“We expect an American delegation to come to Tunisia beginning of September, and hopefully – I cross my fingers – they will be brought home before the end of the year,” said Ben Abbes.
Ben Abbes headed a three person delegation that traveled to Guantanamo last week to discuss the possibility of releasing the five remaining Tunisian detainees.
Five Tunisian citizens, never given a trial or formally charged with a crime, remain in the notorious detention center despite having been cleared for release by U.S. authorities under the Bush administration.
According to Ben Abbes, the situation facing these Tunisians is complicated, and it may take some time to secure their release. ”We’ve been working on this issue for six months. The situation is bit sophisticated, if not complicated…There are no charges against them [the Tunisian detainees]. These people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are detainees, not prisoners,” said Ben Abbes.
“It is not a matter of weeks, it is a matter of a few months,” he added.
Ben Abbes said that, during his visit, he conducted a 45 minute interview with each of Tunisians held at the facility, and, according to him, their situation has improved significantly. “Their situation has improved. They have a number of facilities, they watch TV, listen to the radio.. During the interview, they were informed of what is happening in Tunisia. They were in good shape physically. Mentally they were really strong. They are believers, their strong beliefs have shielded them,” explained Ben Abbes.
Imed Hakeemy, brother of Adel Hakeemy, one of the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo, said that Ben Abbes visited his family before going to Guantanamo.
“This is a huge step taken by the Tunisian government, but we do not want to be given false hope. Our mother’s health condition is a bit difficult. I hope she will get the chance to see him [her son - Adel Hakeemy] before she dies,” said Hakeemy.
During a round table discussion held two weeks ago, marking the conclusion of his term as the American ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray said that the American government was reluctant to release the remaining detainees prior to 2011 for fear that they would be abused by the Ben Ali regime. However, he added that, “Tunisia has improved in implementing policies that respect the human rights of its citizens, so hopefully the matter will be resolved.”
171 prisoners remain behind bars. Of the 12 Tunisians who have been held at Guantanamo since the facility was opened in 2002, seven have been released – two returned to Tunisia and five were resettled in Europe – and five are still in custody.
Source: Tunisia Live