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From One Hell To Another, With No End In Sight

Rasul Kudayev before and after his arrest following the deadly Nalchik raids.
Rasul Kudayev before and after his arrest following the deadly Nalchik raids.
For Rasul Kudayev, release should have been a blessing. During his three years at Guantanamo, Kudayev contracted hepatitis and suffered chronic pain from a bullet lodged at the base of his spine, an injury he says he received after his arrest by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Throughout his detention, he maintained his innocence, saying his trip to Afghanistan was merely an attempt to "see the world" following studies in Saudi Arabia.

He and six fellow detainees were repatriated to Russia in 2004, without charge or trial. But coming home was only a gateway to a fresh round of torment.

Kudayev, a young Muslim from the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was immediately branded an "international terrorist" by local security officials and subjected to fines and harassment.

A year later, in October 2005, he was arrested for allegedly participating in a deadly raid against law-enforcement bodies in the city of Nalchik. More than 100 people were killed in two days of fighting, and dozens of young men -- including Kudayev -- were rounded up in a sweep rights-watchers said deliberately targeted young men, particularly devout Muslims, who were seen as potential extremists.

(A fellow Guantanamo returnee, Ruslan Odizhev, was killed during the raid by authorities who later named him as one of the main organizers. His family disputes the claim.)

Kudayev -- who says he was home with his family on the day of the raid -- has languished in pretrial detention ever since.

Once a champion wrestler, he is now in failing health, with heart and liver disorders, with limited access to nutritious food and no access to medical care. His early months of detention were marked by claims of torture and abuse. His half-brother, Arsen Mokayev, says Kudayev's sufferings today are a direct result of his time in Guantanamo.

"It's because of Guantanamo that he's sitting in detention," Mokayev says. "Because they say that he was an international terrorist and played an active role in the organization's attacks and so on. That's all a result of Guantanamo."

Kudayev remains under the focus of powerful human rights groups like Amnesty International. But there is no certainty when -- or even if -- Kudayev will ever go to trial. A series of lawyers have repeatedly abandoned his case, claiming threats from local authorities.

Alexandra Zernova, a U.K.-based lawyer who has supervised Kudayev's case since his arrest, notes that all seven Russian returnees protested being given back to local authorities, and faced detention, violence -- and, in the case of Odizhev, death -- upon their return.

"We all knew from the very beginning that that was only the beginning of their suffering," she says.

Written by Aminat Kardanov and Daisy Sindelar
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