- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia - The families of 124 Saudis held at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are increasingly worried about whether they will see their loved ones again.

“Why doesn’t [President] Bush follow the Supreme Court decision and allow the detainees to be charged and tried?” Abdullah al-Jaed asked in a Washington Times interview. His brother Abdulrahman, 25, has been held at Guantanamo since late 2001.

Mr. al-Jaed was referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that detainees of the war on terrorism have a right of access to U.S. courts.

Two District Court judges in Washington, D.C., issued contradictory rulings in January on what the Supreme Court ruling meant, and appeals of the lower court interpretations are working their way toward the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

“I think the appeal will take at least three more months to be heard,” said Khalid al-Odah, the lead attorney of Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo.

Mr. al-Odah also has given advice to Saudi families of Guantanamo detainees. His son Fawzi, 27, is among 11 Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo after being captured in Pakistan.

Mr. al-Odah said his son was teaching the Koran to poor Pakistani villagers when the son and many Arab fighters were captured by Pakistani tribesmen and sold to U.S. forces for $200 to $20,000 per head after the September 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime.

“We want a fair and fast trial for our brothers,” said Abdullah al-Qahtani, whose brother Jaber, 24, was captured in Afghanistan. “My brother has been in jail for nearly four years now with no charges and no rights. How do you think that makes me feel toward America? My family and my tribe — all we want is justice.”

The families of Saudi detainees have had a hard time acquiring any information about relatives held at Guantanamo, despite having five Saudi lawyers working with them, and have received little sympathy from the Saudi government.

Prince Naif ibn Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, has met twice with the families of Saudi detainees. At the last meeting, he asked them to wait before suing the U.S. government, saying the Saudi government was making diplomatic progress behind the scenes.

But only five Saudis have been released from U.S. detention, and they are being held at jails in the kingdom. Most of the Europeans detained at Guantanamo, however, have been released.

“This is a clear case of American racism. The Saudi government is not doing enough to help its citizens held in Guantanamo,” said British-American human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith.

Mr. Stafford-Smith is giving free legal advice to a large group of Arab detainees, including Saudis.

“I met 19 Saudi families in Bahrain last August. We offered to line up three lawyers to help Saudis, but the Saudi government never took us up on it. They keep saying they’re helping their citizens, but we haven’t seen evidence of that,” Mr. Stafford-Smith said.

The seemingly official Saudi indifference to the fate of captured Saudis can be explained partly by the fact that Riyadh generally agrees they were waging “jihad” — holy war — against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“I believe that most of the Saudis captured in Afghanistan were there for jihad. They were there at that particular time and they knew what they were there for,” said Jamal Khashoggi, an adviser to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Khashoggi, who participated in the jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said he didn’t know of anyone in the Foreign Affairs Ministry who was following the plight of the Saudis held at Guantanamo, though he said the Interior Ministry is following their cases.

“Neither the Kuwaiti nor the Saudi government has been able to push the Americans very hard for the release of their prisoners. For the Saudis, it is especially delicate because so many of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Saudi,” said Mr. al-Odah. “Yet despite these hindrances, both countries have remarkably found ways to keep quietly pressing for the return of their citizens from Guantanamo.”

Mr. al-Jaed and Mr. al-Qahtani have not seen the fruit of this pressure.

“We are asking the American people to put pressure on the Bush administration,” Mr. al-Jaed said. “We want a fair trial, or for them to be released. The worst thing is waiting without knowing what’s happening. We don’t want revenge, just justice.”

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