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Tracking the Guantanamo diaspora

In twelve years of operation, more than 600 detainees have been released from Guantanamo. Here's what we know about what they are doing now.

Since January 11, 2002, when more than 20 alleged enemy combatants were brought to a detention facility at the United States Naval Station on the south coast of Cuba, Guantanamo has been one of the most controversial sites in the U.S. government's war on terror. Its population would be joined by 756 more detainees in the months and years that followed.

But following the peak in 2003, the numbers have decreased. A total of 615 men were repatriated or transferred to new host countries. One went on to a trial and life sentence in the United States “Supermax” penitentiary in Colorado, nine died in custody, and as of  the 12th anniversary of the  facility, 155 men remain held in Guantanamo.

Despite the curtain of official secrecy around Guantanamo, a lot has been learned about the men still held there, as well as the men who have been released. I’ve been gathering data on the detainees since 2002 and I continue to update the Guantanamo Docket on the New York Times web site.

For those seeking to research and report on their compatriots who remain in Guantanamo – or on Guantanamo detainees who have been released to their countries – I’ve compiled a review of what we know about the whereabouts of those who have been held there.

Their names were mostly unknown until 2006, when a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Associated Press forced the government disclose their identities and the Internment Security Numbers (ISN) used to identify them.

Still held in Guantanamo

Among those still held at Guantanamo are 11 prisoners who arrived on the first day, including Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul (ISN #39), a Yemeni who has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a military commission. An Obama administration task force in January 2010 recommended that seven of the others be held in continued detention without trial; they are considered too dangerous to release but can’t be prosecuted.

They are:

Abdul Haq Wasiq ISN #4, Afghanistan;

Mullah Norullah Noori ISN #6, Afghanistan 

Mullah Mohammad Fazl ISN #7, Afghanistan;

Abd al Malik Abd al Wahab ISN#37, Yemen;

Abdul Rahman Shalabi ISN #42, Saudi Arabia;

Mohammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim ISN #44, Yemen;

Ali Ahmad Muhammad al Rahizi ISN#45, Yemen;

Three prisoners have been recommended for transfer home or to another country. They are:

Mahmoud Abd al Aziz Abd al Mujahid ISN #31, Yemen;

Ridah Bin Saleh al Yazidi ISN #38, Tunisia;

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel ISN #43, Yemen;

The current Guantanamo population includes 46 men who were recommended for indefinite detention by the task force. Their status is now being reviewed again by government panels. In the first review to be completed, the status of one was changed to “transfer” on January 9.

There are 77 men who have been approved for transfer and 32 recommended for possible prosecution. Six of them are currently in pre-trial hearings in front of military commissions, including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (ISN 10024).

On the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, demonstrators are planning protests in Washington, Miami and London calling for the closing of the facility.

Homeward Bound, Rehab and Exile

Less is known about what happened to the detainees after they were released from Guantanamo.

Reporting on the returnees to 52 countries  has been sparse in English language media, with the exception of continued reports and suspicions about the former detainees who have “returned to the battlefield.” This week, the Washington Post reported that former Libyan detainee Abu Sufian bin Qumu has been implicated in the September 2012 Benghazi attack that killed U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Other former detainees have reportedly been killed by drone strikes in Yemen.

The exception to this coverage was a major project by McClatchy newspapers in June 2008 which detailed the stories of 66 former detainees. More recently, there have been stories on detainees repatriated to Afghanistan (ABC), to Spain (El Confidencial) and the UK (NPR), to rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia (by ICIJ member Syed Nazakat) or to imprisonment in Canada.

But the unique situations of former Guantanamo detainees who were resettled to third-party countries without personal or cultural ties are mostly unknown.

The only former detainees who have attracted media coverage are the Uighurs (pronounced "Wee-gurs"), member of an ethnic minority in China who were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 and who were illegally held, according to a U.S. federal judge in 2008 who ordered their release. The last three of 22 Uighur prisoners were transferred to Slovakia on New Year’s Eve after more than 12 years in detention. Other Uighurs were sent to Albania, Bermuda, El Salvador, Palau and Switzerland. Some of them have since moved on to Sweden, Turkey or parts unknown.

U.S. diplomats negotiated agreements that sent Libyans to Georgia and Albania, Palestinians to Germany, Hungary and Spain, Egyptians to Albania and Slovakia, Uzbeks to Albania, Ireland, Latvia and Switzerland, and Syrians to Belgium, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Germany and Portugal. Some of the negotiations were revealed in the Wikileaks “Cablegate” files.

ICIJ members sent news of former detainees released to their countries: Walid Ibrahim Mustafa Abu Hijazi in Spain (El Pais), Abd Al Rahim Abdul Rassak Janko in Belgium (where he wrote a book), Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad in Bulgaria.

If you have seen news reports on the resettled detainees and the returnees in your local media, please let me know and I will report the results here.

Thanks for research help from Mar Cabra, Kristof Clerix, Jesús Escudero, Syed Nazakat, Alexenia Dimitrova, Fredrik Laurin, and Claudio Tognolli. 

Margot Williams is ICIJ's research editor. You can reach her at

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