For Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, who turned 40 at the prison in 2015, there is finally justice, as he was released on Friday January 10 and sent back home, over 14 years after he was first seized in Afghanistan, where, he always maintained, he had traveled to engage in humanitarian aid work.
Fayiz’s release, and that of another prisoner, a Saudi, appears to provide a demonstration of President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, as four men have now been freed in the last few days, and 13 more releases are expected soon. Without a doubt, it also provides further vindication that the Periodic Review Board process at Guantánamo — established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials — is working. in the cases of both men, they were recommended for continued imprisonment after PRBs, but were then reviewed again, when they both worked harder to convince the boards that they pose no threat and want only to rebuild their lives in peace — as, it should be noted, do most of the 103 men still held.
Of the 18 cases so far decided in PRBs, 15 have ended with recommendation for the release of the prisoners — a great result when all were previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” — although the process is moving far too slowly. Those 18 cases took over two years, and 42 other men are awaiting reviews, which will not be completed until 2020 at the current pace. If President Obama is serious about closing Guantánamo, he needs to find a way to speed up the process considerably in his last 12 months in office.
The men whose cases are being reviewed were described as “too dangerous to release” by a high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but failed to mention that it was not, therefore, evidence, but a collection of hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations, some produced through torture or other forms of abuse.
These problems are clear in the case of Fayiz al-Kandari. Absurdly, even though he was only in Afghanistan for about a month before the 9/11 attacks, the US claimed that in that time he “provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees,” “served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden,” and “produced recruitment audio and video tapes which encouraged membership in al-Qaeda and participation in jihad.” When told all this at a farcical review in 2005, he said, “At the end of this exciting story and after all these various accusations, when I spent most of my time alongside bin Laden as his advisor and his religious leader … All this happened in a period of three months, which is the period of time I stayed in Afghanistan? I ask, are these accusations against Fa[y]iz or against Superman?”
Back in 2009, his military defense lawyer Barry Wingard, assigned to him when he was briefly put forward for a military commission trial in 2008 on the basis of the ridiculous claims outlined above, reported in an op-ed in the Washington Post about how he and Fayiz regularly spoke about the lack of justice at Guantánamo:
Each time I travel to Guantánamo Bay to visit Fayiz, his first question is, “Have you found justice for me today?” This leads to an awkward hesitation. “Unfortunately, Fayiz,” I tell him, “I have no justice today.”
I have followed Fayiz’s story closely for many years. In September 2007, I interviewed the US attorney Tom Wilner for “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” a documentary film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. Tom had represented all 12 Kuwaiti prisoners in the early days of Guantánamo’s existence, when lawyers first fought for, and eventually won the right to visit Guantánamo to meet prisoners and submit habeas corpus petitions on their behalf. He had got to know Fayiz, and explained how he was a “great guy” who, from childhood, had given half of his allowance to help the poor and needy. His visit to Afghanistan, it seemed clear, was a continuation of this devotion to charitable work.
I asked Tom for his thoughts on Fayiz’s release, and he sent me the following by email:
I am thrilled that Fayiz has finally been released from Guantánamo after almost 14 years. He should never have been there in the first place. He was never charged with any crime, and the only allegations ever made against him came from other detainees who were rewarded for making those allegations and later recanted them or were well known for making false accusations against others.
I represented Fayiz for more than two and a half years before I finally got to meet him in January 2005 after we had won the first case before the Supreme Court. We connected immediately. Fayiz is extremely bright, warm and charismatic, with a wonderful smile and an ebullient sense of humor. He is also a bit of a poet and philosopher with a passion for justice and compassion for those less fortunate. He is exactly the type of person we want on our side.
In October 2009, I wrote a major profile of Fayiz for Truthout, based in part on questions that Barry Wingard had asked him on my behalf, and in February 2012, I traveled to Kuwait, in a trip organised by Barry, where I also met with Tom Wilner and appeared in a TV discussion with him about Fayiz and Fawzi al-Odah, the other Kuwaiti held at the time, who was freed in November 2014 (after being approved for release by a PRB). I also met and was welcomed by his family, and on meeting them it became even more apparent to me that the US had no case against him.
