18 March 2018

Kenyan Prisoner in Guantanamo Bay Hopeful of Release

A Kenyan held in an American military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 10 years on terrorism charges is hopeful of returning home some day.

In a letter dated November 17, 2017, Mohamed Abdul Malik Bajabu tells his eldest sister Mwajuma Rajab Abdalla to be optimistic that one day he will be acquitted.

The four-page handwritten letter exclusively seen by the Sunday Nation was written in November, but reached the family a few weeks ago, nearly five months after their father died of cancer.

"No man is perfect... (and) this is just a test and it too shall pass; one day at a time," Malik told his sister in the letter written in broken Kiswahili.

According to her, his mastery of Kiswahili has deteriorated as he normally converses in English or Arabic while in prison.

He was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in February 2007 after he was linked to several attacks, including the 2002 raid on an Israeli hotel in Kikambala, Kilifi, where more than 10 people died.

The police also linked him to alleged plans to attack a World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa in 2007, said his sister.

Further, he was suspected of being a member of the banned Islamic Party of Kenya. In March 2007, Kenyan authorities flew him to Guantanamo Bay to face trial.

FOREVER PRISONERS

But Malik, a father of three, is now one of the "forever prisoners" at the facility, which means he is being held indefinitely without charge or trial.

In recent years, the only way out for these prisoners is to be "cleared for release" by the Periodic Review Board (PRB), the military equivalent of a parole hearing.

The prisoners are expected to show that they are well-behaved, that they do not hold extremist views, that they will have family or community support, and that they have employment prospects.

In his last appearance before the PRB last June, Malik said: "While here in detention, I continue to read and learn about farming and honey harvesting. I am a hardworking man and I am confident that I can run a farm and support my family upon my release."

He further told the Board, which comprises the heads of the US security agencies, that he would like to be repatriated to Middle Eastern Arabic speaking countries.

"I am a peaceful man; I pose no threat to the United States or anyone. I am a moderate Muslim and do not believe in violence. My hope is to live in a peaceful society where I can rejoin my wife and family and raise my children," he said.

Ms Abdallah said US officials have previously asked her whether she can take care of him if he is returned back and ensure he doesn't engage in criminal activities, but nothing tangible came out of those talks.

The sister said the family always follows international news to know whether the prison would be shut as had been earlier indicated. "Most countries have taken their prisoners. Why can't Kenya bring him back?" she asked.

REFUSED CLEARANCE

During his successful campaigns for the White House in 2008, Mr Barrack Obama promised to close the prison within a year. When he got to office in 2009, however, his efforts were thwarted by Congress. And by the time he left office in January last year, there were 40 prisoners at the facility.

Hopes of an early release have been dashed by the election of Donald Trump as US President in November 2016, said Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Malik's private counsel who works for human rights group Reprieve.

"Since Trump's inauguration, all detainees at GTMO have been refused clearance by the Periodic Review Board, even when they are harmless -- the standards for clearance sometimes seem impossibly high," she said ahead of Malik's appearance before the PRB last year.

Nonetheless, Malik's family is still hopeful of reuniting with him soon. "We normally talk through Skype every three months," Ms Abdallah said at her home in Mombasa.

"Last time, he told me not to worry about him. That he is concerned about my security. He said if he dies on US soil, that would be his fate," she said.

The family said Abdul Malik has undergone harsh conditions including torture. Last year, he was among prisoners who staged a 92-day hunger strike.

"He underwent an operation after becoming very sick. He was tortured beyond human imagination," his sister said.

She said his brother had three chains initially but that two have been unlocked -- "an indication that he could be released soon".

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