on the world: a view on human rights
All European citizens held at Guantánamo were released by 2005. None were ever prosecuted. Since their return to Europe, however, some have faced persecution and prosecution. Below is an alphabetical list of former prisoners who face prosecution or who have been convicted in European states since release from Guantánamo Bay. More on this issue and relevant background available here.
Name: Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, also known as Hmido
Born: 1974, Ceuta, Spain (Spanish national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: Sold by Pakistani authorities to US military in January 2002, arrived Guantánamo Bay in February 2002
Released: Spain, 2004
Date of arrest/ country: 23 February 2016, Ceuta, Spain
A former drug dealer, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, is alleged to have attended a terrorist training camp for two weeks in Afghanistan. Arrested in Pakistan in early 2002, he was sold to the US military by militants and arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002. He was never charged at Guantánamo but following release in 2004, he was tried and sentenced to 6 years in jail in 2005 in Spain for membership of a terrorist organisation. His conviction was overturned on appeal and he was released in 2006.
Since then, he has not bothered the authorities in any way. Known as the “Spanish Taleban” as he was the only Spanish national held at Guantánamo, he was arrested on 23 February 2016 with others and was accused of leading an ISIS recruitment cell in North Africa targeting young people. The case is ongoing; he remains in detention but no formal charges have yet been made. His arrest came weeks after, in early January, his lawyers filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against a decision by the National Court to not allow a case brought by him and others against the torture they faced at Guantánamo under Spain’s revised laws on universal jurisdiction.
Name: Soufiane Abbar Huwari
Born: 1970, Oran, Algeria (Algerian national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: Captured in Georgia in April 2002, arrived Guantánamo Bay in May 2003 following 13 months in secret CIA custody
Released: Algeria, 2008
Date of arrest/ country: 23 July 2015, Antwerp, Belgium
Soufiane Abbar Huwari was reportedly sold by the Georgian mafia to the CIA in 2002. He was rendered to Afghanistan where he was tortured at secret prisons before arriving at Guantánamo in 2003. He was never charged or tried there and was repatriated to Algeria in 2008, where he had been sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison for membership of a terrorist organisation based on allegations made by the US. He left Algeria and travelled to a number of countries, including Syria before arriving and settling near Brussels lawfully in 2014.
During his stay in Belgium, Huwari was allegedly involved in a number of burglaries. On the night of 23 July 2015, he was arrested with three other men during an attempted armed burglary on the residence of a drug dealer near Antwerp. The raid would have allegedly netted €700,000 to be used to fund terrorist activity in Syria. The nature of this terrorist activity or how this connection was made has not been revealed.
Huwari was not named until the case went to trial in June 2016. He was accused, and later convicted, of being the ringleader of a terrorist group and also recruiting fighters for the war in Syria (possibly his co-defendants). Nine people were involved in the case; three were acquitted, and only one other person was also convicted on terrorism charges. Huwari is currently serving a 12-year sentence. It is possible that he and several of his co-defendants, who are illegal immigrants, did not have legal representation at trial.
Name: Lahcen Ikassrien
Born: 1972, Targuist, Morocco (Moroccan national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: 2002
Released: Extradited to Spain, 2005
Date of arrest/ country: 16 June 2014, Madrid, Spain
Lahcen Ikassrien lived in Spain in the 1980s and 1990s before travelling to Afghanistan where he claims to have run a butcher’s shop until the 2001 war in the country forced it to close. He was captured and held at Guantánamo until 2002. The US and Spain accused him of connections to several people wanted by the Spanish authorities in relation to the 2004 Madrid train bombings which killed 192 people. He was extradited to Spain in July 2005 to stand trial. He was acquitted in October 2006.
He resumed a normal civilian life and did not come to the attention of the authorities until his arrest in June 2014. His arrest came a few weeks after a Spanish judge decided to reopen a case against George Bush and other US officials for his illegal detention and torture.
He was charged in December 2014 and the trial took place in June 2016. He and eight co-defendants were accused of membership of a terrorist cell called the Andalus Brigades and were accused of raising funds at the main mosque in Madrid to fund terrorism in Syria and Iraq.
