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Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner Out of Coma, Not Danger in Uruguay

He began the hunger strike seeking to pressure Uruguay's government into allowing him to join his wife and children in Turkey or another nation

Former Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab from Syria lies in bed as he speaks to his family through the computer in front of the press in his apartment in Montevideo, Uruguay,Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, photo: AP/Matilde Campodonico
1 year ago

A judge in Uruguay ordered a medical evaluation Thursday of a hunger striking former Guantanamo prisoner who emerged from a brief coma but was still in danger from his protest aimed at calling attention to his desire to leave the South American country.

Reports from doctors and paramedics who have treated Abu Wa’el Dhiab were alarming enough that Judge Carlos Garcia Guaraglia said experts should determine the steps necessary to “to preserve the integrity” of the former prisoner from Syria.

Dhiab was being treated at an apartment where he is staying in Montevideo. Supporters have been there holding nightly vigils and paramedics and doctors treated him there on Wednesday after he lost consciousness.

Dr. Julia Galzerano of the Medical Union of Uruguay said the 45-year-old Dhiab was extremely dehydrated, but said his vital signs were generally good, despite kidney problems.

A group calling itself Vigil for Jihad Dhiab said he began to regain consciousness after receiving saline solution, then removed the IV after seeming to recover his senses.

Dhiab was released from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in December 2014 from but could not return to a homeland embroiled in civil war. He was taken in as a refugee by Uruguay along with five other freed detainees.

The former prisoner has grown frustrated that his wife and two children, who are refugees in Turkey, have not come to Uruguay and he has asked the government of the South American country to either send him there or find another country that will accept him.

Cristian Mirza, the Uruguayan government’s liaison with the prisoner, has said officials are working on finding another country to take him.

In July, Dhiab prompted an international alert when he vanished for several weeks, before turning up in Venezuela, which sent him back to Uruguay.

He began the hunger strike seeking to pressure Uruguay’s government into allowing him to join his wife and children in Turkey or another nation.

He announced in a Sept. 6 video that he had been on hunger strike at that point for 23 days and that he had taken nothing but water over the preceding five days. His weight was not publicly known.

Dhiab was detained as an enemy combatant with suspected ties to militants for 12 years at Guantanamo but was never charged. While there, he staged a lengthy hunger strike that threatened his health and frequently clashed with guards during his protest.

Ambassador Lee Wolosky, the U.S. special envoy for Guantanamo closure, expressed frustration over Dhiab’s actions in Uruguay, noting that Uruguay’s government had been in “very advanced stages” of bringing the former prisoner’s wife and children from Turkey when he left for Venezuela.

“I think Dhiab has been offered every opportunity by the government of Uruguay to move on with his life and he has disgracefully repudiated the extraordinary hospitality and generosity of the government of Uruguay,” Wolosky said.

The envoy pointed out the former prisoner had agreed to the resettlement offer in Uruguay and said the government of the South American country provided him with a $500 monthly stipend and an apartment and offered language and vocational classes.

“He has gotten more support than refugees receive in that country in the normal course by far and he has received more support than many Uruguayan citizens receive,” Wolosky said. “He’s had every opportunity to make good choices and be reunited with his family and he has instead made bad choices.”


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