Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.
With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.
However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.
Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried.
The US authorities made a number of outlandish allegations him — the most ridiculous of which was a claim that he was involved in an Al-Qaeda cell in London, even though there was no evidence that he had visited the UK, or, indeed, that any such cell existed. This allegation — and another, that he had sworn bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden — were made by a notoriously unreliable prisoner, a Saudi released in 2007. A former mujahid who had been branded a spy for declaring his admiration for Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, he had been tortured and imprisoned by the Taliban in a prison in Kandahar, which was where he was found after the US-led invasion, with other men who, inexplicably, were all subsequently sent to Guantánamo. Other allegations were made by the most unreliable witness of all, a talkative Yemeni prisoner who was freed in 2009.
I first wrote about al-Odah’s case in 2006, in my book The Guantánamo Files, when I noted that he said he “took a short vacation and travelled to Afghanistan in August 2001 ‘to teach and to help other people.’ After finding a liaison in the Taliban, which ‘was necessary because that was the government in Afghanistan at that time,’ he was ‘touring the schools and visiting families,’ teaching the Koran and handing out money, until his activities were curtailed after 9/11.” He said he was then advised to leave the country, and given instructions about how to do so, and ended up, with other men, crossing the border into Pakistan, where they were then handed over to the Pakistani authorities.
I revisited al-Odah’s case in an article for the BBC in December 2007, when I noted that he had been a primary school teacher, and that his father, a retired air force pilot, had fought with US forces during the Gulf War in 1991, and also noted that, in his most recent military review, he had been accused of “firing a Kalashnikov [AK-47] rifle at some targets” at a small camp where he had been taken by a Tal[i]ban official,” staying in a house in Jalalabad “with three Arabs who appear to be fighters who carried Kalashnikovs,” and fleeing Afghanistan with a group of men “who may have had some al-Qaeda or Tal[i]ban members.”
At the time of my article, al-Odah was the lead plaintiff in one of two cases before the Supreme Court, in which the Guantánamo prisoners were asking to be granted constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. The other lead plaintiff was Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian, and al-Odah’s case was eventually consolidated with it. In June 2008, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, and in the two years that followed, several dozen prisoners had their habeas corpus petitions granted by District Court judges, until the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — rewrote the rules.
In that time, Lakhdar Boumediene had his habeas corpus petition granted (in November 2008), but Fawzi al-Odah was not so fortunate. In August 2009, as I explained at the time, he had his habeas corpus petition turned down by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly,
agreeing with the government that it was “more likely than not” that he “became part of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan” (PDF). Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling was based on a dubious assemblage of information that relied more on inconsistencies in al-Odah’s account of his activities than it did on anything resembling concrete evidence, as she herself admitted, when she wrote that there were “significant reasons why the Government’s proffered evidence may not be accurate or authentic.” She explained that some of it was produced “in circumstances that have not allowed the Government to ascertain its chain of custody, nor in many instances even to produce information about the origins of the evidence,” that other evidence was “based on so-called ‘unfinished intelligence,’ information that has not been subject to each of the five steps in the intelligence cycle (planning, collection, processing, analysis and production, and dissemination),” and that other evidence was “based on multiple layers of hearsay (which inherently raised questions about reliability), or is based on reports of interrogations (often conducted through a translator) where translation or transcription mistakes may occur.”
He then had to wait until July this year for further progress, when a Periodic Review Board approved him for release. Involving 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, the PRBs were established to review the cases of 71 prisoners — the majority of the remaining prisoners who had not been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, set up by President Obama in 2009, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases and made recommendations about whether to release them, try them or continue holding them without charge or trial in its final report in January 2010.
Nine PRBs have taken place since last November, with five men recommended for release, and four for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial. However, no one had been freed until Fawzi al-Odah was sent home.
To return to how I began this article, it is commendable that Fawzi al-Odah has been released, but now the four other men recommended for release by the PRBs must also be released, as must the 75 other men approved for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010.
Reporting on al-Odah’s story for the New York Times, Charlie Savage noted that administration officials had told him that “an end-of-the-year flurry” of releases “might be coming: The Pentagon has notified Congress that nine other detainees, including six bound for Uruguay, may soon be transferred.”
