Kuwaiti Prisoners Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari Ask Periodic Review Board to Free Them from Guantánamo

20.6.14

Over the last few weeks, Periodic Review Boards have been held at Guantánamo for the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fawzi al-Odah and Fayiz al-Kandari, who have been held for the last 12 years.

The PRBs, consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been taking place since last November, and were established to decide whether 71 of the remaining prisoners should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

As opposed to the 75 men still held who were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, these 71 men were either recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial (on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial) or for prosecution (until most of the charges in the military commission trial system collapsed following legal challenges). Both Fawzi and Fayiz were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force.

Prior to the Kuwaitis’ PRBs, six reviews had taken place for other prisoners, and decisions had been reached in five — with three men recommended for release and two recommended for ongoing imprisonment. Those recommended for release are still held because they are Yemenis, and the US government refuses to release any Yemenis, because of fears about the security situation in Yemen. As a result, the three men have merely joined the list of 55 other Yemenis, cleared for release by Obama’s task force, who are still held. For the two men recommended for ongoing imprisonment, the PRBs are also problematic, because they suggest that there is a real legitimacy to the process, when, as I explained here and here, there appears to be no sound reason for concluding that the two men in question should continue to be held.

I have been covering the Kuwaitis’ story for many years, first in my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since 2007, in my many articles, and, throughout all this time, I have found no credible reasons for believing that either man poses — or has ever posed — a threat to the US. I wrote about Fawzi for the BBC in December 2007, and wrote with dismay about his failed habeas corpus petition in August 2009. Similarly, I wrote a major profile of Fayiz in October 2009, and wrote with dismay about his failed habeas petition in September 2010. In February 2012, I traveled to Kuwait, where I met both men’s fathers, and also met many of Fayiz’s relatives, and where my belief that neither man constitutes a threat to the US was only reinforced.

Fawzi’s PRB took place on June 4, and I’m posting it below, as I find the comments made by the representatives assigned to him by the military to be useful. The representatives, not identified in the released document, describe Fawzi as “intelligent, genuinely polite and professional,” and not how he wishes only to work, get married and have children. They also note that, although he “had disciplinary incidents in the past,” these have come to an end, because, as they explain, “he finally realized that he could not continue to perpetually remain frustrated and angered by his long and indefinite detention. He needed to let that mindset go, so that he could rediscover himself again.” As they add, “He continues to work on improving his perspective and has shown extraordinary improvement and maturation in his approach to his detention.”

In its unclassified summary, the government also acknowledges that Fawzi’s “infractions” have “declined in recent years,” as well as noting profound problems with some of the more outrageous claims against him. As the summary states, “We lack confidence in statements from other detainees that KU-232 [Fawzi] was closely associated with Usama Bin Ladin [sic] or belonged to an ai-Qa’ida cell in London,” both implausible claims that should never have been believed.

Periodic Review Board, June 4, 2014
Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Al-Odah, ISN 232
Opening statement of Personal Representative

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the board. We are the Personal Representatives for Mr. Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Al-Odah, and will be happy to answer any questions that you may have throughout this proceeding.

As the representatives for Mr. Al-Odah we, in collaboration with Mr. Eric Lewis and Ms. Katherine Toomey, the Private Counsel for this case, have strived to provide you the information that will demonstrate that Fawzi poses no continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. We have had the honor of meeting with Fawzi over the past five months, learning much about him. He is a man who has endured twelve years of detention here at Guantánamo Bay. His family’s unwavering support for him and his own father’s tireless endeavors to bring his son home has helped sustain Fawzi through his long detention. But it has also made him regret that his circumstances have caused such pain and struggle for his parents. We are also aware that Fawzi has had disciplinary incidents in the past.

We have discussed this with him — particularly the apparent change that he underwent a few years ago. He explained to us that he finally realized that he could not continue to perpetually remain frustrated and angered by his long and indefinite detention. He needed to let that mindset go, so that he could rediscover himself again. He continues to work on improving his perspective and has shown extraordinary improvement and maturation in his approach to his detention.

