Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit

18.12.09

Judge Ricardo UrbinaOn Monday, as I explained in a previous article, Judge Thomas Hogan refused the habeas corpus petition of Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni who had been tortured in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, and who was described by the judge as a “model prisoner” who was not dangerous. Judge Hogan made his ruling partly on the basis that al-Madhwani had received military training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan, which was associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks, but just two days later, Judge Ricardo Urbina (who ordered the release of the Uighurs last October) granted the habeas petition of another Yemeni, Saeed Hatim, who had also trained at al-Farouq, but who told his interrogators that he “did not like anything about the training.”

The reasons for Judge Urbina’s decision on Wednesday are not yet clear, as an unclassified version of his ruling has not yet been made available, but elements of Saeed Hatim’s story are available from the Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) at Guantánamo, part of a process conducted in 2004-05 to ascertain whether the prisoners had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants,” who could be held without charge or trial, and his Administrative Review Boards (ARBs), held every year as part of a process to determine whether prisoners could be approved for release.

These were shamefully one-sided affairs, in which the authorities relied on classified evidence that was not disclosed to the prisoners, who were also prevented from having any legal representation. However, they often provide the only insight available into the prisoners’ stories, and in the case of Saeed Hatim, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, they provide what appears to be a relatively coherent narrative, although it may, of course, be revealed as a tissue of lies, produced as a result of threats and coercion, when Judge Urbina’s ruling is made public.

In statements made by Hatim during his CSRT, or attributed to him by interrogators in submissions for his ARBs, which he did not attend, he apparently explained that he had “never held a job for more than six months” and “relied upon his father and older brother for financial support,” and stated that he went to Afghanistan in spring 2001, because he had “heard there was a lot of justice in that part of the world,” and also because, like several others who ended up in Guantánamo, he thought that he would find a way to fight in Chechnya. He “stated he became interested in Russia’s war in Chechnya because he witnessed the oppression on the television.” Explaining that he “was outraged about what the Russians were doing to the Chechens,” he “decided to travel there to fight jihad alongside his Muslim brothers.”

Hatim admitted attending al-Farouq, but said that he soon left the camp “because it was not what he expected.” He explained that he “faked a fever telling the people he was ill and needed to seek medical care,” and complained that “the trainers were always yelling at him, the food was terrible, and he was forced to sleep on the ground.” He added that “he did not like anything about the training and wanted to quit on the first day.”

Acknowledging that he was obliged to “put his decision to fight in Chechnya on the back burner for a while,” but insisting that he “did not want to partake in the war in Afghanistan because it was a civil war in which Muslims were fighting other Muslims,” he nevertheless reportedly ended up at “a place of re-supply for the front lines near Bagram,” where, on at least one occasion, he apparently traveled to the front lines to deliver food to the Taliban soldiers fighting the Northern Alliance. He also apparently spent some time in a number of guest houses, which, in the US authorities’ opinion, were associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

He added, however, that once the US-led invasion began, and Kabul was being bombed, he made his way to the eastern city of Jalalabad, where he took a cab to the Pakistani border, meeting up with an Afghan who escorted him to a Pakistani police station. From there, soon after, his long ordeal in US custody began.

I await Judge Urbina’s ruling with some interest, primarily, as I mentioned above, to discover whether this account bears any resemblance to the story uncovered by the judge in what, despite the persistent fog of classified evidence that clouds so many of the Guantánamo cases, will undoubtedly be the first time that something close to an objective analysis of his case has been undertaken, after eight years in US custody.

At present, however, Judge Urbina’s ruling means little to Saeed Hatim, as the Obama administration has demonstrated that it is extremely unwilling to release any of the Yemenis who now make up nearly half of Guantánamo’s population of 210 prisoners — even those who have won their habeas petitions in the US courts. Just one Yemeni has been released since Barack Obama became President, even though, by my reckoning, Yemenis account for somewhere between 50 and 60 of the 115 prisoners who have been cleared for release by the inter-agency Task Force established by President Obama on his second day in office.

The administration’s reluctance to release Yemenis was explained by officials in September, around the time that the only Yemeni to secure his release under Obama — Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, who won his habeas petition in May, after a devastating dissection of the government’s supposed evidence by Judge Gladys Kessler — was finally released. On that occasion, the officials stated that “Even if Mr. Ahmed was not dangerous in 2002 … Guantánamo itself might have radicalized him, exposing him to militants and embittering him against the United States.”

