[Ppnews] The tragic tale of Guantanamo detainee #684

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 19 10:47:34 EDT 2013

  The tragic tale of Guantanamo detainee #684

    It's time for the US to release Mohammed Mattan, who has been
    languishing at Guantanamo for 11 years without charges.

Last Modified: 19 Jun 2013 07:42
Lauren Carasik

Guantanamo Internment Serial Number 684 is a compelling, peaceful and 
singularly gracious man.

Yet Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan has been caught up in a vortex of 
politics beyond his control. June 19 marks the somber 11th anniversary 
of Mattan's detention in the inhumane confines of Guantanamo Bay. (Full 
disclosure: with three other attorneys, I am co-counsel for Mattan.)

Despite his towering height, Mattan has always exuded a preternatural 
tranquility. Inexplicably, his gentle and dignified spirit has somehow 
survived the years of brutal physical and emotional torture, isolation, 
humiliation and despair. The extreme misfortune of having been in the 
wrong place, at the wrong time, in the pursuit of a peaceful and erudite 
life has cost Mattan more than 11 years of his life.

He has missed the milestones we all take for granted, from the marriage 
of his siblings to the birth of nephews and nieces. Lost to Mattan are 
the joys and tribulations of everyday life, from the sublime to the mundane.

Each day for the last 11 years, Mattan has awakened in a tiny, stark 
cell, alone, wishing desperately that somewhere in the unfortunate 
circumstances that led to his wrongful detention, some fortuitous chain 
of events had intervened and spared him and his family this harrowing tale.

*From Palestine to Pakistan*

Mattan was born in the village of Burqa, a small enclave in the West 
Bank, on January 12, 1979, the second of 15 children. By nature a 
dutiful and intellectually curious child, Mattan passed his time 
reading, studying and assisting his parents with raising his 13 younger 
sisters and brothers.

Concerned about the prospects facing their children, Mattan's parents 
stressed that education was the key to escaping the grinding poverty and 
turmoil that made educational advancement and economic security 
unattainable dreams. As a devout Muslim, Mattan embraced the peaceful 
principles of the religion and renounced violence.

Inspired by his faith, Mattan joined Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic 
missionary movement whose members are committed to community service by 
spreading their faith in a peaceful and apolitical way. Focused on 
spirituality, Tablighis neither support nor participate in armed 
struggle against Israel or any other government or group.

Through his dedication to his family, his spirituality and his studies, 
Mattan evaded the trouble that plagued many of the discontent young men 
who faced a bleak future in the West Bank. Despite his aspirations to 
continue his education after he graduated from high school in 1997, the 
region's political strife made it impossible. With few other 
opportunities available to him, Mattan took work in construction, hoping 
to provide some meagre economic support to his struggling family.

When the second intifada erupted in 2000, Mattan was a 21-year-old young 
man with a dismal future in the West Bank. He made the hard decision to 
leave his beloved family to escape the violence and poverty that had 
engulfed his homeland. Encouraged by his fellow Tablighis, Mattan 
planned to study, pray and fulfill the mission required by his faith.

On September 28, 2001, Mattan started the fateful journey that he never 
could have imagined would descend into the nightmare in which he 
currently resides. Travelling to Pakistan, Mattan began missionary work 
at the Tablighi centre in Raiwind where he remained for four months, 
passing his time studying and praying. During this time, Mattan met 
several men who told him that despite the conflict in the region, they 
knew of places that enjoyed relative calm.

Mattan travelled west towards Afghanistan, hoping to settle into a life 
away from the violence that seemed to have followed him from the West 
Bank. Though delayed in his desire to immerse himself in the 
intellectual pursuits that captured his heart, he continued to pray and 
fulfill his spiritual mission removed from the violence he abhorred.

In Quetta, Pakistan, Mattan visited a mosque, where he met a man who 
advised him against travelling to Afghanistan because of escalating 
violence in the region, and warned him that his profile would lead 
authorities to suspect him of involvement in the fighting there. 
Concerned by this news, Mattan decided to return to Raiwind.

