After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer
Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:
TALLINN, Estonia — When guards brought Ahmed Abdul Qader to the plane that would take him away from the Guantánamo Bay prison a year and a half ago, he asked permission to pause before boarding. Closing his eyes, he tried to leave behind the burden of his 13 years of captivity.
Mr. Qader was about 17 — an overweight Yemeni teenager suspected [and for the US, suspicion is sufficient to imprison someone for 13 years – LG] of being a terrorist — when the United States military brought him to Guantánamo. When he left, he was past 30, his hair thinning, and about to start a new life in Estonia, a tiny Baltic country he had never heard of before it had decided to resettle a detainee a few months earlier.
A day later, he was in his new home, a modestly furnished studio apartment in Tallinn provided by the Estonian government. But the past, he soon realized, was not so easy to escape. Snow was falling, and he was eager to touch it. He started for the door, then suddenly panicked, fearful that something — he was not sure what — could go wrong if he went outside.
“Any trouble I get myself in now — even an honest mistake — will be a hundred times worse than if any normal person did it,” Mr. Qader said recently, trying to explain how that sense of paralysis has stayed with him.
“I thought that after two months’ release, I’d be back to normal,” he said. “But I cannot live my life regularly. I try, but it is like part of me is still at Guantánamo.”
Mr. Qader is one of about 780 men who have been held at the prison since the Bush administration opened it after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A central part of the war on terrorism, Guantánamo was an experiment: using indefinite detention without trial, a tool of traditional wars, for an open-ended conflict in which distinguishing truly dangerous enemies from people caught on the periphery can be particularly difficult.
President Obama inherited 242 detainees when he came into office vowing to close the prison. Today 76 remain, 32 of them approved for transfer to a stable country willing to accept them. Congressional Republicans opposeclosing the prison and further transfers, pointing to the minority of former detainees accused of recidivism.
In the long and contentious debate over Guantánamo’s future, former detainees who have been transferred and caused no problems have been largely forgotten. But while their files may have been closed, the ambiguity surrounding their release — deemed safe enough to transfer, but never proven guilty or innocent — continues to brand them.
Mr. Qader recently told me his story in a series of conversations over several days this spring — in his apartment, strolling through Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, and riding a city bus to Estonia’s Islamic Center. . .