FEATURED ARTICLE by CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH.
For someone to be held without trial once might be accidental; twice, misfortune; but the third time means he is the victim of persecution. Egypt must set Adel al-Gazzar free at once.
Adel, a former Guantanamo prisoner, was detained in the Cairo airport having finally tried to return home. He has undergone a decade-long ordeal involving torture, detention in legal black holes, and medical malpractice so severe that his leg had to be amputated. It had been 11 years since he had seen his wife and three children. However, the joyous reunion which his family envisioned was snatched from them when he was detained once again, this time by Egypt’s interim military government.
It is impossible to imagine that scene at the airport: Adel longing to see loved ones for the first time in years, only to be shackled once more. What kind of “Arab Spring” is it when the Egyptian military compounds the mistakes of the US-led “War on terror”?
Adel had been a volunteer with the Red Crescent in Afghanistan. When the war came, he tried to leave, and was injured by one of the many indiscriminate US bombs. To add insult to injury, he was then sold to the Americans for a bounty from his hospital bed in Pakistan.
Adel became one of hundreds of innocent people who were swept up, labelled “the worst of the worst” and sent to Guantanamo Bay. There, he rotted for several years – literally, since the failure to treat his injuries properly resulted in the threat of gangrene and the loss of his leg.
Held without trial by the United States in Guantanamo, he was meanwhile tried in absentia by a Mubarak military tribunal. He was not present, was not allowed to defend himself, and was condemned as an enemy of the regime – based on the fact that he had been tarred as a “terrorist” by the Americans.
Eventually, I was able to get in to see him in May 2005. We forced the US military to admit their mistake, and Adel was cleared for release. Yet he could not return to Egypt, where everyone agreed he faced persecution by Mubarak. He waited for eight years in Guantanamo before, in January 2010, a “safe” country – Slovakia – offered him asylum from Mubarak’s venom.
Even this kindness turned sour: upon his arrival, Slovakia inexplicably detained him without charge for over six months. He was forced to go on hunger strike in order to secure his release.
So far he has twice been held without trial, and once tried without being present. Adel longed to return to his family. Adel’s confidence in the post-revolution regime in Egypt was misplaced; he is now facing the third phase of detention without trial. It is time to fulfil the promise of Tahrir Square: Adel must be set free at once, and reunited with his tearful wife.
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve, a not-for-profit organisation which provides legal support to victims of human rights abuses.