Earlier this year, a man named Mohammed Bawazir, one of dozens of remaining Guantanamo detainees whom the Obama administration has cleared for release and is working to transfer, rejected an offer of resettlement in a third country. The 34-year-old Yemeni has been detained without charge for over 14 years, like most of the remaining Guantanamo population. He has been cleared for release — told that his continuing detention is unnecessary — since 2009, for half the amount of time he has spent in prison. The media called his refusal an astonishing event. Experts said he might have feared the unknown and that his decision might have reflected a sort of helplessness.
As an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, I met with Bawazir in Guantanamo before he was supposed to be transferred. His decision may have been tragic, but there was more to it. Yes, he might have been fearful — he faced the prospect of landing in a country he learned about from the Internet and a short “interview” with a foreign delegate that he shuffled to in shackles. The government doesn’t provide detainees it resettles much more information or preparation than that. But sitting across from him, he had questions about what awaited him that I thought the government could have answered, and that would have left him less in the dark. His decision might also have reflected a paralysis from being held captive for 14 years, identified by a number and moved around in chains. And yet he was asserting a demand — to be near his family. His resettlement prospect was on another continent. I thought he was insisting on a life worth living.