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Ex-Guantanamo detainee: "I am sure it will be closed this year"

A Uighur resettled in Albania said other countries' reluctance to take detainees explains the delay in Gitmo's closure.

The Bush administration held Qassim and the other Uighurs, who were arrested in Pakistan following the 9/11 attacks, without charges as enemy combatants for more than five years, even though they had no ties to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Qassim and four other Uighurs were not released until May 5, 2006, after a U.S. federal court ruled that their detention was illegal. The release came only hours before an appeals court was expected to order that they be freed on U.S. soil. After more than 100 countries refused, the U.S. found a host in Albania, its tiny ally in the Balkans.

“If the Bush administrations held us in prison despite knowing full-well that we were innocent, President Obama is working to end that,” said Qassim. “It’s not that there is a lack of will from President Obama to close Guantanamo, but he is receiving little help from other countries."

According to Human Rights Watch, of nearly 244 inmates still in Guantanamo, about 60 of them, like the Uighurs, cannot be returned to their home countries because they risk persecution at the hands of local authorities.

Although Qassim is hopeful that the Guantanamo “nightmare” will soon come to an end for detainees who, like him, have been deemed innocent, life as a free man has been no small feat. Even living in Albania, where the majority of the population identifies itself as Muslim, it remains a strongly secular country where conservative Islam is often frowned upon.

Even though he is by this point probably Albania’s most famous chef, given his Guantanamo notoriety, there are only four Tirana restaurants where Quassim can put his new culinary skills to use — those four that do not serve pork.

"At Guantanamo being closed in a small cell for years and years, I felt treated like an animal, but faith got me through it," said Qassim, adding that faith keeps him strong now that he is living in a foreign land, with little hope that he will ever see his family again.

For now, Qassim, who has learned to speak Albanian, is trying to open his own restaurant, “but finding the financials means has proven an uphill battle.”