Release of Saudi man after nearly 14 years in US naval prison highlights the plight of 114 other detainees left behind.
US President Barack Obama is years overdue on his promise to shutter the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In all, some 780 men have been held at the US facility.
Many prisoners left Guantanamo in the same manner they arrived: on military transport planes. Some of the men were even hooded and shackled.
Former prisoners are now living their lives in more than 56 countries, with the most being sent to Afghanistan, followed by Saudi Arabia, which has a rehabilitation centre. A great many were sent to Pakistan.
Dozens of Yemenis remain in the prison – many who’ve been long cleared to leave. Due to the conflict in their country, some released Yemenis were forced to resettle elsewhere – in Spain, Georgia, Oman and more recently, the United Arab Emirates and Ghana.
A Yemeni transferred to Kazakhstan, Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, died from kidney failure not too long after he left prison. His maltreatment in detention and poor healthcare post-release were blamed for his death.
The Yemenis who did return to their home country have experienced mixed fates. Some 10 or so of the men tried to reclaim their lives and are now married and working. However, the security situation imposed on them has made that difficult at times, according to Ahmed Arman, a Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist.
Two of the men spent some time in detention – held for political security reasons without charges. Two other Yemenis are in Saudi Arabia seeking medical care.
Still others have joined the fight with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – and a handful of them have been killed in conflict or by drone strikes, Arman said.
Detained at home
Former Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri, repatriated to Morocco in September 2015, remains in jail there despite US diplomatic assurances that he would not be prosecuted or imprisoned. Chekkouri, along with almost all of the men released under Obama, were cleared for transfer from the US prison by six federal agencies.
Seven Russian prisoners were victims of flimsy “diplomatic assurances”, Human Rights Watch noted in a report detailing torture, ill-treatment, unfair trials and harassment upon their repatriation.
All the men had asked not to be sent home. One of them – Rasul Kudaev, said to be wrongly detained when he returned to Russia – was beaten while in a pre-trial detention facility there.
“On the right side of his face, there was a large haematoma. His eye was full of blood, his head was a strange shape and size, his right leg was broken and he had open wounds on his hands,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Djamel Ameziane of the minority Berber ethnicity fled Algeria in the 1990s. He worked legally as a chef in Austria and then sought asylum in Canada – a request that was denied.
Ameziane then travelled on to Afghanistan, where after the 9/11 attacks he was rounded up and sold to US forces for a bounty, according to his lawyers. He was released from Guantanamo in 2013 and was forcibly transferred to his home country, despite his fears of persecution.
“Like his predecessor, President Obama has given short shrift to Ameziane’s concerns about his fear of persecution and shown callous disregard for his human rights,” his lawyer Wells Dixon said at the time of his release.
An Algerian who left Guantanamo before him, amputee Abdul Aziz Naji, was sentenced to a three-year jail term on terror charges following what his lawyers called a “show trial”.
Surviving alone after Guantanamo Bay
Years after they were released from Guantanamo, a Syrian father and his son remain separated. Abdul Nasser Khantumani and his teenage son Muhammed could not be sent back to Syria for fear of repercussions under the Assad regime and possible torture.
The bureaucracy of becoming a legal citizen again can also make things difficult – as can the stigma of being a former prisoner.
They saw each other briefly at the prison before they would go their separate ways. “We got them an hour together, with one embrace at the beginning, one at the end, and no touching in between,” their lawyer Pardiss Kebriaei wrote.
Muhammed was sent to Portugal and was released before his father, who would be sent to Cape Verde.
Many men were forced to make their lives in unknown lands – often the only former Guantanamo prisoner in a foreign nation, like Syrian Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad in Bulgaria or Ahmed Abdul Qader in Estonia.
Of the men released under the Obama administration, some six percent are said to have “re-engaged” in terror-related activities, according to a report by the Director of National Intelligence.
The percentage under the Bush presidency was higher, but many of those men are believed to have been recaptured or killed. For example, Said Ali al-Shiri, a deputy commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, died in Yemen in 2013 as a result of injuries from a US drone strike.
More recently, former Guantanamo prisoner Ibrahim al Qosi, who was released to Sudan, after pleading guilty in a war court, is reported to hold a key position in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
After years of being told he was cleared for transfer, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, returned to his family in 2015. Fifteen men in total were sent to the UK.
Also recently, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz was repatriated to Mauritania; and in 2014, Abu Wa’el Dhiab was among those flown to Uruguay to start a new life. Cori Crider represented the three.
“Family support over and above anything else makes a huge difference” in reintegration for these men, she said. For Aamer to be back at home with his wife and family is “huge”, and it goes a long way in helping him readjust, Crider added.
“Imagine being taken out of the world for 14 years, tortured, given no compensation, sent somewhere with no ties, no family and someone says, ‘just dust yourself off'”, Crider told Al Jazeera. The idea that “it would be an overwhelming success is comical”.
The bureaucracy of becoming a legal citizen again can also make things difficult, as can the stigma of being a former prisoner. Finding their identities again can be a challenge. One released client told Crider, “We are out, but Guantanamo is in our mind.”
Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, has represented more than a few men.
“These men lost so many years of their lives at Guantanamo that they are now really focused on the future … They worry about the same things we do: finding good jobs, taking care of their families, raising their children – and most go on to live quiet and unremarkable lives around the world,” Dixon told Al Jazeera.
“The process of rebuilding their lives is slow and frequently painful, but these men are survivors.”