GUANTANAMO BAY — I write this from the U.S. Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, where I have been held without charge for almost seven years.
My detention here is the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than two years ago, I was notified that I was cleared for release. I would have been happy about this news if I did not come from Uzbekistan, a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. It is not safe for me to go home.
My journey to Guantanamo began in December 1998, after I finished my mandatory service in the Uzbek Army. Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic, is a poor country without many employment opportunities. After several months of job hunting, I joined my brother in a business venture buying and selling apples, honey and other goods in neighboring Tajikistan. I lived in a community of Uzbeks, and met my wife, Fatima, another Uzbek, while living there. We had a child, and my mother came from Uzbekistan to join us.
Unfortunately, there were some in Tajikistan who didn’t like having a bunch of Uzbeks living in their country. So, one day, in November 1999, the Tajik authorities rounded up 200 to 300 Uzbeks and said they were taking us back to Uzbekistan. Instead, they dumped us in Afghanistan. There, we met a group of Afghan Uzbeks who helped us settle in Mazari Sharif. I began working as a traveling salesman, selling goat’s milk, hens, roosters and sheep.
In the fall of 2001, when fighting broke out between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, I could not travel and was stranded at a roadside teahouse for several weeks. One day, Northern Alliance soldiers came to the teahouse and offered to give me a ride to Mazari Sharif. Instead, they drove me to Bagram Air Base and handed me over to the Americans stationed there. I found out later that the Americans were offering bounties of several thousand dollars for Taliban and “foreign fighters.”
At first, I was happy to be in American hands. I held the U.S. in high regard and figured that it would be only a matter of time before they realized that I was innocent and let me go. But they didn’t. They held me in Bagram, then Kandahar and eventually Guantanamo Bay. The Americans now realize that I ended up here by mistake and have told me that they want to let me go. But where can I go? Members of the Uzbek security service visited me here at Guantanamo and accused me of being a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. When I told them that I didn’t know anything about this group, they warned that once I was back in their custody, they would make me cooperate.
It is not hard to imagine what those ways are. Torture, beating and other mistreatment of Uzbek detainees are widespread. Sometimes people who are taken into Uzbek custody are never heard from again.
I am not alone. I am one of several dozen at Guantanamo who cannot return to our native countries because we would likely be tortured and abused. Our only hope of getting out of this prison is if another country decides to provide a haven to men like us — men who did nothing wrong and never should have been detained here in the first place.
Oybek Jamoldinivich Jabbarov, 31, is a Uzbek detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Oybek was assisted in writing this article by Michael E. Mone of the Boston law firm Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile. © 2009 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)
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