Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

25.10.14

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.”

However, any joy Muhammad al-Zahrani might have felt at this news would certainly have been tempered by the fact that, although he is the fifth man to have his release recommended by a PRB since January this year, all of these men are still held.

The other man, Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani, whose review took place in May, and who refused to attend, because of his objection to intimate physical searches, had his continued imprisonment recommended by the PRB, on the basis that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

However, it is by no means certain that the review board’s reasoning, as stated in its Final Determination, is accurate. The board described him as “a recruiter and facilitator for al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia,” who fought in Afghanistan, and has demonstrated “problematic and unpredictable behavior in detention, including significant disciplinary infractions.”

The latter may be true, but may only demonstrate that he is unhappy with his imprisonment without charge or trial for nearly 13 years, and his abusive conditions of confinement during those years. On the former points, however, the conclusions sound much more grave than they did at the time of his PRB, when, as I described it at the time, they noted that:

he was “recruited for jihad while working as a high school teacher in Saudi Arabia,” and subsequently traveled to Afghanistan, where he underwent military training and fought against the Northern Alliance for a few months. The US authorities allege that, in addition, he “almost certainly” also fought against US forces, but no proof is provided for this additional allegation.

Moreover, I worry that the PRBs provide a veneer of legitimacy to the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of almost all of the remaining 149 prisoners, when, after 13 years, there is no legitimate reason for them to continue to be held without charge or trial. They should either be put on trial, or the US should be preparing to release them, as the rationale for holding them — America’s major military presence in Afghanistan — will soon be coming to an end.

For the moment, though, the main concern, for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, is those men whose release has been approved, but who are still held, and they number not just the five men approved for release by PRBs, but 75 others, whose release was approved five years ago — in 2009 — by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases shortly after he took office in January 2009.

The majority of these 80 men — 58 in total — are Yemenis (including three recommended for release by the PRBs), and the Obama administration needs to find the courage to send these men home, and to overcome the general reluctance of the US establishment to put aside its fears regarding the security situation in Yemen; otherwise, the review processes at Guantánamo are meaningless.

The other 22 men are from other countries — and include Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. For some of these men, negotiations are certainly underway, as in the cases of six men who cannot be safely repatriated, and who are hoping that Uruguay will offer them a new home.

However, there are now two other men — not Yemenis — who have had their release approved by PRBs; not just Muhammad al-Zahrani, but also Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release in July (while his compatriot, Fayiz al-Kandari, was recommended for ongoing imprisonment). No one has provided a valid reason why Fawzi al-Odah has not been freed — to Kuwait, a solid US ally — and that is because there is no good reason.

For the Periodic Review Boards to claim any integrity, all five men approved for release need to be released as soon as possible — and for the Obama administration’s credibility, it is also important that the 75 other men cleared for release should also be freed.

What you can do now

To call for the release of all the men approved for release from Guantánamo, please phone the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.

You can also call the Department of Defense and ask Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to issue certifications, as required by Congress, for prisoners cleared for release who are still held: 703-571-3343.

You can also call Cliff Sloan, the envoy for the closure of Guantánamo at the State Department, who was appointed by President Obama last year, to ask him to do more to secure the release of men long cleared for release: 202-647-4000.

POSTSCRIPT: On November 5, 2014, Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab Al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi), whose PRB recommended his ongoing imprisonment in January, had a second PRB, where the panel recommended his release. See the review page here.

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.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    My apologies for posting this so late, my friends. I was out, rehearsing with my band The Four Fathers, for our first recording session next Saturday – and then we all had dinner and took to discussing the state of the world. The songs are sounding good – original songs and a couple of covers: Bob Dylan’s Masters of War and I Will Survive!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Lori FU Wallace wrote:

    You’re one of my heroes, Andy. I am so happy that you have a band, and music, that you love. Sincerely.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you. Lori, for the very kind and supportive words. That means a lot to me.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, let us know when the CD is issued. Put me down for a copy. Thanks for the article, you go on and on with this task – and it is important, not thankless.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy. I will put your name down! Thanks also for the encouragement. I don’t mind admitting that it does sometimes feel like a thankless task – although the encouragement I receive from friends and supporters here, like yourself, always reassures me that my eight and a half years of work on Guantanamo has been worthwhile.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Truly unbelievable. And the clock, how many days passed?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, in Obama’s Guantanamo, being approved for release means nothing, Dejanka. The Gitmo Clock just reached 520 days since Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners. 17 men have been freed, but 80 cleared for release are still held.
    http://www.gtmoclock.com/

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    The day all those declared eligible for release are released will, finally, be the day the US can start to regain a modicum of reputation back. Right now, any reputation we had is shredded.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. Yes, that’s well put. I have said that, if Obama wanted to do nothing on Guantanamo, he shouldn’t have promised to close it on Day 2, and he shouldn’t have set up a task force to decide whether the prisoners he inherited from Bush should be tried or released (or, it turned out, whether some should specifically continue to be held without charge or trial). To that can now be added the Periodic Review Boards, also making decisions that need to be upheld.
    Because he set up a task force that recommended releasing prisoners, and because he promised to close Guantanamo, he has to follow through. Failure is political disgrace.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Badar Khalil wrote:

    Andy my dear I asked u for a kindle version of ur book

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Hello, Badar, I was recently in touch with my publishers to find out if they have any plans to make electronic copies of their books available (including “The Guantanamo Files”) and they said they are slowly making their back catalogue available as e-books. I don’t know if that project includes Kindle, but at least it means that electronic copies will be available at some point.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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