This fall marks the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack in New York. However, the trial of the five men held responsible and imprisoned in the Guantanamo military prison has not yet begun. In total, the United States kept 780 prisoners at Guantanamo for a longer or shorter period of time, today there are 40. So far, very few have been sentenced. Maintaining the dilapidated facility will cost US taxpayers 13 million US dollars - per inmate and year.
Four reporters from the New York Times investigated what happened to the first 20 detainees transferred to Guantanamo four months after the 9/11 attack. According to the Pentagon at the time, they were “the worst of the worst” (the worst oft he worst). And the brigadier general who built the prison doubled down: “They are the worst elements of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We took the worst guys first.“But none of these men have ever been charged with the September 11 attack, not even as co-conspirators.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other men whom the US today blames for the attack were only captured four years later and transferred to Guantanamo.
Eight of the first 20 prisoners were released during the Bush administration. Only two of the first 20 are still on Guantanamo. Ali Hamza al Bahlul is the only one who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for a war crime. Tunisian Ridah bin Saleh al Yazidi, on the other hand, could have left Guantanamo years ago, but refuses to be repatriated. The rest – proven fighters, fellow runners, and men who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time-have long lived across the globe in eleven different countries.
21-year-old Shabidzada Usman Ali was the first to be sent home in May 2003. His imprisonment was probably simply a mistake. In 2007, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who had been detained on the first day under the alias Abdullah Gulam Rasoul, was released. Shortly after his release, he turned out to be a commander of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. Today, at 48, he is a Taliban leader, a hardliner who opposes peace negotiations with the United States.
Ex-Guantanamo detainees at the negotiating table with the USA Three other first-time detainees were part of the Qatar-based Taliban negotiating team, whose agreements are currently being reviewed by the Biden administration. Mullah Fazel Mazloom, Mullah Norullah Noori and Abdul Haq Wasiq were three of the five Taliban prisoners sent to Doha by the Obama administration in 2014 in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Today, the three of them live freely with their families in houses provided by Qatar.
Among 30 Yemeni prisoners taken by Oman, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel is one of the first 20 Guantanamo detainees. The 43-Year-old now works in a factory and is a family man. Ali Ahmad al Rahizi and Mahmoud al Mujahid were deported to the Arab Emirates at the end of the Obama administration along with about two dozen other prisoners. According to the London-based “Life After Guantanamo"project, they remain in detention under unacceptable conditions. Not least because a forced expulsion to war-torn Yemen would be too dangerous.
Yemeni Abd al Malik was deported to Montenegro, where he lives in precarious circumstances with his wife and daughter.
Four of those released by the Bush administration were untraceable for the reporters of the New York Times. Gholam Ruhani was deported to Afghanistan in 2007. His lawyer has not heard from him since. Feroz Abassi was brought back to Great Britain, Omar Rajab Amin to Kuwait and David Hicks to Australia. They are all submerged.
Four men now live in Saudi Arabia, the best known of whom is Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who made headlines with his hunger strike in Guantanamo. After a prison stay in Saudi Arabia, he was released in 2018 and has since started a family. The three others, Mohammed al Zayly, Fahad Nasser Mohammed and Mohammed Abu Ghanem, have completed a rehabilitation program and have not been prosecuted, according to a Saudi official.
Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese, was repatriated in 2013 and died in February this year from the physical and psychological consequences of his stay in the notorious military prison at Guantanamo.