During our meetings we have learned that Fawzi is intelligent, genuinely polite and professional, and has been willing to participate throughout. Fawzi has stated repeatedly, and we believe credibly, that he envisions a future for himself as a private citizen who works, is married and has children. Those are his most immediate aspirations. We believe that you too will today see his sincerity in wanting to achieve those simple goals.

As we’ve prepared for this board, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Toomey have worked hand-in-hand with us throughout this process, attending every meeting with Fawzi. In addition, they have traveled to Kuwait to secure witness testimonies and exhibits for the board’s consideration, which you have in front of you today, and on which they will soon comment. Fawzi’s country, including the highest officials in its government, supports him and has an established rehabilitation program for returning detainees. We believe that the Kuwaiti rehabilitation program, coupled with his family’s steadfast support and Fawzi’s own peaceful goals — of getting married, starting a family, and working with his father in his plumbing supply business — reveal that Fawzi is indeed a man worthy of selection for transfer. At this time, we would like to introduce Mr. Eric Lewis for his opening statement. Thank you for your time and consideration.

*****

Eric Lewis’s statement has not been made available, but the Associated Press reported that he told the review board that “his client will be closely monitored if returned to his homeland,” because the Kuwaiti authorities “have agreed to keep [him] in a government rehabilitation center for at least a year upon his release” from Guantánamo. Even after leaving the rehabilitation center, he “would surrender his passport, check in weekly with police [and] would be monitored by security authorities,” Lewis added in a statement to the board.

Lewis added that Fawzi “poses no threat to the US and would seek to start a family and work in his father’s plumbing supply business if allowed to return to his homeland.”

For Al-Jazeera America, Jenifer Fenton, who I met in Kuwait three years ago, wrote a powerful article about Fawzi’s father, Khalid al-Odah, who said he was “feeling very good” about his son’s hearing.

Khalid al-Odah described his son as “a lovable person,” adding, “It is very easy for him to make friends. He always smiles.” He also explained how Fawzi “excelled in school and graduated from Kuwait University with a degree in Islamic studies and became a teacher,” adding that Fawzi “had spent his summer vacation in 2000 with other religious Kuwaitis in Pakistan, teaching and distributing money to people in villages near the Afghan border.” On his return, “he told his father he was very interested in relief work and he wanted to do charity work every year.” For 2001, Khalid al-Odah said, “he planned to help Afghan refugees.”

However, as Fawzi himself explained at a hearing at Guantánamo a decade ago, it was his “bad luck and bad timing” that the 9/11 attacks happened while he was in Afghanistan. Like many other Arabs, he fled the country, as news spread that foreigners were being sold for bounty payments, but as he crossed into Pakistan, despite asking to be taken to the Kuwaiti Embassy, he was sent to Guantánamo via the US prisons in Afghanistan.

As Jenifer Fenton notes, exposing serious shortcomings in the US evidence against Fawzi, “Three US reports give different accounts of the circumstances of his capture. One US tribunal report said he was captured with five other men; an administrative review board hearing said he had been part of a group of 12 men; a report by the US Joint Task Force Guantánamo said he had been with more than 100 Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.”

She added:

A close analysis of the most recent classified Joint Task Force Guantánamo report on al-Odah released via WikiLeaks shows, among other things, that a number of the allegations against him are based on testimony from witnesses whose reliability even the US has questioned, or who have denied testifying against him, or even who claim to have been coerced into giving false evidence. Family members and experts say some of the claims against him are unsubstantiated or simply false.

Jenifer Fenton also noted how Khalid al-Odah “had been a strong supporter of the US,” as “a pilot in the Kuwaiti Air Force who trained in America.” During Saddam Hussein’s brutal occupation of Kuwait in 1990, he “joined the local armed resistance movement and provided intelligence to the US military.”