Savage noted, however, that “there are signs that disagreements remain within the administration over how much risk to accept as it tries to winnow down the population of low-level inmates and close the prison.” He added that, according to officials, the administration “had been poised to repatriate four Afghans who have long been approved for transfer, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently pulled back from that plan.” They said that the administration “decided at a ‘principals’ committee’ meeting on Oct. 3 in the White House Situation Room to proceed with notifying Congress that it intended to repatriate the four Afghans.” President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, chaired that meeting.
The notice about the intended repatriation “was supposed to be given within a week after the State Department obtained an unspecified security assurance from the Afghan government,” according to the officials, but although it was completed three weeks ago, Chuck Hagel has, apparently, not yet sent it.
Savage added that, although the Pentagon had signed off on the Afghans’ repatriation in 2009, during the Guantánamo Review Task Force’s deliberations, “officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr. Hagel had decided to reassess the timing after Gen. John F. Campbell, the top military leader in Afghanistan, sent a memo expressing concerns that they might attack American or Afghan troops.”
He also said that Hagel’s spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, “described the department’s deliberations about whether the security risk has been mitigated as including ‘inputs from commanders in the field, whose perspectives are not only greatly valued by the secretary but heavily relied upon.'”
Savage called it “unusual for a cabinet secretary to independently reconsider a decision reached at a principals’ committee meeting,” but added that transfers from Guantánamo “are an unusual type of policy decision” because of the requirement by Congress for 30 days’ notification prior to any prisoner release.
Charlie Savage also noted that Chuck Hagel’s “apparent decision to pull back from swiftly repatriating the Afghans came amid turbulence prompted by an inaccurate Fox News report about former Guantánamo detainees fighting in Syria.”
Fox News reported last Thursday that “as many as 20 to 30 former Guantánamo Bay detainees released within the last two to three years are suspected by intelligence and Defense officials of having joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria.” However, just 22 prisoners have been released in total in the last three years and 10 months, as the Times noted, adding that, of these 22, “no more than two — perhaps none — are suspected or confirmed of ‘re-engagement’ worldwide, according to semi-annual reports issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.” The Times also stated that, crucially, an official “said there had been no Syria-related change to its numbers since the most recent report.”
In the face of such lies and distortions by the right-wing media, supported by numerous Republican lawmakers, it is essential that President Obama — and Chuck Hagel in particular — are not deterred from releasing more prisoners. Holding men approved for release is never a good idea, and I hope to hear soon that the administration has overcome its long-standing reluctance to release Yemenis, who make up the majority of those approved for release, and will be sending Yemenis back home, to be reunited with their families, like Fawzi al-Odah.
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.
See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), and the 88 prisoners released from February 2009 to May 2014 (by President Obama), whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files, and for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni, 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; October 2009 — 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); December 2009 — 2 Somalis, 4 Afghans, 6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland, 1 Egyptian, 1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania, 1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); July 2010 — 1 Algerian, 1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians, 2 Saudis, 2 Sudanese, 3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl).
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Great news, as Fawzi al-Odah, a Kuwaiti, is released from Guantanamo and sent home, after nearly 13 years’ imprisonment without charge or trial. There was never a serious case against him, and in July he was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging his release the day after the mid-term elections, sending a signal to Republicans that efforts to prevent the release of prisoners are unacceptable.
Great to see Fawzi looking so happy to be home!
Sara SN wrote:
Andy, it’s through your investigative journalism, your dedication and compassion for the Guantanamo prisoners, that I learnt in detail about Fayiz and Fawzi. Thank you for your work.
Thanks, Sara. It’s comments like yours that make this long campaign worthwhile, especially at those times – not today, for a change – when the struggle for justice, and to get this wretched place closed down, seems endless.
Pauline Kiernan wrote:
Sharing this great news. Thanks Andy.
You’re welcome, Pauline. I’m glad to be able to report some good news.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Sharing too, Andy.
Charmaine Dolan wrote:
This is fab news Andy, let’s hope it’s not long before the others cleared for release are out soon … A new year goodwill gesture?!
Hanan Baghdadi wrote:
The only good news we’ve heard in a long long time !
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Imagine, it’s a good news to release someone without charge or trial held for 12 years in the most notorious prison of the war on terror in western world.
