Former French resident Nabil Hadjarab was held prisoner in Guantánamo Bay between February 2002 and August 2013. He was cleared for release in 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 remained imprisoned.
Nabil was never charged with any crime and had no trial. He was released to Algeria and is rebuilding his life there.
Nabil was born in Algeria on 21 July 1979, but moved to France when he was just a baby. Nabil was the only child of Said’s second marriage, and the only one who does not hold French citizenship. When Nabil was nine years old, his father took him back with him to Algeria. He returned to France in 2000, aged 21, to be reunited with his family and hoping to obtain French residency.
When his immigration lawyers advised him that the review of his application would take up to six months, Nabil worried deeply that he could be deported, and moved to the UK in the hope of finding work there. However, with no national insurance number of European papers, life in the UK was difficult for Nabil.
Nabil soon 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 a fellow Algerian kindly took him in. But the attacks of 9/11 brought Afghanistan to the world’s attention, and the US invaded in November of that year.
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, but soon moved towards Pakistan, hoping it would be safer there; but with the US Air Force bombing the roads to the border, he was wounded and ended up in hospital in Jalalabad.
Following the US-led invasion in Afghanistan, bounties of $5000 (many times the average annual Afghan income) were being offered to local people for foreign Arabs found in the region. From his hospital bed, Nabil was sold to US military forces and shipped to the US-run prison at Kandahar airport, despite never having attended a training camp, nor had anything to do with terrorism.
Nabil strenuously denied the accusations levelled at him, which were based on forced confessions from other prisoners. He knew that his was a case of mistaken identity, as did the several US interrogators who told him the same thing.
Nonetheless, the US high command demanded that every Arab who ended up in US custody should be sent to Guantánamo Bay. Shackled, bound and hooded, Nabil was flown to the prison facility in Cuba in early 2002.
In April 2007, more than five years after his 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 was subjected to torture and inhuman treatment, including sleep and sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, and prolonged isolation. He spent years in a tiny, windowless, steel cell, with little or no access to sunlight, recreation or medical care. He was never permitted a family visit. To this day, Nabil understandably finds it extremely difficult to talk about his mistreatment in Guantánamo.
Despite his mistreatment, Nabil’s comportment whilst imprisoned was outstanding. A guard in Guantánamo described him to our lawyers as “a brilliant artist, a keen footballer, and a sweet kid.”