Innocent Man Freed From Guantánamo
- The Story of Oybek Jabbarov, An Innocent Man Freed From Guantánamo
By Andy Worthington
Yesterday I reported that the US government had released three prisoners from Guantánamo, repatriating Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni, and sending two unidentified prisoners presumed to be Uzbeks to new homes in Ireland. I suspected that one of the men was Oybek Jabbarov, an Uzbek who was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, but who could not be repatriated because of the well-known human rights abuses in his homeland, and the fact that he had been threatened by Uzbek agents who had been allowed to visit him in Guantánamo.
It has now been confirmed that one of the Uzbeks freed in Ireland is indeed Oybek Jabbarov, and, while I wish him and his unidentified countryman every opportunity to settle into their new home in peace, I want to take this opportunity to reproduce a letter by Jabbarov, sent from Guantánamo last October (PDF), and a statement by his lawyer, delivered to a House Committee last May, to demonstrate how, in contrast to the hyperbolic claims made by Bush administration officials and their supporters, it was disturbingly easy for innocent men like Oybek Jabbarov to end up in Guantánamo.
These men and there were many hundreds of innocent men in Guantánamo, and many who are still held were mostly seized by the Americans' opportunistic allies at a time when bounty payments for "al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects" were widespread, and were then presumed guilty without any screening process by an administration drunk on its own exercise of unfettered executive power, in which everyone who ended up in US custody was an "unlawful enemy combatant" without rights, regardless of whether, like Oybek Jabbarov, they have lost nearly eight years of their lives for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Oybek Jabbarov's letter from Guantánamo, October 8, 2008
Greetings. I am a citizen of Uzbekistan. I want to send you this letter to tell you about myself. I am in prison in Guantánamo since June 2002, but I am innocent and I am approved to leave Guantánamo but where can I go? I cannot go back to my native home, Uzbekistan, because it is not safe for me, my wife, and my two sons. I want to go to a free, safe and democratic country and live the rest of my life in peace with my family.
When I get my freedom, I want to work so I can support myself and my family. I am 30 years old. Ever since I was young, I have worked on farms, growing fruits, vegetables, and also raising livestock. It is very hard work, but I enjoy it very much. My hope is to one day study agriculture and to start my own agri-business. But I am accustomed to hard work and I will work at any job to support myself and my family.
Today I am meeting with my lawyer, Mr. Michael Mone, and I am speaking with him in English with no interpreter. Since I have been here in pris0n for more than six years, I have learned to speak English. When I get out I also want to take a ESL class to improve my English, although my lawyer tells me that I do not need it.
My time here in Guantánamo has been very hard on me and my family. My two sons are growing up without their father. I miss them very much.
It is a big mistake that I am here. I did nothing wrong and I am innocent. But I do not blame the American people for their government's mistake. Even though I am still here in this prison I have no hate in my heart. My only wish is to get out of here and to be with my family to see my two sons, and to find a peaceful life.
Thank [you for] your attention to my letter.
Statement by Michael E. Mone, Jr., delivered to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, May 6, 2008
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to speak to the Subcommittee today about my client, Oybek Jamoldinivich Jabbarov, an Uzbek national who is being unlawfully detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
My client is one of approximately 30 detainees who represent "Guantánamo's refugees." These are detainees who have been cleared for release by the US government for some, years ago, yet they remain imprisoned at Guantánamo because they come from "high-risk" countries where there is a potential danger of persecution or torture should they be forcibly returned, and no country, other than Albania, has been willing to accept these refugees from Guantánamo for resettlement. Indeed, the United States has already transferred detainees from Guantánamo to high-risk countries despite credible individualized fears of persecution or torture upon their repatriation. My client is one of these refugees, who fears repatriation to his native Uzbekistan.
Oybek's six-year long imprisonment at the hands of the US government is a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now 30 years old, Oybek and his pregnant wife, infant son, and elderly mother were living with other Uzbek refugees in northern Afghanistan in 2001 when fighting broke out between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
Oybek was not captured on the battlefield, nor was he armed. Instead, he accepted a ride from a group of Northern Alliance soldiers he met at a roadside teahouse who said they would give him a ride to Mazar-e-Sharif. Unfortunately, instead of driving him to Mazar-e-Sharif, the soldiers took Oybek to Bagram Air Base where they handed him over to US forces, undoubtedly in exchange for a sizeable bounty. In a desperately poor, war-torn country, Oybek was an easy mark for soldiers responding to leaflets dropped throughout Afghanistan by the US military offering thousands of dollars in cash rewards to anyone who turned over a Taliban or foreign fighter.
After Bagram, Oybek was taken to a prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and then transferred to Guantánamo Bay in June 2002. During his first few months at Guantánamo, an FBI agent told Oybek, "You're a free man, you're not a problem," and to be patient while diplomatic arrangements were made for his release. But months turned into years and still nothing happened.
