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From Guantanamo to Freedom in Saudi Arabia

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    From a cage in Cuba to freedom in Dammam Molouk Y. Ba-Isa Arab News Sat Jul 5, 2008 DAMMAM: Marriages don t usually generate much media attention, but when
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2008
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      From a cage in Cuba to freedom in Dammam
      Molouk Y. Ba-Isa
      Arab News
      Sat Jul 5, 2008


      Marriages don't usually generate much media attention, but when Juma
      Mohammed A.W. Al-Dossari was married in the spring, even Western
      journalists attended the celebration. Just months earlier, it had
      been impossible for the groom to pray at the mosque, make a phone
      call or even choose what to eat for dinner.

      Al-Dossari's wedding seems like an improbable outcome because until
      last year he was a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

      Seized in Pakistan in late 2001, Al-Dossari was turned over to the
      US, transferred first to Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan and then in
      January 2002 sent to the offshore US detention facility in Cuba
      where he lived in a concrete cell, denied even the basic rights
      afforded a common criminal by the US Constitution. He was released
      in July 2007 to the Saudi authorities along with 15 other prisoners.
      No charges were ever filed against him.

      Today, Al-Dossari's lot has improved. He lives with his wife in a
      small apartment in Dammam, furnished in modern Western style.
      Meeting Arab News in the evening, wearing khakis, he relaxed on a
      sofa and tucked into a meal of shepherd's pie and salad, while
      telling hilarious tales of his struggles with local construction
      workers. The couple's current living situation is temporary as they
      hurry to complete renovations on their permanent home, an apartment
      in a nearby building owned by his mother. They hope to move there
      before Ramadan. Recently, Al-Dossari's daughter from his first
      marriage came to live with them.

      "We are all very happy," Al-Dossari said. "We are busy trying to
      finish all the construction work and get all our furniture and
      belongings packed and moved before the holy month. This is so much
      more than I could have hoped for last year."

      Arab News visited Al-Dossari and his family at home on two occasions
      once they'd settled in after their wedding. The April 24 wedding was
      a major event, held at Alkhobar's Al-Gosaibi Hotel, with more than
      400 women and 350 men in attendance.

      "I am the fourth or fifth from the group released last July to get
      married," Al-Dossari said. "It was very expensive to rent and furnish
      an apartment and pay for all the wedding costs. I don't regret the
      expenses because my wife is worth it. She is a very good woman. But
      without help from the government, I wouldn't have been able to afford
      it and I am so grateful."

      Al-Dossari explained that the Saudi government has provided generous
      assistance to Guantanamo detainees. In his case, this included more
      than SR100,000 to cover expenses associated with marriage, a new
      car, medical coverage and psychological support.

      "I would like to publicly thank (Deputy Minister of the Interior for
      Security Affairs) Prince Mohammed ibn Naif for all the personal
      attention he has shown to me and to my family," said Al-
      Dossari. "When I was released, he personally called my mom to tell
      her that I was safe. Everything I needed he made sure I received.
      This gave me the chance to start a new life."

      The Guantanamo detainees were brought home on a Saudi plane and
      received at the Royal Terminal at the King Khalid International
      Airport in Riyadh. They were transferred to Al-Hayer Prison in
      Riyadh where the group of 16 was divided in half.

      "We were all in shock when we came back to the Kingdom," explained
      Al-Dossari. "For me, it was like I'd come from the cemetery, buried
      underground, and then I had been sent to paradise. I had been held
      in solitary confinement, locked in a room, one and a half by two
      meters, for three-and-a-half years. Just being allowed to eat
      whatever I wanted and to have a telephone to use was overwhelming. I
      was so happy to be out of Guantanamo but after being deprived of
      everything for so long I couldn't cope. In 12 days I slept maybe 10
      hours. After my release I had refused to take any of the drugs that
      the Americans had been giving me but that had frightening results. I
      was under terrible strain and I needed a lot of doctors to get me
      through that time."

      Numerous media accounts spoke of the torture Al-Dossari suffered at
      Guantanamo. He repeatedly tried to harm himself in the extreme
      conditions. He said that during his time at Guantanamo he was given
      multiple psychotropic drugs combined with solitary confinement,
      which drove him to madness. It took several months for doctors in
      the Kingdom to slowly help Al-Dossari withdraw from the combination
      of antidepressants, tranquillizers and other drugs that had been
      administered to him at Guantanamo. He is now free from all

      "The first month after my release I kept waking up terrified and I
      had to get up and make sure that I wasn't locked up in Guantanamo
      any more. I have fewer nightmares now, so my sleep is better. I stay
      busy so I avoid depressive thoughts. I do think about Guantanamo
      every day. I can't help it, but at least I am not alone. My wife has
      been wonderful to me. I have told her everything that happened to me
      there, everything. She listens to me and I think she now knows me
      better than I know myself."

      While Al-Dossari was imprisoned at Guantanamo his father died of
      cancer. This made meeting his family for the first time after his
      release a bittersweet experience.

      "We arrived in the Kingdom at 3 a.m. and at 10 a.m. my family was
      brought to me. Prince Mohammed ibn Naif's office had arranged
      transportation and five-star accommodation for them. My heart was
      breaking when I kissed my mother's head and feet. My mom had become
      very old because of my father's death and my imprisonment. I hugged
      and kissed everyone in turn and then there was this young lady who I
      didn't recognize. My mother told me that this is my daughter. She
      was in first grade the last time I'd seen her."

      Readjustment to society took time and enormous resources. Al-Dossari
      spent 50 days in Al-Hayer Prison and then two-and-a-half months in a
      special care center set up to reintegrate Guantanamo returnees to
      society. This included everything from classes on world events and
      Islam, to art and small business administration. He also had access
      to recreation facilities such as a swimming pool and football field
      and he continued his sessions with psychiatrists and counselors.

      "In Islam, I try for the middle ground. I don't want to be extreme.
      I was stricter before," Al-Dossari said. "At the care center,
      sheikhs taught us the right ideas about jihad, Islamic law and
      Islamic government. On two occasions I was allowed to leave the care
      center for 10 days each time and spend long visits with my family.
      At the care center I enjoyed the classes on setting up a small
      business and I want to take more English and IT courses so I can be
      successful in running my own business someday."

      At 35 and with only a high school diploma, Al-Dossari is aware that
      to create a successful future for his family he needs to work hard.
      He is looking forward to having more children, but his wife insists
      that if a baby is not on the way by the New Year, she will return to
      her job. A very private person, she asked not to be identified. Mrs.
      Al-Dossari is in her late 20s and had been working in the
      administration at a local hospital before her marriage.

      The two are distant relatives but they were unaware of each other
      before their engagement. Juma disclosed his entire background at the
      first meeting between the families. Their marriage was arranged
      traditionally. However, Mrs. Al-Dossari emphasized that it was her
      choice alone to select him as her husband, although her father
      advised her that he believed Juma to be an honorable man.

      Al-Dossari talks about his time in Guantanamo quite casually, with
      his wife adding a point from time to time. He is well aware of
      people's interest and does not shy away from answering questions. He
      doesn't want to be known forever though as the "Gitmo Guy." His goal
      now is to allow the experience to fade away and let go of his
      animosity toward the guards at Guantanamo.

      "I cannot hate them," he said. "If I do I will torture myself
      forever. I will be on fire inside. I don't want that. I want to make
      my heart clean and easy, and live my life."



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