Three men once held by the U.S. government at a military prison in Afghanistan have been on a hunger strike since Jan. 18 in protest against their ongoing detention despite never being charged with any crime linked to violence.
The men — two brothers from Tajikistan and an Uzbek national — were among a handful of prisoners passed from the U.S. to Afghanistan when the Americans turned over control of the Parwan Detention Facility near the Bagram air base in December 2014.
All three have been cleared of any wrongdoing by Afghan courts, according to their lawyer Tina Foster, the executive director of the International Justice Network.
The two Tajik brothers, Sa’id Jamaluddin and Abdul Fatah, spoke to Foster for the first time recently. Unlike the prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the men in Bagram had no right to judicial review or access to their lawyers.
Jamaluddin was 17 years old when he was taken by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2008. He and his brother were staying at a friend’s house when it was raided. Jamaluddin had been hoping to make it to Mashhad, Iran, to study, and his older brother was accompanying him. According to Foster, the U.S. found no evidence of wrongdoing at the site of their arrest but the two were still taken to the Parwan prison and interrogated.
In 2010 the U.S. said the brothers could be transferred out of the prison, according to Foster. Al Jazeera’s queries to the State Department regarding the prisoners’ past have not been answered. However, a media representative said that under the Bilateral Security Agreement, which went into force on Jan. 1, 2015, the Afghan government is now responsible for all detention facilities in Afghanistan.
In early 2015, Afghan courts found the brothers guilty of visa-type violations, which could be punishable by up to three years in prison. By then, the brothers had been incarcerated much longer than that and could be out for time served, Foster said.
Jamaluddin and Fatah fear torture or death if they are repatriated to their country of origin. A Tajikistani intelligence officer who visited the men in Bagram told the brothers, “If you come to Tajikistan, we will kill you,” Jamaluddin reported to his lawyer.
None of three men were ever charged with or found guilty of terror-related crimes. At one point, the U.S. said the men had various affiliations with Al Qaeda or like-minded groups, but the U.S. declined Al Jazeera’s previous request to specify what those connections were or what the men may have allegedly done.
Musa Akhmadjanov, the Uzbek national, also fears the worst if he is sent home. Akhmadjanov was arrested by Afghan forces in Nimruz province and turned over to Coalition Forces before they then handed him off to the Americans, Al Jazeera understands. In his case, the Afghan courts found that he committed no crimes. Thus in June 2015, Akhmadjanov was told he was entitled to release. However, a few months after the decision he was brutally beaten without provocation by Afghan guards, according to Foster, who has confirmed the account with two separate individuals.
While the three now-cleared prisoners have not reported being tortured by Afghans, they have said the conditions at the jail are dire. There is a lack of proper medical care and the food is “dirty and makes them sick,” Foster reported. The brothers also told their lawyer they are freezing in the prison, “The Afghans don’t have money to put the heat on,” Jamaluddin is said to have joked with Foster.
While cleared, the former U.S. prisoners appear to have no immediate options for release. “They would go anywhere that would take them where they would be safe,” Foster told Al Jazeera.
The men could potentially be sent to the U.S., as the Guantanamo anti-transfer provisions would not apply to them. Jamaluddin has learned to speak perfect English while detained.
Once at a U.S. detainee review board, Jamaluddin – who was frustrated with his less-than-adequate interpreter – spoke to his audience in English, an American officer reported to Foster. The officer sent Foster an email saying that it was “kind of cool” and that “if I ever make a movie about all this, that will be in one of the scenes. I think I’d cast Leo DiCaprio as Sa’id [Jamaluddin]; he could pull it off.”
To stay in Afghanistan, the three prisoners feel they would need some support to “help them get on their feet,” Foster said.
If the men were intent on remaining in Afghanistan, they could follow Afghan procedures to do so, according to Omar Samad, a Senior Adviser to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. While not familiar with the men specifically, Samad said that there have been many cases in the past of former prisoners or foreign nationals being granted stay in Afghanistan.
However, the procedure does take time. Separately Samad said that there is “precedence for foreign nationals – even former prisoners – to go to their home country or through the auspice of another government or humanitarian agency to find a country that will take them.” Again, this takes time, Samad said.
These men have been a totally forgotten causality of America’s war on terror, Foster said.
“The U.S. government has responsibility for us,” Jamaluddin told Foster. “Do they want to find some solution, or leave us behind to die here?”