SANAA, Yemen – Abdulrahman al-Shabati, his parents say, never had any connection to al-Qaida. Instead, they insist, his decadelong detention at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is little more than a case of terrible luck.
Al-Shabati, they say, was studying in Pakistan when he was picked up in a raid on a mosque in 2002 and dispatched to Guantanamo.
In the 10 years that al-Shabati has been held, life has moved on. His siblings have married and his daughter has grown up. Now al-Shabati’s parents have become part of a new push by the Yemeni government to win the release of the 90 Yemenis being held at Guantanamo.
Last week, al-Shabati’s parents traveled from their home 60 miles outside Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, to protest outside the U.S. Embassy here. In the coming weeks, a delegation of senior Yemeni officials – including the country’s foreign minister and its minister of human rights, as well as intelligence officers – is hoping to visit Guantanamo Bay, where dozens of detainees currently are conducting a hunger strike to protest their indefinite imprisonment without trial.
Even Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who generally enjoys close relations with the United States, has directed rare criticism at the Obama administration.
“We believe that keeping someone in prison for over 10 years without due process is clear-cut tyranny,” Hadi said in a recent interview broadcast over the Arabic language channel of Russia Today. “The United States is fond of talking democracy and human rights. But when we were discussing the prisoner issue with the American attorney general, he had nothing to say.”
Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the U.S. does not comment on communications with foreign governments about Guantanamo or the cases of individual detainees who have not been charged with a crime. He said he was unaware of any previous visit to Guantanamo by foreign officials, except members of a country’s intelligence or law enforcement services.
In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s minister of human rights, cast the ongoing hunger strike as the catalyst for seeking to visit Guantanamo. At least 41 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are refusing food, the Pentagon has said, in a protest that U.S. officials say began in March and that lawyers for the detainees say began in February.
But Mashour said that ultimately Yemen wants Obama to fulfill his previous promise to close the Guantanamo detention center and either send the detainees home or have them face criminal charges.
“For them to spend such a long time without trial is simply lawless,” she said. Mashour said that was especially true of the 25 Yemenis, including al-Shabati, whom she said the United States has cleared for release but is still holding.
Anger has been growing in Yemen over the continued detention without trial of Yemenis at Guantanamo since the September suicide of Yemeni detainee Adnan Latif, who once had won a court ruling from a U.S. district judge ordering his release but whose victory was overturned by an appeals court.
Roughly 90 Yemeni citizens are still being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The Yemenis form the largest group of detainees at the prison.