The New York Times
The Original 20 Guantánamo Detainees: A Roster, and Where They Are Now
Starting with the Bush administration, the United States has gradually transferred all but two of the first 20 prisoners at the wartime detention facility to other nations. Here’s who, and where, they are.
By Carol Rosenberg
Shabidzada Usman Ali, sent to Pakistan in 2003
Mr. Ali, a Pakistani citizen, was among the earliest people repatriated from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at a time when the main prison facility, Camp Delta, held 680 detainees. The journalist Mark Bowden wrote that he traveled to Pakistan to meet some former Guantánamo prisoners and found Mr. Ali and another detainee, who said they had not been abused in American custody “except for some roughing up immediately after they were captured.” Both were in their 20s, he wrote in a later account, from tiny villages in the mountainous region of Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban hid, and he described them as “hapless young Pakistanis” who were rounded up by “Afghani warlords” for a bounty of $4,000 a head.
Feroz Abassi, sent to Britain in 2005
Mr. Abassi returned to England, attended university and assumed a new name. He was among a group of former prisoners who received compensation in 2010 from the British government. By 2011, he was divorced, had a son and was working part time for a moving company and for Cage Prisoners, an advocacy group based in Britain for people taken prisoner during the war on terrorism. Friends and lawyers who knew him from his Guantánamo days say he decided not to keep in touch, and he resisted overtures through intermediaries to discuss how he was doing.
The Story of the First 20
They Were Guantánamo’s First Detainees. Here’s Where They Are Now.
Omar Rajab Amin, sent to Kuwait in 2006
Little is known about what became of Mr. Amin since his repatriation. Moazzam Begg, a former detainee who is now a human-rights activist in London, said that he had heard through an intermediary that he “has a happy home and family and is taking it easy.” Lawyers who had worked on his case said that, unlike other Kuwaiti detainees, Mr. Amin adopted a low profile. He graduated from the University of Nebraska about a decade before his capture by Pakistani troops along the Afghan border in 2001.
Mohammed al Zayly, sent to Saudi Arabia in 2006
The Saudi government sent an aircraft to fetch Mr. Zayly, along with 15 other citizens, from Guantánamo Bay. It was part of a brisk period of transfers under the Bush administration that sent some former detainees to prison, typically for leaving the kingdom without permission, and then to an early rehabilitation program for jihadists. Mr. Zayly spent a year in the rehabilitation program, married and became a father. He now works in the private sector, according to a Saudi official who provided the information on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic in the kingdom. “He lives in Saudi Arabia and has not been implicated in any legal wrongdoing since his release,” he said.
David Hicks, sent to Australia in 2007
Mr. Hicks was among the best known of the early detainees because he was a Western convert to Islam at Guantánamo. He left the wartime prison after pleading guilty to a terrorism charge, a conviction that was overturned. In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Australia violated his rights by imprisoning him for seven months on his return. He spurned efforts to reach him through intermediaries, but people who know him say he still suffers both physical and emotional distress because of his time in Guantánamo and no longer works as a landscape gardener. His last known public sighting was in 2017 entering a courthouse in Adelaide on a domestic violence charge, which was subsequently dropped.
Fahad Nasser Mohammed, sent to Saudi Arabia in 2007
Mr. Mohammed was sentenced to two years in prison and completed the kingdom’s rehabilitation program. He was released in mid-2008 for good behavior, married, had children and found work in the private sector. “He has not been implicated in any legal wrongdoing since his release,” a Saudi official said. At the time of his return, it was common practice to imprison and charge former detainees with offenses that included leaving the kingdom without permission and carrying a weapon. From there, the men would be sent to the rehabilitation program.
Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, sent to Afghanistan in 2007
Mullah Zakir emerged as a powerful battlefield commander for the Taliban military in southern Afghanistan. At Guantánamo, he was held under an alias, Abdullah Gulam Rasoul, and was also identified as Mullah Abdullah. He was turned over to the Afghan government, which released him, said Bill Roggio, the editor of the Long War Journal, who carefully tracks the Taliban. Mullah Zakir is currently based in Pakistan, between Quetta and Peshawar, where he is associated with a senior Taliban chief, Mullah Muhammad Yaquob, the son of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive leader who died in 2013, and oversees jihadi troops that are trying to defeat Afghan’s unity government. “He’s one that shouldn’t have been released from Guantánamo,” Mr. Roggio said. “He’s active to this day.”
Gholam Ruhani, sent to Afghanistan in 2007
Mr. Ruhani was released in the same transfer as Mullah Zakir, but little else is known about what became of him. “I confirmed with his family that he had indeed returned and was not imprisoned there,” said his pro bono lawyer at the time, Rebecca Dick. “But I never spoke directly to him and I don’t know what happened to him.” Mr. Roggio of the Long War Journal described him as “a ghost” whose whereabouts he could not pinpoint. Mr. Ruhani was captured with his brother-in-law, one of the Taliban’s negotiators, after going to what they believed was a negotiated meeting with U.S. forces.