Five Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo, Given New Homes in the United Arab Emirates

16.11.15

Three of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates on November 13, 2015. From L to R: Ali al-Razihi, Khalid al-Qadasi and Sulaiman al-Nahdi.There’s good news from Guantánamo, as five Yemenis, approved for release from the prison in 2005, 2007 and 2014, have finally been freed, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates.

As the New York Times reported, the resettlement “was the first of its kind to the United Arab Emirates, which had previously taken in just one former Guantánamo detainee, in 2008 — its own citizen,” Abdullah al-Hamiri, whose story I discussed here.

The Times also explained that, “In May, President Obama met at Camp David with leaders or representatives of the six Middle Eastern countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, including a representative from the United Arab Emirates. The main topic of discussion was the nuclear agreement with Iran, but officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr. Obama had also pressed them to consider resettling groups of detainees. The deal announced on Sunday appears to be the first fruits of those talks.”

With these releases, 107 men remain in Guantánamo, although the Times also noted that “an official familiar with internal deliberations” said that “[a]s many as 17 other proposed transfers of lower-level detainees are in the bureaucratic pipeline.”

48 of these men have been recommended for release, 37 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Eleven others have been approved for release, since January 2014, by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level review process established in 2013 to review the cases of all those still held who were not already approved for release, and are not facing trials (which just ten men are).

The majority of these 48 men — 39 of them — are Yemenis, and the problem for them has been that the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, so third countries have had to be found that are prepared to offer them new homes. With these releases, President Obama has, in the last year, released 23 Yemenis.

From my point of view, the shock — reflecting on these releases  — is quite how long these men have waited to be freed since they were first told that the US no longer wanted to hold them. Four of the five were approved for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its final report nearly six years ago, in January 2010, while the fifth was approved for release last year by a Periodic Review Board.

However, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, one of the five, Said al-Busayss (ISN 165, aka Adil Said al Haj Obeid al Busayss), 42, had previously been recommended for release in 2005, under President Bush, by a military review board known as an Administrative Review Board (ARB), as I explained in an article in June 2012, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago.”

A foot soldier with the Taliban, he apparently “fought on the front lines until his unit withdrew, when he was given the option of staying or escaping. Choosing the latter, he fled to Pakistan, where he ‘surrendered his weapon and was arrested by Pakistani police,’” as I described it in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in an article in 2010.

In my 2012 article, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” I also explained, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, al-Busayss’s file was a ‘Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),’ dated September 3, 2004.” Quite what that meant was unexplained, as it was extremely rare for any receiving country to imprison men released from Guantánamo, because of course, any alleged evidence against them was generally worthless because of the abusive conditions in which they had been held.

When the task force reviewed his case in 2009, he was one of 30 Yemenis who were approved for release but held in what the task force described as “conditional detention.” which meant that they were to be held until it was decided that the security situation in Yemen had improved — although the task force, which invented this categorization, gave no indication of how this was to be decided, or who was to make the decision.

Three of the other men were approved for release by the task force without being placed in “conditional detention,” and all three had also been approved for release in 2007.

In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file for Khalid al-Qadasi, 47, was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated January 22, 2007.

As I explained in an article in 2010:

Little is known of al-Qadasi, because, as the authorities at Guantánamo have explained, “he claims that he is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison and has emphatically stated that he would rather die than answer questions.” The authorities have apparently ascertained that he served in the Yemeni army as a young man and traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, and al-Qadasi has apparently stated that he “left Yemen for Pakistan to obtain medical treatment,” and has also said that he “never possessed any weapons in Afghanistan, as he was unable to fight due to his bad back.”

The authorities refuted these claims, claiming that he was “a probable member of al-Qaida,” who “participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces” in Tora Bora, but the main claim against him — that he was “a Yemeni who fought in Tora Bora” — was made by Guantánamo’s most notorious liar, Yasim Muhammad Basardah (ISN 252), whose unreliability I discussed here — and also see the Guardian‘s important coverage.

In the files released by WikiLeaks, the file for Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511), 41, was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated August 13, 2007, although, disgracefully, the Justice Department refused to acknowledge that he had been approved for release twice, under President Bush and by President Obama’s task force, and challenged his habeas corpus petition, instead of, logically, not contesting it. Al-Nahdi subsequently had his habeas corpus petition denied, in February 2010.

