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Portrait Of A Guantanamo Bay 'Terrorist' Suspect

  • Jeffrey Donovan

President Obama has instructed military prosecutors to seek a suspension to trials of terror suspects held at Guantanamo.

President Obama has instructed military prosecutors to seek a suspension to trials of terror suspects held at Guantanamo.

Nearly two years ago, the Pentagon cleared Oybek Jabbarov to leave Guantanamo Bay. Yet the 30-year-old father of two from Uzbekistan, who suffers from serious health problems, is still languishing in U.S. captivity in Cuba.

But Jabbarov, accused of terrorism but never charged, professes no rancor.

In a hand-written letter in October (click here to read, along with the rejection letter), in English he taught himself in Cuba, Jabbarov repeated his claim of innocence. "But I do not blame the American people for their government's mistake," he told Michael Mone, his American attorney. "Even though I am still here in this prison, I have no hate in my heart."

As Obama on January 22 signed an order to close Guantanamo within a year, and gave instructions for military prosecutors to seek the suspension of legal proceedings involving Guantanamo inmates, Jabbarov and some of the camp's 248 detainees finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

But the road may still be long for the Namangan Province native, whose eight-year extrajudicial ordeal raises questions about the U.S. war on terror, amid a legal morass and the political complexities of Central Asia.

Cleared, But Still Locked Up

Jabbarov is among some 50 Guantanamo detainees who, though cleared for release, remain locked up because their home countries do not want them -- or might subject them to abuse, or worse, if they return. No third country has agreed to resettle them, even after the Bush administration asked some 100 countries to grant asylum to cleared Guantanamo detainees.

There are various reasons for this.

Many of those countries opposed the Guantanamo facility from the beginning, and the issue of taking detainees off Washington's hands at this late date was politically sensitive domestically.

There have also been debates within these states about whether providing safe harbor to exonerated Guantanamo inmates could be a security issue. A report issued this month by the Pentagon claimed that 61 former detainees have returned to the battlefield.

But with a new U.S. president in office, Portugal and some other European states have signaled a new willingness to take detainees.

Mone, Jabbarov's Boston-based lawyer, says he must not return to Uzbekistan, whose notorious intelligence service was invited in late 2002 to interrogate him at Guantanamo Bay.
I do not blame the American people for their government's mistake


"They at one point showed him a photo array and asked him if he could identify any of the individuals who are pictured in the photo array," Mone says.

"And when he couldn't identify any of them, one of the Uzbeks banged his fist on the table and said, 'When you get back to Uzbekistan, you will know these things.' And Oybek took that to mean that when he got back to Uzbekistan, they would torture him until he told them what they wanted to hear."

Captured In Afghanistan

Jabbarov's story is not black and white.

He was among a group of Tajikistan-based Uzbek noncombatants and fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who in late 1999 were transferred into Afghanistan. There, prior to the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, Jabbarov says his family lived in Mazar-e Sharif while he worked as a traveling trader of farm animals.

The timing and location of his movements correspond to those of the IMU groups, says Marcus Bensmann, a German journalist and expert on the alleged terrorist organization who at that time was based in Central Asia.

But among the fighters, Bensmann says, were also many ordinary Uzbeks from Jabbarov's native Ferghana Valley who fled to Tajikistan to avoid Uzbek President Islam Karimov's broad crackdown against devout Muslims, who were widely accused of antigovernment sympathies.
A guard tower overlooks Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay


"For example, I found in Kunduz [Afghanistan] an archive of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. And among the things I found books and publishing about how people escaped from the Ferghana Valley to Tajikistan," Bensmann said.

"And they started to live there; that means some of them were also not armed. You had armed people, but also normal people living in Hoyit, Tajikibad, and the other part of this valley to the east of Dushanbe."

Jabbarov, who lived in Hoyit, says he first went to Tajikistan at the instigation of his brother, Ulugbek, a devout Muslim once briefly detained by Uzbek police. Their plan was to trade at outdoor markets.

But once there, Jabbarov says his passport was lost, perhaps stolen by his brother to ensure he did not return home, where police could blackmail him and force Ulugbek back to Uzbekistan.

While Jabbarov may have crossed into Afghanistan in the company of IMU members, experts say most of those fighters returned to Tajikistan within weeks to launch a raid on Uzbek territory. Jabbarov stayed in Afghanistan.

Shortly after the United States invaded in November 2001, Jabbarov says he hitched a ride outside Kabul with Northern Alliance forces who promised to take him to Mazar. Instead, they handed him over to U.S. forces for what Mone, his lawyer, says was likely a cash bounty.

Mone says Jabbarov was "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Like 95 percent of Guantanamo detainees, he says, Jabbarov was not armed and was handed over by locals, not apprehended by U.S. forces. He says his U.S. captors should have realized quickly Jabbarov was a "nobody." Instead, he was sent to Cuba in June 2002.

'Enemy Combatant'

The U.S. government still categorizes him as an "enemy combatant."

When his status was reviewed in 2007, the U.S. government, which never charged him with any crime, accused Jabbarov of supporting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, admitting to being an IMU member and training in IMU camps, and taking part in military operations against the United States and its allies.

Jabbarov has always maintained his innocence.

"I have also seen the classified evidence that the government has against him. And while I can't tell him what is in those classified returns, I can tell you that in my opinion, it is a joke -- an absolute joke," Mone says. "A first-year law student taking trial practice would eviscerate the government's case."

Jabbarov's health is poor. Surgery for a ruptured disk in his back in May 2007 was unsuccessful and led to nerve damage. For months, he could urinate only through a catheter. He was also confined to a wheelchair or walker, but has improved somewhat recently.

His family's whereabouts are unclear. They were living at a UN refugee camp in Mashhad in Iran, but reportedly are no longer there. He has two young sons, one of whom he has never met.

Two years after his release order, Jabbarov remains locked up in a small cell. He rarely sees others and leaves for only two hours a day, at times chosen by Guantanamo Bay officials.

Yet he remains upbeat, says Mone, a personal-injury lawyer with no previous experience in human rights law. He is defending Jabbarov free of charge.

"I felt I could no longer stand on the sidelines and permit this gross executive power grab, which is how I view [Bush's] actions as they relate to torture, rendition, and the creation of Guantanamo as this [legal] black hole," Mone says.

In his letter last fall, Jabbarov said he hoped to study agricultural one day and open an "agri-business." He added, "My only wish is to get out of here and to be with my family -- to see my two sons, and to find a peaceful life."

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