The Black Hole of Guantánamo: The Sad Story of Ravil Mingazov

20.9.11

Regular readers will know that the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011, providing confirmation that the US courts were able to address mistakes made by the Bush administration in rounding up “detainees” in its “War on Terror,” to expose those mistakes, and even to provide a remedy for them by securing the release of prisoners who should never have been held.

Last year, however, the D.C. Circuit Court — dominated by right-wingers, including Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph, notorious for supporting every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was later overturned by the Supreme Court — began to fight back, pushing the lower courts to accept that very little in the way of evidence was required to justify detentions.

I have long railed against the inability of the executive, lawmakers or the judiciary to address the built-in problems of detention policies in the “War on Terror” — the Bush administration’s dreadful decision to equate the Taliban with al-Qaeda, thereby ensuring that both soldiers and terror suspects were held as interchangeable “detainees” at Guantánamo, and continue to be held as such.

This remains a huge problem, almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the US, although it is matched by the media’s lack of interest in what has happened since the D.C. Circuit Court began to dictate detainee policy, even though that has led to success for the government on every appeal, with the Circuit Court reversing or vacating the lower courts’ rulings in six habeas petitions, and has also led to the last eight habeas petitions (since July last year) being refused (see here, here, here, here and here for the evidence).

One of the prisoners who won his petition, but remains held while the government appeals, is Ravil Mingazov, a citizen of the former Soviet Union, whose story I told in detail when his habeas petition was granted by Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr, in May 2010, in an article entitled, “Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Russian Caught in Abu Zubaydah’s Web.”

One of Ravil’s lawyers, Allison M. Lefrak, who is the litigation director at Human Rights USA, described as “a nonprofit organization in Washington working to bring US laws in line with universal human rights standards,” recently wrote an article for the National Law Journal, describing the lack of progress in Ravil’s case, and her most recent visit to see him in Guantánamo.

This is a fascinating insight into the man behind the government’s propaganda, and also into the shocking delays and manipulation in his case, with, as Lefrak reports, the government’s appeal “now stayed in light of the government’s motion to present the lower court with ‘new’ evidence — evidence the government purportedly only located recently, eight years after Ravil was arrested in Faisalabad,” and which, according to the government, “would persuade Kennedy to reverse his decision and deny Ravil the writ of habeas corpus.”

That, I think, is the injustice of Guantánamo in a nutshell, and I hope you have time to read Allison Lefrak’s article in full.

Justice denied at Guantánamo
By Allison M. Lefrak, National Law Journal, September 19, 2011

As we always do at the onset of our meeting with Ravil Mingazov, my interpreter and I spread a variety of food items on the table in front of us — crusty bread, cheese and an array of sweets. We’ve gone through this same ritual every three months for five years now. And while things change for us in the outside world — marriages occur, babies are born, holidays are celebrated — for Ravil, there is very little that has changed from our first meeting back in January 2006.

Ravil remains in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — [nine and a half] years after the night he was arrested at a house for refugees in Faisal­abad, Pakistan. He remains in Guantánamo more than three years after the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in Boumediene v. Bush extending the writ of habeas corpus to Guantánamo detainees and giving the lower courts great discretion in how to handle these cases.

He remains in Guantánamo, 18 months after a week-long trial at the US District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Henry Kennedy Jr., in which the facts of his case were presented in a closed courtroom. He remains in Guantánamo more than a year after Kennedy issued a comprehensive 42-page opinion [PDF] methodically analyzing each piece of evidence presented by the government, and concluding that, after eight years of detention, the government failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Mingazov was “a part of or substantially supported” al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Ravil Mingazov remains in Guantánamo three and a half years after newly elected President Obama issued an executive order providing for the closure of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay within one year.

Ravil tears off a piece of bread, spreads a generous portion of cheese on it and looks up with eyes surprisingly full of light. “So,” he says slowly, “what should we talk about today?”

I look down at the agenda that I prepared for the meeting and begin, just as I have many times before, to explain why he still remains locked up in Guantánamo and why all of our efforts to date have been essentially futile. As I launch into my detailed explanation of the basis of the government’s appeal of Kennedy’s order granting him the writ of habeas corpus, I pause after every few sentences and stare closely at his face as he registers my words while they are spoken in Russian by the interpreter. His expression does not change — though his eyes continue to have a light in them, as if he is smiling when in fact he’s not.

I hear myself saying these words, “The US court of appeals has not affirmed a single decision ordering the release of a detainee.” I explain to my client that the government’s appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is now stayed in light of the government’s motion to present the lower court with “new” evidence — evidence the government purportedly only located recently, eight years after Ravil was arrested in Faisalabad. I tell him that the government argues that this evidence would persuade Kennedy to reverse his decision and deny Ravil the writ of habeas of corpus. At the end of this lengthy update on the legal status of his case, I pause for the last time and ask Ravil if he has any questions.

“No,” he says. And then he smiles. “But you forgot to mention the good news.” I know him well enough to realize that he is setting me up for a one-liner. “We will all see each other again in three months.”