At trial, he told the court that although he worshipped at the mosque in Madrid, worshippers did not trust him and suspected him of being a spy for the Spanish and Moroccan authorities even though they sympathised with him as a former Guantánamo prisoner. He also condemned terrorism. Some of his co-defendants denied knowing him personally; they simply prayed at the same mosque. The prosecution is seeking 8 year sentences for each of the defendants but 11 1/2 years for Ikassrien, accusing him of being the ringleader, a claim he denies. No judgment has been made.
Like Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, his case against the US authorities was referred to the Spanish Supreme Court in January 2016.
Updated 29/09/2016: On 28 September, Ikassrien was convicted and given an eleven and a half year sentence: 10 years for coordinating a terrorist cell and one and a half years for falsifying official documents. Eight other members of the cell – six Moroccans, an Argentine and a Bulgarian – were given 8-year sentences.
Name: Rasul Kudaev
Born: 1978, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), North Caucasus, Russian Federation (Russian national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: Sold to US military by Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in November 2001, arrived at Guantánamo February 2002
Released: Russia, 2004
Date of arrest/ country: 23 October 2005, Nalchik, Russian Federation
Like most of the other seven Russian nationals held at Guantánamo, Rasul Kudaev left Russia in the early 2000s due to religious discrimination and persecution. He travelled overland through Afghanistan where he was arrested and detained by the Taleban who accused him of being a Russian spy. He was later taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance after 9/11 and sold to the US military.
He was never charged and was released from Guantánamo in March 2004 with six other Russian nationals. They were briefly detained upon their return, as requested by the US, but released after charges were dropped. Kudaev filed a complaint against his treatment by the US upon his return to Russia.
Kudaev was harassed by the authorities; in 2005, he “disappeared” for a few days after being kidnapped by plainclothes security officers. He was also denied medical care; he had returned to Russia in poor health and unable to walk independently.
On 13 October 2005, a major terrorist attack took place in Nalchik, the regional capital, near where he lived, killing over 130 people. Kudaev was among those arrested; charges were pressed against him and 58 other men. He was tortured into signing a confession prepared for him. Kudaev currently has a case outstanding at the European Court of Human Rights for the torture he faced upon arrest in 2005 and later in 2011. A 2009 WikiLeaks cable shows that the US was well aware of his post-release persecution.
In late 2014, Kudaev and his co-defendants were all convicted, even though they were all acquitted on the charge of murder: they were responsible for the attack but did not kill anyone. Kudaev was one of five who was given a life sentence. Much of the evidence was based on the torture the men had faced. Some who had testified against Kudaev denied knowing him at trial. His detention at Guantánamo featured during his trial.
He and his co-defendants appealed their sentences and convictions; in January 2016, the judge upheld his life sentence. He was sent to the Black Dolphin Federal Penitentiary Service Prison near the Kazakh border, a notorious penal colony where prisoners are brought in and transported around blindfolded and home to some of Russia’s most notorious criminals.
Lawyers for Kudaev and his co-defendants plan to appeal further but their chances of success of small. Having spent almost all of this century in detention over three continents, Kudaev is now in the Russian maximum security equivalent of Guantánamo. He has never had a fair trial.
Name: Airat Vakhitov, also known as Salman Bulgarsky
Born: 1977, Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation (Russian national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: June 2002
Released: Russia, 2004
Date of arrest/ country: 4 July 2016, Turkey
A trained imam, Vakhitov was arrested and tortured by the Russian authorities in the 1990s for alleged support of Chechen separatists. He was released due to a lack of evidence against him. He fled the country and was arrested as he passed through Afghanistan in 1999 by the Taleban who held him prisoner for 3 years. After war broke out in Afghanistan he ended up in US detention and arrived at Guantánamo in June 2002. He was released with six other Russian nationals in March 2004.
Outspoken, he was critical of the treatment he and his fellow prisoners received both in the US and Russia. In August 2005, he was kidnapped and “disappeared” for several days with another former Guantánamo prisoner. They had previously been threatened by the security services and detained on a number of occasions.
Shortly after this, he left Russia for the Middle East, settling in Turkey. He relinquished his Russian citizenship. He also spoke at an Amnesty International conference in London in November 2005 about his experiences at Guantánamo and since his return to Russia. In Turkey, he became involved with other Russian émigrés and was outspoken, particularly via social media, about the persecution of Muslims in Russia and political prisoners there. In 2014, he launched a social media campaign to support Rasul Kudaev.
