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Restarting life in Albania after Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay prison

Guantanamo Bay prison

By Benet Koleka
Abu Bakkr Qassim, a Uighur from far western China, has seen a number of the world’s more remote corners for a middle aged fruit vendor who is now learning how to make pizzas for a living. He is one of four Uighurs living in Albania since 2006 because they could not stay in the United States nor go to China which sees them as terrorists.

Found innocent of terrorism after three and a half years in the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he feels vindicated by President Barack Obama’s decision to close down the notorious prison eventually. “I was happy. First of all, President Obama understood the mistake that happened to us in Guantanamo. We want him to repair the mistake although it is not easy,” said Qassim, 39.

Last month, Obama ordered that the Guantanamo military prison close within a year. It has become a symbol of the harsh U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects in a murky system of international prisons under ex-President George W. Bush. Qassim has not talked to 17 fellow Uighurs still at Guantanamo but said they tell their families they are living under much better conditions now. “They have a big garden and can open the doors themselves,” he told Reuters.

These other men are in limbo at Guantanamo although they have been cleared for release as no country, including Albania, is willing to take them. Although he said he was not tortured — in contrast to some who have been released from Guantanamo — Qassim described very difficult conditions during his time at Guantanamo.