Attorneys: Release must mean restoration of basic freedoms
August 15, 2016, New York – Today, the Department of Defense announced the transfer from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates of Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) client Zahir Hamdoun and 14 other men. Mr. Hamdoun had been held at Guantánamo without charge since 2002, when he was 22 years old. Until he was cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board (PRB) in January, Mr. Hamdoun had been included among the so-called “forever prisoners” slated for indefinite detention, most of whom the government has no intention of charging but who are also not yet approved for transfer.
“During a phone call before his release, Mr. Hamdoun said he felt happy and hopeful – a remarkable sentiment from a man who has lived through hell in Guantanamo and lost over 14 years of his life,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. “Despite the tiresome political fear-mongering around every detainee transfer, the reality is that men like Mr. Hamdoun want nothing more than to put this wretched chapter behind them and try to move on.”
Mr. Hamdoun, a citizen of Yemen, was resettled in a third country because of de facto U.S. policy banning the repatriation of Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo.
“The United States has made Mr. Hamdoun a refugee, citing unstable conditions in Yemen on the one hand while fueling that very instability with the other. It must at least help ensure that Mr. Hamdoun can see his family – in particular his mother – without delay after his transfer, after depriving him of his loved ones for all these years. Even that much is not clear for the men just transferred,” Kebriaei said. “Release must mean not only physical transfer from Guantanamo, but the restoration of these men’s basic freedoms.”
Mr. Hamdoun grew up in a tight-knit, loving family, the fifth of eight children. He graduated at the top of his high school class in Yemen, then traveled to Afghanistan to teach Islam in 1999 while awaiting a college scholarship. During interrogations in Pakistan, where he was ultimately seized after 9/11, he made statements under duress that he later recanted, but which the U.S. government relied upon to justify his detention.
In a letter sent to Ms. Kebriaei last year that was published in The Guardian, Mr. Hamdoun wrote of the experience of his indefinite detention:
I have become a body without a soul. I breathe, eat and drink, but I don’t belong to the world of living creatures. I rather belong to another world, a world that is buried in a grave called Guantánamo.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for 14 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. CCR is responsible for many Guantánamo cases in many venues, representing men in their habeas cases in federal court and before the military commissions and Periodic Review Boards, the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking accountability in international courts.