So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.
They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.
Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here.
These three men are Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younis Chekkouri), a Moroccan — and, notably, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, whose release is actively sought by the British government, by the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and by numerous campaigners, including myself, as the co-founder and co-director, with Joanne MacInnes, of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, and as a long-time supporter of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Both groups played a prominent role in fundraising for a recent visit to Washington D.C. by a delegation of MPs from the Parliamentary Group, and I was also able to help arrange the MPs’ meetings in the US through a close contact.
Although it is hoped that Shaker Aamer’s release will follow within the next few months — as will the release of the other men mentioned above, and some more of the Yemenis — the bureaucratic process leading to those releases is, apparently, not yet underway. The New York Times reported, “The break in the six-month lull in transfers does not appear to signal the start of any flurry of releases. According to officials familiar with Guantánamo policy, no further transfers are imminent, and the weekend releases were not a new decision but a leftover piece of a deal negotiated last year, when Oman agreed to accept 10 men.”
The bureaucratic burden involves not only Ashton Carter’s approval, but a requirement to give 30 days’ notice to Congress prior to any release, and, in Shaker Aamer’s case, apparently a high-level meeting — a Principals’ Meeting — that is required to approve his release to the UK (where he is a permanent legal resident, with a British wife and four British children), and not, as the US apparently intended for many years, to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth.
As the Times also noted, however, “the six transfers represent a milestone for the administration: When President Obama took office in 2009 — and vowed to close the prison within a year, a policy goal that he has failed to achieve — there were 242 detainees at the prison. After this transfer, fewer than half of that number remain.”
The Times also mentioned plans to transfer two other men, noting that “officials familiar with Guantánamo detention policy said there were packages for the transfer of two other lower-level detainees, including the proposed repatriation of a Mauritanian man [Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz], awaiting Mr. Carter’s approval, but no pending transfers for which Congress has already been notified.”
Who are the six Yemenis?
The six men released in Oman are: Idris Qader Idris, 36; Sharaf Ahmed Masud, 37; Jalal Salam Awad (aka Jalal Bin Amer), 42; Saad al-Azani, 36; Emad Hassan, 35; and Muhammed al Zarnuqi, 38. Their ISN numbers (the numbers by which they were known in Guantánamo instead of by their names) were: 35, 170, 564, 575, 680 and 691.
Idris Qader Idris (ISN 35) is one of around a dozen men represented by the Office of the Federal Defender for the Northern District of Ohio, whose lawyer, Carlos Warner, mentioned him in an interview with the Talking Dog in 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike, which I cross-posted as “It’s Going to End in Men Dying”: Carlos Warner, Guantánamo Attorney, Discusses the Hunger Strike.
In an article in 2010, I explained how he had “stated that he taught the Koran in Kabul for approximately eight months,” and that, set against his story, in documents publicly released by the Pentagon, were “just two allegations: that the individual who facilitated his travel to Afghanistan from Yemen ‘has been identified by a known al-Qaeda member as a fund collector and recruiter for al-Qaeda,’ and that [a] group of 30 Arabs that he joined as he fled Afghanistan for Pakistan was ‘organised’ by Mohammed Annas,” described as a “known alias” of Ali Hamza Ismail (aka Ali Hamza al-Bahlul). A propagandist for al-Qaeda, al-Bahlul was convicted in a one-sided military commission trial in 2008, who has had that conviction overturned in a number of rulings in the last few years, culminating in a momentous decision taken just two days ago.
In the case of Sharaf Masud (ISN 170), I stated in an article in 2010, based on documents publicly released by the Pentagon, that, “In Guantánamo, it was reported that Masud traveled to Afghanistan ‘because he heard that the Afghan leader led by Islamic ways’ and that he supported the Taliban, but ‘did not travel to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban … because it was Muslim versus Muslim.'” While generally unacknowledged by the US authorities, it was clear that many of the men who were told to go to Afghanistan by pro-Taliban figures in their home countries were not informed that the war in Afghanistan was a civil war between Muslims — the Taliban on one side and the Northern Alliance on the other.