Some may argue that this glacial speed with which the Guantánamo detainees’ cases move one step forward and two steps back in the courts is unfortunate yet necessary to ensure that a potential terrorist is not mistakenly released. It is true that district court judges are entrusted with a great responsibility when they are considering the habeas cases of Guantánamo detainees and that there is much at stake in each of these cases.

Kennedy’s thorough and thoughtful opinion, like many of the other opinions both granting and denying the habeas petitions of Guantánamo detainees, speaks for itself. District court judges are doing what they are supposed to do, and they are doing it well. It is true, this takes time. But there are limits.

The longer Ravil Mingazov and other detainees sit languishing in Guantánamo as their cases gradually make their way through the courts (only to face near inevitable denial of the writ from the D.C. Circuit), the more credibility the US judicial system loses. As Chief Justice Warren Burger noted, “A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people … Delay will drain even a just judgment of its value.”

I wonder how many more times I will have to explain to Ravil that, despite the Supreme Court’s mandate to promptly process detainees’ habeas claims, the president’s promise to close the prison and his own victory in federal court, it is more likely than not that we will meet again in three months in this overly air-conditioned cell on a steamy island very far away from his elderly mother, his loving wife and his growing son that Ravil last saw eight years ago when he was a baby.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, 700,000-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Digging this.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Much appreciated. This article has been getting overlooked, sadly — although it’s understandable that there’s so much interest in Troy Davis’s case, and reassuring that so many people are pouring all their energy into trying, somehow, to secure clemency fro him at the last minute (myself included).

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne McClintock wrote:

    shameful shameful

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anne. Shameful indeed. The Guantanamo prisoners have been thoroughly abandoned — by the Obama administration, Congress, the judiciary and, for the most part, the American public, even though the injustice of the place, and what Bush set in motion there, remains as much of an affront to decency as it has always been.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne McClintock wrote:

    Andy, when I speak about it here in the US, there is such a powerful reaction from the audience, but people don’t know what to do, as generally of course, its fallen into the administration of forgetting, the empire of forgetting. That’s why your work is so important. And why so many people support you. Thank you. And now they are pouring more money into Bagram.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anne. Very well put about “the empire of forgetting.” Thanks also for the very supportive words. I’ll be trying to work out soon how people can get involved in protesting about the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo on January 11, 2012, but what’s particularly needed is the kind of international criticism that Bush got in his second term. Guantanamo may largely be a legacy issue, but Obama now “owns” it, and he needs to act on that before it’s swept away by electioneering.

    And as for Bagram, I need to get onto that …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Thanks, Andy, certainly a tale that should be known. It may be that American Exceptionalism deludes US law-makers into thinking that it is perfectly acceptable for them to carry out unjust practices outside the law, and still everyone else around the world will somehow go on loving them as ever. We know it ain’t so and citizens of the rest of the world are sick of US injustice and now have no respect for the US legal system and politics. These are intertwined and they shgould be separate.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy. Yes, indeed. “The US legal system and politics are intertwined and they should be separate.”

  9. “Close Guantánamo” Calls on US Communities to Demand Release of Cleared Prisoners in US |  SHOAH says...

    [...] an Algerian recently profiled here, and Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in Guantánamo, who I have written about here. In 2009, Amherst also called for Ravil Mingazov to be welcomed to live in their town, along with [...]

  10. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, Ravel Mingazov is in the news again, and as I was thinking about him I revisited the online pages where you wrote about him.

    This recent Russian news item
    quotes Russian officials who plan to visit Mingazov on January 17, 2014.
    Among the things those officials say is that they had been waiting to visit Mingazov for a very long time, and negotiations with US officials over the conditions of their visit kept breaking down.

    This is alarming. It implies to me that the USA is prepared to abandon its responsibility not to return Mingazov to Russia for further human rights abuses.

    In some cases US officials won’t release men cleared for (conditional) release because the country willing to accept their transfer won’t impose sufficiently draconian security measures on them. We know this is why it took years of negotiation before the USA would release the clearly innocent Bisher al-Rawi. But I think we can count on Russia being eager to impose draconian security measures that went far beyond what the USA wanted on a returning Mingazov.

    I posted some comments on Mingazov to two other pages where you wrote him.

    In this comment I wrote about the mystery as to how Judge Kennedy, who reviewed his habeas, could recommend his release, while the Review Task Force concluded he should be referred for prosecution. I pointed out that Judge Kennedy was supposed to have access to all the same classified evidence available to the Review Task Force.

    In this comment I expressed my doubt that the University residence where he was captured ever had any real ties to either al Qaeda or Abu Zubaydah.

    I hope your US tour goes smoothly, with time for you to touch base with your host and your other contacts, since they all sound like wonderful people.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I share your fear about the Obama administration pushing to repatriate people to countries they don’t want to go back to, with reference to Mingazov, and with good reason, as I think the example of Djamel Ameziane and Belkacem Bensayah demonstrated that the administration wants to show that it has no time for human rights advocates raising awkward obstacles.
    It would be very sad indeed if Mingazov was sacrificed for global political maneuvering, although, after Snowden, I’m not sure what favors the US would be seeking from Russia. We will have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.
    Thanks also for your good wishes for my tour. I am looking forward to the company, as I do indeed know a lot of wonderful Americans, who, as I always say, should be running their country.

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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