Since Guantanamo Bay opened its doors in 2002, we have been repeatedly told that the people inside are the “worst of the worst.” , that these are “bad dudes,” who have committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Despite this, of the 780 detainees that have been incarcerated at Guantanamo, 731 have been released without charge, often after having been held for many years.
Clearly, it is not always the ‘worst of the worst’ offences that lead to incarceration at Guantanamo. Sometimes it is more a case of bad luck. Here are six ways that you could end up in Guantanamo
1. Have the same name as an alleged terrorist
Haroon Gul is an Afghan citizen who has been in Guantanamo Bay for almost a decade. Having grown up in a refugee camp, he managed to educate himself, build a family and find work as a trader, selling bread and honey. He also has the same name as a local fighter in Afghanistan. On the basis of this mistaken identity, Haroon was sent to Guantanamo Bay, where it was nine years before he was granted access to a lawyer.
Haroon is far from being the only case of mistaken identity at Guantanamo. Ahmed Rabbani was a taxi driver mistaken for a terrorist leader and subjected to torture. Both Haroon and Ahmed still remain in Guantanamo.
2. Grow up near a village that sounds like a terrorist group
Emad Hassan was a Yemeni student in Pakistan when he and the other 14 students he lived with were arrested and handed over to the US military. When the American interrogator asked him through an interpreter whether he had any connection to Al-Qaeda, Emad said yes, thinking the interrogator was talking about the village called Al-Qa’idah that he’d grown up near in Yemen.
On the basis of this mistaken ‘admission,’ Emad was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he would be held for 13 years, before his release in 2015. He spent the last seven years of his detention on hunger strike and was brutally force-fed twice a day.
3. Volunteer for a charity
Shaker Aamer was volunteering for a charity in Afghanistan when the United States invaded in 2001. He was captured, tortured and sent to Guantanamo, thousands of miles from his wife and children in London, on the basis of fanciful accusations from an informant. Transferred to the camp on the day his youngest child was born, he would not get to meet his son for 13 years.
4. Spend two hours in Afghanistan
Adel al-Gazzar was living in Pakistan when war broke out in Afghanistan. Wanting to help the people affected, he signed up with the Red Crescent to help refugees. Within two hours of crossing the border into Afghanistan, Adel was seriously injured in a US airstrike and had to have his leg amputated. He was taken from the hospital to a prison, tortured, and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
While he was cleared for release almost immediately, Adel spent eight years in Guantanamo before being transferred to Slovakia.
5. Be a war correspondent
In 2001, journalist Sami Al Hajj was arrested by the Pakistani army, while trying to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He was handed over to US forces, and eventually rendered to Guantanamo, where he was held for six years without trial or charge.
During his detention, Sami was falsely labelled as an ‘enemy combatant’. In reality, Sami was working as a camera man for the respected news outlet Al Jazeera. At the time of his arrest, Sami had been travelling across the border to cover the war in Afghanistan. He held a valid visa, and was part of a team which operated out of the same house as CNN.
Sami had a history of courageous frontline reporting. Far from being an ‘enemy combatant’, during his time in Afghanistan, Sami had been arrested by the Taliban on multiple occasions.
In Guantanamo, Sami was subjected to religious persecution, physical beatings, and denied access to vital medical attention. He was eventually released from Guantanamo without charge in 2008.
6. Get sold for a bounty
This is by far the most common way to end up in Guantanamo, and the factor that all of the above have in common. After 9/11, the United States began to offer a bounty of up to $5000 to local people for capturing foreigners in Afghanistan and Pakistan – an amount that was equivalent to multiple years’ worth of salaries.
These bounties were not just offered to security forces or local authorities, but to anybody. US forces posted flyers offering “wealth and power beyond your dreams… This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life”.
Offered wealth beyond their dreams, it is unsurprising that people took it.