Thanks, Dejanka, Charmaine and Hanan. Great to hear from you all. So according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has notified Congress that nine other prisoners, including six men provisionally accepted by Uruguay, might be released soon. Those six are named here, but it’s not clear who the other three are: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/05/19/uruguays-president-mujica-confirms-offer-of-new-home-for-six-guantanamo-prisoners/
After Pauline shared this, I wrote:
Thanks for sharing, Pauline. It’s good to see Fawzi. Makes me reflect on how those who want to keep Guantanamo open see pictures of these men when they were much younger and freeze them in time as a permanent version of the threat they regard them as, even though, in most cases, there’s no evidence for that anyway. And then, every now and then, you see a released prisoner like Fawzi and you realize that actually they have been growing old – or older – in Guantanamo. I really do wish him the best. It’s hard to imagine being imprisoned without charge or trial at the age of 24 and being released aged 37.
Jan Strain wrote:
1 more out…Now only 79 (declared innocent) to go…Hoping it will be in my lifetime
Thanks, Jan. Yes, I hope we see it in our lifetimes too. Technically, I should point out that no one declared these men “innocent,” although some of them undoubtedly had nothing to do with any form of military conflict, let alone terrorism, i.e. they were civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victims of a system whereby the US was paying bounty payments for Afghans or foreigners who could be packaged up as Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and sold to the US by the Afghan and Pakistani allies, who captured the majority of the men held at Guantanamo.
One of the main lies of the US’s detention policies after 9/11, however, was to refer to all its prisoners as “enemy combatants,” and to wipe out any necessary distinction between those genuinely accused of involvement in international terrorism (just a handful of those held) and those involved in a military conflict – soldiers, or those in a supporting role – who were involved in an inter-Muslim civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance that had nothing to do with the 9/11attacks.
Just yesterday I had to correct a BBC article that referred to Fawzi as a “terrorist suspect” when he was never realistically accused of anything more than having been given lessons on how to use a Kalashnikov on one afternoon in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001.
Ajo Muhammad wrote:
And thanks to your efforts in this regard as well Andy plus all people who have invested in their precious time to fight this kind injustice.
Jehan Hakim Thanks Andy Worthington for the update! its long overdue..i pray they can return to living on the outside “normally”.. 🙁
Thanks, Ajo and Jehan. Great to hear from you both. Fawzi has a large and supportive family, and I have no doubt that he will be fine, but of course not everyone has that kind of support. I think it’s important to know that very few of the released prisoners have “returned to the battlefield” and that the reports stating otherwise over the last five years – from the DoD initially and more recently from the Director of National Intelligence – are, objectively speaking, largely unsubstantiated rumors that have been deeply damaging for those of us trying to get Guantanamo closed, as it must be, and as is apparent to anyone who truly cares about justice, decency and the law.
Elena Sante wrote:
I appreciate your work very much, although I rarely comment.
Why will he be in custody for a year in Kuwait? (Amy just said that on DN).
I just saw your comment, Elena. Great to hear from you, and thanks for the pertinent question. It’s essentially because of the distorted recidivism reports I mention in the comment above, which have been seized upon by lawmakers since the first reports were issued in 2009, and which have encouraged them to impose onerous conditions on the release of prisoners, and, every now and ten (including now) to try to stop the release of prisoners completely (the current proposal is for a ban on all releases for a year, because some lawmakers were upset about Obama “breaking the law” by not consulting with them when he released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for US POW Bowe Bergdahl in May).
Because of the Congressional hysteria, layers of safeguards have developed around the release of prisoners, and this is one example. The US has stipulated that Fawzi must be rehabilitated for a year, even though the review board that approved him for release only did so because, essentially, he was no longer considered a threat.
The fears are what are driving the entire US establishment not to want to release any of the 57 Yemenis who make up the majority of the 79 men approved for release – even though it is, I think, hugely damaging to America to be holding people, year after year, that a high-level review board (the Guantanamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama in 2009) said should be released.
Helena Djf wrote:
Thanks, Helena. Good to hear from you!
Willy Bach wrote:
Good news for those people who have been unjustly locked up and mistreated. Getting on with their lives will take a long time, but at least it starts here.
Yes indeed, Willy. It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad to see Fawzi looking so well. I know that at various times in his long detention he didn’t look so well – when he was a hunger striker, in particular.
