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Case Information: Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi
DATE OF ARREST:December 2001

Summary and Current Status

On March 22, 2010, Libyan meteorologist Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi was released at last from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He had been detained there for eight years without charge or trial. As part of an agreement between the governments of the United States and the Republic of Georgia, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to allow Mr. al-Ghizzawi and two other detainees from Guantanamo to live there for the next three years.

In the late 1980s Mr. al-Ghizzawl moved to Afghanistan and settled in Jalalabad. He married an Afghan woman, had a daughter who is now approximately seven years old, and opened a honey and spice shop which he eventually expanded into a full bakery. In fall 2001, when the U.S. began bombing the area around Jalalabad, Mr. al-Ghizzawi reportedly fled with his family to a rural area of the country where his in-laws lived. In December 2001 he was seized at gunpoint from his in-laws’ home in the middle of the night by a group of Afghan men who turned him over to the Northern Alliance and then sold him to the U.S. military for a large bounty. Mr. al-Ghizzawi was held for several months in U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan before being transferred in spring 2002 to the U.S. Naval Base detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In June 2009 Mr. al-Ghizzawi was cleared for release by the U.S. government. However, it took some nine months for the U.S. Department of State to find a country where he could be transferred.

Mr. al-Ghizzawi had hearings before two Combatant Status Review Tribunals within two months of each other. The November 2004 tribunal unanimously determined that there was no factual basis for concluding that he should be classified as an enemy combatant. Shortly thereafter a second tribunal was formed and held a hearing in Washington, DC—without the knowledge or presence of Mr. al-Ghizzawi. It was decided by the members of the second tribunal that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was an enemy combatant despite that no new evidence was introduced. Since November 2005 Mr. al-Ghizzawi was represented by a U.S. attorney, H. Candace Gorman. Ms. Gorman is a solo practitioner in Chicago, Illinois who represented Mr. al-Ghizzawi pro bono at the request of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

During the eight years that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was detained at Guantanamo, his health reportedly deteriorated dramatically. U.S. authorities at Guantanamo confirmed that he suffers from hepatitis B and tuberculosis, but received no medical treatment for either condition despite his repeated requests and those of his lawyer. According to Ms. Gorman, who met with him approximately every three months since she was granted permission to visit him for the first time in July 2006, she documented a dramatic decline in her client’s physical and mental health. Her repeated efforts to seek permission through the U.S. courts for her and her client to have access to his medical records were unsuccessful.


Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi is a Libyan meteorologist, who received his scientific training in Libya and was employed for several years by the government in that capacity. Mr. al-Ghizzawi was eventually drafted into the Libyan military and completed the one-year mandatory military service. When Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi later changed the mandatory military service to two years, Mr. al-Ghizzawi reportedly decided to leave Libya rather than to be drafted for a second year of military service.

It is our understanding that Mr. al-Ghizzawi eventually settled down in Afghanistan in 1989, where he lived until his abduction 12 years later. He married an Afghani woman and has a daughter who was only a few months old when he was abducted in late 2001. Mr. al-Ghizzawi and his wife ran a honey and spice shop in Jalalabad, which they eventually expanded into a bakery. In the fall of 2001, when the U.S. military began dropping bombs close to Jalalabad, he and his family fled to a rural area of Afghanistan where his in-laws lived. At the end of 2001, a group of armed men reportedly came to his in-laws’ home and demanded that they turn over “the Arab.” Mr. al-Ghizzawi reportedly agreed to leave with the men because he did not want his family to be harmed. It is our understanding that he was turned over to the Northern Alliance and then sold to the U.S. military in return for a bounty under a program set up by the U.S. government which paid out large sums of money to anyone who would turn over alleged “terrorists and murderers.” (Click here to view the text of U.S. leaflets that were dropped from the air by the thousands in Afghanistan offering “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life” for identifying “al-Qaeda and Taliban murderers.”)

