Today will pass like any other day for a man in an isolated prison more than 7,640 miles from his home. For the last 16 years, the United States has held him without trial and without charge. We refuse to release him even though, before the Trump Administration’s reign, our most senior military and intelligence agencies determined he posed no real danger to us. We have simply failed to let him go.
And so, just like every other day, he waits. He waits to live. He waits to die. He waits to know his fate. This the life of Towfiq Nasser Awad al Bihani, known by the United States detainee number 893 at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.
Our liberty is eroded at the margins. Towfiq’s continued detention reflects one of the most important due process, national security, and human rights issues of our time. If once he was a human being, he is now treated as a political football. Strongman-tweeting and tired political sound bites have taken the place of reasoned decision making.
Hyperbolic political rhetoric has prevented the United States from taking a hard look at why someone like Towfiq, a nobody in the ‘war on terror,’ remains indefinitely detained, costing taxpayers $29,000 with each passing day.
Towfiq, a 45-year old Yemeni national who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, has been a prisoner since March 2002. Nobody ever saw fit to file charges against Towfiq, largely because he has never engaged in hostilities against the United States or any of our coalition partners.
He was detained while travelling through Iran, far from any semblance of combat and transferred to Afghanistan where he was handed over to U.S. authorities—apparently as part of the infamous U.S. bounty program, where thousands of dollars were paid for the capture of bearded Arabs.
Towfiq was then taken to a CIA black site, where, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report, he was labeled Number 19 of the forty prisoners who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA—the euphemism for torture that blackened our reputation for a generation. The same table indicated that he was one of a tiny number who were subjected to “unauthorized” torture—whether that makes it better or worse is for others to debate.
Illustration by @carysboughton