Letter from Guantánamo Bay: French resident Nabil Hadjarab appeals to France to offer him a home

March 13, 2009

French resident Nabil Hadjarab has today released a statement from Guantánamo Bay.

In three handwritten pages, released through his lawyers, Nabil writes of “happy childhood memories” and his dream to rejoin his family in France.

Nabil has been held prisoner in Guantánamo Bay since February 2002. He has not been charged with any crime and has had no trial.

The United States has cleared Nabil for release, finding he is not a danger to anyone, yet he remains a prisoner.

Nabil, who is an Algerian citizen, explains that he considers France his real home, and admires the French respect for law, justice and human rights.


French resident Nabil Hadjarab has been held prisoner in Guantánamo Bay since February 2002. He has not been charged with any crime and has had no trial. The United States has cleared him for release, finding Nabil is not a danger to anyone, yet he remains a prisoner.

Nabil was born in Algeria on 21 July 1979 but moved to France when he was just a baby. His father, Saïd Hadjarab, was ex-French military and ran a small café in Lyon. Nabil has seven half-brothers and sisters from his father’s first marriage, who are all French citizens. But Nabil himself was not so fortunate.

The only child from his father’s short-lived second marriage in Algeria, Nabil was taken in by a neighbour, Madame Gheboub, after the marriage came to an end. Mme. Gheroub soon became Saïd Hadjarab’s third wife, but when she travelled to France to join her husband, the situation soon deteriorated.

Saïd was an alcoholic, and he abused Nabil, his toddler son. He kept Nabil shut inside the house for months on end, unclothed and without any books or toys. At last, his stepmother took him to the hospital: at the time, he showed clear signs of neglect; had bruising on his legs; and was suffering from a hernia for which he needed surgery.

A week after his trip to the hospital, his stepmother returned suddenly to Algeria. Nabil was abandoned, at just two and a half years of age.

Child welfare enquiry

The child welfare section of the French Ministry of Justice (Lyon section) opened an enquiry into Nabil’s case. They reported that Nabil was, at the time of the examination, skinny, sickly, and covered in scabs. Unsurprisingly, the enquiry found that Nabil had also been psychologically damaged by his abuse. The tragic list of symptoms went on and on: he was described, variously, as “sad, withdrawn”; “significantly behind in his development”; “defensive like a battered child”; “very anxious”; “suffering from a significant lack of affection”; “sad and refus[ing] any kind of mothering.”

Happily, the Children’s Judge in Lyon finally intervened in Nabil’s case. Nabil was eventually placed in the care of a foster family by a child welfare society. Life started looking up for Nabil; the family cared for him, and sent him to the local primary school. But in 1988—after over six happy years with his French foster family—his father resurfaced, and brought Nabil with him back to Algeria.

Nabil continued his education in Algiers, but disaster struck six years later, when his father died. Although Nabil was taken in by an aunt in Algeria, life was a constant struggle; he was obliged to leave school and take on a succession of menial jobs in order to survive.

In 1999, Nabil returned to France, wanting to be reunited with his siblings and his foster family. He lived in France with his family for over a year, attempting to formalize his residency. After gathering the relevant documentation, he was advised in 2001 by immigration lawyers dealing with his case that review of his application would take up to six months. Nabil worried deeply that he could be found to be undocumented and deported.

Deportation would bar him from returning, ending his dream of living permanently in France. Nabil then made the naïve and fateful decision to travel to Pakistan, on the advice of friends who said he could find work there and further his religious studies. Nabil’s timing could not have been worse. The disasters of September 11 occurred, and the United States invaded neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities began rounding up foreigners and selling them to the United States for bounties, claiming the men were suspected terrorists. Nabil was among the victims of this practice.

An American PsyOps (Psychological Operations) leaflet widely distributed at the time stated: “You can receive millions of dollars for helping the anti-Taliban force catch al-Qaeda and Taliban murderers. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life – pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.” The same roundups occurred in Pakistan. As Pervez Musharraf noted in his 2006 autobiography, In The Line of Fire, in return for handing over hundreds of Arabs, Musharraf and the ISI “earned bounties totalling millions of dollars.”

After his sale to the US forces, Nabil was shipped to the United States prison at Kandahar airport, in southern Afghanistan. Nabil insisted that he was an innocent man. He strenuously denied accusations, based on the interrogations of other prisoners, of attending a training camp supposedly linked to al Qaeda. In fact, several US interrogators at the time told Nabil that he was a case of mistaken identity. Sadly, the US high command had handed down strict rules for people like Nabil: every Arab who ended up in US custody was to be sent to Guantánamo, regardless of the quality of the evidence against them. Shackled, bound and hooded like an animal, Nabil was flown to Guantánamo in February 2002.

In the spring of 2007, after five years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, Nabil was finally vindicated. Nabil appeared before a panel of three military officers, called an Administrative Review Board (ARB). According to the United States Military, the purpose of the ARB is to determine whether a prisoner “represents a continuing threat to the U.S. or its allies” or whether there is continuing “intelligence value and any law enforcement interest in the detainee).” The ARB found Nabil posed no such threat, had no intelligence value or significance in terms of law enforcement, and approved his release from Guantánamo Bay. Over a year later, Nabil remains in Guantánamo. Life was virtually unlivable for Nabil in Algeria, and he prefers to go to a country where he would have family ties, such as France. He considers himself more French than Algerian, and seeks merely to rebuild his life and, with the help of his family, move on from this ordeal.


For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea on +44 20 74271099 or email katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk.

Notes to Editors:

Reprieve is a legal action charity, founded by Clive Stafford Smith in 1999. Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. We investigate, litigate and educate. Working on the frontline, we provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves, promoting the rule of law around the world, and securing each person’s right to a fair trial. In doing so, we save lives.

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