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A Teenage Refugee Freed From Guantánamo And Released In Ireland

On Sunday, following the revelation of the identity of one of two Uzbeks released from Guantánamo to take up a new life in the Republic of Ireland, I published a letter from Guantánamo written by this man, Oybek Jabbarov, and also included a statement by his lawyer, Michael J. Mone Jr., to a Committee of the US House of Representatives, in which Mone explained that Jabbarov was a refugee, living in northern Afghanistan with his pregnant wife, infant son, elderly mother and other Uzbek refugees at the time of the US-led invasion in October 2001, and that he ended up in US hands "after 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."

Yesterday, the Irish Times revealed the identity of the second man, and although I respect his desire for privacy, and the chance to begin rebuilding his life after his long ordeal, as much as I recognize Oybek Jabbarov's right to the same courtesies, I believe that, as with his countryman, it is useful to point out what is known of his story, as it is yet another example of an innocent man losing nearly eight years of his life in a cruel and experimental prison designed to hold human beings without any rights whatsoever.

As I explained in my article on Oybek Jabbarov, men like these two Uzbeks, just two of the many hundreds of innocent men who have been held in Guantánamo over the last seven years and nine months, 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."

The story of Shakhrukh Hamiduva

Unlike Oybek Jabbarov, whose lawyer fought tenaciously to establish his client's innocence, and actively courted the media, Shakhrukh Hamiduva, the other man freed in Ireland, did not register on the media's radar during his detention, although I mentioned him in my book The Guantánamo Files. Nevertheless, his story - as accepted by a military review board that cleared him for release from Guantánamo in 2006 - bears striking similarities to that of his fellow countryman: a vulnerable refugee, preyed upon by unscrupulous Afghans following the US-led invasion, when substantial bounty payments were on offer for foreigners who could be presented to gullible US forces as "al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects."

All that is known publicly of Shakhrukh Hamiduva is that he was born in Kokand, Uzbekistan in December 1983 (and that he was, therefore, probably under 18 years of age at the time of his capture), that he was one of the first prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo in January 2002, and that he gave the following account in December 2004 to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (the one-sided military boards established to review - and largely endorse - the administration's contention that everyone who had ended up in US custody was an "enemy combatant" who could be held without rights).

In his tribunal, Hamiduva explained that he left Uzbekistan because of religious persecution, and added that his father and five uncles had been jailed, and that another uncle had been killed. Nevertheless, he had to contend with a number of allegations whose provenance was not disclosed, but which were almost certainly produced as a result of the interrogations of other prisoners (or of Hamiduva himself), in circumstances that may well have involved coercion or bribery. One allegation was that he had spent a year and a half in a training camp run by the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan, but he explained that he had spent that time at a refugee camp, which contained around 300 refugees. He also denied an allegation that he "willingly became a soldier in the Mujahideen Army," and that he traveled to Afghanistan to "participate in jihad against the Russians and the Northern Alliance."

In a statement provided to his Personal Representative (a military officer assigned to the prisoners for the tribunals instead of a lawyer), he explained that he had initially wanted to go to Turkey, but that he couldn't get a passport because he was too young, so he decided to work with the Tajik authorities at the refugee camp instead. This, he said, involved helping the refugees, and he added that the Tajik government then provided transportation to take him and other refugees to Afghanistan (actually deporting them, as they did with hundreds of Uzbek refugees in 1999, including Oybek Jabbarov and his family), where he helped some of them "to fix up things like cars or roofs" at a place in Kabul. He also explained that, after five or six months, he hooked up with an Afghan "mentor," who owned a garage and taught him to drive, and added that, after working for him for a while, he bought a car and started to work as a taxi driver, which was his occupation when he was captured.

Speaking of his capture, he said that he went to the United Nations in Pakistan (as there was no office in Afghanistan) to get help in returning to Uzbekistan. "They promised me they would be able to help me and send me back to my homeland, but nothing would happen to me and that I would be protected," he said. "He [a UN official, presumably] gave me a piece of paper. I guess it was some kind of travel document so I would be able to travel along with."

He explained that, after this visit, he returned to Afghanistan in his car with five or six Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif, and added that he didn't want any money from them; he just wanted them to give him directions. However, in the mountains he was stopped by armed Afghans who let his passengers go, but who took his car and handed him over to "the American general" - probably General Rashid Dostum, the Afghan Uzbek warlord who was working with US forces - at Mazar-e-Sharif.

He also explained to the tribunal that he told the Americans his story, and added that they saw his travel document and promised him that they would help him get home, but, after keeping him imprisoned for a month "in some kind of house" with about 15 Pakistanis, they were all transferred to the US prison in Kandahar, and after about a month and a half he was sent to Guantánamo.

Speaking of the nearly three years he had spent in the prison by the time of his CSRT, he told his tribunal, "They said that they were through with me and promise[d] to send me back to my homeland, that's why I'm confused. When they brought me here for interrogation, I didn't want to talk a lot to them ... They didn't treat me well here, that is why I didn't tell them anything." He added, "I just want to let you know that they torture me a lot here at the camp. They would not let me sleep through the night; they were tak[ing] me to interrogations. I saw them beating other detainees, breaking their arms and legs."

When the tribunal asked why he was wearing orange (which meant he was uncooperative, as, by 2004, white uniforms had been introduced for "cooperative" prisoners, and tan for those who were somewhere in between), he explained, "I know that there are four levels of discipline. Every time I try to go one level up, they will do something to keep you in the level. I know that there are a lot of detainees who don't want to talk to the interrogators and no matter what you tell them they are not going to change your level or change your clothes for that matter. I know that a lot of people have been tortured here at the camp ... When I don't exercise I feel very weak, that [is] why I try to exercise inside my cell but MPs don't like it. That is the only [way] I can keep myself healthy here is by doing some exercise because when you get sick you don't get any appointments here so what should I do? Every prison detainee should be allowed to exercise; I don't understand why they don't allow us."

As with the story of Oybek Jabbarov, this is a disturbing account on a number of levels. With such limited information available, I have no idea if Shakhrukh Hamiduva, like Jabbarov, was threatened by Uzbek intelligence agents who were allowed to visit Guantánamo (although it seems likely), but enough information is readily available to demonstrate, yet again, that the phrase "the worst of the worst," as used by senior Bush administration officials to refer to the supposed terrorists in Guantánamo, is more accurately applied to the kind of mistakes made by the administration, which in its myopic arrogance, was more than happy to detain randomly seized foreigners in Afghanistan, and to deprive them of any rights, even if they were under 18 years old, and should, as juveniles, have been rehabilitated rather than being subjected to sleep deprivation, punished for trying to exercise in their cells, and forced to watch as other prisoners were beaten until they were hospitalized.

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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in London. He is the author of The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 759 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in America's illegal prison. For more information, visit his blog here.


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