Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani has spent almost a third of his life in US custody.
Now 32-years-old, the Yemeni national has been held at the US detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade.
The story began on 11 September 2002, when he was arrested in an apartment in Karachi by the Pakistani security forces.
He said he was tied up, blindfolded, beaten with a rifle and threatened with death.
Around five days later he was handed over to US forces and flown to Afghanistan, where he spent about a month in a secret US-operated facility in or near Kabul.
During this time he says he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sleep deprivation, stress positions and dousing with cold water.
In late October 2002, Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani was sent to Guantánamo from the US air base at Bagram, where he had been subjected to more abuse and endured a further five days of illegal detention.
It would be another two years before he would get access to a lawyer, and nearly six before the US Supreme Court was to rule that he and others held at Guantánamo had the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention.
Musa’ab Al Madhwani’s habeas corpus petition was finally considered in 2010.
More than 10 years after being taken into custody, he has not been charged with any crime by the USA, which claims the right to hold him indefinitely in the name of its "global war" against al-Qa’ida and associated groups.
The US authorities claim that in 2001 Musa’ab Al Madhwani travelled to Afghanistan to receive firearms training at an al-Qa’ida camp, where they allege he associated with al-Qa’ida members.
In 2010, the US District Court judge looking at Musa’ab Al Madhwani’s petition challenging the legality of his detention, gave the government the benefit of the doubt.
Describing his ruling as a “very close case”, this federal judge concluded that Musa’ab Al Madhwani was “at best, a low-level al-Qa’ida figure” who apparently “never finished his weapons training”, “never fired a weapon in battle” and never “planned, participated in, or even knew of any terrorist plots”.
In May 2011, the US Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.
The District Court judge found Musa’ab Al Madhwani’s allegations of abuse during detention and interrogation in Afghanistan to be “credible”.
Yet the evidence that he was subjected to the crimes, under international law, of enforced disappearance and torture in US custody prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, have apparently resulted in no criminal investigations, in violation of the USA’s international legal obligations.
Tip of the iceberg
Musa’ab Al Madhwani’s story illustrates the injustice wrought under the USA’s global war framework, and how destructive to human rights principles that framework continues to be.
More than 150 men are still held at Guantánamo. Many have claimed they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in US custody.
There has been little accountability for these human rights violations and the US administration systematically blocked attempts by former detainees to seek redress for such violations.
Only one of the 779 detainees held at the base since January 2002 has been transferred to the mainland USA for prosecution in an ordinary federal court.
Others have faced prosecution in military commissions in proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards. The administration currently intends to seek the death penalty for six of the men after such trials, in clear violation of international law.
Some detainees, who have been “cleared for transfer” from Guantánamo by the US government, cannot be sent back to their home countries because they would face further abuse there.
However, because the US authorities refuse to allow any released detainee into the mainland USA, they remain at Guantánamo until a third country solution is found, which can take years.
A reminder of the cruelty of this indefinite detention regime came in September 2012, with the news that Yemeni national Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif had become the ninth inmate known to have died at Guantánamo. He had been held without charge or trial for more than a decade.
According to the US military authorities, six of the previous eight deaths were the result of suicide and two from natural causes.
Adnan Latif had arrived in Guantánamo in January 2002 after the Pakistani police seized him in December 2001, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and handed over to US custody.
He had been held in the naval base ever since, despite his mental and physical health causing considerable concern over the years.
“I am a prisoner of death,” he told his lawyer, after a US Court of Appeals overturned a District Court judge’s finding that he was unlawfully held and should be released.
The future of Guantánamo
Adnan Latif’s death should send a strong message about the illegality of the detention centre.
“The death of Adnan Latif should underline to all political and judicial officials in the USA, of whatever political persuasion or judicial philosophy, the cruelty of the Guantánamo regime, its incompatibility with international human rights law and principles, and the urgent need to close Guantánamo and to resolve the detentions in line with international human rights law and standards,” said Rob Freer, USA researcher at Amnesty International.
On his second full day in office, President Obama committed his administration to closing the Guantánamo facility by 22 January 2010 at the latest.
He described the prison as “a misguided experiment”, adding that “by any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it”.
It remains open more than two-and-a-half years later.
The US authorities must urgently take action to correct this decade of human wrongs.
Bringing those still held in Guantanamo to a fair trial in independent civilian courts, or releasing them, is part of what international human rights principles demand of the USA.