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Life After Guantanamo: Why the Media's Happy-Ending Narrative Is Totally Bankrupt

The transfer of four Uighur prisoners to Bermuda has been treated like a happy human-interest story, but the truth is far darker.

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Beyond the images of the four former prisoners swimming, fishing and eating ice cream lies a cruel reality that has been all but eclipsed in the past week, and which must not be forgotten. It's not just the seven years of incarceration these men suffered at the hands of the U.S. government, but the real, lasting -- and as yet, largely unknown -- effects their imprisonment will have in the years to come.

Angela Amel, a social worker at The Innocent Project who works with exonerated prisoners who are transitioning back into their lives after being wrongfully incarcerated, says that the isolation and the lack of family support will be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

"I think it's incredible," she says. "It completely compounds it. People who have their family and loved ones when they come out are the ones who are going to come out OK. Who you were going in and what you have when you come out are going to really determine how you do." Not having family or a support network, she says, "makes it a million times worse."

What's more, the stigma of having been branded a terrorist is sure to follow them wherever they go, just as those who are wrongfully imprisoned often find themselves regarded with suspicion.

"I don't think people are going to believe that they are entirely innocent," Amel says. "And that really compounds the issue, the tendency for people to say, 'Well, if they weren't guilty of that, they were guilty of something.' 

"And then, of course, how to get a job, how to start over," Amel adds.

While the U.S. has provided compensation to countries that agree to take in prisoners from Guantanamo in the past, it has not provided much in the way of support for the men themselves. Once they are resettled, they're pretty much on their own.

"We've never talked to them," a U.S. diplomat in Tirana, Albania, told the New York Times in 2007. "We don't monitor them. They're not our citizens, and there is no reason for us to."