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Tajik National Says He Prefers Guantanamo To Returning Home

November 13, 2009
By Iskander Aliev, Tohir Safarov

Tajik citizen Umar Abdullaev, who’s been held at the controversial U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for nearly eight years, says he's in no hurry to be released -- if it means returning to his homeland.

"He's afraid that the threats that were made to him by agents of the Tajik military and the Tajik Interior Ministry...will be carried out," U.S.-based lawyer Matthew O'Hara, who represents Abdullaev, tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service. "And those threats were that they would throw him in prison, they would torture him, and they might even get rid of him."

Abdullaev's concerns for his personal safety are so serious, O'Hara says, that his client has made a startling decision.

"He has told me on many occasions that while, of course, he wants to win his freedom, he's so afraid, so concerned about returning to Tajikistan," O'Hara says, "that he would rather remain in Guantanamo in prison than go back to Tajikistan."

Abdullaev is among the handful of Tajik citizens who were captured in either Afghanistan or Pakistan and handed over to the U.S. military for incarceration at Guantanamo Bay as terrorist suspects. Of the 11 Tajik nationals sent to the detention facility in Cuba, Abdullaev is the last remaining detainee.

His lawyer says Abdullaev's family fled to Afghanistan after the Tajik civil war broke out in 1992. Abdullaev's father attempted to return to Tajikistan with other refugees in 1994, O'Hara says, but was shot dead trying to cross the border.

After fighting intensified in Afghanistan in the ensuing years, O'Hara says Abdullaev's family headed to Pakistan in seek of refuge. It was there that Abdullaev was apprehended, in November 2001, at the age of 22. Pakistani authorities handed him over to U.S. authorities, and he has been at Guantanamo ever since.

O'Hara says that during his imprisonment in Guantanamo, Abdullaev has lost all contact with his remaining relatives and attempts by others to find them have them have failed.

"He has had no contact with his mother or his brothers or his sisters since he was detained in Pakistan in November of 2001," O'Hara says. "We have been searching for them. We've searched for them in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and in Tajikistan and we have not been able to find them, and he's never had any contact with them since then."

Abdullaev and his lawyer are aware that at least two Tajik nationals who were held at Guantanamo eventually returned to Tajikistan, where they were quickly tried and given long prison sentences.

Abdullaev's last hope appears to be that rights organizations and his lawyer can work out some sort of deal that would prevent him from repeating their fate.

U.S. President Barack Obama has set a self-imposed deadline of January 22 to close the facility at Guantanamo. Senior U.S. officials have acknowledged that the administration is unlikely to meet that deadline.

RFE/RL correspondents Bruce Pannier and Pete Baumgartner contributed to this report


Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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