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OPINION

I was cleared for release from Guantánamo three years ago. Why am I still here?

Can it be that I am still imprisoned here because of a tweet your president sent before he took office?

Camp Justice at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, April 17, 2019.
Camp Justice at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, April 17, 2019.Doug Mills/The New York Times

A month after my July 2016 meeting with the Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo Bay, Colonel Dave, my personal representative, scheduled a meeting to tell me the outcome. Some PRs don’t let you use their first names, but Dave had been friendly from the start. Was this the moment I had been waiting for, after 14 years of being imprisoned but never charged with a crime?

I was optimistic — at the board hearing, the questions had been clear, and the board seemed to accept my answers. I answered every question, since I was speaking directly to the people who held power over me. Shortly before I got my results, other prisoners were cleared — first Salem, then Majid, both from Yemen. It seemed obvious that President Obama’s policy of moving people out of Guantánamo was underway.

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When Dave came in, he had a yellow envelope and a big smile. That smile! I was sure it meant I had won. He gave me a big hug: “Congratulations! You’re now cleared to go home.” I thanked him for all his help. If there had been no camera I would have wept for joy.

We had only five months left of the Obama presidency, but that was plenty of time for me to get back to Morocco. Mohammedou Slahi was cleared after me, and he left for Mauritania the next month. I was disappointed not to be on the same flight.

Election night came. It is hard to describe how depressed we all felt when Donald Trump was declared the victor, but mainly my sorrows were for my fellow detainees and the American people. I still had 10 weeks between the election and the inauguration in January. That was the best time for a release, when there were no politics at stake.

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Dave had told me that someone would come to see me when my transfer process was set in motion. I expected this to happen at any time. If anyone came toward my cell who I did not know, I thought, “This is it. At last!”

On January 20, 2017, we watched Trump being sworn in. Soon after the inauguration, two civilians came to my door and again, I felt it was going to happen. “We want to talk to you,” one said. “I’ll see you later today.” I thought he must be arranging the travel.

He did not return, but the next day I had an appointment on the notice board. It was in Gold camp, where they normally have interrogations by agencies from other countries. I knew it had to be something special, so I took the paper showing my clearance.

One man came in alone. “I am your new interrogator,” he began. “I know you’re disappointed, but I want to know your thoughts about your future.”

“You know I’m cleared?” I asked, confused. I explained how a panel of six federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, had unanimously cleared me. He shook his head, and I felt like the door was slamming in my face. I said I was done with talking.

That night, I walked two hours back and forth in my cell. Now I cannot stand being in that concrete tomb — if I am, I start to remember my tragedy.

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Has the world forgotten me? Has Morocco? Can it be that I am still imprisoned here because of a tweet your president sent before he took office? There are five of us among the last 40 prisoners here, cleared for release but not free to go. It costs the United States $13 million per year to keep each of us here. And for what? It is such a waste.

I try to keep emotional distance from my situation. I read books to forget. Still, I find myself lying awake, thinking, sometimes for two days straight.

The reality is that in Guantánamo we are only half alive. I struggle. I do my best. But I will remain among the living dead until I finally get home to those I love.

Abdul Latif Nasser is a prisoner at Guantánamo. A new RadioLab series about him, “The Other Latif,” is available on all major podcast apps.