Kiyemba v. Obama Part I: Jamal Kiyemba’s long journey home

The Guantanamo detainee case Kiyemba v. Obama is a potentially landmark separation-of-powers case headed for the US Supreme Court in March 2010, with major policy issues and the futures of 13 detainees at stake. In this multi-part story, I will examine the background of the case and some questions it raises.

PART I: Jamal Kiyemba’s long journey home

Jamal Kiyemba doesn’t have anything to do with the case coming before the Supreme Court in 2010. He is a free man; he lives in Uganda, and as well as anyone might expect after what he went though, he is apparently leading a normal life there. But his full-circle journey, one that spanned four continents, is necessary prologue to the legal battle that wages on today under his name.

Kiyemba wasn’t your typical enemy combatant. Raised in a Roman Catholic family just outside of Uganda’s capital city of Kampala, Kiyemba studied at Catholic schools until his late teens. In 1988, as future president and habeas petition respondent Barack Obama was visiting his father’s hometown in Kenya, Kiyemba was probably studying at St. Mary’s College in Kisubi in the country next door. The following year, Kiyemba’s father died in a car accident, and a few years after that Kiyemba joined the rest of his family in London. He continued his studies at Catholic schools, ultimately attending university as a pharmacy student. But along with the opportunity that London offered, he also discovered other temptations that face college students. “I loved partying, going out with girls and drinking,” he told the Ugandan paper Sunday Vision in a 2006 interview, “dividing my time between working and studying became increasingly difficult.” Like so many of us did as young students, Kiyemba took a year off from university to find his way.

What he found was Islam. Over the objections of his family, Kiyemba converted to Islam in 1999, renouncing his former lifestyle, religion, and education. He sought out a place where he could be with other Muslims and where he believed it would be “easier to stay faithful to [his] religion.” That place was supposed to be Afghanistan, but after the 9/11 attacks, Kiyemba opted instead for the relative safety of Pakistan, where he joined the Taliban, believing it would help him find solidarity with other Muslims. His plan was to locate a place to settle until the war was over; Afghanistan remained his ultimate goal. Safety was not to be found, however, and later in 2001 Pakistani officials, motivated perhaps by a $5000-per-person reward offered for any suspected Taliban member, captured Kiyemba and handed him over to US authorities. Within a year, Kiyemba was shackled and jailed at Guantanamo Bay where he would remain for the next four years.

According to his 2006 statements, Kiyemba was repeatedly tortured at Guantanamo, witnessed the torture of others, and underwent hours of interrogation every day under grueling conditions. In 2005, he was part of a hunger strike protesting the conditions at Guantanamo. He says he eventually confessed to terrorist activities as a result of the torture and threats by the military guards.

Kiyemba was ultimately released following a Department of Defense Administrative Review Board hearing in early 2006. The US had intended to return him to his country of residence, England, but he was denied entry there and he returned to Uganda in April 2006.

In 2005, as Jamal Kiyemba sat shackled in his cell at Guantanamo, uncertain of whether he would be imprisoned for another day or for the rest of his life, his lawyer filed a petition for habeas corpus challenging his detention as unlawful. The petition itself was only one among many filed on behalf of detainees at the military camp and in that context it is unimportant; Kiyemba was released pursuant to the 2006 ARB hearing and his legal standing evaporated. Because of some procedural detail of the American legal system, however, Jamal Kiyemba’s name remains in the headlines of the highly public legal battle that began as Kiyemba v. Bush and which sits now on the desks of the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States under its new name: Kiyemba v. Obama.

Part II: “New borders,” will look at the thirteen Chinese Uighur men who remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay and who carry on the Kiyemba legacy. With no viable options for deportation or repatriation, they await a US government separation-of-powers showdown that will determine their fate.

Sources for Part I

Jamal Kiyemba, biographical details and interviews

  1. Allio, Emily. “Uganda frees Al qaeda suspect.” The New Vision (Uganda) 18 Apr. 2006: 1. 30 Oct. 2009.
  2. “Jamal Abdullah Kiyemba.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 7 Aug 2009, 10:32 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 30 Oct. 2009.
  3. “How I ended up in Guantanamo.” Sunday Vision (Uganda) 2 Apr. 2006: SR. 30 Oct. 2009.
  4. Lewis, Jason. “I confessed to escape Guantanamo torture.” The Daily Mail 19 Feb. 2006. 30 Oct. 2009.

Legal documents

  1. Jamal Kiyemba’s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus: Kiyemba et al v. Bush et al., Case # 1:05-cv-01509-RMU in the U.S. District Court of Washington, DC. 30 Oct. 2009.

4 Comments » for Kiyemba v. Obama Part I: Jamal Kiyemba’s long journey home
  1. Tea Party says:

    howdy, I read all your posts, keep them coming.

  2. Jan Sutcliffe says:

    Kiyemba confessed to being engaged in terrorist activities while the story is, he just wanted to live a quiet life of meditation. Apparently he and his U.S. lawyers do not understand how the U.S. legal system works either as the SCOTUS case demonstrates.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Jan – Kiyemba’s side of the story is that his confession was coerced by torture (see, note 4 above), which (in theory) makes it inadmissible under US law. It is valid to question whether he told the truth, but the facts surrounding the case suggest that he was. If we assume that he did legitimately confess to terrorism, why would the Administrative Review Board have let him go?

    I’m not sure what you mean about his lawyers lacking understanding of the legal system. Habeas petitions are commonplace civil actions, and at the time it was filed (July, 2005) the Detainee Treatment Act, which suspended Guantanamo prisoners’ rights to file habeas petitions, had not yet gone into effect. There was no legal reason for the petition not to have gone forward.

  4. R G says:

    This is an anonymous site so I can say this here. Kiyemba was my oldest half brother. Our mother moved to the UK in the 80’s having 4 of us wily nily. Anyway she began to be very abusive to us as she had chased our father out of the house. She had expensive lawyers who could wash away her wickedness + social services were terrible.

    Tony was at a prestigious school as a kid – third in the country from what I’ve learnt and I still wonder to this day what the hell she was doing bringing him over here to suffer the abuse we did.

    I was young at the time but I recall it messing him up severely. Maybe to the extent he got wrapped up into whatever he did. I can say for sure his mental state was questionable.

    I just think it is a travesty the media just want salacious dumbed down stories and don’t dig into the root causes. If he/we had been left to suffer this abuse at the hands of our mother I’m sure he would have been a different story.

    She is still just the same person she was before btw. Tony’s wife had a miscarriage the other day and my brother called our mum up this evening. I recall her talking about her ‘ordeal’ of being harassed by the FBI… because of him. That is just crap. She lurked in the shadows when all of this kicked off so she would not get bad press. I was far too young to be able to do anything. I was too young to know what to do at the time and the family said to me to stay out. The latter point is true to a degree because this is just such a sensitive topic for people.

    In conclusion from what I gather he cannot travel outside of Uganda now and if for want of a better word he is blacklisted for life.

    I just googled at the mo and saw your blog. I think it is great that you and people out there are pressing for humane ways of dealing with these type of prisoners. I think it would be great though if you could tackle child abuse because trust me it’s not nice.

    I actually wanted to call Tony the other day to say hello, I’ve not spoken to him in maybe 9 years I guess. I really just wanted to see how he was and to say sorry for what our mother conditioned us to put our older brother through. Unfortunately there was a bombing in Kampala around the time of the world cup. This meant he was immediately taken in for questioning and his communication links are either closed or monitored.

    In closing I just think he needs some help, so if you can petition for this it would be cool.

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