Protesters wearing Guantanamo prison clothes. (Photo: Ghayor Waziri)

Protesters wearing Guantanamo prison clothes. (Photo: Ghayor Waziri)

When he was first elected, US President Barack Obama promised the controversial jail, Guantanamo Bay, would be shut down and emptied within a year.

But more than seven years later the promise is yet to be fulfilled. 

From Kabul, Afghanistan, Asia Calling’s Ghayor Waziri meets one released prisoner who was detained in the jail without charge for seven years. 

Hundreds of children are studying here at a private school in Kabul. 

Thirty-six year old Shareef Allah Sherzad works at the school, monitoring the quality of teaching.

But for seven years – from 2003 until 2010 – he was detained at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. 

After an intense time of punishment at Guantanamo Shareef Allah said he wanted to return to normal life.

“There was a lot of punishment of prisoners, for example, they didn’t let us to sleep and they drowned us in water,” he says.

Shareef Allah Sherzad says the guards also deprived prisoners of food and subjected them to humiliating treatment...

Shareef Allah was 22 years old and had just returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan when he was arrested by US forces in Nangerhar, an eastern province of Afghanistan.  

He still he doesn’t know why he was detained at Guantanamo for seven years.

“Honestly from my arrest to my release, I didn’t know why US forces detained me,” he says, “At first they told me it was because I had ties with Al-Qaida then the Taliban, then they told me I had relations with the Haqani network. Finally they accused me of being connected to the Hekmatyar chief of Hizb-e-Islami, one of the group’s leader who was fighting against Afghan and international forces.”  

The Haqani network is a group of insurgents working under Taliban leadership, while Hizb-e-Islami is a mujahedeen faction involved in the civil war in Afghanistan.

But Shareef denies he was involved with any of the groups.

In recent weeks in Kabul, angry citizens have demonstrated outside the American embassy calling for the closure of the detention camp.

The protesters, some dressed in orange prison uniforms like the ones worn at the prison were holding banners with the phrases, ‘Close Guantanamo! And ‘Guantanamo, a shame on Human Rights! 

Activist Nazer Muhammad Mutmain joined in the demonstration. 

“After 15 years, still some people are detained in Guantanamo jail, while they don’t have a barrister and nor their rights as a human being,” says Mutmain, “When after 15 years their crimes are not clear and there is no court injunction on them, then it is their right to be released. That is why we are protesting here and asking the US to close this jail. Guantanamo is shameful to the US government, a shame on the world.”

Some of the protesters identified themselves as family members of Guantanamo prisoners…

While others blamed US President Barack Obama for not fulfilling his promise to shut it down.

This demonstrator is reading a joint statement at the protest, urging the United States to close all of its hidden prisons.

Protestor Omer Khan travelled from Khost province to join the rally.

His son has been detained at Guantanamo for years but he has no idea why.

“It is about 14 years that they carried my son to Guantanamo prison, no one has taken responsibility to answer me why. If he is accused of a crime they must bring him to court and blame him for that, without a court injunction no one can put him in jail,” says Khan, “If he is not accused of a crime they must release him.”

During his detention Shareef says it was very difficult to contact his family and like many prisoners, he faced severe mental problems.  

“We could only contact our families by letter, which was managed by the ICRC,” he says. “But it would take months for the letters to be sent because the US forces kept them. For example, once I received a letter from my family 21 months after it was sent. In jail there was a lot of pressure and I suffered from mental problems. I got depressed and had nightmares.”

Abdul Rahman Hootak is from the Afghan independent human rights commission.

The organization has received many complaints from people about Guantanamo jail and it is a major concern, he says.

“Guantanamo is a jail where most of its prisoners are arrested illegally and are held in that jail illegally,” he says, “Guantanamo prison is against every kind of international law and human right.” 

Guantanamo prison opened in 2002 and at its height there was almost 700 prisoners detained there.

Now there are less than 100 detainees, eight of who are believed to be Afghani.

And while the numbers of detainees are dropping, that’s not good enough for some here in Kabul.


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