As I explained at the time:

The officials have valid fears about political instability in Yemen, and the existence of terrorist groups, even though the Yemeni authorities have stated that none of the 16 Yemenis returned from Guantánamo “have joined terrorist groups,” but whatever their fears, they do not seem to have reflected that, if their rationale for not releasing any of the Yemenis from Guantánamo was extended to the US prison system, it would mean that no prisoner would ever be released at the end of their sentence, because prison “might have radicalized” them, and also, of course, that it would lead to no prisoner ever being released from Guantánamo.

On that note, it is, I hope, time for this nonsense to end, and for Saeed Hatim, a demonstrably insignificant figure in the “War on Terror,” to be returned to his homeland, along with all the other cleared prisoners. It’s not difficult. Just find a large enough plane, fly them home, and drop them off. At the time of writing, I’m pleased to note that the Washington Post is reporting that, “according to sources with independent knowledge of the matter,” six Yemenis, along with four Afghans, “will be transferred out of Guantánamo Bay in the near future,” and that this transfer “could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen.” I certainly hope that this is the case; otherwise, we may as well all stop pretending that being cleared by a court, or by the administration’s own Task Force, means anything at all.

Note: With this result, the prisoners have won 32 out of 41 habeas corpus petitions, a success rate of 78 percent.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published on the Huffington Post, CounterPunch, Antiwar.com and ZNet. Cross-posted on Common Dreams and The Public Record.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009).

Also see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), Judge Rules That Afghan “Rendered” To Bagram In 2002 Has No Rights (July 2009), Bagram Isn’t The New Guantánamo, It’s The Old Guantánamo (August 2009), Obama Brings Guantánamo And Rendition To Bagram (And Not The Geneva Conventions) and Is Bagram Obama’s New Secret Prison? (both September 2009).

10 Responses

  1. Obama’s Countdown to Failure on Guantanamo « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] The habeas petitions actually represented the best hope for a just outcome at Guantánamo, as the District Court judges, empowered by the Supreme Court to examine the prisoners’ cases, proved adept at perceiving “generalized” and “generic” material masquerading as evidence, and the extent to which “detainees [had] implicated other detainees” (and, it should be noted, themselves), so that, by the end of the year, when the administration announced that 116 prisoners had now been cleared for release by the Task Force, the prisoners had won 32 out of 41 habeas petitions. [...]

  2. Obama’s Failure on Guantanamo says...

    [...] announced that 116 prisoners had now been cleared for release by the Task Force, the prisoners had won 32 out of 41 habeas [...]

  3. Andy Worthington Discusses Murders at Guantánamo and Bagram’s “Ghost Prisoners” on Antiwar Radio « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] discussed the Guantánamo prisoners’ successful habeas corpus petitions over the last 16 months (32 victories out of 41 cases), which allowed me to recall the extraordinary rulings in the cases of al-Qaeda torture victim [...]

  4. An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December [...]

  5. Guantánamo: Exposing Torture, Misconceptions and Government Incompetence | The Ruthless Truth blog says...

    [...] rulings here). I also intend to analyze the judge’s opinions in the cases of four more Yemenis: Saeed Hatim, who won his habeas petition in December last year, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, who won his [...]

  6. AWorthington: Guantanamo Habeas Results, Prisoners 34 – Government 13 « On Now says...

    [...] WON: Saeed Hatim (Yemen, ISN 255) Still held. For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit. For Judge Ricardo Urbina’s unclassified opinion, see [...]

  7. Guantanamo and Habeas Corpus : STATESMAN SENTINEL says...

    [...] here). I also intend to analyze the judge’s opinions in the cases of four more Yemenis: Saeed Hatim, who won his habeas petition in December last year, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, who won his [...]

  8. Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo – Dark Politricks says...

    [...] December, I wrote about the case of Saeed Hatim, a Yemeni in Guantánamo whose habeas corpus petition had been granted by Judge Ricardo Urbina. At [...]

  9. Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo : STATESMAN SENTINEL says...

    [...] December, I wrote about the case of Saeed Hatim, a Yemeni in Guantánamo whose habeas corpus petition had been granted by Judge Ricardo Urbina. At [...]

  10. Guantanamo: Jemeniten schon bis zu 7 Jahre eingekerkert « Ticker says...

    [...] Hatim, whose habeas corpus petition was granted in December 2009, had his successful petition vacated by the Court of Appeals (the DC Circuit Court) in February [...]

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