In spring 2002 Mr. al-Ghizzawi was transferred from Afghanistan to the U.S. Naval detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His Internment Serial Number at Guantanamo was 654. Mr. al-Ghizzawi had hearings before two Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), one in November 2004 and the second in January 2005. (CSRTs are tribunals at the Guantanamo naval base that determine if detainees meet the legal requirements for being classified as an “enemy combatant.” Guantanamo Bay Administrative Review Boards convene military hearings. The Board then recommends to Pentagon officials whether a detainee should be released because he poses no threat or should continue to be held for another year.) According to the unclassified documents for the first CSRT, it was alleged that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)—which the U.S. government designates as a foreign terrorist organization—and was associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. At the first CSRT, the tribunal unanimously determined that Mr. al-Ghizzawi “is not properly classified as an enemy combatant and is not associated with al-Qaeda or Taliban.” The tribunal stated that the “facts” presented to it by the U.S. government “lacked even the fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence.” According to testimony given by one of the three members of the tribunal panel, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, the validity of their findings was immediately questioned by their superiors. They were ordered to write out the specific questions they had about the government’s “evidence” to allow the military officer presenting the case to provide further responses. They were then ordered to reopen the hearing. Again, the panel stood by its original decision and unanimously determined that “there was no factual basis for concluding that [Mr. al-Ghizzawi] should be classified as an enemy combatant.” (Lt. Col. Abraham made a legal declaration on June 15, 2007, confirming the information above. On July 26, 2007, he testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee about the above events. Click here to read that testimony.)

A few weeks later, in January 2005, the military established a second tribunal to hear Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s case. This time it held its hearing in Washington, D.C., without the knowledge or presence of Mr. al-Ghizzawi, and a new representative who never met with Mr. al-Ghizzawi was assigned to be his personal representative. This second tribunal unanimously declared that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was correctly classified as an enemy combatant. The documentation from the second CSRT states that their decision was reached as a result of “new” and “classified” evidence. According to Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s lawyer, she exercised her right to review the classified documents and found that no new evidence had been introduced. (To view the unclassified documents relating to Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s two CSRTs, click here.)

In mid November 2009 the U.S. government cleared for public release Ms. Gorman’s second original habeas corpus petition filed in the Supreme Court, which notes that her client was “cleared for release” in June 2009. She also reported, however, that President Obama requested the judges assigned to habeas cases to stop the hearings for those men who had been cleared for release and, thus far, the judges agreed to do this. Thus Mr. al-Ghizzawi was forced to remain at Guantanamo until (and unless) a country was found that would take him, which in his case prolonged his detention for nine additional months. In the meantime, he had no chance to have his case heard in court—despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 that the detainees in Guantanamo were entitled to swift habeas corpus hearings.

Conditions of Confinement

On December 7, 2006, Mr. al-Ghizzawi was among several hundred detainees moved to the newest detention camp at Guantanamo, Camp 6, which was designed to hold the majority of the detainees. According to Amnesty International, and in contravention of international standards, all detainees in Camp 6 were held under conditions of “extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for a minimum of 22 hours a day in individual steel cells with no windows to the outside.” Their cells reportedly were extremely small. The only source of light was fluorescent lighting that was on 24 hours a day, and the only air was air-conditioning, both of which were controlled by the prison guards. The detainees reportedly were allowed two hours of “recreation time” a day to be spent in a metal cage measuring four feet by four feet. According to Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s lawyer, the guards frequently arrived at his cell to give him his “rec time” in the middle of the night or, more rarely, in the middle of the day when the cage was in the hot sun. Detainees in Camp 6 had no access to radio, television, or newspapers. They were given one fiction book a week. According to his lawyer, Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s eyesight deteriorated so significantly that he eventually was unable to read. Thus he spent his time pacing in his cell. All of the detainees at Guantanamo reportedly were forbidden telephone calls and family visits, and most were not allowed to touch another human being. The detainees were not given any blankets. Their only cover was a plastic sheet.

Mr. al-Ghizzawi was held under the conditions described above until early 2009 when his conditions began to improve slowly. Following the U.S. government’s decision to clear him for release in June 2009, his conditions improved significantly. He rwas allowed frequent contact with his fellow detainees and was given much more freedom. During Ms. Gorman’s visit to Guantanamo in September 2009, she learned from Mr. al-Ghizzawi that he had just received a letter from his wife requesting him to sign divorce papers because of the strain of their long-time separation. Despite his obvious sadness, Ms. Gorman observed that the significant improvement in his conditions of confinement—which was officially termed “ultra lite”—had already had a positive impact on his mental health. (Although Ms. Gorman knew in June 2009 that her client had been cleared for release, she was ordered by the court not to disclose this information—not even to Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s wife who perhaps might have chosen to halt divorce proceedings if she knew his change in status.)