In an email, Barry Wingard described how Fayiz’s release “is yet another example of the Orwellian reality that GTMO represents,” adding, “If a government is permitted to hold others without charge for a decade and a half, commit torture, and claim they are fighting a word, ‘terror,’ rest assured you are not safe.”
Fayiz returns to Kuwait a survivor, he has survived beatings, psychological and mental torment, and a number of hunger of strikes that in all likelihood caused internal damage. In response, Fayiz would say: “Never give them the power by doing what they want. What they want is you to hate them. If you hate them, they are in your head. Forgive them and show them kindness, in so doing the hatred weighs them down. In time, that weight becomes too much and they will look to you as the example.”
Wingard also stated, “We should never forget the legacy of GTMO, and the effect of mobs making irrational decisions. Of the 779 men held at GTMO, fewer than 15 will be given something that resembles a trial. Over 650 men are guilty of nothing. What makes you feel secure that you or a family member will not be next?”
The release of Muhammad al-Shumrani
On January 11, the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Muhammad al-Shumrani, a Saudi, who also turned 40 in 2015, was released. A Saudi jet came to pick him up, as has happened with all the Saudis released from the prison, to begin his rehabilitation. On September 11, when he was recommended for release, the board “acknowledged the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities and connections but determined [his] threat can be adequately mitigated by Saudi Arabia.” Specifically, they had “confidence in the efficacy of the Saudi rehabilitation program and Saudi Arabia’s ability to monitor the detainee after completion of the program,” and they also “found the detainee credible on his desire to participate in the program.’”
They also noted his “strong desire to engage in scholarly religious discussion and receive guidance from clerics at the rehabilitation centre about Islam and his willingness to submit to the authority of the Saudi government.” The board also noted that al-Shumrani had been “candid with the board, including regarding his presence on the battlefield and world view, and articulated a commitment to fulfilling his role within his family over taking up arms or continuing to engage in jihad.”
In an email to the Miami Herald, his lawyer, Martha Rayner, said that he “looks forward to participating in the Saudi rehabilitation program and reuniting with his family.” The newspaper also picked up on a comment made during his review in August by his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to represent him), who noted that he had “slipped quietly into middle age” during his 13 years at Guantánamo — as, of course, have so many of the the men still held, who pose a threat only in the minds of easily scared lawmakers and cynical representatives of the media.
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.
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 132 prisoners released from February 2009 to early January 2016 (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; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article – about the release from Guantanamo of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, whose case I spent many years working to highlight (including a visit to Kuwait in 2012 arranged by his lawyer Barry Wingard), and of another prisoner, a Saudi. Both men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards – but only the second time around. 103 men remain – and there is an urgent need to speed up the PRB process to approve more men for release. It is outrageous that innocent men and foot soldiers are still held without charge or trial after 14 years.
UK readers, my apologies for posting this so late – and good evening, US readers. I’m in New York City! I just arrived by car from Washington, D.C. with good friends Debra, Chris and Bill, after three days of intensive campaigning and socializing around the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo and the State of the Union speech last night. It was great being in DC, but New York feels more like home!
Jan Strain wrote:
Have fun in the Big Apple and make some noise!!!
I’ll do my best, Jan. I’m off to a good start. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge as night fell. It was seriously cold but really quite enchanting. I love walking over the Brooklyn Bridge! And now I’m in Brooklyn with some old friends – who’ve been hosting me since my first US visit in March 2008.
Shahela Begum shared this, and wrote:
The tireless efforts of Andy Worthington, Reprieve, and all the supporters have succeeded in releasing another innocent man.
Thanks for sharing, Shahela, and for the kind and supportive words. I’m in New York City right now, and speaking about Shaker Aamer’s case and the campaign to close Guantanamo at Revolution Books in Harlem this evening. Perhaps see you there? https://www.facebook.com/events/1670330183234339/
Angie Graham wrote:
Hi Andy. Another great article!!!
Angie Graham wrote:
Let’s hope that they will speed up the releases and that at last they close Guantanamo this year. Wouldn’t that be incredible. It looks like your friends over the pond are looking after you very well.
Thanks, Angie, for the kind words. And yes, I’ve been looked after very well in Miami, DC and, for the last few days, here in NYC. I fly home tonight.
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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