Former Guantanamo detainee in Argentina, calls for asylum

AP News
Posted: Feb 12, 2015 7:28 PM
Former Guantanamo detainee in Argentina, calls for asylum

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A former Guantanamo detainee who was resettled in Uruguay has appeared in neighboring Argentina wearing a prison-style orange jumpsuit and asked the country to grant asylum for detainees still at the U.S. detention facility.

Abu Wa'el Dhiab told Barricada TV that he believed "the Argentine government could receive the prisoners at Guantanamo here in a humanitarian way." The 19-minute interview was posted by several local websites Thursday.

Speaking in Arabic with a Spanish translator, Dhiab said he would formally request asylum for other detainees, but did not elaborate. Calls to Argentina's Foreign Ministry and the office of President Cristina Fernandez seeking comment were not returned.

During the interview, which took place Wednesday, Dhiab recounted hunger strikes that he participated in and he criticized the U.S. government for not closing the Guantanamo prison.

While at Guantanamo, Dhiab was at the center of a legal battle in U.S. courts over the military's use of force-feeding. When he arrived in Uruguay in December, he was reportedly weak as a result of repeated hunger strikes. In the video, Dhiab appears thin but not overly so.

The 46-year-old Syrian was one of six men who were released in December and resettled in Uruguay. It was unclear if Dhiab was still in Argentina or if he had returned to Uruguay. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Dhiab and the other prisoners do not have passports but upon arrival in Uruguay as refugees they were issued national identity cards, which is all they need to travel from that country to neighboring Argentina. In similar fashion, some prisoners have been sent to European Union countries and are free to travel around the EU.

Since January 2002, when the detention center opened at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, about 620 prisoners have been released or transferred, with the vast majority making no public statements or appearances.

A few have given interviews over the years, denouncing their treatment. Former prisoner Moazzam Begg, a British citizen released in 2005 after three years in custody, became a prominent activist campaigning against anti-terror tactics in his country and has made many speeches and public appearances over the years.

Ian Moss, a State Department spokesman on Guantanamo issues, said the U.S. government was aware of reports that Dhiab had traveled to Argentina but had no further comment.

Orange jumpsuits, which are now worn only by Guantanamo prisoners on disciplinary status for breaking prison rules, have become a symbol of the prison and are frequently worn by protesters campaigning for its closure.

Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Defense, noted the use of the jumpsuits as propaganda in testimony before Congress on Feb. 5 as evidence that Guantanamo has damaged the reputation of the United States around the world. Specifically, McKeon mentioned the Islamic State extremist group, often referred to by the acronym ISIS.

"It is no coincidence that the recent ISIS videos showing the barbaric burning of a Jordanian pilot and the savage execution of a Japanese hostage each showed the victim clothed in an orange jumpsuit, believed by many to be the symbol of the Guantanamo detention facility," McKeon said.


Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, contributed to this report.