I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have long despaired that the power of black propaganda is such that the Bush administration’s claim that Guantánamo held “the worst of the worst” has had a disturbing and enduring power. The reality, as those who have studied Guantánamo know, is that this is an empty claim, not backed up by evidence.
In fact, few of the 779 men held at Guantánamo throughout its 11-year history are genuinely alleged to have had any connection to al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, or any other examples of international terrorism. Sold for bounty payments, or rounded up through woefully inept intelligence, the men and boys flown to Guantánamo were generally so insignificant — either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or mere foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan that predated the 9/11 attacks and had nothing to do with terrorism — that reasons had to be created to justify holding them, even though, for the most part, the authorities did not see it that way. Convinced that their prisoners were holding out on them, they tortured, abused or bribed them into making false statements — about themselves, and about their fellow prisoners — that could be used to justify holding them.
Even so, 604 of the prisoners have been released — although another nine only left the prison by dying. Of the 166 men still held, 86 have been cleared for release by an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he first took office four years ago, but are still held because of Congressional opposition and the refusal of President Obama to hold to his promise to close the prison within a year, which he made when he first took office in 2009.
In particular, two-thirds of the 86 men cleared for release are Yemenis, and they continue to be held because, three years ago, it turned out that a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried and failed to bomb a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had been recruited in Yemen. When this information came to light, President Obama announced a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo, which still stands, even though it only came about as a response to hysteria from his critics following the failed bomb plot.
It is, to be blunt, time for this dark farce of “guilt by nationality” to come to an end. There is no comfort to be gained from considering the contradictions in the Yemenis’ situation — that, on the one hand, they are men cleared for release by the US government, but, on the other, they are condemned to indefinite dentition by that same government, simply because of their nationality.
In an attempt to break through the obstacle preventing the Yemenis’ release, a program of education is required — not only about a sense of fairness and justice, but also about humanising these men whose detention will otherwise be for the rest of their lives, so that their only way out of Guantánamo is in a coffin, like Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who died in September, despite having been cleared for release on several occasions, dating back to 2006.
In a first article aimed at humanizing the Yemenis still held at Guantánamo, Omar Farah, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who I met with during my recent visit to the US to call for the closure of Guantánamo, has written a profile of one of his clients, a Yemeni named Mohammed al-Hamiri, who was a close friend of Adnan Latif, and is one of the 55 cleared prisoners named in a list made publicly available by the Justice Department last September. This powerful account was first published in a reader diary at FireDogLake, and we’re delighted to be publishing it below.
– Andy Worthington, Close Guantánamo
Adnan Latif and Mohammed al-Hamiri arrived at Guantánamo through strikingly similar twists of fate. Adnan Latif is the most recent of nine men — four since President Obama took office — to die in US custody at Guantánamo.
Mohammed al-Hamiri is a Yemeni prisoner I have represented and visited since 2008 who remains trapped at Guantánamo, housed at the prison’s medical clinic, fighting to stave off despair. Like all Guantánamo prisoners, he grapples daily with the haunting thought that he many never leave the island prison alive.
January 11 marked 11 years since the first of these men arrived at Guantánamo, and this week marks four years since the president’s signing an executive order mandating the closure of Guantanamo within the year. As we observe these anniversaries, I question what, if anything, the Obama administration learned from Adnan’s senseless death. For better or for worse, the answer will say a lot about what lies ahead for Mohammed.
Both Adnan and Mohammed suffered severe injuries as boys that left them with cranial fractures. There is a noticeable scar under Mohammed’s hairline, and he suffers from chronic headaches caused by the reconstructive metal plates in his skull. Mohammed’s first round of treatment at the Saudi-German Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is well documented. The necessary follow-up treatment was financially prohibitive, so, like Adnan, Mohammed traveled to Pakistan in search of cheap medical care.
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan by local police. In that respect, his story and Adnan’s are typical. Since the prison first opened, the government has cynically perpetuated the myth that Guantánamo prisoners were “captured on the battlefield.” Nothing could be further from the truth: the troubling reality is that in the months after September 11, the US military ran a slipshod bounty system that offered handsome compensation to Afghan and Pakistani locals for turning over anyone who seemed out of place. That is how Adnan ended up at Guantánamo, and the circumstances surrounding Mohammed’s arrest point to the same explanation.
Hooded and shackled, Mohammed was then rendered to Guantánamo in 2002. He was just 19 or 20 years old. Since then, he has endured more than a decade of arbitrary, indefinite detention, with no end in sight. He has never been charged with a crime. He never will be. In 2009, he, like Adnan, was approved for release by unanimous consent of an Inter-Agency Task Force that President Obama convened. The Task Force included representatives from every military, law enforcement, and national security agency with a stake in detainee affairs. But within months, the President instituted a moratorium on transfers to Yemen, effectively rescinding Mohammed’s clearance in favor of a policy of crude collective punishment — one that bases the detention of Guantánamo’s Yemeni prisoners on citizenship alone.
The results are at once shameful and predictable: it has been 30 months since a Yemeni has been repatriated or resettled. Of the 166 prisoners who remain at Guantánamo, roughly 90 are from Yemen. Fifty-six Yemenis are already cleared for transfer — 57 before Adnan died.
