SANAA, Yemen -- Abdulrahman al Shabati, his parents say, never had any connection to al Qaida. Instead, they insist, his decade-long detention at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is little more than a case of terrible luck.
Shabati, they say, was studying in Pakistan when he was picked up in a raid on a mosque in 2002 and dispatched to Guantánamo.
In the 10 years that Shabatis been held, life has moved on. His siblings have married and his daughter has grown up. Now Shabatis parents have become part of a new push by the Yemeni government to win the release of the 90 Yemenis being held at Guantánamo.
Last week, Shabatis parents traveled from their home 60 miles outside Yemens capital, Sanaa, to protest outside the U.S. Embassy here. In the coming weeks, a delegation of senior Yemeni officials including the countrys foreign minister and its minister of human rights, as well as intelligence officers is hoping to visit Guantánamo, where dozens of detainees currently are conducting a hunger strike to protest their indefinite imprisonment without trial.
Even Yemens president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who generally enjoys close relations with the United States, has directed rare criticism at the Obama administration.
We believe that keeping someone in prison for over 10 years without due process is clear-cut tyranny, Hadi said in a recent interview broadcast over the Arabic language channel of Russia Today. The United States is fond of talking democracy and human rights. But when we were discussing the prisoner issue with the American attorney general, he had nothing to say.
Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the U.S. does not comment on communications with foreign governments about Guantánamo or the cases of individual detainees who have not been charged with a crime. He said he was unaware of any previous visit to Guantánamo by foreign officials, except members of a countrys intelligence or law enforcement services.
In an interview with McClatchy, Hooria Mashhour, Yemens minister of human rights, cast the ongoing hunger strike as the catalyst for seeking to visit Guantánamo. At least 41 of the 166 detainees at there are refusing food, the Pentagon has said, in a protest that U.S. officials say began in March and that lawyers for the detainees say began in February.
But Mashour said that ultimately Yemen wants Obama to fulfill his previous promise to close the detention center and either send the detainees home or have them face criminal charges.
For them to spend such a long time without trial is simply lawless, she said. Mashour said that was especially true of the 25 Yemenis, including Shabati, whom she said the United States has cleared for release but is still holding.
On Friday, the United Nations top human rights official, Navi Pillay, reiterated her calls that the detention center be closed. The continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law, she said.
She said she welcomed Obama administration officials statements that closing Guantánamo is still a goal of the administration, more than four years after a then newly inaugurated Obama ordered the detention center shut. But she expressed disappointment that nothing has been done and that Obama in January signed a defense appropriations bill into law that contained more restrictions on Obamas ability to release detainees and bring others to trial before civil courts.