Masud also stated, as I described it, that he “‘left Kabul because the Afghans were trying to kill Arabs in the market,’ took a taxi back to Jalalabad, and then joined a group of people walking to the border, where he was arrested after asking to be taken to his embassy.” As I also stated, “There were no allegations that he took part on any kind of combat — only claims that he stayed in guest houses for four months– and a ludicrous allegation by a ‘senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,’ who ‘noted the detainee looked familiar and that he may be a Tunisian with connections to Italy,'” which of course was patently untrue. The source of that particular allegation was Abu Zubaydah, for whom he Bush administration’s torture program was first implemented, who was not actually a member of al-Qaeda at all.
Jalal Bin Amer (ISN 564) is represented by lawyers at Killmer, Lane & Newman in Denver, Colorado. As I explained in an article in February 2011, “The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers,” when Sammie Killmer, the 11-year old daughter of one of the lawyers, Darold Killmer, wrote about Guantánamo for a school project, she came up with short descriptions for each of her father’s firm’s clients, which were wonderfully descriptive. Sammie was told that Jalal “talks very fast and likes pictures of very beautiful animals.”
In 2013, he took part in the prison-wide hunger strike, in despair at ever being freed, despite being approved for release, and was force-fed, and in an article in 2010, I explained how, in my book The Guantánamo Files, based on documents publicly released by the Pentagon, I described how he “‘was accused of training at [a] Libyan camp near Kabul,’ but denied that he had ever been in Afghanistan at all, and said that he went to Pakistan ‘with some other people who were acting as missionaries to talk about religion in the villages.'”
I also explained how he was married with a five-year old daughter, and worked for a government ministry, and how, “in a written submission to his tribunal at Guantánamo, his brother, who noted that he had called home regularly from Pakistan, described him as being ‘far from a religious fanatic.'” In contrast, the US authorities were able to allege only that he admitted that he “traveled to Afghanistan, ostensibly for the purpose of getting married, finding work and settling down,” and that he “maintain[ed] that he originally went to Afghanistan to immigrate and not for training.”
As I also explained, “Apart from the allegation about training at the Libyan camp, and two other distinctly dubious allegations — that he had traveled to a guest house from al-Farouq” (an allegation made by an Iraqi prisoner who was victimised by most of his fellow prisoners because he was a Shi’ite Muslim) and that he ‘was identified by a senior al-Qaeda operative as being a Yemeni bodyguard for Osama bin Laden who he saw in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2000’ (an allegation that only appears to have surfaced once in a summary of allegations) — there is no indication that he ever took up arms against anybody, and it is stated explicitly in the government’s evidence that he ‘fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.'”
According to the US authorities, he was seized by “Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISID), working in conjunction with US officials [with] 15 others on 7 February 2002 during a raid on [a] safe house” operated by “a senior al-Qaida facilitator,” but that is not necessarily true, as the men seized on that day were apparently seized in a variety of house raids, and not just one, and, in an case, it was by no means certain that the me seized had anything to do with al-Qaeda and were not instead, a collection of individuals fleeing the death and destruction in Afghanistan and simply trying to get home.
Saad al-Azani (ISN 575), also seized in the Karachi raids on February 7, 2002, is also represented by lawyers at Killmer, Lane & Newman in Denver, Colorado, and in the article by Sammie Killmer, one of the lawyers’ daughters, he was described as follows: “He is very religious and studies religion. He is shy and quiet.”
I also wrote about him in 2010, based on documents publicly released by the Pentagon, which I drew on for my description of him in my book The Guantánamo Files, in which I explained that, in Guantánamo, he “stated that he went to Pakistan to train as an imam, after attending a school run by Jamaat-al-Tablighi in Yemen, and ended up undertaking religious training in Kandahar, Afghanistan.” I added, “Unable to come up with any evidence against him, the US authorities resorted to declaring that a request for permission for him to preach Islam in Pakistan ‘was found in a collection of materials related to al-Qaeda,’ that the man who ran the Institute of Islamic Studies, where he studied, was ‘an al-Qaeda operational planner,’ and that the student population ‘consisted primarily of Afghani and Philippine Taliban members.'” The man described as the “al-Qaeda operational planner” was Abu Hafs, a Mauritanian frequently described as al-Qaeda’s spiritual advisor, but what is necessary to know about him is that he opposed the 9/11 attacks.
Emad Hassan (ISN 680) is one of 15 men seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Afghanistan, on March 28, 2002, the same day that another house raid led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah. They mostly claimed that they were students, and ten of them had been released prior to this latest batch of releases, two after having their habeas corpus petitions granted, two at the end of 2014 (a Yemeni and a Palestinian), and two more who were released in Oman in January.
