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Unlike the five Taliban leaders released from Guantánamo Bay last weekend, there’s no prisoner swap likely to free Fawzi al-Odah. During his 12 years at the facility, the 37-year-old Kuwaiti has never been charged with a crime or even referred to a military commission for a trial.
As a “law of war detainee,” al-Odah is not entitled to a trial, according to Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the U.S. military at the Guantánamo prison. Instead, his family waits hopefully for the outcome of a June 4 hearing of the Guantánamo Periodic Review Board, a “process to review, on a periodic basis, the continued discretionary exercise of existing detention authority over detainees.”
Khalid al-Odah, the detainee’s father, last saw Fawzi in 2001, when the young man said he was going to Afghanistan for charity work. Despite having had his hopes for his son’s release dashed many times, the elder al-Odah said, “I’m feeling very good, very good,” about his son’s upcoming hearing, the result of which the family expects to know in a week to 30 days.
Unlike the Taliban five, Fawzi al-Odah is not a high-profile prisoner, but he is among the 38 Guantánamo prisoners who are still marked for indefinite detention. The U.S. has accused him of being associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, a charge he denies, according to his family and several lawyers who have represented him.
Fawzi, Khalid’s eldest son, was born on May 6, 1977, in Kuwait, and was 24 years old when he was imprisoned. “He is a lovable person. It is very easy for him to make friends. He always smiles,” his father told Al Jazeera, speaking from his home in Kuwait. Fawzi excelled in school and graduated from Kuwait University with a degree in Islamic studies and became a teacher.
According to his father’s account, Fawzi had spent his summer vacation in 2000 with other religious Kuwaitis in Pakistan, teaching and distributing money to people in villages near the Afghan border. When he returned home from that trip, he told his father he was very interested in relief work and he wanted to do charity work every year. In 2001, he planned to help Afghan refugees.
It would be Fawzi’s “bad luck and bad timing,” as the prisoner once put it himself during a U.S. Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing, that the 9/11 attacks happened while he was in Afghanistan. Along with thousands of other Arabs, he fled the country as word spread that they were being rounded up and sold for bounty. Fawzi was carrying a gun at the time of his capture, but he maintains it was for self-defense and was never used. At the Pakistani-Afghan border, he said he asked to be taken to the Kuwaiti Embassy. Instead, he was sent to Guantánamo.
His lawyers also say al-Odah has been subject to harsh treatment, and has repeatedly gone on hunger strike. Guantánamo spokesman Breasseale said allegations of abuse against detainees have also been thoroughly investigated.
The detainee’s father, ironically, had been a strong supporter of the U.S., having been a pilot in the Kuwaiti Air Force who trained in America. When Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990, Khalid al-Odah joined the local armed resistance movement and provided intelligence to the U.S. military.
“I always remember our reception of the American troops following the liberation of Kuwait,” he recalled. “At that time I was accompanied by my 13-year-old son, Fawzi. I cannot describe to you the extent of our happiness and gratitude, particularly my son Fawzi who started to shake hands and hug the American soldiers … These historic moments are deeply engraved in the memory of this young guy,” Khalid wrote in 2005.
Khalid al-Odah told Al Jazeera he was sympathetic to the U.S. and the challenges it faced after the 9/11 attacks, and that he saw his son’s experience as a sign that America had deviated from its founding principles.
“The United States is the beacon of the world always … for honesty, for rule of law, for liberty,” he said. His son’s experience in Guantánamo, said al-Odah, was a sign that “the United States was not keeping with [its] principles.”