Return to Russia

On March 1, 2004, just after the detainees landed in Russia, the US State Department released a brief statement, which read in part,

The United States has transferred seven Russian nationals detained at Guantanamo to the control of the Government of Russia to face criminal charges relating to their terrorist activities during an armed conflict. The transfer is the result of discussions between our two governments over the past year, including assurances that the individuals will be detained, investigated and prosecuted, as appropriate, under Russian law and will be treated humanely in accordance with Russian law and obligations.38

Asked whether he had heard that the US government received a diplomatic assurance that he would not be mistreated after he returned to Russia, Ravil Gumarov told Human Rights Watch, “I didn’t exactly know [about the assurance]; I understood the opposite, that they gave a guarantee to put us away in Russia.”39

Also on March 1, the Procuracy General of the Russian Federation released a similarly terse statement, which read in part,

Charges have been brought against seven citizens of Russia detained at a US military base in Guantanamo and turned over to the Russian side… All these people were recruited by representatives of radical Islamic organizations and later sent over to Afghanistan, where they fought on the side of the Taliban.40

After their return to Russia the seven detainees were transferred to a jail in Pyatigorsk, in southern Russia, and charged with participation in a criminal conspiracy (article 210.2 of the criminal code) and unlawful crossing of the national frontier (article 322.2).  However, they were released on June 22, 2004, because of lack of evidence.  According to the Russian daily Kommersant, Russian prosecutors had no proof that the seven men had actually participated in the fighting in Afghanistan.41 Vakhitov told Human Rights Watch that during nearly four months in the detention facility in Pyatigorsk, he was visited only once by an investigator, who appeared to be making little effort to build a case against him.  Instead, the investigator told him that “we have obligations [to the Americans] to keep you.”42  Ravil Gumarov told Human Rights Watch that Russian officials made it clear that the detainees were in Pyatigorsk only to satisfy the Americans, and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was intent on releasing them to defy the United States: “They said, ‘We’re letting you out to spite the Americans.’”43 

While (as has been noted above) the actual substance of agreements between the US and Russian governments, written or unwritten, could not be ascertained, Human Rights Watch’s research has confirmed that the Russian authorities indeed mistreated the ex-Guantanamo detainees.

38“Transfer of Russian Nationals From Guantanamo,” US Department of State press statement, 2004/219, March 1, 2004, (accessed September 9, 2006).

39 Human Rights Watch interview with Ravil Gumarov, date and place withheld.

40 “Charges brought against seven Russian citizens detained at the US military base in Guantanamo and turned over to the Russian side” (“Semerym grazhdanam Rossii, soderzhavshimsya na voennoi basye SShA v Guantanamo i peredannym rossiiskoi storone, predyavleno obvinyeniye”), Procuracy General of the Russian Federation press release, March 1, 2004,  (accessed March 26, 2007).

41 “The story of the Russian Talibs” (“Istorii russkikh talibov”) Kommersant (Moscow), June 25, 2004, (accessed September 9, 2006).

42 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Airat Vakhitov, September 21, 2004.

43 Human Rights Watch interview with Ravil Gumarov, date and place withheld.