Former Gitmo detainee found in Venezuela, hopes to travel to Turkey

By MISSY RYAN | The Washington Post | Published: July 28, 2016

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was resettled in Uruguay and went missing in June has reappeared in Venezuela, seeking help from Uruguayan officials in traveling to Turkey, Uruguayan officials said.

Authorities say that Syrian national Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, who spent 12 years at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is free to travel, but it's unclear whether he will have the money or travel documents to do so.

In a statement, the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry said that Dhiab had come to the country's consulate in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to inform officials of his intent to travel to Turkey or another country in order to see his family. He asked for help from the Uruguayan government in doing so and said he had no desire to return to Uruguay.

Like most Guantanamo prisoners, Dhiab was never charged with a crime and maintained that his long imprisonment was unjustified. He, like many other prisoners, has suffered extensive health problems, and walks with the assistance of crutches.

The ministry said that Dhiab would be able to return to Uruguay at any time but the government would not pay for his journey to Turkey. "It is not the responsibility of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay to take care of financing his travel to Turkey or any other country," the statement said.

Dhiab was one of six former detainees who was sent to Uruguay in 2014, as part of President Barack Obama's effort to empty the facility of prisoners deemed to pose security risk. While the White House had hoped to shutter the prison entirely before Obama leaves office, that now appears unlikely due to congressional opposition.

But adjusting to life in Uruguay was difficult for some of the released detainees, who demanded additional assistance from the United States. Speaking to The Washington Post in 2015, Dhiab expressed a desire to be in a Muslim or Arabic-speaking country and said he wished to be reunited with his family.

It was not immediately clear whether Dhiab's family had been granted permission to travel to Uruguay. While the United States does not reveal the details of its security arrangements with countries that agree to receive released Guantanamo prisoners, Dhiab's potential travel to Turkey, with its proximity to the conflict in Syria, is likely to intensify concerns among congressional critics of the resettlement program.

Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which advocates for Guantanamo detainees, said concerns about Dhiab's temporary disappearance had been overstated.

"Everyone should take a step back and relax about Mr. Dhiab," Dixon said. "He obviously doesn't present a threat to anyone, and it's completely understandable why he would want to be reunited with his family after more than a decade of hell in Guantanamo."

The ministry said that Venezuelan authorities are aware of Dhiab's presence in Caracas.

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The Washington Post's Adam Goldman and Carol Morello contributed to this report.