Gulet Mohamed was an average 18-year-old American citizen before a visit to family overseas resulted in his torture and indefinite detention in a Kuwaiti prison.
Mohamed, whose family is Somali, immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of three, fleeing the devastating civil war that ravaged that East African country.
Mohed Mohamed, his older brother, maintained that his family, having fled Somalia in 1995, has always been pro-American and grateful to the United States for its intervention in Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s.
Zahra Mohamed, his sister, explained that Gulet, like any other American teenager, grew up playing basketball, had an iPhone, and obsessed over the game Madden NFL. But like many American teenagers, Gulet had a bad case of wanderlust. He wanted to travel abroad to learn more about his heritage, Zahra explained.
He begged his mother to let him leave: after all, he had never known his father, and he wanted to learn Arabic. Traveling to the Middle East would let him get to know his father’s side of the family, rediscover his roots, experience his ancestral homeland, and learn the language of the Quran.
In March, 2009, Gulet Mohamed departed from Alexandria, Virginia to study Arabic and Islam in in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Gulet, the most adventurous of the seven siblings, was the first member of his family to travel outside the United States since the family’s relocation.
After several weeks of study, he left to visit his maternal relations in Somalia at his mother’s insistence. Residing in his uncle’s home for several months, Gulet found the environs uncomfortably hot and painfully sickening through bouts of food poisoning that left his youthful wanderlust unsated. Mohamed again ventured to visit other family living in Kuwait and to continue his studies in Arabic.
Throughout his journey of seeking knowledge and rekindling the ties of kinship, Mohamed traveled on an authentic American passport with valid visas for all of the countries on his whimsical itinerary. His past history had no indication of any violent or criminal activity, nor had he ever been arrested.
Yet, on December 20, 2010, when Mohamed went to the airport in Kuwait City to have his visa renewed (a process he had routinely engaged in every three months without incident for the past year), he was told by a visa officer that his name had been “marked” in the computer.
After five hours of uneasily waiting, Mohamed had finished sending his brother an email when he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and kidnapped by two men in civilian clothes. After a fifteen minute drive in a SUV, Mohamed was deposited in an undisclosed location. He was then dragged into a room and interrogated by officials who refused to identify themselves.
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