to leave, he apparently feared the outside world more, leading his lawyer, John Chandler, to compare him to the character Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, an old man who kills himself after being paroled.
“He’s been in Guantánamo so long that he was terrified about going to a country other than one where he had family,” Chandler said. “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?'”
Bwazir is from Yemen and has no wife or children, according to Chandler. He wanted to be released to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Indonesia. It’s not known what country agreed to take him in. He has been at Guantánamo since May 2002.
The two prisoners who did board the plane at their release, Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah and Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ali al Suadi, have also been held at Guantánamo Bay since May 2002.
A native Egyptian, Al Sawah was released to Bosnia, where he holds dual citizenship. In 2008, Al Sawah was charged with conspiracy and material support for terrorism, according to the Times. The U.S. government believed Al Sawah was operating as an explosives expert for al-Qaeda.
Charges were dropped against Al Sawah in 2012. His release was granted in February 2015, at which time a review board commended him for renouncing violence and described him as one of Guantánamo’s most compliant detainees. Al Sawah is described as morbidly obese and chronically ill; his weight and myriad related health problems also factored into his release.
Suadi, a native of Yemen who served his time at Guantánamo without ever actually being charged with a crime, was released to Montenegro. He’s been recommended for release since 2009, but security conditions in Yemen prevented release back to his home country. According to one of his lawyers, Suadi became fluent in English at Guantánamo and took correspondence courses in math and compositional English. His finals were interrupted by his release.
No new transfers or releases from Guantánamo are currently pending. However, an additional 34 detainees are recommended for transfer. Many of them are waiting on countries to agree to take them in.
Allegations of all manners of prisoner abuse and torture have made Guantánamo Bay an especially sore point of U.S. foreign policy and a frequent target of many international human rights organizations. Amnesty International issued a press release calling for Guantánamo Bay’s closing last week, around the same time of the prison’s 14th anniversary and the same week 10 more prisoners were relocated to Oman.
“Guantánamo has become an international symbol of torture, rendition and indefinite detention without charge or trial,” Naureen Shah, a director at Amnesty International, said in the release.
“Guantánamo remains open because politicians are exploiting the public’s genuine fear of terror attacks. Instead of identifying effective and legal measures to prevent attacks, members of Congress are busy playing politics with the lives of dozens of men who could die behind bars without ever facing a trial.”
President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantánamo Bay shortly after taking office in January 2009. While the prison remains open, Obama apparently hoped to bring the population down to 90 in the month of January. Bwazir’s decision to stay behind prevented that.
[Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP]