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Eight years on suicide watch

Palestinian former inmate now living in Spain had no proven links to Al Qaeda

That Walid Ibrahim Abu Hijazi, a former Guantánamo inmate, is finding it hard to lead a normal life in Spain is hardly surprising in light of the secret Department of Defense files, made available to EL PAÍS by WikiLeaks.

The Palestinian was placed on a list of "high risk" prisoners due to his health. He suffered from "an extreme personality disorder," had threatened to kill himself on several occasions and was placed on daily suicide watch. Despite his evident mental health problems, and that he was classified only as "possibly" dangerous, Hijazi spent eight years incarcerated at Guantánamo.

Today, Hijazi lives in a city in northern Spain. His first months at liberty were spent in a hotel but he was transferred to an NGO center when he found it impossible to live alone. He arrived in Europe in terrible condition, hardly able to speak, frightened of everything and displaying behavior that led authorities to believe he would do himself harm. He is better now, but only after lengthy psychiatric care. It is not easy to get over Guantánamo.

The secret file on Hijazi is dated May 24, 2007, when he had already been held for five years. The recommendation of the military was that he should be transferred "beyond the control of the Department of Defense" - freed, but outside US borders. It was a further three years before Hijazi would be released. The file said nothing about the reasons for his release, nor about his mental state, which earned four lines. It concentrated mainly on his state as an "enemy combatant." He was accused of admitting he had aided Osama bin Laden, but nothing on this claim was included in the internal report. Hijazi denies saying anything of the kind.

The son of a carpenter, Hijazi left school early to help his father. In 2001, he decided to make his first pilgrimage to Mecca. Hizaji told his captors at Guantánamo that animosity toward Palestinians in Saudi Arabia made it difficult to find work, and money to return home. He spent three months penniless in a mosque, where a Saudi offered him the chance to travel to Afghanistan to join the jihad. Hijazi answered that, as a Palestinian, his fight was against Israel but that he would accompany the man in return for some money to get home.

The Saudi arranged a passport so that Hijazi could leave the country and he took him to the insurgent camp of Al Faruq. According to Guantánamo officials, he spent two weeks there, leaving a day before the September 11 attacks. Hijazi went to Khost, where he was injured by a mujahadeen grenade. After being taken to hospital, Pakistani authorities handed him over to the United States. Department of Defense files now corroborate his version of events, and even note the contrary: Hijazi said he would fight in a war if he had to, but would not jump just because somebody like Bin Laden said he should. Since he arrived in Spain he has ceased to wish to take his own life.

From translator to Guantánamo prisoner

Of the three former Guantánamo inmates taken in by Spain - the Palestinian Walid Ibrahim Abu Hijazi, an Afghan and a Yemeni - Mohammed leads an almost normal existence. He is learning Spanish, has an apartment, friends and wants to go to university, like thousands of other immigrants. The only difference in the case of Mohammed, who does not wish his full name or location to be revealed, is he spent seven years and two months at Guantánamo. His secret file says only that the US considered him "possibly" dangerous and his links to the jihad, according to the file, are limited to his visit to an uncle in Pakistan who shares a name with a man linked to a terrorist group.

Mohammed worked in Kabul for an Angloamerican company providing translations for US engineers. On April 1, 2003, he was asked to translate sensitive information regarding Taliban movements provided by Afghan informers. An American in the company told investigators he had overheard Mohammed divulging the information to a friend. He was arrested and a month later was taken to Guantánamo.

Accusations against Mohammed were contrary. The US military said he posed no threat on the one hand, but also accused him of participating in an attempt to assassinate the Afghan president and the US ambassador, as well as having links to an Afghan jihadist group. It was recommended that he be transferred to another country, under supervision lest he "caught up again in radical activities." In prison, Mohammed's behavior was such that he was considered to be of little threat and the information he possessed was classed as of little use. Nonetheless, when the information dried up he was viewed under suspicion of withholding relevant data.

On his file, the camp commandant concluded: "The prisoner may be a member of HIG [an armed Afghan group]. But there is no way to determine his level of implication or responsibility."

* Este artículo apareció en la edición impresa del Jueves, 28 de abril de 2011

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