Death is rapidly becoming the only way out of Guantánamo. That is the inevitable by-product of the administration’s inaction. It is a chilling fact that is not lost on Mohammed, who was housed in a cell near Adnan, his dear friend and countryman. It was there, in the harsh, isolative conditions of Camp V, that Mohammed came face-to-face with the grim toll indefinite detention takes on the men at Guantánamo. That is where his path and Adnan’s parted. It is no wonder that Mohammed is — in his words — at a “breaking point.”
But Mohammed’s continued torment is unnecessary: President Obama has the power to free him with the stroke of a pen. He should do so immediately, or history will not judge him kindly. The cost of delay has never been so high or potentially irrevocable. The president now confronts a grave moral question: had he foreseen Adnan’s death, would he have done anything differently? For Mohammed’s sake, and for the others languishing at Guantánamo, I hope the answer is yes.
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, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-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 please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Nancy Vining Van Ness wrote:
Thank you for continuing to inform the public about and advocate for the prisoners at Guantanamo.
Thanks, Nancy. I don’t think I ever technically made a promise seven years ago that I would stick with the men and their stories until Guantanamo is closed, but I might as well have done. This remains a crucially important story about who we are and how we treat those we regard as our enemies. Perhaps even more than that, it is about hubris and its horrors – and how those who mostly are not our enemies were rounded up and treated as though they were, and were horribly abused and dehumanized as a result.
Monique D’hooghe wrote:
i certainly adore you for having stuck with them while the mass media just ignore the incredible injustice perpetrated in our names… thank you for that, Andy
Thank you, Monique. I began by researching the prisoners’ stories and discovered, along the way, that these were and are human beings with their own personalities, some of which leapt out at me from the otherwise cold pages of the official documents – the transcripts of the tribunals and review boards at Guantanamo in 2004-05, released by the Pentagon in 2006 – bringing them very much to life. Then I found that some of those who had been released were also fascinating individuals, and it’s simply not possible, from that position, to unremember them. I hope to focus more on individual stories – again – as this year progresses, so that people with stil-functioning hearts can understand who is being sacrificed for political expediency.
I agree about reading the transcripts. I wonder how many people have bothered to do it. Some of it is amazing. I don’t know how I first found out about Mohammedou Ould Salahi (originally listed as Slahi), but his paper trail is well worth reading.
PS – I copied the URL of this post into FB to share it, and it wouldn’t allow me to use the photo of Mohammed al-Hamiri as a thumbnail. The sign photo later in the post was available, but not the mug shot. Any ideas why?
You probably noticed this, but I will mention here, Daniel Fried has been reassigned. He was the State Department official charged with the duty of trying to convince nations to allow the repatriation of their citizens, or to accept captives who can’t be returned home. He is not going to be replaced.
I was surprised that no one was commenting that this news came just about four years after President Obama’s announcement he would close the camp within a year.
Great to hear from you, Mark. I’m looking at ways of using the files (the DABs, or Detainee Assessment Briefs, to give them their correct title) much more this year, as an important tool to expose the emptiness of the entire Guantanamo construct. I will, of course, keep you and everyone else posted on developments!
Also, I have no idea why Facebook wouldn’t accept the photo of Mohammed. Recently, they stopped allowing large images to be used, but this isn’t large at all. Very curious.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, I saw that, and it’s sad news, that’s for sure – official acknowledgment that there’s no more interest in resettling prisoners elsewhere. Morally, it should focus attention on resettling prisoners who can’t be safely repatriated in the US, I believe, although it will be interesting to see if anyone cares to join me in mounting that particular campaign!
Most people at Gitmo are innocent, but I would not be surprised if some of them would become jihadis if set free, just because of how badly they have been treated.
It’s an understandable presumption, Thomas, but I don’t believe that many people can be “turned” into killers of any kind, and I don’t believe that the genuine statistics from Guantanamo suggest that this is the case. Unfortunately, some people with an agenda, and connections in the Pentagon, have pumped out black propaganda about how 1 in 7, 1 in 5, or even 1 in 4 of the released prisoners have “returned to the battlefield,” despite there being no evidence to back up this claim. There are a few dozen cases, out of 604 released prisoners, but no more than that.
Thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this story. I’m very grateful to Omar Farah at CCR for writing it. I’m just back from a 24-hour trip to one of my favourite places – Brighton – with some lovely people, including the Amnesty team at the University of Sussex, where I spoke last night to a big crowd; my friend Omar Deghayes, the former Guantanamo prisoner, who also spoke at the event; and Jackie Chase and her family, and all the people at Under the Bridge Studios in Brighton. It’s over a year since I’ve seen Jackie, who played a big part in the campaigns to free Omar and Binyam Mohamed, and it was great to spend time with her, and also, this afternoon, to take part in a recording of Omar and I in conversation for Radio Free Brighton, the community radio station based in Under the Bridge Studios. RFB will be making a podcast available very soon, and there’ll also be film of last night’s event at some point, but in the meantime please do check out Radio Free Brighton: http://radiofreebrighton.org.uk/
I know this sounds petty, but you have your date wrong in the introduction (last sentence paragraph 3). Barack Hussein Obama became President of the U.S.A. early in 2008.
No, Obama won the Presidential Election in November 2008, and was inaugurated in January 2009.
ohhhhh I’m sorry, I was wrong, you are correct January 2009 it is.
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