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'Gitmo' court ruling heartens Saudi families

The Supreme Court said Monday that 'Gitmo' prisoners can challenge detention.

By Faiza Saleh AmbaHCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 29, 2004


Abdullah al-Juaid was close to tears or joy when he heard the Supreme Court had ruled that inmates at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, where his brother is held, can contest their captivity in US courts.

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"I'll go to the States and attend his trial if they let me. The idea of seeing him again, hearing his voice and sitting with him makes me very emotional," says the 34-year old civil servant.

The ruling applies to nearly 600 inmates, most of them captured after the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The US had argued that US law did not apply to the terror suspects because the base is not on American soil.

Mr. Juaid, who filed his brief in January in connection with families of two others detained in Guantánamo Bay, says his faith in the US justice system has been restored. "I had hope that if the US government did not get involved, we would win the case," he says.

But he's still angry. "They caged my brother like an animal," he says, showing magazine photos of men in orange jumpsuits in their outdoor cages. Juaid has filled a thick file with newspaper clippings on the detainees, as well as photos and letters from his brother Abdul-Rahman, who was a student in Pakistan when the war broke out.

Like many families here, he believes his brother was "sold" by Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries to the Americans. "They took up to $3,000 dollars for each Arab they handed to the Americans," he says.

The Saudi government claims the majority of the Saudis picked up were innocent proselytizers or charity workers helping a war-torn nation. The rest, they say, were young men led astray by extremists.

While the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, hundreds of devout Saudis considered it a pure Muslim state and traveled there to work, live, study, or train for jihad, which they believe is a duty of all Muslims.

News that their sons were at Guantánamo was a shock to many Saudi families. Saeed Salem al-Shaher, for example, received word his 20-year-old son Salem had died in Afghanistan during the US attack. Hundreds of friends and family in Asir province came to observe three days of mourning. But eight months later, Mr. Shaher learned that another son had received a letter from Salem via the Red Cross.

"I was happy he was alive but sad he was with the Americans in Cuba," he says. "I don't know what they're doing to him. In his last letter, 13 out of 29 lines were censored."

Graphic pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have caused Saudi families of Guantánamo detainees much anguish. Youssef al-Sulami has a brother at Guantánamo. "Abu Ghraib brought the pain of Yahya's detention to the forefront all over again," he says. "It feels like he was detained last week, not almost three years ago."

Mr. Sulami kept news of the Abu Ghraib scandal from his mother for weeks, hiding newspapers or not allowing them into the house. When his mother found one of the hidden papers and saw the photos, she just fell to the floor, he says.

His brother Yahya was 19 and had been married for two months when the US went into Afghanistan. Nightly news footage of the war there and the death of civilians consumed him. "Every night [Yahya] prayed for the victory of our Muslim brothers over the Americans," says Youssef. "Then one day he just left. He didn't tell us where he was going." He was arrested several months later in Pakistan. "We don't know if he'd even made it into Afghanistan," says his brother.