Former Guantanamo prisoners still struggling
- Former Guantanamo prisoners still struggling
By Jane Sutton
Wed Nov 12, 2008
MIAMI (Reuters) Former Guantanamo prisoners released after years of
detention without charge went home to find themselves stigmatized and
shunned, viewed either as terrorists or U.S. spies, according to a
report released on Wednesday.
The report by human rights advocates urged U.S. President-elect
Barack Obama to form an independent, nonpartisan commission with
subpoena powers to investigate the treatment of U.S. detainees in
Afghanistan, Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the
rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said study co-
author Eric Stover, director of the University of California at
Berkeley's Human Rights Center.
"The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who
should be held accountable."
The authors at the center and at the Center for Constitutional Rights
interviewed 50 U.S. government officials, military experts and former
guards and interrogators, as well as 62 former Guantanamo prisoners
in nine nations.
Two-thirds of the former captives said they had psychological and
emotional problems, which the authors called consistent with being
held in extreme isolation for extended periods.
Only six had regular jobs, with many saying employers would not hire
anyone who had been held at Guantanamo.
"It doesn't matter that they cleared my name by releasing me. We
still have this big hat on our heads that we were terrorists," said a
Chinese Muslim former prisoner, one of eight who were settled in
Albania in 2006.
That group was still struggling to learn Albanian and had abandoned
hope of ever being reunited with their families, said the report
titled "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath."
The United States has released 520 men from Guantanamo since it
opened the detention camp for suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives
after the September 11 attacks. Currently about 250 are being held.
It has not publicly acknowledged that any were there by mistake,
although intelligence reports and a former camp commander had said as
early as September 2002 that one-third to one-half of the 600
captives there at the time had no connection to terrorism, the report
The most notorious prisoners who are accused of plotting the
September 11 attacks, the Bali nightclub bombings and attacks on U.S.
embassies in Africa were not taken to Guantanamo until 2006, when
they were transferred from secret CIA prisons.
Many of the former prisoners said they had lost their homes and
businesses or that their families had piled up debts in their absence
because there was no one to support them.
One returned to find his wife had divorced him and remarried, another
to learn his father had been murdered and his estranged wife had
taken their children and moved away.
"Two Afghan respondents said that rumors of sexual abuse at
Guantanamo had stigmatized them and made it difficult to find a
marriage partner. One of these was also accused of being an American
spy and as a result was fearful of becoming a Taliban target," the
'I AM NOT A BEAST'
Others said they had received death threats.
Those who fared best seemed to be Afghans from tightly knit villages,
where several said they were greeted when they came home with
celebrations that even some local police attended.
"When I'm walking on the streets and I meet some people, they usually
say to me, 'We're sorry for you...' Everyone knows that I'm innocent,
that I'm not involved in any political activities," the report quoted
an Afghan shepherd as saying.
Among the 55 freed captives who discussed their interrogations, 31
said they were abusive and 24 said they had no problems. The majority
held "distinctly negative views of the United States" but many said
that was directed at the U.S. government, not the American people.
One-third said they ended up in U.S. custody after being sold for
bounties. Many viewed their time at Guantanamo as a test of their
Others said they only wanted the American public to recognize that
they were innocent.
"I just want to tell them that I am not this savage beast, what they
were told I am," one said.
(Editing by Michael Christie and David Storey)
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