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October 27, 2009

Today, the Los Angeles Times reports on the struggle of former Guantánamo detainee Mohammed Jawad to readjust to freedom after spending roughly a third of his life in detention. In August, as a result of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition on behalf of Jawad, he was finally released and sent home to Afghanistan after 6 1/2 in U.S. custody.

While in U.S. custody, Jawad, one of the youngest prisoners held at Guantánamo, was held in solitary confinement and subjected to the infamous “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program. He attempted suicide in December 2003 by repeatedly slamming his head against his cell wall. Two judges — first his military commission judge, then a federal judge — ruled that evidence gleaned through Jawad’s torture and coercion was inadmissible.

The LA Times story sheds light on the difficulties of adjusting to life after Guantánamo:

[Jawad]…suffers from frequent headaches, he says, and often rests during the day. Prison memories haunt him, something doctors warn may never end. He worries about those left behind, his de facto family. He’s out and they’re not, and that’s a source of guilt. Though the Obama administration has said it will close Guantánamo, hundreds of detainees remain there and at Bagram.

He asks a reporter to tell President Obama, the United Nations, someone, to help them. “People there are sick,” he says. “They should be treated. They should be freed.”

As his anger rises, his uncle tells him not to think about the lost years.

But it spills out. He talks about having his hands bound behind his back and being forced to eat like a dog, being kicked, beaten and pepper-sprayed and subjected to excessive heat, loud noise, solitary confinement.

After a year, Guantánamo records show, Jawad tried to commit suicide by banging his head against his cell wall repeatedly.

“I was tortured and faced many problems,” he says. “They also play with your mind.”

In spite of this, Jawad has hope for the future. The article states that Jawad wants to be a doctor and “[h]e wants to resume his education, he says, even if it means sitting with 13-year-olds at tiny desks.” Jawad goes on to state, “That’s my dream… I don’t know if it’s possible. But that’s my dream.”

The story also quotes one of Jawad’s military lawyers, Eric Montalvo, as saying, “We need to do more than just dump him on the corner with a bus ticket after seven years and say, ‘Have a nice day.'”

Promptly and justly handling the cases of remaining prisoners is one part of the Guantánamo challenge. Honestly confronting the crimes committed in America’s name at the notorious prison camp is another. Americans deserve to know who authorized, condoned and encouraged the abuse and torture of detainees like Jawad; let Attorney General Eric Holder know that you stand with the ACLU and support a thorough investigation of torture crimes.

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