Gitmo child prisoner finally returns home

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Sur Gul Speen

Ramadan 11, 1430 2009-09-01

News & Analysis

by Sur Gul Speen (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 7, Ramadan, 1430)

Guantanamo Bay’s youngest inmate, Mohammed Jawad, was finally released and arrived in Kabul to be reunited with his family on August 24. When his mother saw him after absence of so many years, she cried out in anguish, “This is not my son,” and fainted. Jawad’s widowed mother had carried the picture of her 12-year-old son which had stuck in her memory; Jawad was now a grown-up man sporting a beard. When she recovered, she had to be persuaded by relatives that the man standing in front of her was indeed her son.

Jawad was on errand to fetch tea for his uncle when he was arrested by the Afghan police in Kabul on charges of throwing a hand grenade that injured two US soldiers and their interpreter in December 2002. His protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears. Held at Bagram, beaten and threatened with rape, he was later handed over to the Americans, and about a month later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Jawad’s release leaves Canadian Omar Khadr, now 22, as the youngest prisoner in Gitmo. On August 14 the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Canadian government must seek Khadr’s return to Canada. The minority Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on August 25 it would appeal the ruling. This is the second time the Canadian government has sought to circumvent a court order by launching an appeal to a higher court, this time to the Supreme Court of Canada. TheAppeals Court had ruled that the Canadian government had violated Khadr’s Charter Rights and that it was obliged to seek his return to Canada where he was born.

Jawad’s release came following a US federal judge’s ruling on July 30, after a war crimes case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence and concerns about his age. Born in a refugee camp in Pakistan, his actual date of birth is unknown but relatives say he was about 12 when arrested. In October 2008, a military judge at Guantanamo threw out Jawad’s confession, saying it was gained under coercion. He argued the teenager had initially denied throwing the grenade, but changed his story after Afghan authorities threatened to kill him and his family.

Hundreds of inmates have been processed through Gitmo, the gulag set up by the US on the illegally occupied Cuban Island of Guantanamo Bay. Abuse and torture of detainees has been widespread. Branded “worst of the worst” by the former US regime headed by George Bush, prisoners were routinely abused and tortured at Gitmo. Some of the exotic methods to which prisoners were subjected at Guan-tanamo included holding detainees in extremely stressful positions for prolonged periods, such as suspending them from the ceiling, or tying them in chains in a curled position and leaving them for several days, sleep deprivation, setting dogs upon them and verbal abuse. A number of inmates committed suicide because of torture.

At its height, Gitmo held more than 600 prisoners. This is now down to about 230 or so including Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi El-Shibh. All of them were captured in Pakistan and handed over to the Americans for a bounty. Such bounty money was collected even by General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani dictator who very proudly admitted in his book, In the Line of Fire, that he had personally collected millions of dollars in bounty from the Americans. In numerous television interviews, Mu-sharraf boasted that Pakistan had arrested more than 550 al-Qaeda operatives and handed them over to the Americans. Both Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah were subjected to waterboarding hundreds of times. Sometimes, they were waterboarded three or more times a day.

In addition to the Pakistani bounty hunters, in Afghanistan, many Afghans, especially Tajiks accused Arabs or other non-Afghans of being al-Qaeda members or supporters and handed them over to the Americans. In many instances, Afghans settled family or tribal feuds by accusing opponents of being al-Qaeda orTaliban supporters. Enraged Americans did not bother to investigate such claims, eagerly grabbed these people and transferred them to Guantanamo where they were mercilessly tortured. After years of torture and finding that such people were of little intelligence value, they were released without an apology or compensation. There was the case of a 100-year-old Afghan farmer who spent many years in Gitmo before being released. Even after his release, he was not sure why he had been arrested or taken to Guantanamo.

The cases of Jawad and Omar Khadr raise other serious questions. Both were children, one barely 12 and the other 15, when arrested or captured in Afghanistan. Their rights as children are protected under the UNConvention on the Rights of the Child in Armed Conflict. They should have been sent to their home countries and rehabilitated. Instead, paranoia and fear-mongering trumped their rights. They were turned into non-persons and projected as “dangerous” thereby neutralizing public concern for their well-being and their rights as children.

In addition to the release of Jawad, a young Chadian, Mohammed el Gharani, was also released earlier this year. He was transferred to Guantánamo at the age of 15 in late 2002. He remained in Guantánamo for several months even after a January 2009 US District Court for the District of Columbia (DC) ruling that his detention was unlawful due to weak and insufficient evidence and ordered his release.

Mohammad Khan Tumani, a Syrian, was transferred to Guantánamo at the age of 17 in 2002 along with his father (both remain in detention). He has not been charged with an offense. His American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers filed an emergency motion for medical relief in February 2009 out of concern for his deteriorating mental health. If released, neither Mohammad nor his father can return to Syria out of fears for their safety.

Fahd Abdullah Ahmed Ghazni, a Yemeni citizen, was transferred to Guantánamo at the age of 17 in the first group of detainees to arrive there in January 2002. Although he was cleared by the US government to leave Guantánamo more than a year ago, he remains in detention.

The US not only acts as an outlaw regime but despite the mounting evidence that its detention of prisoners is illegal and that it has no evidence to keep them in detention, it continues to behave in a cavalier manner. The Obama administration has adopted many of the policies instituted by the now-discredited Bush regime.

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