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Tajik citizen says he prefers Guantanamo to returning home

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - From wire dispatches | 11/17/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Tajik citizen Umar Abdullaev, held at the controversial American facility Guantanamo Bay for nearly eight years, says he is in no hurry to be released.

Tajik citizen Umar Abdullaev, who has been held at the controversial U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for nearly eight years, said he is in no hurry to be released – if it means returning to his homeland.

“He’s afraid 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, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service. “Those threats were that they would throw him in prison, they would torture him and they might even get rid of him.”

Abdullaev’s concern for his personal safety is so serious, O’Hara said, 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, that he would rather remain in Guantanamo in prison than go back to Tajikistan,” O’Hara said.

Abdullaev is among the handful of Tajik citizens 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.

According to his lawyer, 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 said, but was shot dead trying to cross the border.

After fighting intensified in Afghanistan in the ensuing years, O’Hara said, Abdullaev’s family headed to Pakistan in search 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.

During his imprisonment in Guantanamo, O'Hara said, Abdullaev lost all contact with his remaining relatives and attempts by others to find 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 2001,” O’Hara said. “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 Jan. 22 to close the facility at Guantanamo. Senior U.S. officials have acknowledged the administration is unlikely to meet that deadline.

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