At a Glance
In June 2021, after a hearing before the Periodic Review Board, the government determined that Al Hajj's detention is "no longer necessary" for U.S. national security and approved him for transfer out of Guantanamo. His health condition remains critical, after multiple incidents of self-harm beginning in 2019. The Biden administration must identify a safe country for his transfer, with appropriate support for rehabilitation, and transfer him without any further delay.
Sharqawi Al Hajj is a 47-year-old citizen of Yemen who has been detained without charge at Guantánamo since 2004, after over two years in CIA sites. He faces the prospect of a death sentence in Guantanamo not only because his detention is indefinite, but because he is gravely ill today and faces serious risks to his life. In June 2021, the Biden administration finally approved him for transfer out of Guantanamo through the Periodic Review Board process, but has yet to take further steps to effectuate his actual transfer.
Al Hajj has a long history of severe physical symptoms - acute abdominal and urinary pain, extreme weakness and fatigue, and recurring jaundice - which are exacerbated by one of his only means of autonomous protest against his plight, in the form of repeated hunger strikes. In July 2017, he collapsed in his cell and required emergency hospitalization after a prolonged strike during which he eventually stopped drinking water. An outside medical opinion obtained by his counsel in support of an emergency motion for an independent medical evaluation found that Al Hajj - through a combination of his physical pain, hunger strikes and untreated torture - was at risk of "total bodily collapse."
Al Hajj's mental health in particular has taken a dramatic turn over the past few years. In July and August 2019, after a series of increasingly concerning communications with his counsel, he made specific suicidal statements for the first time, stating that he wanted to "cut his nerves to make myself bleed" and "try to kill myself" because "for how long can I be patient." During a telephone call with his counsel on August 19, 2019, he then made an actual attempt by cutting his wrist with a piece of glass. He has continued to inflict self-harm out of desperation about his indefinite detention.
In April 2021, despite his struggling health, Al Hajj appeared for a hearing before the Periodic Review Board. At the hearing, his counsel made a statement detailing the picture of his declining physical and mental health. In June 2021, the Board determined that his continuing detention was "no longer necessary" for the security of the United States and approved him for transfer from Guantanamo. Al Hajj now awaits actual transfer. He would accept resettlement in any safe country with appropriate support.