Medical Condition/Access to Medical Care

Since Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s arrival at Guantanamo, his health steadily deteriorated. He suffers from hepatitis B and tuberculosis. According to his lawyer, he did not receive medical treatment for either of these serious conditions despite repeated, well-documented requests for treatment by him and his lawyer. However, the fact that he was diagnosed with hepatitis B shortly after arriving at Guantanamo and that he later contracted tuberculosis were not revealed to him or his lawyer until the information appeared in an affidavit given on September 8, 2006, by Captain Ronald Sollock, M.D., Commander of the Guantanamo Bay Navy Hospital and Joint-Task Force Surgeon, who stated in the affidavit that Mr. al-Ghizzawi did not want to be treated for these two life threatening illnesses. According to his lawyer, Mr. al-Ghizzawi found out for the first time about his medical condition when she showed Captain Sollock’s affidavit to him during a visit. After that he and his lawyer repeatedly but unsuccessfully requested that he receive urgent medical treatment. Mr. al-Ghizzawi reported to his lawyer that the guards always wore gloves when they needed to move him. He also told his lawyer that, in the past, he was taken to the medical clinic at Guantanamo several times after complaining about health problems. However, he did not receive any treatment for those problems and was never told the results of tests that were run on him at those times.

As noted above, Ms. Gorman visited Mr. al-Ghizzawi approximately every three months since July 2006. She documented a dramatic deterioration in his health, which accelerated once he was transferred to Camp 6 in late 2006. She reported that until recent months, he was in constant pain. He vomited and had diarrhea several times a day and continued to lose weight. He was noticeably jaundiced, his stomach was bloated, and often he could walk only a few feet before he was overcome with fatigue. In 2008 she observed a marked deterioration in Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s mental health as well. In additional to his physical ailments, he experienced trouble focusing during conversations with her and had begun talking to himself.

When Ms. Gorman traveled to Guantanamo the first week of November 2008, she was informed that Mr. al-Ghizzawi did not want to meet with her. She exercised her right to handwrite a note to him explaining why she wanted to see him and gave it to a military officer at Guantanamo to deliver to Mr. al-Ghizzawi. The officer returned some time later and said that she could not meet with her client because he had been moved from Camp 6 to Camp 4, where detainees are held in group areas rather than in solitary confinement. She then wrote a new note to her client saying that she was glad that his conditions of confinement had been improved and asked again to see him. After some time, the officer again returned and informed her that there had been a mistake and that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was still being held in Camp 6. She went through the procedure one more time, to no avail. She was told that he had been given the opportunity to respond to her note with a note, but had declined, simply saying that he wanted to meet with her but was afraid to leave Camp Six. Ms. Gorman had previously been told by Mr. al-Ghizzawi that he feared leaving Camp 6 because in recent months an x-ray security device had been installed through which all detainees must pass when leaving Camp 6. He did not trust the purpose of the device and feared that it could further exacerbate his serious ill-health. Ms. Gorman asked to be permitted to meet with Mr. al-Ghizzawi inside Camp 6, but her request was denied. In early December Ms. Gorman learned that an ICRC representative had tried to visit with Mr. al-Ghizzawi, but that he reportedly declined to take part in the meetings.

Legal Proceedings

Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s lawyer, H. Candace Gorman, began representing him in November 2005 after learning through other counsel affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Rights that he had been trying to seek legal representation. She filed a petition for habeas corpus on his behalf on December 9, 2005. When she finally was permitted to visit him, for the first time, in July 2006, she immediately filed an emergency motion for his medical records and treatment, given his serious ill-health. The motion was eventually denied by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates in Washington, D.C. on November 2, 2006. (Judge Bates ruled that it had not been demonstrated that Mr. al-Ghizzawi would suffer “irreparable harm” in being denied his records.)

Because of Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s seriously deteriorating health, his lawyer Ms. Gorman filed a second emergency motion on his behalf in early February 2008 in the U.S. District Court requesting that it order the U.S. government to require its military authorities to provide her client with medical treatment for his life threatening illnesses and to turn over his medical records to him and to his lawyer. In an affidavit filed in late February 2008 in response to the emergency motion, the U.S. government confirmed that Mr. al-Ghizzawi has a serious liver infection and stated that it has noticeably worsened in the past 18 months. This second emergency motion was given to the same judge as the first motion, Judge John D. Bates. On April 8, 2008, Judge Bates denied Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s and Ms. Gorman’s emergency motion for medical treatment and access to his medical records. Judge Bates did not request Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s medical records to view them himself. In fact, he states in his written opinion that he based his decision on statements provided to him by Dr. Bruce Meneley, the new Commanding Officer of the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo. Dr. Meneley, who is a dermatologist, reportedly stated that Mr. al-Ghizzawi has consistently been offered the “gold standard” in medical treatment for his liver ailments, tuberculosis, and H. Pylori, but has refused the treatments offered. Mr. al-Ghizzawi submitted his affidavits to the court stating that he received some medical tests over the years, but has never been told the results of any of them and has not been offered any medical treatment. For the sake of clarity, one example cited by Dr. Meneley is Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s recent refusal to consent to a biopsy.

