EXCLUSIVE: Guantanamo's Innocents: Newly Released Prisoners Struggle to Find a Home

ByABC News
May 23, 2006, 11:01 PM

May 23, 2006 -- -- Their story may be the strangest one you'll hear out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Even after being cleared of any wrongdoing, five innocent men were kept captive at the detention center at Guantanamo. Today, these men who started out in China and ended up in Cuba are now free and in the Eastern European country of Albania, the only country that would take them. They spoke to the ABC News Law & Justice Unit in their first American interview.

Many of Guantanamo's prisoners proclaim they're innocent. What's different about these men, Muslims from China's Uighur minority, is that even American authorities said they were innocent, referring to them as "no longer enemy combatants" or "NLEC." Nevertheless, they remained imprisoned more than a year after their names were cleared -- after the U.S. government determined they did nothing wrong and posed no terrorist threat to America or Americans.

Why were they kept at Guantanamo so long after they were deemed innocent? Simply put, no country -- including the United States -- would accept them. They couldn't go back to China because they believed, as did the American government, that as Uighur Muslims they faced persecution by the Chinese government. With nowhere else to turn, they were taken in by Albania, a country with a Muslim majority.

Even as they struggle to find a place to call home, they are working to move past the ordeal of incarceration.

"We were isolated from the rest of the world," said Abu Bakkir Qassim, speaking through a translator.

Speaking for the group, he told ABC News: "We spent a pointless four-and-a-half years in Guantanamo."

In December 2005, a U.S. federal judge said of the men's detainment, "This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful."

Michael Sternell, a lawyer who represents three of the men on behalf of law firm Kramer, Levin, Naftalis and Frankel told ABC News, "These men have suffered more than anyone should ever have to in a lifetime in just the last four-and-a-half years. They were detained simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Weeks after their release from Guantanamo, the Uighur men were just sitting down to lunch when they told the ABC News Law & Justice Unit about their experience.

The following is a transcript of the conversation with Qassim, who spoke through a translator on behalf of the entire group.

Q: What was Guantanamo like?

A: Guantanamo is like a hell where there is no justice or respect for human dignity. Our life there was very, very miserable, especially the last one year after being told that we are innocent and still living behind wired walls. We feel confused, frustrated and tired. I would call the worst period of time of my four years incarceration in Guantanamo.