Abdul Nasser Khantumani and his son Muhammad were held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge for eight years. Despite regaining their freedom, their heartbreak continues, as father and son live separately in different countries, unable to reunite.
Pardiss Kebriaei, the family's attorney, detailed the Khantumanis' journey in a piece published this month in Harper's Magazine. In an interview with HuffPostLive on Friday, Kebriaei said that Abdul Nasser moved his family from Syria to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001 hoping to open a restaurant. Just a few months later, as the U.S. prepared to invade Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the family split up and fled the country.
Abdul Nasser and Muhammad were detained by Pakistani police as they crossed the border, Kebriaei said. She suspects local police were motivated to detain the duo because of large bounty sums promised by the U.S. for turning over suspected fighters.
"We know that ... the CIA was giving Pakistani government and Afghan war lords millions of dollars, bundles of cash, for help in turning over suspected fighters. You know, suspected fighters were really any Arab male of military age. There was a great deal of profiling that was going on at the time," Kebriaei told HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski.
After being transferred from one prison to the other, experiencing significant bouts of torture along the way, the father and son eventually wound up at Guantanamo in February 2002. They were among the first prisoners to arrive at the base, Kebriaei said. Muhammad was just a teenager at the time and had a year of high school left.
Kebriaei detailed some of the brutality the young man experienced:
[Muhammad's] treatment, and in particular the way their relationship, the father-son relationship, was used against him to traumatize him and terrorize him. Abdul Nasser was brought close to him and then moved far away. And this was sort of a tactic that the interrogators used to pressure Muhammed to speak against his father, to make statements against his father and kind of inculpate him and then sort of punish him when he refused to cooperate. So he was severely traumatized in Guantanamo, in part because he was so young.
From the onset of President Obama's first term, his administration started reviewing prisoners' cases in Guantanamo, and Muhammad and Abdul Nasser were among the "lucky" cleared for release in 2009. However, Kebriaei noted, the decision of where to send cleared prisoners is a bit of a "lottery." Portugal offered resettlement to Muhammad in 2009 and Cape Verde to Abdul Nasser in 2010.
Muhammad was released after having been separated from his father for roughly three years. The pair had a moment "to say hello, say goodbye, envision the future and for Muhammed to seek his father's blessing" to leave, Kebriaei said.
Since their release, the father and son haven't been allowed to see each other, Kebriaei explained. She presumes that is because of restrictions on their travel. "So they have been kept a part for over six years now, since their release in freedom," she added.
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