At a Glance
Mr. Abu Al Qassim was resettled in Albania in February 2010, where he now lives along with several other former Guantanamo detainees from different countries given safe haven by the Albanian government.
June 22, 2005
Abdul Ra’ouf Ammar Mohammad Abu Al Qassim
November 5, 2007
Zalita v. Bush was a petition for habeas corpus filed on behalf of Abu Abdul Rauf Zalita, a.k.a. Abdul Ra’ouf Ammar Mohammad Abu Al Qassim.
Mr. Abu Al Qassim was conscripted into the Libyan Army when he was about 18 years old. The onset of psychiatric illness forced him to desert the army, and he soon fled Libya for fear of persecution because he was an observant Muslim. During the next ten years, Mr. Abu Al Qassim lived abroad as a refugee and survived on the charity and generosity of those who offered him places to stay. In 2000, he married an Afghan woman and settled in the Afghan capital of Kabul. When the U.S. bombardment began in October 2001, Mr. Abu Al Qassim fled with his pregnant wife to seek refuge in Pakistan.
Soon after his daughter was born, Mr. Abu Al Qassim fell victim to the chaos of the war. He was arrested at his home in Lahore in front of his wife and infant daughter and turned over to military authorities, likely for a sizable bounty. The U.S. government claimed that Mr. Abu Al Qassim is associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a group opposed to the Qadhafi regime, because he stayed in the home of some men who have been accused of later joining LIFG. The mere allegation of his association with LIFG virtually guaranteed that he would have been severely persecuted if forcibly returned to Libya.
The United States had previously transferred two Libyan Guantánamo detainees to the Qadhafi regime based on patently unreliable diplomatic assurances that they would not be mistreated. The men were transferred in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and both were held in prison for years without charges, trial or access to counsel; one reportedly remains in prison. One was transferred despite his urgent protests to officials at Guantánamo that he would be subjected to torture or worse if forcibly returned. According to one unclassified account, this man was reportedly interviewed by Libyan officials in Guantánamo who threatened to torture and perhaps kill him. As with Mr. Abu al Qassim, the U.S. government alleged that this man was associated with the LIFG, despite his repeated denials. Because there is no independent monitoring mechanism within Libya and human rights organizations are outlawed by the government, little is known about this prisoner’s current situation. It is feared that he has been subjected to torture and abuse. The U.S. Department of State made one visit to both prisoners in 2007, but was not permitted to meet with the men outside of the presence of Libyan officials.
Nonetheless, when the Bush administration decided to release Mr. Abu al Qassim, it first attempted to send him to Libya. At the time, many cases had standing orders from the district courts granting 30-day advance notice of transfer. Because of this advance notice, CCR was able to fight the proposed transfer all the way up to the Supreme Court, but every court to consider the case ultimately refused to issue an order blocking our client’s transfer to torture in light of the Military Commissions Act of 2006’s purported removal of jurisdiction from the federal courts to hear claims by “enemy combatants.”
With help from allies at Human Rights Watch, we turned to the media. The Washington Post published a story about Abu al Qassim’s plight, and soon thereafter the State Department intervened to stop the transfer (in mid-2007).
Abu al Qassim spent the next two and a half years in solitary confinement in one of the worst facilities at Guantanamo, Camp 6, where he was confined to a small, windowless cell with no access to natural light or air. In the just under eight years he spent at Guantanamo, he received no access to medical care despite a variety of acknowledged, serious health needs.
After the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Boumediene v. Bush, litigation began in his habeas corpus case challenging the legality of his detention. After 6 months of briefing and several hundred pages of submissions, the government agreed to release him in order to avoid a decision from the district court. After another 8 months of waiting, Abu al Qassim was finally transferred to Albania, which agreed to take him and two other detainees needing resettlement, in February 2010.
Since then CCR has been actively involved in ensuring his readjustment to civilian life, arranging for Arabic-speaking doctors with experience with trauma victims to see him, and helping him acquire a computer and, recently, a bicycle. He still has yet to see the daughter he was separated from in October 2001.