by Suad Hamada
Of the many expectations that Arabs hope will come out of the US Presidential election, the top three almost certainly are: massive changes in American foreign policies in the Middle East; withdrawal of US troops in Iraq; and the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay’s military prison. Here in Bahrain, we fervently hope that the election will at least begin to bring positive changes to Guantanamo Bay. We want to see detainees get the proper trials they deserve and punishment where warranted, but without violating human rights principles. In Bahrain, we want to see the innocents among them released.
The first two anticipated changes might take some time to become realities, but the closing of the Guantanamo prison could be achieved almost immediately – and it should be closed, for many reasons, not the least of which is the intense criticism about its existence, both from within the US and from the rest of the world.
As reported by their lawyers and human rights organizations, the detainees have been tortured and humiliated without either formal charges or trials. The Bush Administration has referred to the detainees as “enemy combatants” who don’t deserve to be protected under the Geneva Conventions.
At the beginning of this year, the prison “celebrated” its fifth anniversary. One of the issues here so obvious to us in the Arab world is that this prison isn’t just violating the human rights of the detainees, but also their anguished families, who are waiting for the release of their loved ones. The prison has held 775 detainees from different countries. Six of those originally detained were from Bahrain. As of June 22nd, 345 detainees have left Guantanamo's prison. But according to Amnesty International, while many have been released, others have simply been transferred to the custody of other countries.
Four of the six Bahraini detainees, Adel Kamal, Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa, Abdullah Majid Al Nuaimi and Salah Al Beloushi were released in 2005 and 2006, and are now back in Bahrain. But two men are still waiting for a miracle; Juma Al Dossari and Isa Al Murbati are still in custody.
Before going to Pakistan, all the six detained men were leading rather ordinary lives in Bahrain:
Isa Al Murbati joined the Bahrain Defense Force after graduating from high school and was sent to Saudi Arabia to study equipment maintenance and then to America to learn English. He later started his own business.
Adel Kamal joined the government sector shortly after his graduation where he worked for eighteen years until the day of his arrest. Upon his return, his organization declined his request for employment, citing a lack of job openings.
Abdullah Al Nuaimi was only19 when he captured by US authorities. After finishing high school he studied in America for six months before moving to the United Arab Emirates to complete his studies.
Juma Al Dossiri, shortly after finishing higher education in the US, joined his family's construction business.
Like Salah Al Baloushi, Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa was unemployed. A member of Bahrain’s royal family, Al Khalifa 21 years of age and unemployed when he was arrested.
Upon arrest, the families of the formerly employed detainees faced difficult choices and the burden of financial existence without support.
Hajer Kamal, the wife of Adel Kamal, struggled for years completely alone, trying to raise her daughter with no monthly income, nor any government financial assistance. She insists that her husband went to Pakistan to provide humanitarian aid for war victims, but some corrupt Pakistanis handed him over to the American authorities as a terrorist, just to get the cash award. In an analysis of 500 detainees, Amnesty International found that 5% were captured by US forces, while 86% were arrested by Pakistani or Afghani Northern Alliance Forces for the promised reward of thousands of dollars.
Hajer lived for four years alone with her daughter; their new house had been under construction when Kamal went to Pakistan. When he was at last allowed to come back, he had to sell it and move back into his father’s home to pay his debts.
Hajer may have lost her dream house, but this is nothing compared with the plight of Isa Al Murbati’s wife: she is totally dependent on charity to support her five children. Al Murbati’s wife, known in Arabic as “Um Ali,” says that raising children alone without a job or pension is very tough, especially when she knows that her younger children don’t even remember what their father looks like.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to my husband. The efforts of the Bahraini government and his lawyers have failed until now to get him [either a] release or even [a] proper trial,” she said.
Lawyers from the New York firm of Dorsey & Whitney are representing both remaining Bahraini detainees. According to the US lawyers, none of the six detainees were accused of anything that would make them “enemy combatants.” All were arrested and detained simply because they were apprehended in Pakistan. “For these reasons, it is most appropriate that four of the six clients are now home in Bahrain. The tragedy was that they had to spend between four and five years in United States' custody,” said the lawyers. According to the law firm’s accounts, their freedom was won due to the efforts of the Bahraini government, as the habeas corpus litigation for Salah Al Beloushi, among others, was tied up in court for years.
”Of course, two of our clients, Jumah Al Dossari and Isa Al Murbati, remain at Guantanamo; our thoughts are with them today. As [we hope] is well known, the isolation and indefinite detention in Guantanamo have driven Jumah to attempt suicide many times.”
“These same conditions drove Isa Al Murbati to engage in a six-month hunger strike. Isa ended his hunger strike only when he was subjected to violent forced feeding. We can only hope for the sake of Jumah and Isa that they return home as soon as possible,” the lawyers declared, in one of their frequent statements sent to the Bahraini press through human rights activists.
Besides Bahraini government diplomatic efforts to gain the release of the remaining two, last year a public committee to support the Bahraini detainees in Guantanamo Bay was formed to pressure the government to do even more, and to highlight the needs of the detainees’ families.
“We have started late to defend the detainees, but better late than never,” MP Mohammed Khalid said, adding that all Bahrainis should join forces to call for just treatment for the detainees.
Khalid urged the Bahraini leader, His Majesty the King, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, as well as the ministries of interior and foreign affairs to increase the pressure on the American government to free the Bahraini detainees. He protested that it was unfair to keep the detainees for years without trials.
MP Khalid said that the committee’s activities were peaceful and certainly would observe any and all of the Kingdom’s regulations, nor would it fail to meet the Kingdom’s democracy and transparency limits. He called upon the government to send delegations with visual and audio messages from their relatives to the detainees to boost their self-esteem.
“The detainees are being treated like animals, [held] under poor living conditions,” Khalid said.
On June 29th, the United States Supreme Court reversed an earlier request and agreed to review whether or not civilian courts can challenge indefinite confinement -
a potential victory for detainees who wish to challenge their indefinite confinement status in federal court. – Ed.
About the Author
Suad Hamada has been working as a journalist since 1997. Her writing focuses on politics and women’s empowerment in Bahrain and the Arab region. She has been participating in national campaigns for the elimination of discriminations against Bahraini females.