With the growing flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey, Vakhitov became involved in humanitarian work in Syria and the refugees. Although he had initially supported anti-government forces in Syria in 2011, he was quick to condemn ISIS and terrorism, as he did in a 2015 interview with Open Russia.
Following the attacks on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on 28 June 2016, Vakhitov condemned the attackers and urged people to pray for the victims. When he was arrested on 4 July, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, and Voice of America claimed he had been arrested in connection with the Airport attack. The authorities have not revealed the names of the suspects; the media has claimed that many are Russian and Central Asian nationals and that Vakhitov is involved.
Vakhitov’s arrest has been confirmed by the Turkish authorities and the Russian émigré community. According to journalist Nadezhda Kevorkova, Vakhitov had told journalists prior to his arrest that he had problems related to the validity of his residence visa. Russia is also seeking his extradition on terrorism-related grounds. Following the airport attack, the authorities in Russia and Chechnya have requested the return of a number of their citizens. He remains imprisoned.
Although the media has enjoyed implicating Vakhitov, as a former Guantánamo prisoner, in the airport attacks, and alleging he has links to terrorist organisation, the question of who benefits from Vakhitov’s detention is further complicated by the US having labelled him a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” on 29 June; this does not make him a terrorist, but simply freezes any assets he has in US territory. The actual effect of this is unclear but was further compounded by similar sanctions imposed by the European Union on 9 August, which effectively restricts his ability to travel. No reasoning has been provided by either the US or the EU. Vakhitov is a hostage to the geopolitical relations of the world’s superpowers.
Updated 21/02/2017: On 27 December 2016, Vakhitov had a first hearing before the Antalya Criminal Court on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation (ISIS) and using false identity documents. Vakhitov denied membership of ISIS or any terrorist group. He told the court that he had visited Syria for humanitarian purposes (aid distribution) in 2012 and had returned to Turkey on forged documents provided by the Free Syrian Army, fearing that Russian intelligence would come looking for him. He had met some of the Russian defendants in the Istanbul bombing case who have been released. He was not charged and is not being tried in relation to any terrorist incident. The trial was delayed after one day following a request by Vakhitov’s lawyer.
Name: Moussa Zemmouri
Born: 1978, Antwerp, Belgium (Belgian national)
Arrival at Guantánamo: February 2002
Released: Belgium, 2005
Date of arrest/ country: 24 July 2015, Antwerp, Belgium
Moussa Zemmouri was travelling eastwards overland in 2001 from the Middle East when he was kidnapped in Pakistan and sold to the US military who questioned him about his trip to Afghanistan, from where he had entered the country. He was taken to Guantánamo and released with another Belgian national in 2005.
On their return to Belgium, the two men were charged; Zemmouri was accused of links to a Moroccan terrorist organisation. The charges were dropped in 2009 due to a lack of evidence. In 2010, he brought an ongoing case against Belgium for its failure to intervene. Zemmouri has been under intense surveillance since his return.
In spite of harassment by the authorities, his arrest in 2015 was the first since his return. He was at home at the time of the alleged burglary involving Soufiane Abbar Huwari and was arrested on his own later. He had only met Huwari shortly before when an American film company making a documentary about Guantánamo asked to meet them both.
Following his arrest, Zemmouri was held in solitary confinement. Given the scant facts and as Huwari was not identified, the alleged plot was pinned on Zemmouri by the media in 2015. However, Zemmouri was not charged with terrorism offences and was convicted of conspiracy. He was given a suspended sentence and is currently appealing his conviction. Describing his life after Guantánamo in a recent interview, Zemmouri said, “You live in constant fear. You know there is no freedom, but you just live. If you could change the situation, you would, but you can’t.”
Updated 21/02/2017: On the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, 11 January 2017, Zemmouri brought a claim before the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva against the Belgian state for its role in the ill-treatment and torture he faced at Guantánamo Bay between 2002 and 2005 and the state’s failure to act and prevent torture, or to investigate the abuses, which it is obliged to under international law. Media sources have claimed he is seeking €50,000 in damages.