Jehan Hakim wrote:
It seems that “relocating” is whats happening..
“Yemen moves to set up rehab center for Gitmo detainees”: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/14/yemen-moves-to-setuprehabcenterforgitmodetainees.html
courtesy of the John Yoo and Bush Club-yemen(my hometown) is allowing themselves to be $trung
Yes, Yemen’s the big issue, Jehan. As I have mentioned, and will continue to mention, the entire US establishment is refusing to release Yemenis because of perceptions about the security situation in Yemen, even though it is completely unacceptable to approve prisoners for release via high-level task forces and review boards and then not release them. President Obama and Chuck Hagel need to work out that it’s doing more damage not releasing these men than it would to send them home. They’re not terrorists, they never were, and they should be back with their families. We can argue about the significance of the 69 other prisoners later – and we will – but first the 79 men approved for release must be freed.
Thanks to the many people liking and sharing this over the last 24 hours. I’m delighted to see so much interest – and also pleased that most of the – many – media reports have avoided lazy and false “terrorism”-related headlines.
Sylvia Martin wrote:
I’m so sorry he had to go through that. May he enjoy his freedom.
Thanks, Sylvia. Good to hear from you – and to have your good wishes for Fawzi.
Another photo of Fawzi, this one with his mother, via Sarah Kay. Can’t even imagine how relieved his mother must be to have him back. Sorry for all those prisoners who have lost parents and other loved ones while imprisoned without charge or trial: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=607280393433&set=a.526380442583.2024314.37200691&type=1&theater
Sarah Kay wrote:
I hope he gets to spend as much time as possible with his family. Of course, my first concern is humanitarian: is Kuwait providing physical and mental care for transferred prisoners? Is there an assurance that they won’t be detained or in those weird Saudi “rehab” facilities (that no one has vetted for human rights standards)?
He’ll be fine, Sarah. The rehab center is in the grounds of the prison in Kuwait City, but completely self-contained, and there are decent people involved in running it, I believe. I visited it in February 2012. The main problem is that it’s largely unnecessary, because Fawzi has a loving family eager to help with his re-introuduction to normal life – work, marriage, supportive people around him. The rehab center is a US requirement only because, back in 2008, a Kuwaiti named Abdullah al-Ajmi, released in 2005, blew himself up in Iraq. His compatriots all knew that he had been made mentally ill by his experiences in US custody, but I think everyone hoped he would be OK, as he got married and had a child after his release, but he obviously couldn’t escape his US-induced demons.
Later, when the last two Kuwaitis to be released before al-Odah were released (in 2009), some Americans got upset because they hadn’t spent much time in the rehab center – but, like Fawzi, there was no need for them to do so because they didn’t have “recidivism” issues. I met one of them, Fouad al-Rabia, whose story is extraordinary, when I was in Kuwait in 2012, and I wrote about his case here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/09/30/a-truly-shocking-guantanamo-story-judge-confirms-that-an-innocent-man-was-tortured-to-make-false-confessions/
Here’s an article I wrote about al-Ajmi in 2008: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/05/11/identification-of-ex-guantanamo-suicide-bomber-unleashes-pentagon-propaganda/
Sarah Kay wrote:
Non-refoulement is a massive concern. I’m glad the Kuwaiti facility abides by standards (thank you for the research!) but the Saudi one still doesn’t quite feel alright. Even if al-Oudah has an amazing support network – which makes me immensely happy – working with torture victims back home, it’s not enough. He will need specialized psychiatric care. And physicians to make sure his body can re-adjust ; his immune system is probably shot. This is a very long term situation. But that’s an extremely promising beginning.
Yes, the problem from a western point of view, as I learned from my friendship with released British prisoners, Sarah, is that there’s a tension between receiving counselling and allowing any healing necessary to be a concern solely for Allah. Many of the men I spoke to found western post-torture care intrusive, although, conversely, I recall that at least one person I spoke to recognised that it could be difficult for some people in other countries where such organisations didn’t exist to adjust to their trauma.
I’m sure the physical care will be provided; as for the psychiatric care, some former Guantanamo prisoners are better equipped than others to self-heal, at least moderately, without expert care, but that’s obviously far from ideal, or even acceptable.