In 2007, after Ms. Gorman repeatedly requested medical care for her client and the U.S. government had publicly confirmed that Mr. al-Ghizzawi suffered from a serious liver infection, he was seen by a medical doctor who recommended that he consent to having a biopsy performed on his liver and was told that this procedure would help the doctor to determine the best treatment for him. Mr. al-Ghizzawi consented to the biopsy, but requested that he be told the results of the biopsy as well as the medical tests that he had been given earlier. A few weeks later, he was seen again by the same doctor, who reportedly informed Mr. al-Ghizzawi that the procedure was risky and could result in severe damage to several of his organs. On the basis of this new information, Mr. al-Ghizzawi then rescinded his consent for the biopsy and informed Ms. Gorman why he had changed his mind. In her February 2008 emergency motion Ms. Gorman stated the information above. She also filed an affidavit by Swiss liver specialist Dr. Juerg Reichen, who explains that such a biopsy would pose an extremely small risk to the patient. He also explains that a biopsy is not medically necessary to determine a course of treatment for the liver infection and should not stand in the way of treatment being given. To view Dr. Reichen’s statement, please click here.

In August 2008 Ms. Gorman filed a third new emergency application on Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s behalf requesting the courts to compel the U.S. government to disclose his medical records and afford him adequate medical treatment. This appeal too was denied.

The habeas challenge to Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s detention made its way extremely slowly through the courts. In early November 2008 U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who is coordinating many Guantanamo Bay detainees’ challenges to continued captivity, outlined the ground rules that would govern those cases and released a “case management order” to be applied to 113 cases. These cases were shifted to Judge Hogan reportedly only to allow him to work out scheduling and procedural matters. The cases were returned to the District judges in whose courts those cases were originally filed. In accordance with these instructions, Ms. Gorman filed a petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 23, 2008, on behalf of Mr. al-Ghizzawi.

In early 2009 the U.S. government filed updated legal documents on those cases that were addressed by Judge Hogan, including that of Mr. al-Ghizzawi. (According to Ms. Gorman, the U.S. government hired low-level attorneys, who did not have prior knowledge of these cases, to prepare these documents as expeditiously as possible. In so doing, they reportedly read only what was in the prisoner’s Guantanamo file.) The attorney who prepared the updated document on Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s case included information about Mr. al-Ghizzawi that came from another detainee at Guantanamo in 2005 who was known to be unreliable and whose testimony was never considered to be credible by the U.S. authorities. This detainee, who apparently was mentally unstable at the time, reportedly made wild accusations about several dozen detainees at Guantanamo that were never considered believable. This man reportedly claimed that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was a bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, as well as a high-level member of a Libyan terrorist group. Ms. Gorman informed the U.S. District Court judge in charge of Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s case about this situation and filed an order with the judge to have the information kept under seal temporarily until it could be officially struck from the record. She also filed a request to the judge to release to the U.S. attorney the background information the government had about the detainee and, in particular, his lack of credibility. (The detainee reportedly was set free from Guantanamo in 2007. His lawyer informed Ms. Gorman that his client suffered from addiction-related problems at the time that he made the accusations against Mr. al-Ghizzawi and other detainees.)

Lastly, in fall 2008 when it became apparent to Ms. Gorman that the U.S. government was considering transferring Mr. al-Ghizzawi to Libya—despite her request not to do so because he feared his well-being could be at risk if he returned there—she contacted Mr. al-Ghizzawi’s brother, who lives in Libya. The brother informed her that he had recently been visited by Libyan officials who forced him to sign a statement that, if Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi was sent back to Libya, his brother would turn him over to the Libyan authorities. Given this turn of events, Ms. Gorman believed it was critical that he not be sent to Libya. She reportedly informed the U.S. District Court judge of this situation and was told that she would be informed first if plans were finalized to transfer Mr. al-Ghizzawi from Guantanamo.

Related Links

CHR Cases at Guantanamo and Bagram Resolved (4/9/10)

CHR Cases at Guantanamo: Some Progress; More Needed (12/4/09)

Action Alert: Gravely Ill Libyan Scientist Detained Indefinitely at Guantanamo (11/28/07, 9/26/08)

Action Alert: Please Write Letter of Support to Ill Scientist at Guantanamo (10/16/08)