For the prisoners in Guantánamo, countless obstacles have been raised to prevent them from ever being freed. When the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in June 2004, for example, the Bush administration responded by convening, instead, military tribunals whose main purpose was to justify their ongoing detention on the basis of classified evidence that was not disclosed to them, and which they could not challenge. These were later revealed as a sham by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who was part of the organization responsible for compiling the information presented as evidence in the tribunals.
The tribunals were allegedly empowered to call outside witnesses, but not a single outside witness was ever brought to Guantánamo to testify, and on a few occasions when the tribunal members ruled that a prisoner was not an “enemy combatant,” who could continue to be detained indefinitely, the tribunal members were dismissed, and “do-over” tribunals were held until the desired result was achieved.
For the Yemenis in Guantánamo, who make up half the current population of 183 prisoners, getting out of Guantánamo is all but impossible. Just 13 Yemenis were freed under George W. Bush, ostensibly because of fears about security and surveillance in Yemen, and President Obama has also been reluctant to break with this tradition. Although seven Yemenis were repatriated last year, the releases stopped abruptly after a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. When it was revealed that he had apparently been recruited in Yemen, President Obama bowed to criticism and suspended all releases to Yemen until further notice, even though his interagency Task Force had concluded that 60 of the Yemeni prisoners could be released.
These are just two examples out of many that I could have chosen to illustrate the often arbitrary nature of the detention policies at Guantánamo, but until two days ago, I had never heard of a government being threatened that its nationals would not be returned unless other nationals, previously released because their innocence had been demonstrated in a US court (after the US government was finally obliged to allow the prisoners’ habeas petitions to proceed in June 2008), were subjected to unfair and restrictive conditions on their liberty.
And yet this is what has happened with the Kuwaiti government, which has been told by the Obama administration that discussions regarding the release of the remaining two Kuwaitis in Guantánamo — Fawzi al-Odah, who lost his habeas petition last year, and Fayiz al-Kandari, whose case has not yet been heard — will not take place unless two men released last year after winning their habeas petitions — Khalid al-Mutairi and Fouad al-Rabiah — “have their passports taken away, be required to check in with local authorities regularly and be under surveillance by the Kuwaiti government for a period of time,” as one of their lawyers, David Cynamon, explained this week.
David Cynamon has just written a letter to President Obama, protesting about this latest disgrace, and it’s my pleasure to reproduce it in full below. The passage about Fouad al-Rabiah, whose extraordinary false confessions, produced as a result of torture and threats, were only finally exposed in a US court last September, are particular instructive, and the thought that the US is demanding that this poor man be subjected to any more restrictions on his liberty is frankly unforgiveable.
A letter to President Obama from David Cynamon
Dear Mr. President:
According to recent news reports, you are struggling to fulfill your commitment to close Guantánamo in part because you are having trouble finding other countries that will take detainees. I know a country that is ready, willing and able to take two: Kuwait.
Kuwait is our faithful ally. The US Ambassador to Kuwait has described the relationship between the two countries as “foundational” and has acknowledged that Kuwait’s logistical support has been “essential” to our military operations in Iraq.
Furthermore, Kuwait has established a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center and program to reintegrate detainees with their families and society. Yet the center stands empty, and its staff idle, while two Kuwaiti citizens languish in their eighth year of imprisonment at Guantánamo. Why?
Perhaps it has something to do with the two Kuwaiti detainees who were recently released by order of the US district court in Washington, D.C., which granted their petitions for habeas corpus after examining the evidence and concluding that the United States had no basis to detain them as enemy combatants. The case of one of them, Fouad al-Rabiah, is particularly instructive. At the time he was taken to Guantánamo, Mr. al-Rabiah was a middle-aged man with a wife and four children, twenty years in a job with the same employer, a documented record of volunteer relief work, and no connection with any extremist group. A CIA analyst who examined Mr. al-Rabiah’s case shortly after he arrived in Guantánamo concluded that it was the classic situation of someone who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Yet the US claimed that Mr. al-Rabiah was a high-level al-Qaeda financier and supply chief during the battle of Tora Bora. As the federal court found, however, these fantastic claims were based almost entirely on false “confessions” wrung out of Mr. al-Rabiah through the same abusive and coercive interrogation methods designed by the North Korean and Chinese Communists during the Korean War, and for the same purpose: to extract false confessions from American POWs that could be exploited for propaganda purposes. The court explained,
Al-Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Convention … [T]he use of these methods is likely to “yield unreliable results and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. al-Rabiah’s statements given under these abusive conditions were so absurd and self-contradictory that, as the court pointed out, “even the Government’s own interrogators did not believe them.” Yet the Department of Justice — your Department of Justice — vigorously defended these interrogation techniques in court and argued that Mr. al-Rabiah should continue to be imprisoned based on the statements obtained through those methods.
Officials of your administration have now informed the Government of Kuwait that they will not even consider returning the last two Kuwaiti detainees unless Kuwait imposes restrictive conditions on Mr. al-Rabiah and the other Kuwaiti released by the federal court — as if they were paroled criminals instead of men who never should have been imprisoned in the first place. This makes no sense, either as a matter of justice or necessity. The remaining Kuwaiti detainees will be placed into the rehabilitation program, and Kuwait has promised that it will take all security measures necessary for the safety and security, not just of the United States and its citizens, but of Kuwait and its citizens as well.
The way to close Guantánamo, and to make America safer, is there. Allies like Kuwait are willing to help. Please give them the chance.
David J. Cynamon
Attorney for the Kuwaiti Detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
cc: The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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