US President Barack Obama has been served with a bitter reminder by the first Pakistani prisoner who was set free from a controversial US detention centre in Cuba.
A former inmate of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre reminded President Obama of his repeated promises to shut the notorious facility — where dozens of detainees continue to languish without trial.
Muhammad Sagheer says the US president had pledged during his election campaign in 2008, and after his victory in 2009, that he would shut down the controversial detention centre but he is yet to honour his commitments.
Sagheer – originally from the Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) – was held in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province in late 2001 along with hundreds of Taliban militants following the ouster of the Taliban regime.
He was dumped in a container with other Taliban fighters and was transferred to an Afghan prison in northern Afghanistan where he was tortured by Uzbek warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostam’s militia, before he was sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
He spent one year in Guantanamo and was the first Pakistani to be freed.
“I still remember the mental agony I had to undergo at Guantanamo but was expecting it would be closed. (President) Obama has broken his promise,” Sagheer told The Express Tribune in an interview in Islamabad.
President Obama had ordered the CIA in January 2009 to close down the facility within a year. “We will be setting up a process” to figure out the logistics of closing down Guantanamo, Obama had told reporters gathered in the Oval Office of the White House on January 1, 2009, according to American media reports.
ABS news reported in July: “It might be President Obama’s biggest broken promise: closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay”.
Sagheer, who remains wired with the rest of the world through radio transmissions in the remote mountainous Patan village, said Obama now had only few months ahead of his second election bid to fulfil his promise with the Americans and the rest of the world.
“How will the Americans trust him (Obama) when he approaches them again during his presidential election to make more promises,” Sagheer asked rhetorically.
The former detainee had sued the US government for damages worth over $10 million for what he called miseries and inhumane treatment he had faced at Guantanamo but regretted that the US never responded to the notices his lawyer had sent to the US administration.
“My family was not given any information by the American authorities for months when I was detained. They spent everything they had to find me and ultimately abandoned the search.”
Sagheer said he was set free in October 2002 without any charges and authorities at Guantanamo had promised him compensation — another promise that never saw the light of day.
He also lashed out at the Pakistani government for not providing any compensation to the families of the freed prisoners from the US-administered detention facility.
He recalled that former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s government had announced a reintegration programme for the freed Guantanamo prisoners but the plan was never implemented.
The Miami Herald has reported that as of September 2012, 167 detainees from 27 countries including Pakistan remain at Guantanamo.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2012.
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