Too many victims of the war on terror remain imprisoned across the world

Mary Fitzgerald writes: It didn’t take long before one of the incentives offered to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table came to light: last week the Guardian carried reports of American plans to release several high-ranking Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay. They include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan and maybe, just maybe, the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund – if a third country, perhaps Qatar, will accept custody of him.

It’s an inevitable step in the right direction, reminiscent of the tentative early moves in the Northern Ireland peace process. It also offers a convenient, if partial, solution to the status of the 171 legal headaches still languishing in America’s brutal Caribbean prison.

But it forces into light other shaming questions about the conduct of the so-called war on terror; and in particular about those thousands of men, women and children, many innocent of any crime even by the US authorities’ own admission, who were “rendered” and remain trapped in prisons across the world.

Hamidullah Khan was just 13 when he disappeared from South Waziristan, in Pakistan. I met his father, Wakeel Khan, on a recent trip to Islamabad. He told me with pride that Hamidullah was a “very good-looking boy” and showed me pictures. He said his son could be quite absent-minded, but worked very hard at school: his dream was to become a doctor.

During the summer holidays in 2008, Wakeel sent Hamidullah to the family home in South Waziristan to collect some of their possessions, as Wakeel could not get the time off work to go himself. Hamidullah never returned.

Wakeel, an ex-solider, tried to retrace his son’s steps. He caught the bus up to the province, and asked everyone about his son: his relatives, his old army contacts, the local Taliban. No one knew anything. He thought of going to the police, but given that they charge a 300 rupee bribe to replace an ID card, he asked himself, “how much would they charge to find a person?”

After a year, the Red Cross finally tracked down Hamidullah and passed a letter to his family saying he was being held in Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Despite American assurances that the prisoners there are treated well, fresh allegations of abuse surfaced this weekend.

No explanation has ever been offered for why a boy so young was picked up and taken hundreds of miles away, why he has never been charged, and why he has still not been released.

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