'I Still Live in Guantanamo!' Human Rights Abuses Continue after Detainees Leave Guantanamo
30 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2015 Last revised: 12 Aug 2016
Date Written: July 7, 2015
In November 2014, the U.S. government transferred Yemeni national Hussein Al-marfadi from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center to the nation of Slovakia. He had never been charged with a crime, and had been cleared for release nearly five years before his transfer to Slovakia. Three months later, in February 2015, the Witness to Guantanamo project (W2G) interviewed Al-marfadi in Zvolen, a town in central Slovakia. Although physically and psychologically scarred from his twelve years of detention, Al-marfadi was an engaging, even-tempered and thoughtful man.
However, when W2G asked Al-marfadi about his life today, his composure and even-tempered tone transformed to one of anger. His attitude reflected that of many detainees resettled in third or host countries foreign to them. As he vividly expressed it, "I may be in Slovakia, but I am still living in Guantanamo." Al-marfadi saw his resettlement in a rural community with only a handful of Muslims and no mosque as another form of imprisonment. To him, living in central Slovakia was an alternate form of isolation.
The United States will not accept resettlement of detainees into the continental U.S. Consequently, human rights organizations are grateful when other nations reach out and agree to resettle detainees, especially the detainees who cannot return to their homelands. The hope is that, once free from Guantanamo and resettled in a new environment, the men will have the opportunity to improve their lives. However, that has not always been the result.
This essay will describe the experiences of detainees who have resettled in third or host countries, as well as detainees who have been resettled in their home countries. The essay is based on interviews W2G has filmed with the detainees, in addition to other sources. The overarching message from the interviews and research is that when the U.S. transfers detainees to third countries, the U.S. has not been mindful in finding the best fit or even a suitable environment for the men to re-enter society. In addition, in transferring detainees out of Guantanamo — whether to third countries or to the detainees' home countries — the U.S. washes its hands of the detainees, and has no interest in their welfare. The men become exiles, left to fend for themselves.
The essay closes by arguing that the U.S. has an obligation to the men after they are released. After having incarcerated the detainees — many for more than a decade, and most without charges — and by causing the men to suffer physical and psychological torture, the U.S. must assume responsibility. Some of the detainees have asked for nothing more than an apology and acknowledgement. Others would like reparations or compensation. Most, if not all, need social services and psychological counseling. The various remedies may not lead to healing of all the detainees, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the U.S. must assume responsibility and assist the detainees to find work, to start a family, to settle into a community and to rebuild their lives.
Keywords: Guantanamo, detention, detainees, transfer, resettlement, human rights, isolation, reparations, remedies, Hussein Al-marfadi, Witness to Guantanamo project, oral history
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