Europe Turns the Screws on Former Guantánamo Prisoners

The US-run detention centre for “war on terror” prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is truly a collaborative effort; dozens of states worldwide assisted the US in the arrest, detention, torture or transport to torture of the around 800 men who have been held there. In some cases, their home states provided information that led to arrests, or failed to prevent or protest their illegal detention and torture once they became aware of it.

European states have proved no exception, making them complicit in the torture of their own citizens. Several dozen citizens and residents of European states have been held at Guantánamo. With the exception of Russian Ravil Mingazov, who was cleared for release in July 2016, all other European citizens were repatriated by 2005. European residents have also been returned to their countries of residence or origin. None were ever prosecuted at Guantánamo. As with prisoners released elsewhere however, legal problems and harassment have followed them.

States like France and Belgium brought prosecutions against their citizens on their return but these were later dropped due to a lack of actual evidence. Other forms of harassment included surveillance, initial restrictions on travel and obtaining passports.

The persecution of seven men who returned to Russia in 2004 was documented in detail in a 2007 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report; in addition to kidnappings and beatings, some of the men were imprisoned and tortured. In 2007, Ruslan Odizhev was shot dead by the police in an alleged shoot out in the North Caucasus; there was no investigation into his death.

Harassment has not been restricted to the first few years after release; it continues more than a decade on and can even follow former prisoners abroad. Demonisation and misrepresentation in the media help to reinforce this situation.

Given its complicity, Europe’s attitude to Guantánamo has been duplicitous. On the one hand, under the Obama administration, a number of European states have…

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