Last Kuwaiti held in Guantanamo released

Fayiz al-Kandari has been repatriated after being held for more than 14 years without charge

Fayiz al-Kandari

An ordeal that began for Fayiz al-Kandari with an ill-timed trip to Afghanistan in 2001 has ended more than 14 years later; with news Friday that the last Kuwaiti held in Guantanamo Bay had been returned home.

“The atmosphere is great. I feel like we are preparing for a party,” his cousin Abdullah al-Kandari told Al Jazeera. Anticipating the now former prisoner’s arrival he added, “To me, it took too long but now that the end is so close I forgot all the agony of these years.”

After losing his first appeal, Kandari was recently cleared for transfer on Sept. 8 by the parole-like U.S. government board that determines whether Guantanamo detainees should be released.

Al Jazeera understands that in Kuwait, Kandari will take part in a live-in program at the Al Salam Rehabilitation Center for at least one year in order to assist him with reintegration into society. It is then expected that he will then move in with his parents and will be subject to security measures, including curfews and travel restrictions.

Kandari, 40, has always maintained that he traveled as a young man to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 to build two wells and repair a mosque, according to his lawyers and family.

But the attacks of 9/11 and the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan made his trip incalculably different. Kandari has said he was forced to flee — bounties were then being offered to those who turned in Arabs and other foreigners.

In December of 2001, Kandari was taken by the Afghan resistance group, the Northern Alliance, and held in Jalalabad in a fortress-like building. From this prison, he was passed to Kabul, Bagram and then to Kandahar. He was rendered to Guantanamo on May 1, 2002, having been accused of associating with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda — as were hundreds of other prisoners.

“Kandari was never charged with any crime,” said Eric Lewis, who represented Kandari in front of the Periodic Review Board, the interagency board that hears the prisoners' cases. “He goes home with optimism and looks forward to resuming a peaceful life and to putting Guantanamo behind him.”

‘I am thrilled that Fayiz has finally been released from Guantanamo after almost 14 years. He should never have been there in the first place.’

Tom Wilner


Fayiz al-Kandari's mother, Fatimah and father.
Jennifer Fenton

In total, 12 Kuwaiti prisoners have been held at Guantanamo. Most recently, Fawzi al- Odah was transferred in November 2014 and he has been living in the same rehabilitation center where Kandari will live.

For 15 years, Odah’s father Khalid al-Odah led the fight to free his son and the other Kuwaitis, including Kandari.

“We are so happy — complete happiness,” the elder Odah said. “All of our loved ones are back. Now, we are really, really happy.”

In a 2004 landmark ruling, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the prisoners’ favor, finding that “foreign enemy combatants” imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay had the right to challenge their detention in court.

Tom Wilner, who represented the Kuwaitis in their court petition at the time, said he was delighted at the news of Kandari's release.

“He should never have been there in the first place. He was never charged with any crime, and the only allegations ever made against him came from other detainees who were rewarded for making those allegations and later recanted them, or were well known for making false accusations against others,” Wilner said. 

Throughout the years, Kandari’s lawyers have said that he was subject to sleep deprivation, placed in stress positions, sexually humiliated, physically abused, subjected to loud music and extreme temperatures — and interrogated hundreds of times.

But despite that, several former prisoners Al Jazeera spoke to remember Kandari being “very friendly,” including with his interrogators. “I remember being in another room in interrogation (and) Fayiz was in another room and he was laughing, joking with the interrogators,” former prisoner Omar Deghayes told Al Jazeera. “He wasn’t somebody … full of hatred. Even with the conditions they are (held) in for many many years.”

But with his time as a Guantanamo prisoner now over, Kandari wants to put it all behind him and reclaim his life in Kuwait, his lawyers and family have said. 

In anticipation of his becoming a free men, Kandari improved his English while in detention and has been studying business.

A large family will welcome his coming home to Kuwait, among them his mother. Each year, Fatimah has tailored new clothes for him — marking them with an F so they won't get mixed up his brothers'. Every year she hoped that he eventually would be home to wear them. For this first time since 2001, Kandari will be.

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