Sarah Kay wrote:
Oh, and non-disclosure agreements upon release, too.
I’d be surprised if Fawzi was silenced, to be honest, Sarah, as it’s part of an ongoing struggle between the prisoners and the authorities that al the prisoners know about. At the beginning, prisoners were threatened that they’d be picked up an imprisoned again if they spoke about what had happened to them, which certainly cowed some of them, but others, when told to sign non-disclosure agreements on their departure from Guantanamo, while the plane waited on the runway, refused to do so, understanding that it was too late for the US to threaten them any more. Now that the whole Guantanamo situation is, disgracefully, more sensitive than it was under Bush in his second term, largely because of Republican opportunism and those wretched recidivism reports with their unsubstantiated lies about the numbers of prisoners who have “returned to the battlefield,” I’m sure that released prisoners are aware of the need to be careful about what they say, but that’s different from a specific non-diclosure agreement. Fawzi will be acutely aware, however, that everything he says and does will impact on Fayiz’s prospects for release, and he won’t want to do anything that could jeopardize the diplomatic process of trying to get him home too.
Sarah Kay wrote:
It is extremely intrusive! And it can’t be interrupted at any time. It might be a conversation for Jeff, as I can’t speak authoritatively for psychological and physiological effects, but from the research been made available to us – and from witnessing the “results” on victims of the experimentations on short term detention, it was impossible to reinsert anyone, as well as piling another trauma on top of another – finding it impossible to find someone who relates due to the extraordinary nature of the situation. Fawzi was so young when he was detained – I just wish him all the love, faith and courage to start his life anew. Barry left for Kuwait to be with him yesterday, so I’m sure he’ll provide us with some sort of assessment.
Thanks for your additional comments about PTSD and its treatment, Sarah. I don’t disagree with your assessment of its importance in an ideal world, but in reality many former prisoners, whether through choice (in the west) or necessity (elsewhere, largely), have had to find their own ways of coping – and, it should be noted, few of them have “returned to the battlefield,” although I can’t possibly say what issues they have had to deal with on an ongoing basis.
Sarah Kay wrote:
True, true. It’s not just the Guantanamo treatment in itself which thanks to people like you and Jason, has been exposed, but also during capture, pre-detention “detention” and rendition. I know it’s been an issue before, which has been raised in Shaker’s case. It’s premature to discuss it though. Fawzi needs to adjust and heal first.
Yes, let’s wish him the best in his healing, Sarah, but I think these are important conversations to be having!
Sarah Kay wrote:
It’s the lawyer in me speaking first 🙂 Victims of R21 protocols rarely survived. i don’t want to underestimate human resilience, though. Making it through 13 years is already extraordinary in itself.
Sarah Kay wrote:
I don’t believe in the recidivism assessment as provided by the Pentagon either. As you said, it’s mostly propaganda to try to legitimize why they were detained in the first place.
Yes, the recidivism reports are a disgrace, Sarah, the worst form of black propaganda to do with Guantanamo, in terms of their baleful influence. I always recommend people to check out Peter Bergen’s reports for the New America Foundation for balance: http://security.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/profiles/attachments/gtmo_appendix_6-5-04.pdf
Also, my archive of articles is here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/category/guantanamo-and-recidivism/
I hope to write something new about the recidivism propaganda soon.
Sarah Kay wrote:
I hope you do, and I remember Bergen’s work – only independent assessments can counteract the false accusations made by the government, but besides you, few are as meticulous and consistent in their research and tracking of the stories of detainees. They rely on the classification and confusion to provide different news. I’m glad that lawyers and journalists are working side by side on this issue.
I need some specific research to do the recidivism story properly, Sarah, but hope it will happen sometime next year.
When I read about Mr al Odah’s release I was reminded of a prediction you made, about ten months ago. Back in 2009, when President Obama sidelined President Bush’s reviews, performed by military officers seconded to OARDEC (the Office for the Administrative Review of Detained Enemy Combatants) with the Guantanamo Review Task Force, with drew its reviewers from various cabinet level departments, it was implied that the Period Review Board hearings would start in 2010. You pointed out that the first review was in late 2013, and only a handful of individuals had a full reviews scheduled for 2014. You predicted that, at the rate they were being scheduled, it would take years for all the four dozen or so individuals facing indefinite detention without charge to get their first hearing before a PRB.