En route, with his financial resources depleted, Mattan encountered a 
man who told him of other aspiring Arab students residing in a 
guesthouse in nearby Faisalabad who might be able to advise him about 
how he could pursue his studies. Mattan headed to the guesthouse feeling 
a renewed sense of hope about his educational prospects, when the winds 
of fate struck him a terrible blow.

Shortly after his arrival, on March 28, 2002, Pakistani security 
services conducted a security sweep of the guesthouse. Though he was not 
the target of the raid, Mattan's mere presence in the guesthouse 
rendered him a suspect and he was detained. The Pakistani authorities 
transferred Mattan to the custody of the US, who held him at Bagram 
Airbase in Afghanistan, and then transported him to Guantanamo, where he 
has been wrongfully detained ever since.

The US government has no evidence that Mattan has ever participated in 
subversive activity, nor that he was ever affiliated with any member of 
al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or any other terrorist organisation. The US 
possesses no evidence because there is none: Mattan has never condoned 
violence and maintains no connection with known or suspected terrorists.

The travesty of Guantanamo is that some of the men were rounded up not 
because of reasonable suspicions, but instead because areas of Pakistan 
and Afghanistan were blanketed with leaflets offering a bounty for 
"suspected terrorists", sparking a frenzy of lucrative but wrongful 

*Detainees held on the 'mosaic theory'

Through widespread torture, US authorities and their allies extracted 
unreliable evidence against innocent men. Lacking any direct evidence, 
many detainees were held on the "mosaic theory" - concluding 
presumptions that connected unrelated and innocent circumstances that 
the US contorted into unreasonable suspicions of guilt.

Notably, in a time when the mere fact of being a young male Palestinian 
subjected one to scrutiny, both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities 
confirmed that Mattan was never questioned or wanted for his conduct. 
Rather than support violence, Mattan spent his youth trying to flee from 

When the evidence against Mattan was finally reviewed by the Guantanamo 
Review Task Force, comprised of national security experts from all the 
US intelligence agencies, it deemed him suitable for transfer out of the 
facility to another country. But Congress encumbered the National 
Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with provisions making it politically 
risky for President Obama to transfer the cleared men.

President Obama has not yet mustered the political will or courage to 
make good on the promise to close Guantanamo that he made during his 
first presidential campaign and reiterated during a recent speech. 
Transfers ground to a halt after the NDAA restrictions, and only a 
handful of detainees, with pre-existing agreements, were transferred 
during 2011 and 2012.

Mattan remains caught in the political gridlock that impedes his 
transfer from Guantanamo, where conditions are deteriorating and 
desperation is spreading. Though the terms of confinement for detainees 
initially improved somewhat under the Obama administration, the last 
four months have witnessed regressive and punitive treatment by the guards.

Detainees have been deprived of the very few comforts they enjoyed, 
including the companionship and solidarity of their fellow detainees. 
Much-cherished calls to family and consultation with counsel have been 
effectively curtailed by the re-implementation of intrusive body 
searches, which the authorities know are culturally offensive to Muslims.

With little power over their lives, many of the detainees have launched 
a hunger strike, the only way for them to signal their growing 
desperation to the outside world. Aware of the serious political 
ramifications of detainee deaths, the US has instituted brutal 
force-feeding measures, though many men would prefer to die if life 
holds no future but the dismal four walls of their cells.

Mattan's dreams of books, learning and a family of his own have faded 
against a harsh reality that bears no resemblance to the life he set out 
to find 12 years ago. If the US acts now, perhaps Mattan can resurrect 
some normalcy, reunite with his loved ones, start a family, and find 
hope and solace in the rhythms of life and the laughter of children he 
has not heard in 11 long years.

The US can never restore to Mattan his youth, return his lost years, or 
make him whole for all he has suffered, but it can and must stop 
compounding this egregious mistake and move him out of Guantanamo 
without further delay.

/*Lauren Carasik is Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at 
Western New England University School of Law.*/

*/The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not 
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy./*

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