Mansoor Adayfi knew next to nothing about Serbia when a delegation from its government came to visit him in 2016 in his 14th year in the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The only thing Adayfi did know was that Serbian forces had massacred Bosnian Muslims in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. All of the prisoners set for release from Guantanamo that year knew this part of the history Adayfi said and noone wanted to go to Serbia.
By that point Adayfi had been in Guantanamo all his adult life picked up in Afghanistan aged 19 and held without charge until he was 32. The previous year the US had officially downgraded its assessment of him to acknowledge that it was unclear whether he had ever been connected to alQaeda and he had been cleared for release under a complex system of classified deals to resettle detainees abroad.
Adayfi wanted to go to Qatar where he had family or to Oman which had gained a reputation at Guantanamo for treating former detainees well. But when the time came for his delegation meeting in the designated room in Camp Six Adayfi found a Serbian team waiting for him. He listened to them he said then gave them a polite no. I told them thank you very much but I know the history. According to Adayfi the head of the delegation assured him that Muslims were welcome in Serbia. The government was going to treat him like a citizen they said help him finish his education give him financial assistance and arrange for a passport and ID. They were going to help him start over.
After the meeting Adayfi told the US officials at Guantanamo that he did not want to go. But they were frank about the extent of his influence on the process he said.
A state department envoy came to see me after the delegation meeting and she said Mansoor you have no choice. You are going to Serbia. Adayfi is 39 charismatic and quick to smile with a childlike quality he attributes to being locked away at the moment he was becoming an adult. His long journey to Belgrade began in Yemen where he grew up in a rural village without running water or electricity.
As a teenager he moved to the capital Sanaa to finish school and study computer science. According to his account he travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 for an assignment as a research assistant arranged by an educational institute in Sanaa.
Four months after Adayfi arrived the US invaded Afghanistan and began hunting for members of alQaeda. Leaflets were dropped from planes promising large cash rewards for turning people in. Adayfi says the car he was travelling in in northern Afghanistan was ambushed by militants just days before he was due to return to Yemen and he was taken captive and handed to the US.
Adayfis first stop was an American black site where he says he was stripped naked beaten interrogated and accused of being an Egyptian alQaeda commander. From there he was flown hooded and shackled to Guantanamo Bay. His 14 years in the notorious prison are recounted in Dont Forget Us Here a memoir published late last year. It chronicles torture psychological abuse and the death of his brother and sister while he was incarcerated. He taught himself English from scratch in the camp as well as some computer science and business theory.
But the story ends shortly after his release as he lands in Belgrade in the dark one night in July 2016 and is taken by the secret service to a small apartment in the city centre where he later found surveillance cameras he said. Adayfi stayed awake that first night wondering what lay ahead of him. I was exhausted but I couldnt sleep hungry but I couldnt eat he said sitting in his current Belgrade apartment late one night in February. There was loneliness in Guantanamo but this was a new kind he said.
What came next is what Adayfi calls Guantanamo 2.0 an isolated and restricted existence in Serbia which he is not allowed to leave and where he says he is followed by police who warn off anyone he tries to befriend. Half a dozen former Guantanamo detainees across different countries all released without charge described similar experiences lives in limbo limited by a lack of documents police interference and travel restrictions that confine them to a country or even a single city making it hard to find work visit family or form relationships. Welcome to our life Adayfi said. This is life after Guantanamo.