As he wrote in 2005, “I always remember our reception of the American troops following the liberation of Kuwait. At that time I was accompanied by my 13-year-old son, Fawzi. I cannot describe to you the extent of our happiness and gratitude, particularly my son Fawzi who started to shake hands and hug the American soldiers … These historic moments are deeply engraved in the memory of this young guy.”

Khalid al-Odah also said — as many Kuwaitis said to me in 2011 — that “he was sympathetic to the US and the challenges it faced after the 9/11 attacks,” but that “he saw his son’s experience as a sign that America had deviated from its founding principles.” As he put it, “The United States is the beacon of the world always … for honesty, for rule of law, for liberty.” However, his son’s experience in Guantánamo was a sign that “the United States was not keeping with [its] principles.”

On June 12, the review board met to consider the case of Fayiz al-Kandari, with statements made by both his military-appointed representatives, and Barry Wingard, who is now a civilian attorney, but was formerly the military defense attorney appointed to defend Fayiz after he was ludicrously put forward for a trial by military commission in the dying days of the Bush administration, charges which were later dropped.

Throughout Fayiz’s detention, the charges against him have been ludicrous, and elements of those remain in the unclassified summary — in particular, that Fayiz, who arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, “probably served as Usama bin Ladin’s spiritual advisor and confidant.” In addition, although it is assessed that he “mostly has been compliant with guard staff and has committed no significant disciplinary infractions apart from participating in hunger strikes,” the authorities also maintain that “he has expressed anti-American sentiments,” apparently “indicating he almost certainly retains an extremist mindset.”

Below are the statements by Fayiz’s representatives and Barry Wingard, and it is, I believe, noteworthy that his representatives describe him as “compliant,” and also note that “his behavior during our meetings reflects a well-spoken, thoughtful young man who is ready to quickly move on to adulthood and make up for lost time.” As Wingard adds, “his goal in life is to get married, start a family, and conduct business in Kuwait.”

I can only hope that, when the review boards’ decisions are announced, probably next month, both me will be recommended for release, and will be repatriated shortly after, to resume their long-disrupted lives.

Periodic Review Board, June 12, 2014
Fayiz Mohamed Ahmed Al-Kandari, ISN 552
Opening Statement of Personal Representative

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the board, the Colonel and I are the Personal Representatives for Fayiz. Mr. Barry Wingard, on my right/left, is Fayiz’s Private Counsel. To my right/left is our translator (translator’s call sign). I first met Fayiz on 11 February 2014 and corresponded regularly with both him and Mr. Wingard since. In the four months we worked with Fayiz, it is apparent that he cares deeply about returning to his family in Kuwait. Additionally, he is compliant and his behavior during our meetings reflects a well-spoken, thoughtful young man who is ready to quickly move on to adulthood and make up for lost time.

Fayiz is a religious man. He is a principled man. He is an intelligent man. His family is ready to receive him in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Government built Alsalam Rehabilitation Center proving they eagerly await his return and want to assist him to acclimate and move on with his life. The Kuwait Ministry of lnterior, Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Emir, himself, have given their assurances that they want Fayiz back in Kuwait and they will support his rehabilitation. Fayiz is not a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. He is a man with a caring family, supportive government and deep desire to resume his life. His family and the Kuwaiti Government have created an ideal scenario for him to safely return to Kuwait. And he is ready.

Thank you for your time and consideration. The Colonel and I are happy to answer any questions you may have throughout this proceeding. We will now defer to Mr. Wingard for his opening statement.

Opening statement of private counsel Barry D. Wingard

I am Barry D. Wingard. private counsel for Fayiz ai-Kandari (Fayiz). I have served in the United States military for thirty years. I have been involved in representing Fayiz in October 2000 in my capacity as a military officer in the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, first as a major and later as a lieutenant colonel and now as a civilian attorney. I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to represent Fayiz in his twelve and a half years in Guantanamo Bay and my six years as his attorney.