Another man, Ali al-Salami, was, sadly, one of three prisoners who died at Guantánamo, in mysterious circumstances, in June 2006, reportedly by committing suicide, although that explanation has been seriously challenged in the years since (see my article remembering the men’s deaths here).
As I explained in an article in October 2010 describing the circumstances of the arrest of the 15 men:
In May 2009, Judge Gladys Kessler, ruling on the habeas corpus petition of one of the [men], Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, who described himself as a student, savaged the government for drawing on the testimony of witnesses whose unreliability was acknowledged by the authorities, and for attempting to create a “mosaic” of intelligence that was thoroughly unconvincing, and she also made a point of stating, “It is likely, based on evidence in the record, that at least a majority of the [redacted] guests were indeed students, living at a guest house that was located close to a university.”
Hassan, who had been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, was represented by lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, who had publicized his plight last February via a letter he had written. In March, he sought to have a judge rule on the legality of his force-feeding, and Clive Stafford Smith provided a detailed account of his long years of force-feeding, and further letters were released in May, when he also sought to have a judge preserve videotapes of his force-feeding — a case that had not been decided on at the time of his release. In August, another letter was released, which I wrote about in an article entitled, “Most of the Hunger Strikers Are Vomiting on the Torture Chairs”: Emad Hassan’s Latest Harrowing Letter from Guantánamo, and in November, as I explained here, two more letters were published in a series on Guantánamo by Vice News.
In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg explained how Alka Pradhan, a lawyer at Reprieve, stated that Hassan “became a devotee of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series and Dan Brown books” from the prison library.
I wrote about the last of the six, Mohammed al-Zarnuki (ISN 691), who was also seized in the Faisalabad raid, in an article in 2010, in which, again, I drew on documents publicly released by the Pentagon to explain how “it was alleged, by unidentified sources, including ‘a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant,’ that al-Zarnuki was seen in various training camps and guest houses in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2001 (and even that, after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, he attended a meeting in Kandahar with Osama bin Laden to plan further operations),” whereas al-Zarnuki himself “stated that he took a break from farming to preach with Jamaat-al-Tablighi,” and “claimed that he spent four months preaching and then spent a month and a half at the guest house where he was seized, where he became ill.”
The allegations against him, as revealed when WikiLeaks released classified US files in 2011, were made by unreliable witnesses like Mustafa al-Hawsawi, one of those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, who was held and tortured for years in secret CIA prisons as a “high-value detainee.” Other alleged witnesses included the “high-value detainees” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and, again, Abu Zubaydah.
In the Washington Post‘s report on the men’s release, Adam Goldman and Missy Ryan noted that, according to the files released by WikiLeaks, some of those released “served as bodyguards to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” or “were described as seasoned militants who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to take part in militant activities.”
In an important passage, however, Goldman and Ryan added that “senior US officials have cautioned those files were later scrubbed and re-evaluated under the Obama administration,” and that “[s]ome of the information they contained was discredited.” For “some,” read “most,” and you’ll be close to understanding quite how worthless most of the information masquerading as evidence in the files released by WikiLeaks actually is.
A former US official, speaking anonymously, also encouraged the Obama administration to keep releasing prisoners. The administration “should be making progress ‘every month’ in resettling prisoners who have been approved for transfer.” the official said, adding, “Any month that goes by without a transfer is undermining the president’s policy, and is unfair to the individuals involved.”
I couldn’t agree more, and I hope to see more releases as soon as possible.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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 115 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2015 (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; 1 Mauritanian; 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents; 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; 2 Algerians; 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; 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); 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); 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); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian to Uruguay; 4 Afghans; 2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Good news from Guantanamo! Here’s my new article, telling the stories of the six Yemenis who have been freed and resettled in Oman, six years after they were first approved for release. 116 men are still held at Guantanamo, 51 of whom have been approved for release, including Shaker Aamer, but unfortunately there is no sign yet of when he and other men approved for release will actually be freed.
Peter B. Collins wrote:
The NYT story today mentioned there are 2 other “low level” prisoners with transfers in process, hope they consider Shaker Aamer “low level” !!
