By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Guantanamo Bay detainee says he feels abandoned by President Barack Obama and the world after more than 10 years at the U.S. prison.
“I believe that President Obama must be unaware of the unbelievably inhumane conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison, for otherwise he would surely do something to stop this torture,” Yemeni prisoner Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani wrote in a federal court declaration this year.
About a month later, Obama renewed his vow to close the U.S. detention center in Cuba, but acknowledged one key obstacle: “It’s a hard case to make because I think for a lot of Americans, the notion is ‘out of sight, out of mind.'”
Al Madhwani is a strong example of the political thicket that Obama faces as he makes another run at fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise to close the prison — or at least transfer some detainees back to their countries.
For one, Al Madhwani is from Yemen, and the administration has prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to that country since January 2010 because of security concerns after a would-be bomber attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
For another, Al Madhwani already has lost a court challenge to his detention, despite the judge’s conclusion that he was not a security threat to the U.S. Of 26 documents the government relied on containing statements Al Madhwani had made at Guantanamo, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in Washington threw out 23, concluding they had been tainted by coercive interrogation by U.S. forces prior to his arrival at the Cuban prison.
That taint would make it difficult to convict Al Madhwani in a civilian court, or even a military tribunal, increasing the odds that Al Madhwani will remain in the limbo of indefinite detention. Many other detainees are in the same situation. To date, only two prisoners have been convicted in a trial by military tribunals at Guantanamo, and both were reversed by the federal appeals court in Washington (although one remains under review). The five other convictions of Guantanamo prisoners came through plea bargains.
In Obama’s first week in office, he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo, but Congress has used its budgetary power to block detainees from being moved to the U.S. On Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized what he called Congress’ “unwise and unwarranted restrictions on where certain detainees could be housed, charged and prosecuted.”
“Throughout history, our federal courts have proven to be an unparalleled instrument for bringing terrorists to justice,” Holder told law school graduates of the University of California, Berkeley. “They have enabled us to convict scores of people of terrorism-related offenses since Sept. 11.”
Like most of the 166 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, Al Madhwani is participating in a hunger strike to protest his detention and prison conditions. “Indefinite detention is the worst form of torture,” wrote Al Madhwani, who is in his 11th year at the prison and has never been charged with a crime.
The judge said he found Al Madhwani’s testimony about harsh treatment at the hands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan prisons to be credible.
“Before Guantanamo, he had endured 40 days of solitary confinement, severe physical and mental abuse, malnourishment, sensory deprivation, anxiety and insomnia,” Hogan said. But the judge ruled that statements Al Madhwani made during two military administrative hearings at Guantanamo were reliable and sufficient to justify holding him, because he had been “part of” al-Qaida.
Still, the judge seemed to come to that conclusion reluctantly.
“As a young, unemployed, undereducated Yemeni, Petitioner (Al Madhwani) was particularly vulnerable to the demagoguery of religious fanatics,” Hogan wrote in the January 2010 opinion. He was “at best, a low-level al-Qaida figure.”