Ex-Guantanamo prisoner on hunger strike worsens in Uruguay

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A former Guantanamo prisoner who was resettled in Uruguay was treated by paramedics Wednesday for the effects of a hunger strike he launched to press officials into letting him relocate to another country.

Abu Wa'el Dhiab, who drew international attention by hunger-striking during 12 years of occasionally confrontational confinement at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, fainted at the apartment where he has been staying in Montevideo and required treatment, said Jorge Voituret, a friend.

Details of his condition were not available.

Christian Mirza, an official who is the former prisoner's liaison with the Uruguayan government, said Dhiab struggled to stand when she visited him a day earlier. "He is in extremely delicate condition, but conscious," Mirza said.

She said the government was working "at the highest levels" to find a country that would accept the 45-year-old Syrian, who came to this South American country with five other freed Guantanamo prisoners who were offered resettlement as a humanitarian gesture by then President Jose Mujica.

It was not clear what sustenance Dhiab was taking to keep himself alive. He announced in a Sept. 6 video that he had been on hunger strike at that point for 23 days. He said he had taken nothing but water over the preceding five days. His weight was not publicly known.

At Guantanamo, where he was detained as an enemy combatant with suspected ties to militants but never charged, his weight dropped at one point to about 155 pounds (70) kilograms, gaunt for a man over 6 feet tall (183 centimeters). Authorities there said he often struggled with guards, who forcibly removed him from his cell at least 48 times in less than a single year of his protest. Troops also said he assaulted them with feces and vomit several times.

In Uruguay, the former prisoner has stayed out of the public eye recently, protected by activists from several generally anti-government groups who have taken up his cause.

Jon Eisenberg, a California lawyer who represented Dhiab in the past, said he has not spoken with him since Aug. 31 and was unable to get direct information.

"I have no doubt that he is quite ill and in despair, but I fear that the people now surrounding him are exploiting his personal despair in pursuit of their own political agenda and are not acting in his best interest," Eisenberg said.

It was the latest turn in the case of a man who has become an international headache for Uruguay's government.

Less than two months after his arrival in Uruguay, Dhiab turned up in neighboring Argentina, in violation of an agreement not to travel, and denounced the U.S. failure to close Guantanamo. He appeared in a mock orange prison jumpsuit, an icon of the prison that was opened in 2002 to hold suspected enemy combatants in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Dhiab then began publicly complaining about life in Uruguay, to the increasing irritation of the government, and protesting outside the U.S. Embassy, angering members of Congress. In July, he set off alarms when he vanished for several weeks, then turned up in Venezuela, which rejected his request to be sent to Turkey to join his wife and children and sent him back to Uruguay.

Ambassador Lee Wolosky, the U.S. special envoy for Guantanamo closure, expressed bewilderment Wednesday about Dhiab's situation, saying Uruguay's government had been in "very advanced stages" of bringing his wife and children from Turkey when he took off to Venezuela.

"I think that Dhiab has been offered every opportunity by the government of Uruguay to move on with his life and he has disgracefully repudiated the extraordinary hospitality and generosity of the gov't of Uruguay," Wolosky said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The envoy pointed out the former prisoner had agreed to the resettlement offer and said Uruguay provided him with a $500 monthly stipend and an apartment and offered language and vocational classes. The resettlement of the other five has been a "success," in contrast with Dhiab, he said.

"He has gotten more support than refugees receive in that country in the normal course by far and he has received more support than many Uruguayan citizens receive," Wolosky said. "He's had every opportunity to make good choices and be reunited with his family and he has instead made bad choices."

The envoy said he did not know if another country would accept Dhiab. "In my view he should honor the commitment he made, which is to be resettled in Uruguay and to work to rebuild his life including with his family present."


Associated Press writer Ben Fox reported this story from Miami and AP writer Leonardo Haberkorn reported in Montevideo.