THEY say the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do not turn at all for me. I arrived at Guantánamo in 2004, after being tortured and abused for more than a year at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
Fifteen years later, a US court finally held a hearing to determine whether the government could continue to detain me — as if somehow I was a soldier rather than an ageing businessman. I have never been charged with a crime.
The habeas hearing, in federal court in Washington, was like something out of a George Orwell novel. How else can I describe it? Imagine turning up at your own wedding to find that your bride is marrying someone else — you are banned from the ceremony, and can only listen to the first few minutes through a crack in the door.
The hearing began on Oct 21, 2019. I had understood that I would be in Cuba, watching a live feed from the court and able to communicate with my lawyers. Guards took me, shackled in a van with no windows, to the video room. When we arrived, the camera was not working so all I had was audio. I could not see them, and they could not see me, but at least I could hear.
The hearing began at 10am, and I listened to the unclassified opening statements. The government’s lawyer spoke for a few minutes, and then one of my lawyers did a very good job summing up my case for half an hour. This was a good start to a hearing I had been told would last 10 days, but after just 40 minutes, I found myself being sent back to my cellblock.
It is strange to be judged on the basis of allegations you have never seen.
I so desperately wanted to know what was happening in the court and to take an active part in it. I was well-prepared after 15 years. I was confident I could tell my attorneys the facts that they needed about how I was abducted in Thailand and tortured in Afghanistan; and how the allegations against me were made by men being tortured themselves.
The person presiding was Judge Paul Friedman. From what I hear, in many ways, we are alike. We are both over 70 years old. He is, according to my lawyers, a decent man. I have read the Torah, and the Bible, and perhaps he has read the Quran. If he came to dinner at my house, we would share views, and I am sure we would agree on much. Yet I was not allowed to talk to the man presiding over my ‘wedding’.
There is that moment in the Christian ceremony when the minister asks whether anyone present knows a reason the two people should not be joined in holy matrimony. I suspect that some lawyer for the US government put his hand up and made all kinds of cruel and false assertions against me. But I could not hear, and I could not respond. It was all secret.
If I had been there, I could have told Judge Friedman: I was not captured on some battlefield. I was not fighting anyone. I was lured to Thailand by the CIA under false pretences in 2003, and abducted there, because they had tortured someone into saying I was involved in terrorism. I never had anything to do with such a thing. I think if the judge had met me, he would immediately have known this was true.
It is strange to be judged by someone you have never met, on the basis of allegations you have never seen, with evidence you cannot hear. But it seems that even though I could not attend my own wedding, they were preparing a metaphorical divorce for me. Again, I was not allowed to know what I had done wrong, or what the witnesses said about me — just that I had lost. One of my lawyers had to fly 370 miles to Washington to read the secret opinion in the secret facility. Judge Friedman had delivered a verdict, 124 pages long. Apparently it says that I must remain a prisoner here in Guantánamo forever. Why? They cannot tell me. Why? I do not know.
Because it is all secret, I am not allowed to go through it with my lawyers. They will try to get a redacted version and I might see it, with many lines blacked out, three or four months from now.
There is something desperately wrong, desperately hopeless about this. It weighs on me. I have diabetes, arthritis and get chest pains once or twice a week that are clear warnings of my mortality. I have had two heart attacks. The doctor says that the next one will be my last. I may die here, perhaps soon.
I have not seen my family for 17 years. I feel that we are already buried at Guantánamo, and that is the end of it. After we stop breathing, they will put us in a grave or the sea.
I have lived in New York. I understand the concept of due process — or at least I thought I did. I thought I knew what justice meant in America. But it is a very alien word here in Guantánamo Bay.
The writer is the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where he has been held without charge since 2004.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020