Sign the petition to bring Nabil home: http://www.change.org/NabilHadjarab
Former French resident Nabil Hadjarab has been held prisoner in Guantánamo Bay since February 2002, despite being cleared for release for over three years. He has not been charged with any crime and has had no trial. He longs to return to his family in France. Reprieve calls on the French government to bring him home.
Nabil Hadjarab longs to return to France, where he spent his childhood. He has spent over eight long years in Guantánamo Bay. He has never been charged with any crime nor had a trial. He has been cleared for release since 2007, when American officials confirmed that he was no threat to anyone.
Many years before that, his American interrogators told him that his identity had been confused with that of another man and that his detention was a mistake. Yet he remains imprisoned.
Nabil’s connection to France
Nabil’s family have long served France, risking their lives for the country.
• Nabil’s grandfather, Mohamed Ben Said Ben Sliman (born in 1894 in Algeria) spent three years during the First World War fighting for France.
• Nabil’s father, Saïd, fought loyally for France in the French Algerian war and was a member of General de Gaulle’s Republican Guard. After the war he refused a position in the Algerian police force, prefering insteadto return to the country that he considered his own: France. He lived and worked there (without any periods of unemployment) until his death.
• Today, all of Nabil’s family are French citizens.
• Nabil’s half-brother won a national medal of honour when he served in the French Army.
Now the Hadjarab family is calling on the French government to acknowledge these sacrifices. Nabil’s uncle, Ahmad Hadjarab, says, “I am asking America for humanity, and asking France for gratitude.”
Nabil has been cleared for release by the American administration. Now it is time for France to do the right thing and bring Nabil home.
Nabil was born in Algeria on 21 July 1979, but moved to France when he was just a baby. His father, Saïd Hadjarab, was born in Algeria in the 1930s, and moved to France in 1954. After living there for two years he was called up to do military service, aged 21, and spent twenty-eight months fighting for France in the brutal French Algerian war, on one occasion escorting General de Gaulles himself to one of his speeches. Afterwards, Said settled in Lyon, where he ran a small café and started a family. Nabil has seven half-brothers and sisters from his father’s first marriage; all are French citizens, and hope for Nabil’s safe return. One of them, who won the national medal of honour, has expressed a particularly strong desire to support Nabil upon his return.
Nabil was the only child of Said’s second marriage and the only one who does not hold French citizenship. He grew up in France in a foster family whilst he father would come and visit him on weekends. Nabil’s early years far from easy. Said's personal problems meant he was unable to care for Nabil. Nabil remembers this time as the happiest of his life – he enjoyed being with his foster family and flourished at his primary school in Savigny. He has repeatedly stated that he feels much more cultural affinity with Europe than North Africa; Nabil has no strong connection or support structure in Algeria.
When Nabil was nine years old, his father took him back with him to Algeria. Nabil continued his education in Algiers, but every summer he would go and spend two months with his Uncle Ahmad and his children in France. In 1994, when Nabil was 15 years old, his father sadly died of cancer. Although Nabil was taken in by an aunt in Algeria, she proved to be abusive. At this point, Nabil’s uncle, Mr. Ahmad Hadjarab, intervened.
Ahmad Hadjarab was born in Algeria in 1944 and moved to France in 1961. He has lived in France with his family ever since, and became a French citizen more than ten years ago. He has worked hard all his life for well-known French companies such as Berliet and, latterly, as a welder at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN). He has a strong work ethic, and has instilled that into all of his five children, who are now all grown up and living successful lives. His philosophy is, “If you can’t earn your bread, then you don’t touch the bread of others”.
When Ahmad learned of Nabil’s struggles in Algeria, he was determined to help his nephew, whom he regards as his own son. He started sending him what money he could spare to help him find his feet. When Nabil turned twenty-one, in 2000, he returned to France to be reunited with his siblings, his uncle and his foster family. Later that year Nabil sought legal advice and attempted to obtain French residency. After gathering the relevant documentation, Nabil’s immigration lawyers advised him that the review of his application would take up to six months to complete. Nabil worried deeply that he could be found living undocumented, would be deported and barred from returning. Nabil felt that he had to leave France and abandon his long cherished dream of living and working in France along with the rest of his family.
Nabil’s friends advised him to go to the UK, that it would be easier to find work and live undocumented there. It was bad advice, but Nabil headed to England anyway. He lived there for a few months but with no national insurance number, no-one would hire him full-time.
Living in constant fear of deportation in the UK, Nabil heard he could live in Afghanistan without papers and with little money, and decided to go there to pursue religious studies, hoping to find new meaning in his life. In late March 2001, he travelled to Kabul, where he was given the name of an Algerian man who kindly took him in. Within a few months everything changed. The attacks of 9/11 brought Afghanistan to the world’s attention. The US invaded in November 2001.
Seizure and Imprisonment
In the midst of this war reports began to circulate that the Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing Arabs. In fear, Nabil and his housemates fled to Jalalabad. When Jalalabad too seemed unsafe, they fled to the mountains outside the city. The US airforce was bombing all the main roads leading toward safety in Pakistan. Nabil stayed in the mountains for a few weeks, hoping the danger would ease. Unfortunately it didn’t. Feeling he could wait no longer, Nabil attempted to reach the border. However, he was wounded by a bomb and ended up in hospital in Jalalabad.
At the time, following the US led invasion in Afghanistan, bounties of $5000 (many times the average annual Afghan income) were being offered to the locals for foreign Arabs found in the region. From his hospital bed, Nabil was sold to US military forces for a bounty. He had never attended a training camp, nor had anything to do with terrorism, yet Nabil was sold to the Americans and shipped to the US run prison at Kandahar airport. He explained repeatedly that he was innocent. He strenuously denied the accusations levelled at him, which were based on the interrogations and forced confessions of other prisoners. Nabil knew that his was a case of mistaken identity. Several US interrogators told him the same thing.
Unfortunately, the US high command, in its clumsy and misguided response to 9/11, demanded that every Arab who ended up in US custody should be sent to Guantánamo Bay, regardless of the quality of evidence against them. Shackled, bound and hooded, Nabil was flown to Cuba in early 2002.
In April 2007, after more than five years of illegal imprisonment, Nabil was cleared for release by the Bush administration. The Administrative Review Board found that Nabil was not an ‘enemy combatant.’
During almost eight years in prison at Guantánamo, Nabil has been subjected to all kinds of torture and inhuman treatment: sleep and sensory deprivation, temperature extremes and prolonged isolation. He has spent years with little or no access to sunlight, recreation or medical care, in a tiny, windowless, steel cell. He has never been permitted a family visit. He has spoken with his loved ones on the phone only three times. To this day, Nabil understandably finds it extremely difficult to talk about his mistreatment in Guantánamo. Yet his comportment whilst illegally imprisoned has been outstanding. A guard in Guantánamo described him to our lawyers as “a brilliant artist, a keen footballer, and a sweet kid.”
Hopes of returning to France
Nabil deeply wishes to return to France so that he can quietly rebuild his life and be reunited with his family. In France he has a loving uncle and aunt, both of whom care for him deeply and pray for his return.
Nabil dreams of finding work as an interpreter or translator, using his excellent linguistic skills: he speaks English, French and Arabic fluently.
Reprieve hopes that France will give Nabil Hadjarab the opportunity to restart his life. He has been illegally incarcerated for over eight years. Yet the French government has so far failed to act on his behalf. Now, surely, is the time for France to look after a man whose history makes him more French than his passport implies. He would be forever grateful for France’s hospitality were he to return to the country he loves.