Long-time readers of my work will know that I championed the cause of Mohamed Jawad, the Afghan prisoner released from Guantánamo on August 24, for nearly two years, from the moment that he was, ludicrously, put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2007. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan translator in a marketplace in Kabul in December 2002, even though it was clear from his testimony alone that he was a teenager at the time of the attack, that he had been duped into joining an insurgent group, that he was drugged at the time of the attack, and that a confession had been coerced out of him while in Afghan custody. His case was also, at the time, the most obvious example of how the Bush administration, in its “War on Terror,” had warped existing war crimes legislation, and was attempting to claim that anyone who opposed US forces in a wartime situation was engaged not in legitimate warfare, but in a criminal enterprise.
Since then, I have assiduously covered the various twists and turns in his story, including, in particular, the crisis in the Commission system that was precipitated in September 2008, when his military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned, declaring that the Commission system was unable to deliver justice, and explaining how he had gone from being a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived,” the incidents in October and November 2008, when his military judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, refused to accept the confessions made by Jawad shortly after his capture (both in Afghan and US custody), because they had been extracted through threats of torture, an explosive statement by Lt. Col. Vandeveld in January this year, to accompany Jawad’s habeas claim, in which the former prosecutor delivered an even more comprehensive denunciation of the Commissions’ systemic failures, his lawyers’ discovery in May that Jawad may have been as young as 12 when he was first seized, the savage denunciation of the government’s case that was delivered by Judge Ellen Segan Huvelle during his habeas corpus hearing in July, when she condemned the Justice Department for its persistent obstruction, and repeatedly stressed that the government did not have a single reliable witness, and that the case was “lousy,” “in trouble,” “unbelievable,” and “riddled with holes,” and statements to a Senate and House Committee in July by Lt. Col. Vandeveld and by Jawad’s military defense attorney, Lt. Col. David Frakt.
These not only provided the final word on the whole of the sordid story of Jawad’s imprisonment and ill-treatment, but also provided — in Frakt’s electrifying testimony, in particular — a comprehensive account of the fatally flawed genesis and development of the Commissions, which should have convinced the administration and the politicians that their proposal to revive the Commissions in a revised form is doomed to failure, and that they should be consigned to the scrap heap of history, along with every other innovation dreamt up by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisors.
I extend my belated congratulations to these brave and principled men and women for securing Mohamed Jawad’s release and for defending the values on which the United States prides itself, and am delighted to note that, on Jawad’s return, he was reunited with his family, and was even granted an audience with President Hamid Karzai, who offered to help the former refugee readjust to his new-found freedom by providing him with a house. The Associated Press reported that “Turbaned men, many who had traveled to Kabul from villages in a nearby province, greeted him with a flurry of hugs and wide smiles,” and added that Jawad, standing in a courtyard surrounded by family members, stated, “I am bursting out of my clothes. I spent a long time in prison and now I am very happy to be back with my family.” The London Times also reported that the Defence Minister, Abdul Rakhim Wardak, “offered to pay for him to study overseas,” following a statement by Jawad, in which he announced that he would like to study to become a doctor.
Below is a video from al-Jazeera (via YouTube) featuring a report on Jawad’s return and a brief interview. He also spoke to a number of other media representatives, including Jeremy Page of the London Times, who reported that Jawad “furrowed his brow and fidgeted nervously as he struggled to explain his extraordinary ordeal over the past seven years.” “This is one of the happiest moments in my life — to be back in Afghanistan after all this time,” he explained, adding, “I hadn’t done anything — they took me for nothing. All I could do was hope that one day I’d be free and back home in Afghanistan with my mother.”
August 27, 2009]
Page noted that, when Jawad was finally reunited with his mother, “she refused initially to believe he was her son because he had changed so much, and fainted in a fit of hysterics,” according to Sher Khan Jalalkhil, a close friend of Mr. Jawad’s late father. Jalalkhil added, “Only when she came round and checked for a distinctive bump on the back of his head, did she embrace him as her offspring.” He also explained that the family had searched for Jawad for nine months after his initial disappearance. “We didn’t know if he had been killed, or kidnapped, or got lost. His mother went crazy,” he said, adding that they did not realize that he was in Guantánamo until a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross came to visit them.
At a press conference on August 27, one of Jawad’s lawyers, Marine Maj. Eric Montalvo, stated that Jawad planned to sue the US government for compensation for his long ordeal, although Jawad himself refused to elaborate. Maj. Montalvo explained that he “did not want any perceived anti-American statements to jeopardize his legal claim for compensation.” “If he starts speaking out in the coming days, he could put himself at risk,” Maj. Montalvo said. When he was asked if the “risk” referred to the US government, he said only that “it had not ended well” for other Guantánamo prisoners.
After his release, Jawad had privately described the abuse he had suffered in US custody, reinforcing the claims made by his lawyers, and by Lt. Col. Vandeveld. His uncle, Gul Nek, who met with him “for a long time” on the afternoon of his return, as the Associated Press described it, said that his nephew “recounted tales of torture by sleep deprivation,” and explained, “You can see in his face that he has been tortured.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk.
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