Thanks, Peter. No, I think the tortuous bureaucratic process leading to Shaker’s release is not even that well advanced, but hopefully there will be good news in the next few months.
I just updated the prisoner list on the Close Guantanamo website, to reflect the release of the six men: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners
Jan Strain wrote:
Great job, as always, Andy
Thanks, Jan. This one took a while, actually. I wanted to try and do justice to the men’s stories, although doing that comprehensively would have involved a much more detailed, systematic rebuttal of the nonsense in the files released by WikiLeaks – always useful, but pretty time-consuming!
Looks like Carol Rosenberg was half-wrong. The Yemenis were released. Aamer will not be released any time soon but Chekkouri and Aziz might be released by the end of the year at the most because since a package for their transfer is in the works. As for Bahlul, he should definitely NOT be released. He’s an admitted al-Qaeda leader who showed no remorse for the 9/11 attacks when interrogated by former FBI agent Ali Soufan. Qosi’s conviction will likely be overturned as well at some point but he’s already free which is good news. In regards to Yemen, Obama is not going risk having any more detainees become members or leaders of AQAP. I understand why the Yemenis cannot return to their home country. We don’t need another Shihri and Rubaysh. At least those two monsters are now dead. – See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/06/14/who-are-the-six-yemenis-freed-from-guantanamo-and-resettled-in-oman/comment-page-1/#comment-1165186
Here’s the Denver Post’s article about the reaction of attorneys Darold Killmer and Mari Newman to the release of two of their clients. The other three are, sadly still held: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_28309302/denver-lawyers-celebrate-release-two-clients-from-guantanamo
Two Denver lawyers flew to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in early 2009 with good news for their clients: Newly sworn-in President Barack Obama was going to shut down the detention center within a year.
Attorneys Darold Killmer and Mari Newman were met with suspicion by the five men from Yemen they represented. “Sadly, they were right,” Killmer said Saturday. “At that time, they had been held for eight years without being charged.”
Fast forward to Friday, when he learned two of their clients had been transferred to Oman, which borders Yemen.
“I was just delighted,” Killmer said. “The world has largely forgotten them. Our clients have said, ‘Please get them to charge me with something. Then I could have a trial and then I could be acquitted.’ They said, ‘Can I plead guilty to something, even if I didn’t do it, so I could serve my sentence and go home?’ ”
The men who were freed — Jalal Salam Awad Awad and Saad Bin Nasser Ibn Mukbil al-Azani — had been arrested in the same house in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks.
“I swear to you,” Killmer said, “there was no evidence they did anything.”
He said those held at the facility were “horribly tortured” in the early years. The attorneys for those held in Gitmo became the lifeline to the outside world. Killmer’s team visited Yemen in 2007, met the men’s families and returned with videos and pictures. The firm’s other three clients are still being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Thanks, Martin. I think the releases will take place quicker than that. I certainly hope so.
Also, although al-Bahlul was an al-Qaeda propagandist – not a leader – there’s not really any basis for holding him now that his conviction has been so comprehensively overturned. We’ll see what happens. How long is it really possible to hold any of these men, unless they were actually involved in terrorist attacks?
Actually al-Bahlul was head of the public relations committee of al-Qaeda. That’s a leadership position. Also, he told Ali Soufan he was one of the “officers” of al-Qaeda. And there is a basis for holding him. He’s clearly dangerous. If we let him out, he’ll rejoin al-Qaeda. As for how long we can hold these men, I don’t know but some of them are clearly too dangerous to be released but also can’t be tried. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Well, that’s always sounded like a bit of a grand title to me, Martin, as I was only aware that he produced a promotional video for al-Qaeda, but it may well be appropriate to describe him as an officer of al-Qaeda. So what happens to him now? “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t” isn’t much of a basis for a legal system, is it?
Thank you so much for this detailed update. Are you running your Ramadhan letter writing campaign? Looks like it’ll sadly be 116 recipients this year, and Shaker Aamer still one of them?
Yes, I’ll be publishing a new letter-writing campaign soon. In the meantime, if anyone wants to write to the prisoners, the last campaign is here with instructions on where to send letters and what to say and do: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/02/02/please-write-to-the-prisoners-in-guantanamo-let-them-know-they-have-not-been-forgotten/
And an updated prisoner list is here: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners
Very sad that 116 men are STILL held, and, of course, that Shaker is one of them.
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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