Shrapnel-Damaged Libyan Amputee Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

29.6.15

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On June 24, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, took part in a Periodic Review Board, a process that involved him talking by video-link, accompanied by his civilian lawyer and two US military personal designated as “personal representatives,” who also spoke on his behalf, to 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, in a secure facility near Washington D.C.

Khalifh is one of 39 prisoners still held who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners held at that time and to recommend whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial, because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In a world that respects the rule of law, this third option is a disgrace, as it gives weight to information that is too flimsy to be regarded as evidence and should therefore be discredited — often because it was derived through the use of torture or other abuse.

However, in President Obama’s America, in 2011, it was considered an appropriate measure to take, although, to keep rights groups and conscientious lawyers off his back, President Obama ordered regular reviews for the men — who were dubbed “forever prisoners” by the media — when he approved their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011.

Shamefully, the first review didn’t take place until November 2013, but since that time 15 prisoners have now had their cases reviewed, and, of the 14 prior to Khalifh, ten have had their releases approved — although only two have so far been freed, leaving the other eight to join the 44 other men still held — out of 116 in total — who were approved for release by the task force in January 2010 but are still held.

In Guantánamo, the wheels of justice, when they have not been destroyed or hidden or misplaced, move exceedingly slowly.

29 of the “forever prisoners” still held were told in 2013 that they were eligible for PRBs, but have not yet had their cases considered, and, in addition, out of 36 men that the task force approved for prosecution in 2010, 22 were subsequently told that they too would be eligible for PRBs, although only one of those men has had his case reviewed — and that was obviously because the man in question, an Egyptian named Tariq al-Sawah, is very ill, although he has not yet been released, four months after the PRB’s decision to approve him for release.

Omar Mohammed Khalifh, the 15th prisoner to face a PRB, is largely unknown to the general public, although those paying close attention to Guantánamo issues will know that he is an amputee, and that his habeas corpus petition was turned down by a US judge in April 2010, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, Judge Denies Habeas Petition of an Ill and Abused Libyan in Guantánamo.

In that article, I drew on the profile of Khalifh that I wrote in 2006/07 for my book The Guantánamo Files, noting that the US authorities claimed he was a military trainer for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), opponents of Col. Gaddafi who had largely ended up living in exile in Taliban-run Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and that he had connections to al-Qaeda. As I explained, however:

One of his lawyers, Edmund Burke, refuted all the allegations … He acknowledged that his client had been a member of the LIFG, and had worked for the Taliban as a mine cleaner until 1998, when his right leg was severely damaged by a land mine, but said that he spent the ensuing years moving from hospital to hospital in Afghanistan to receive treatment for his leg, which was eventually amputated. He added that he moved to Pakistan in 2001, and was living in a school for boys when it was raided by Pakistani police. Pointing out that his client “can’t bear his weight on his good leg and only hobbles about with the help of a walker or crutches,” he explained, “It’s very hard to imagine him as a combatant of any kind.”

Moreover, in 2010, as I also explained, the former prisoner Omar Deghayes told me that Khalifh’s status has been exaggerated by the authorities in Guantánamo:

“They call him ‘The General,’” Deghayes told me, “not because of anything he has done, but because he decided that life would be easier for him in Guantánamo if he said yes to every allegation laid against him.” Even so, as Deghayes also explained, this cooperation has been futile, as Khalifh has been subjected to appalling ill-treatment, held in a notorious psychiatric block where the use of torture was routine, and denied access to adequate medical attention for the many problems that afflict him, beyond the loss of his leg. As Deghayes described it, “He has lost his sight in one eye, has heart problems and high blood pressure, and his remaining leg is mostly made of metal, from an old accident in Libya a long time ago when a wall fell on him. He describes himself as being nothing more than ‘the spare parts of a car.’”

For his PRB, the US authorities drew on the previously aired claims about his past, even though they are not necessarily reliable, for the most part — especially as the allegations include the claim that “Pakistani security forces detained him in March 2002 at a safehouse run by senior al-Qa’ida figure Abu Zubaydah,” when that is simply not true, as he was apprehended in Karachi in February 2002.