During my time as attorney for Fayiz, I have travelled to GTMO more than fifty times and travelled to Kuwait fifteen times.

Based on my relationship with Fayiz, I unequivocally declare that he is not a threat to the national security of the United States for the following reasons:

Kuwait

Since 1991, the relationship between the United States and Kuwait is the strongest in the Middle East. The US and Kuwait have a robust bilateral defense agreement. Kuwait provided the main platform for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Currently the US houses several thousand troops in Kuwait, and Kuwait regularly purchases billions of dollars in military hardware from the US.

I have conducted endless meetings with Government of Kuwait officials and visited Alsalam Rehabilitation Center more than a half dozen times. From the Emir of Kuwait himself to the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, Kuwait has done everything within its power to facilitate the return of Fayiz back to Kuwait. Below are but a few examples of Kuwait’s efforts:

On numerous occasions, the Emir of Kuwait has given his personal assurance and declared in 2011 that the return of his sons from Guantánamo Bay is his number one priority.

In 2014 Fayiz has agreed to attending Alsalam Rehabilitation Center for a minimum of six months and being subject to professional assessment.

In 2014 assurances from both the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been given (see attachments). [not included]

In 2013 the Kuwaiti Pariament passed the Terrorism Funding Act.

Parliament of Kuwait’s unanimous condemnation of GTMO in 2011.

In 2009, Kuwait spent more than 40 million dollars to build and staff Alsalam Rehabilitation Center.

Family

During my representation of Fayiz, I have had the honor of meeting Fayiz’s family in Kuwait on many occasions. I must admit that spending time with Fayiz’s family is one of the things I look forward to when visiting Kuwait. I recently met with Fayiz’s family the Iast week of April and mid-May 2014 and can report to the Board that they are ready, willing, and able to welcome him home.

Fayiz’s family consists of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and even ministers within the Government of Kuwait, as seen in the video that we submitted. Since the beginning, Fayiz’s family has stood by him during his regular calls home.

An example of the family success is that of Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari, Fayiz’s cousin and former prisoner in Guantánamo Bay (ISN 228). Abdullah was kept in Guantánamo Bay for six years before being returned to Kuwait. Once in Kuwait, Abdullah returned to the al-Kandari family, resumed his career as a professional athlete, started a family, and has posed no danger to anyone.

Fayiz

I have conducted more than one hundred meetings with Fayiz over our six-year relationship. Below is a brief list of reasons why I believe Fayiz should be released:

From the onset Fayiz has maintained his innocence and continues to assert his purpose in traveling to Afghanistan in the middle of 2001 was to perform charity in the form of paying others to repair a mosque and digging two wells.

Fayiz has a long history of charitable works consistent with the teaching of Islam.

By all accounts Fayiz has been a cooperative and compliant detainee, and he has never been a physical threat in Guantánamo Bay.

Fayiz has spent his twelve and a half years reading writing, teaching and becoming fluent in the English language. Fayiz has several business ideas that we frequently discuss. Fayiz has stated on numerous occasions that his goal in life is to get married, start a family, and conduct business in Kuwait.

Conclusion

After hundreds of hours, within a period of six years, I share emphatically that Fayiz is no risk to the national security of the United States.

Fayiz has done everything he has been asked to do. The Government of Kuwait and his family have given every assurance that they can possibly give. Alsalam Rehabilitation Center sits ready and able to treat Fayiz when he returns to Kuwait.

Thank you very much.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I’ll be following up soon with a report on the 9th PRB to take place, for Muhammad Murdi Issa Al-Zahrani (ISN 713), a Saudi, which took place on June 19.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Thanks for updating us…

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re most welcome, Carol. There’s actually been a flurry of Guantanamo-related activity since the Bowe Bergdahl/Taliban prisoner exchange, although only that story, with its artificial hysteria, was deemed to be particularly newsworthy. I’m catching up on all these other stories, and will be publishing various updates into next week.

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