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Kuwaiti Prisoner Released From Guantánamo Faces Lifetime Of Surveillance

Fayez al Kandari, a thirty-eight year-old Kuwaiti held in captivity at the Guantánamo military prison for nearly fourteen years, was released to Kuwait. He was the last Kuwaiti in detention, and the U.S. military’s Periodic Review Board cleared him for release in September of last year.

As part of Kandari’s release, he will undergo “rehabilitation.” He also will be subject to surveillance by his government for the rest of his life, even though he was never charged with any terrorism or criminal offenses.

Kandari’s attorney, Eric Lewis, stated, “Mr. al Kandari is delighted to be going home and reuniting with his beloved parents and family after all these years away.”

Lewis added, “He goes home with optimism and looks forward to resuming a peaceful life and to putting Guantánamo behind him.”

In September 2015, the Periodic Review Board, which President Barack Obama’s administration established for reviewing cases, determined Kandari’s detention no longer was “necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

“The Board determined the detainee’s threat can be adequately mitigated by the Kuwaiti government’s commitment to require and maintain the detainee’s participation in a rehabilitation program and to implement robust security measures to include monitoring and travel restrictions,” according to a summary of the final determination.

Kuwaiti’s attorney pledged [PDF] to the Board that the Kuwaiti government would require Kandari to “check in weekly at his local police station.” He would be “visited at home on a regular basis by the rehabilitation professionals.” His “internet usage, religious instruction, social networks and financial affairs, among other things,” would be monitored. He would surrender his passport and be banned from travel. He would also be subject to “electronic and physical surveillance and curfew measures.”

“Fayez understands and accepts that he will live his life subject to the scrutiny of his government,” Lewis stated.

Fourteen months prior to Kandari’s July 2015 hearing before the Periodic Review Board, the military board determined he should remain in detention. The Board noted his “residual anger against the United States,” “possible extremism connections of certain family,” and the “lack of history” regarding the “efficacy” of the “rehabilitation program” in Kuwait as reasons he should not be released.

As of October 2014, the military maintained Kandari was an “al Qaida recruiter and propagandist who probably served as Osama bin Laden’s spiritual advisor.” Kandari never confessed to any “terrorist acts” or to having any “extremist affiliations.” The military believed he had family, who “probably also have taken part in terrorism, including attacks against U.S. targets in Kuwait.” One specific (but unnamed) family member was believed to be “tied to al Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.”

Journalist Andy Worthington, who traveled to Kuwait with attorney Tom Wilner to campaign for the release of Kandari, published a profile in 2012. Kandari traveled to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work in August 2001. He became caught up in the war following the September 11th attacks. Kandari attempted to flee to Pakistan, but he was captured by the Northern Alliance in December 2001. The Northern Alliance handed him over to U.S. forces.

Some of the work Kandari did involved building wells and repairing a mosque. He engaged in this kind of charity right up until leaflets started to appear, which “encouraged the Afghan people to turn in Arabs for money.”

According to Worthington, at Guantánamo, Kandari was subjected to sleep deprivation, which included the “frequent flyer program” where prisoners were moved from cell to cell every few hours for days, weeks, or sometimes months. Kandari endured “physical and verbal assaults, attempts at sexual humiliation through the use of female interrogators, the prolonged use of stress positions, the use of dogs, the use of loud music and strobe lights, and the use of extreme heat and cold.”

On top of the torture, the military accused Kandari of instructing al Qaida members and trainees. He was accused of producing “recruitment audio and videotapes, which encouraged membership in al Qaida and participation in jihad.” The military also insisted he had advised bin Laden.

To which, Kandari declared in 2005, while before a military tribunal reviewing his detention, “All this happened in a period of three months, which is the period of time I stayed in Afghanistan? I ask, are these accusations against Fayez or against Superman?”

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Wingard, who was Kandari’s attorney for a period of time, wrote in 2009 that Kandari was “drugged, his ears were plugged, he was diapered, and a sandbag was shoved over his head.” He was then shackled to the deck of an aircraft and brought to the military prison in May 2002.

Even after torture techniques employed by the military were no longer being widely used against prisoners, Wingard described the abuse still taking place every day. Military guards punished “detainee resistance” or minor infractions, such as “talking back or hanging towels in the wrong location.”

“The special unit of guards known as the Immediate Reaction Force—whom the cell-block guards call for assistance—has increased its number of bruising “cell extractions,” [Fayez] says,” Wingard shared. “Almost every day, a detainee is forcibly removed from his cell as the guards show the prisoners who is in charge. Fayez was extracted from his cell three times in a 10-day period this spring.”

Prison guards took photos, videos, and his prayer rug and cap away from him after he would not shower in front of the guards. He was made to wear an orange jumpsuit instead of a white jumpsuit in order to show he was a “noncompliant detainee.” These were just some of the few examples of how the prison dehumanized prisoners on a regular basis.

Kandari attempted to go through the U.S. courts to win freedom, but he had his petition for habeas corpus denied.

It is remarkable how prisoners like Kandari can be tortured and denied justice and face continued indefinite detention simply because they have “residual anger” toward the country, which is holding them inhumanely in captivity.

One of the few bits of hope Kandari had was seeing a fellow Kuwaiti prisoner, Fawzi al Odah, cleared for release and transferred to Kuwait in 2014. In fact, the Kuwaiti government’s “rehab” and system of surveillance for Odah helped persuade the U.S. military to finally transfer Kandari into the custody of the Kuwaiti government.

There is not one iota of evidence beyond the military’s allegations to substantiate the notion that Kandari ever had anything to do with al Qaida. But, for being captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo, he will live the rest of his life under total surveillance.

Still, now he knows he will not have to endure daily horrific abuse inside Guantánamo ever again.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."