Also included is mention of the LIFG, of him travelling to Sudan where he worked for a company owned by Osama bin Laden, and claims that he became a military trainer in Afghanistan. It was also noted that he “has been moderately compliant with the guard staff relative to other detainees at Guantánamo and has committed few serious infractions since 2007,” and that, “Since [Libyan leader Col.] Qadhafi’s death in 2011, [he] has expressed some interest in returning to Libya because he no longer felt like he would be persecuted by the Libyan Government. In 2014, however, he said that he no longer wanted to be repatriated to Libya, probably because of the instability there.”

It was also noted that “[t]here are no indications that he is in direct contact with any terrorists outside Guantánamo,” although he has apparently “attempted to relay greetings to several Libyan former detainees, including one who has emerged as an extremist leader,” even though no indication was given as to how he was supposed to have tried to establish contact with these former prisoners, when his every move is subject to scrutiny.

It was also noted that, “If repatriated to Libya, [he] probably would seek out his remaining family members in his hometown of al-Bayda, which is situated between Darnah and Benghazi, areas where extremists operate freely.”

In their opening statement, his military representatives stated, “We have met with Omar and gotten to know him through several meetings over the past 6 months, as well as the letters that he has sent us. We hope you will see that he is a man who is peaceful, compliant, and also has quite a sense of humor. He has chosen the peaceful path while here at Guantánamo, even acting as a mediator on multiple occasions between the other detainees and the security forces. He does not harbor anger against the United States nor any other Western Nation. He simply desires to live a happy life with his family.”

They added, “Omar is here with us today during Ramadan. He is ready to openly answer any and all questions you may have for him regardless of subject matter. We believe that the information provided will demonstrate that Omar is not a significant threat to the security of the United States of America. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.”

According to the Associated Press, his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, “told the Periodic Review Board there is no evidence Khalif had any direct role in attacks on the US and he would not pose a threat if released.” Kassem “also said prison is extremely difficult for Khalif because of his wounds,” and the AP proceeded to explain, “He lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion in Afghanistan in 1998 and his other leg was shattered in a construction site accident. He has shrapnel in his left arm and left leg, and he is blind in his left eye.”

It is not known when a decision will be announced in Khalifh’s case, but in the meantime two more prisoners are awaiting reviews: Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i (ISN 508), a Yemeni whose PRB is on July 14, and Mohammed Kamin (ISN 1045), an Afghan who was notified that his PRB is forthcoming on May 19. Two other prisoners who were recommended for continuing detention after their PRBs last year will also have second PRBs: Fayiz al-Kandari (ISN 552), the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, who was notified on April 21, and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani (ISN 195), a Saudi who was notified on April 30.

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).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I vividly remember former prisoner Omar Deghayes telling me about this man, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, five years ago – about how he had been tortured in Guantanamo’s psych ward, how they called him “The General,” because he had said yes to every ridiculous allegation they put to him, and how he was like a broken cyborg, half made of metal. As he put it, he is nothing more than “the spare parts of a car.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Another great article Andy…. Still think we need to Close it Down!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. Yes, I’ve been researching and writing about Guantanamo for around 3,500 days now – getting on for ten years – and throughout that whole time there hasn’t been a moment when I haven’t wanted to see the prison shut down for good.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Omar Deghayes wrote:

    عمر البرعصي. …البيضاء

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Omar, good to hear from you. I was thinking about you, obviously, when I was writing this.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Omar Deghayes wrote:

    very good and timely Article ….good to hear from you Andy and meet soon…I think we should revive those beautiful travels by Train doing those talks, seeing new places, meeting interesting people and enjoying your company

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Omar Deghayes wrote:

    Remember when we met Ann Alexander and what a great person and unforgettable hospitality. ..and really good chat….unforgettable

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, we had a wonderful time, didn’t we, Omar, by train and by car. I loved our Scottish visit, when we met Ann and stayed with her and had those fascinating discussions, and I remember our many chats on the road as well. I hope we do get the opportunity to meet up again soon.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the itinerary from 2010, Omar – with links to my various reports about the screenings and our travels! http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/outside-the-law-stories-from-guantanamo-uk-tour-dates-2010/

  10. Two Libyans Freed From Guantánamo & Given New Homes In Senegal? | PopularResistance.Org says...

    […] also identified as Omar Khalif, went before a Periodic Review Board in June 2015 and was approved for release in September, bringing freedom within sight for an amputee with […]

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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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