On May 6, 2012, Fawzi Al-Odah will be celebrating his 35th birthday inside a cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In June, Fayiz Al-Kandari will do the same. They were in their early 20s when they first arrived. No one knows if and when they will ever leave. They are among the few dozen Guantanamo prisoners the US has decided should be indefinitely detained. The US has accused them of being members of Al-Qaeda. They maintain they were in Afghanistan for charitable reasons. However, the US has not, according to WikiLeaks cables, produced “hard” evidence against the Kuwaiti prisoners who have been jailed in Guantanamo. Twelve Kuwaitis in total were sent to the prison, Al-Odah and Al-Kandari are the only two who remain.

The government of Kuwait has raised the detention of its citizens at every senior US-bilateral meeting in recent years, according to WikiLeaks cables from the US embassy in Kuwait. The US government asked Kuwait to build a rehabilitation centre that could hold former prisoners as a condition for repatriation. Kuwait has done this. Kuwait began planning the centre almost four years ago, following talks between then Prime Minister Nasser Al-Sabah and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, according to WikiLeaks cables.

Kuwait consulted with the Saudi Interior Ministry and based their centre on rehabilitation programs operating in their Gulf neighbour. Early in 2009, a committee representing 10 Kuwait ministries, including the Ministries of Interior and Health, was formed to oversee the construction and management of the rehabilitation centre. The remaining two Guantanamo prisoners could, by law, be required to remain in the rehabilitation centre for six months without charge, upon their return to Kuwait. “The rehabilitation of  detainees would be carried out simultaneously with the legal proceedings against them, so that by the end of the initial six-month period, Kuwaiti courts would be ready to sentence the detainees if necessary,” according to WikiLeaks cables citing Kuwait Major General Musaed Al-Ghuwainim, who was Assistant Undersecretary for Correctional Institutions.

If Al-Odah and Al-Kandari were released from the centre in Kuwait without charge, they would be monitored.  The men would not be able to leave the country. But before the two remaining prisoners could leave the rehabilitation centre, the Kuwaiti committee would have to unanimously agree that Al-Odah and Al-Kandari were mentally stable and not a danger to the security of Kuwait.
While being treated at the centre, the men’s families would be allowed to visit them and medical care would be made available, according to officials at the facility. The rehabilitation centre, which is located inside a prison, includes a sleeping area, dining area, library, sitting room, bathroom, and indoor and outdoor recreational areas.

The US reported that the facility was adequate. The name of the former US Ambassador in Kuwait Deborah Jones is at the bottom of a WikiLeaks cable that states, “I toured the…facility on June 18 (2009) and found a rather impressive physical plant…backed by a program of psychological and religious counselling aimed at restoring detainees to a state of ‘normalcy’ within six months.” The former US administration asked as precursors to releasing prisoners back to Kuwait that the Gulf nation declare that it wants its citizens back; that they build a rehabilitation centre and staff it the way the Americans want it staffed; and that Kuwait monitors former prisoners, according to Lt Col Barry Wingard, a military lawyer representing Al-Kandari.

The “Kuwait government has done everything in its power to try to secure the return of the final two…and the United States has basically just turned a blind eye and said no,” Wingard said. “You have a rehabilitation centre, multi-million dollars, sitting there empty with staffs that are ready, willing and able to take the (men), but the United States keeps talking…but it is not living up to its side of the bargain.”

By Jenifer Fenton