Finally, in February 2007, Oybek received approval from the US government to leave Guantánamo. This news brought little comfort, however, because Oybek fears for his life if he is returned to his native Uzbekistan, a county with a long and well-documented history of human rights abuses, including the widespread use of torture.
Indeed, Oybek had a chilling encounter with Uzbek officials who came to Guantánamo in September 2002 to interrogate him. The Uzbek interrogators told Oybek he would be sent to prison upon his return to Uzbekistan and implied he might face torture to force him to confess to things he did not know.
They asked him questions about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an outlawed militant group in Central Asia despised by the Uzbek government. They called Oybek a "Wahhabi" a pejorative term broadly used by Uzbek authorities to describe individuals they view as radical Islamic extremists. The Uzbek interrogators also told Oybek he would be sent to prison upon his return to Uzbekistan for the alleged crime of "illegally" crossing the border into Tajikistan without a visa even though no such visa was required at the time.
They showed him a photo array and asked if he could identify any of the individuals pictured. When he did not recognize any of the faces, one Uzbek interrogator banged his fist on the table and told him menacingly, "When you go back to Uzbekistan, you will know these things." Oybek understood the security officer to mean that they would torture him until he told them what they wanted to hear.
My client is more Borat than he is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Unfortunately, Oybek fits the very profile of someone who will face persecution, arrest, imprisonment, and torture at the hands of Uzbek authorities. While Oybek would like to practice Islam freely, even the most basic acts of wearing a prayer cap, keeping a beard, and going to mosque in the Ferghana valley, where he is from, are viewed with grave suspicion by the Uzbek security services.
Even worse, the stigma attached to his prolonged detention in Guantánamo will follow him home with dire consequences. The US government has accused Oybek of being a member of the IMU, as well as supporting al-Qaeda and fighting for the Taliban all of which Oybek denies and for which no credible evidence has ever been proffered. But these accusations are tantamount to a death sentence if Oybek should ever fall into the hands of the Uzbek authorities. Having been branded by the United States as an alleged member of an outlawed extremist group that is especially loathed by the Uzbek government, Oybek should expect to face the harshest legal, even extra-judicial treatment if returned to his country. Yet, despite the grave and obvious danger facing him, the US government refuses to rule out repatriating Oybek to his native Uzbekistan.
Oybek yearns to be reunited with his family to finally meet his youngest son who was born just after his arrest, but he is afraid he will never see his family again if he is returned to Uzbekistan. He is afraid that if he is returned to Uzbekistan he will be killed.
My client continues to languish behind the thick concrete walls and barbed wire of Camp 5 in Guantánamo [a maximum-security block], the result of a grave mistake, not of his own making. It is our mistake that he sits there and we as a nation need to recognize that Guantánamo does not contain just "the worst of the worst." It also contains far too many mistakes like my client, a poor soul who was not captured on the battlefield as an armed enemy combatant, but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We are a great nation, but we are, as our founding fathers envisioned, a perpetual work in progress. Sometimes, our nation has made mistakes slavery, our treatment of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and Jim Crow, to name a few. But part of our greatness lies in our capacity to recognize when we have made a mistake, and to make it right.
Therefore, I think it is fair that we as a nation ask ourselves: How many more days must Oybek remain in Guantánamo for our mistake? How many more days must he sit in his 8×12 cell, before we make it right?
Announcing the arrival of Jabbarov and his unidentified countryman in their new home, the Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern explained to reporters, "The resettlement of the two individuals is a humanitarian gesture. They should be allowed time and space to rebuild their lives." He added, "Ireland is a welcoming country and we are pleased to play our part with President Obama in assisting in the closing of this center [Guantánamo]."
According to the Associated Press, Irish government representatives said that the two Uzbeks "would be housed in state-provided housing at undisclosed locations, and would receive permanent residency rights rather than be treated as refugees," which would "allow them to work in Ireland and travel within the 27-nation EU."
The AP also explained that Jabbarov had been "the focus of concerted campaigning by Irish human rights groups that identified his case as a clear-cut miscarriage of justice." His lawyer, Michael J. Mone Jr., has stated that his client "liked the idea of living in Ireland, in part because it is a land with many sheep. He was a shepherd in Uzbekistan." The only cloud hovering over his resettlement is the fate of his wife and two young children. As Radio Free Europe reported in January, "His family's whereabouts are unclear. They were living at a UN refugee camp in Mashhad in Iran, but reportedly are no longer there."
My hope for Oybek Jabbarov, after his long, cruel and unjust ordeal, is not only that he will be left in peace to resume his life, but also that he will soon be reunited with his family.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, and if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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