A similar story is that of Fehmi al-Assani (ISN 554, aka Fahmi Salem Said al Sani), 38, for whom a transfer recommendation was made after his Administrative Review Board Round Three, on July 30, 2007 (PDF, p. 338). In the files released by WikiLeaks, his file was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control (DoD),” dated October 22, 2004. Like Sulaiman al-Nahdi, he then had his habeas corpus petition denied, in February 2010, after the Justice Department challenged his petition, which they did not need to have done.

Both of these men appear to have been nothing more than recently recruited foot soldiers for the Taliban at the time of their capture, while the last of the five men to be freed, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi (ISN 045, aka Ali Ahmad Muhammad al Rahizi), 36, was, for some time, regarded, erroneously, as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

Al-Razihi had his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board on March 20, 2014, and was approved for release on April 23, 2014, and as I explained at the time, although he was initially regarded as one of the “Dirty 30,” a group of men captured in December 2001 who were considered to be bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, the US authorities have walked back from this claim over the years.

Prior to his PRB, in the government’s unclassified profile of al-Razihi, as I explained at the time:

[It was] noted that he was only “possibly” a bin Laden bodyguard. The PRB summary describe[d] the origin of this claim as “detainee reporting of questionable credibility”, adding, “FBI and other interviews of Guantánamo detainees identified that [al-Razihi] served as a bodyguard for Bin Laden, although one of them later recanted the allegation.”

In his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the prisoner who recanted his statements was identified as Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi tortured at Guantánamo, while another alleged witness, who didn’t recant his statements, and who “photo-identified detainee as a UBL bodyguard on three separate occasions,” was the notorious liar referred to above, a Yemeni named Yasim Basardah, who was released from Guantánamo in 2010.

In conclusion, it is commendable that these five men have finally been released, and I hope they will be able to resume their lives in peace, and with support, in the UAE. I now look forward to hearing about the releases of the 17 other men mentioned by the New York Times as awaiting release, and then the 31 others currently awaiting release. I also hope that the PRBs will speed up in the new year, as there are still 45 men awaiting reviews, and President Obama is running out of time to fulfill his long-unfulfilled promise, made on his second day in office in January 2009, to close Guantánamo for good.

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, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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.

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

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 125 prisoners released from February 2009 to October 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 Filesand 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 (herehere and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians1 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 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 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 Algerian1 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 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 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 Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer).

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about the five Yemeni prisoners just released from ‪‎Guantanamo‬, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, where, I hope, they will be free to rebuild their lives. One of these men was first approved for release in 2005, and three others in 2007. How is an 8- to 10-year delay in releasing these men at all acceptable?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    Exactly, Andy – How is an 8-10 year delay acceptable or even legal?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Jan. It’s obviously unacceptable from any point of view regarding decency, but isn’t it disgraceful that the imprisonment of everyone at Guantanamo – regardless of whether they have been approved for release for years – can apparently be justified legally because of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks – the unjustifiable imprisonment of foreigners act that just keeps giving …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Gracias Andy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Natalia. Much appreciated.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Zarina Bhatia wrote:

    Good news for a change!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Zarina. Great to hear from you.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Heather Lyle wrote:

    Unacceptable. I’m so ashamed of my country for ruining these men’s lives.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Francis Galloway wrote:

    It isn’t acceptable and we will continue to seek justice

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Heather and Mary, for your interest and understanding.

  11. Rose Ann says...

    Thank you Andy Worthington for all you do. Thank you Close Guantanamo. A little over a year left, the stakes are high. If the prison is still open when Obama leaves office, it will be open forever.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the message, Rose Ann. Great to hear from you. I’m inclined to think that Guantanamo will close eventually, whoever becomes president, but Obama needs to fulfill the promise he made on his second day in office, to close the prison, and it would be far preferable for him to achieve it than for a new president to have to start all over again. The men still held don’t deserve that.

  13. P four says...

    Wow!
    The UAE that’s great news!
    I wonder how they are being treated there?
    Any latest news ?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi P four,
    I hope they will be allowed to resume their lives as best as they can under the circumstances. The National reported that they “will not be placed under 24-hour supervision but will have to report regularly to police,” so i hope they do not face unnecessary restrictions on their freedom.
    See: http://www.thenational.ae/uae/yemeni-guantanamo-detainees-to-be-put-under-observation-in-uae

  15. Donald says...

    The government has confirmed that the periodic reviews will take several more years.

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/24/obama-administration-admits-review-guantanamo-cases-will-take-years

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Donald. I’ll be writing about it soon.

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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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