I’ve shared before how much of the horror of Abu Ghraib was due to overcrowding, which, in turn, was due to the animosity between three senior officers in Iraq. General Sanchez’s most senior JAG officer, Marc Warren, his most senior intelligence officer, and his most senior MP, the infamous Janis Karpinski, were supposed to meet, in person, to collectively sign off on the release of every Iraqi captive. Given that the USA was taking several thousand captives per month, a committee authorized to release innocent bystanders should have convened every single day. However, since Warren and Fast, full-time officers, didn’t like or respect Karpinski, who was only a reservist, these committee meetings were delayed for months.
I suspect that the long delay in convening PRBs is due to similar inter-agency animosity.
Arguing for the release of the men who have been cleared for release is only step one. Step two should be the release of every captive for whom there isn’t enough real evidence to try them in open court in a civilian trial. If a dozen years isn’t long enough to gather evidence sufficient to lay charges, they will never have enough time to gather that evidence.
I strongly suspect that, like OARDEC before it, the Guantanamo Review Task Force and the Periodic Review Boards, were authorized to recommend the indefinite detention of individuals, even if those individuals had been determined to have been innocent civilian bystanders, when they guessed that years of brutality had turned neutral innocent bystanders into enemy threats.
Thanks, arcticredriver. My understanding from at least one lawyer I spoke to was that he expected the PRBs to approve the release of prisoners, and that has certainly happened to some extent, although I maintained an open mind and didn’t know what to expect. I think what has actually happened has been a power play between two camps – what we might call the glass half-full and glass half-empty camps, who are either prone to believe that non-dangerous prisoners should be released, or are prone to being fearful (similar to many other discussions about Guantanamo). Certainly, however, the time it has taken from the first mention of the PRBs (in March 2011) to the release of Fawzi al-Odah means that there is a distinct lack of urgency on everyone’s part.
I think that, sprinkled through the documents that are on the public record, there is a stream that reveals a dangerous faction within our security agencies — and our elected officials — who think it is OK to authorize the continued extrajudicial detention of individuals who had not committed a crime or a hostile act prior to their detention when suspicious minds anticipate they will commit a crime or hostile act in the future.
In Philip K. Dick’s science fiction stories individuals can be convicted of a “pre-crime”. The situation for the Guantanamo captives, however, is even worse than that of Dick’s fictional suspects. The fictional clues that Dick’s fictional suspects should be considered “pre-crime” suspects, were, at least, committed when they were free, and at large.
The Guantanamo captives who the US intelligence establishment has branded as too risky to release includes individuals who were completely innocent civilian bystanders when apprehended, who they fear may “support terrorism” when released. The captives they fear include individuals who were America-lovers, prior to their capture, or at least neutral, who they fear were turned into America-haters during the time they were subjected to extremely brutal, hateful treatment.
If the stories of the Guantanamo captives were turned into a movie, and their nationality and the nationality of their captors were switched, so they were Americans, held by non-Americans, American audiences would cheer every time the innocent captive, held in brutal indefinite detention without charge, was shown expressing his objection to that detention. Yet the interpretation of the US intelligence establishment is that captives who object to their detention are showing that they are enemies of the USA — without regard to whether they were innocent civilian bystanders, when captured.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, I think we can see, around the world, western governments seeking to justify preventive detention, thereby completely overturning the basis of our entire justice systems. And of course we can see how Guantanamo is used to justify the alleged importance of preventive detention, even though, as you say, it conflicts with the general idea of preventive detention because the men are already imprisoned. However, I do think that some people in positions of power and influence have enjoyed the sweeping preventive detention powers enshrined in Guantanamo from the beginning. In fact, it can be argued that the Bush administration’s whole detention program of the “war on terror” – imprisoning large numbers of people to interrogate them for as long as they wished to build up a “mosaic” of intelligence – was essentially a form of preventive detention; albeit, alarmingly, one that, as well as preventing some people from possibly committing future crimes, also involved blatantly holding some people who were completely innocent as, I suppose, a form of collateral damage.
[…] Fawzi al-Odah, a former Guantánamo prisoner from Kuwait, talked about his capture and captivity in an […]
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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