In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.
In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.
When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.
In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C.
28 of these reviews have currently taken place, and in the plan for the closure of the prison that was recently delivered to Congress, the Obama administration promised to complete them all by the fall — which, unfortunately, will be four and a half years later than originally promised, although to a great extent, of course, it is better for them to be late than for them not to have taken place at all.
Of the 23 cases that have been decided to date, 19 have involved recommendations that the men in question be released, while just four men have had their ongoing imprisonment approved (although it should be noted that they are entitled to further reviews). In addition, five decisions have yet to be taken.
That is an 83% success rate, which is remarkable in its own right, but is even more so when you consider that these are men who were initially — and ill-advisedly –described by the task force as being “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this actually meant was that the evidence was no such thing, and was an unreliable collection of statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, or through bribing them with the promise of perks and better living conditions.
A fourth prisoner has his request for release turned down
On March 3, Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim (ISN 522), a Yemeni also known as Yasin Ismail or Yassin Ismail, had his ongoing imprisonment approved by a Periodic Review Board. His review took place a month ago, when his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to represent him) made a case that he has developed a “passion for health,” and has “started counseling other detainees in nutrition to increase their knowledge in an effort to assist with their quality of life,” and his lawyer explained how he “has lost the wanderlust and thirst for adventure he had at age 22,” and “simply wants to get on with his life.”
Nevertheless, the review board concluded that his “continued law of war detention … remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” noting his “prior history with weapons training and combat experience over a prolonged period of time in Afghanistan,” and “the frequency, specificity, and recent nature of [his] expressions of support for extremist behavior, available pathways to reengagement, limited record of compliance, and lack of candor.”
The board added that they look forward to reviewing Ismail’s case in six months’ time, and encouraged him “to continue his recent display of compliant behavior, to take advantage of educational and counseling opportunities, to work with his private counsel and personal representatives to further develop post-detention plans, and to be increasingly open in communications with the Board.”
The 27th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board
The 27th prisoner to have his case reviewed was Suhayl Abduh Anam al-Sharabi aka Zohair al-Shorabi (ISN 569), a Yemeni and one of 22 prisoners facing PRBs who were initially recommended for prosecution. Just one man recommended for prosecution has so far had a PRB — Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian, whose review was successful, and who was freed in Bosnia in January — but another, Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094), a Pakistani businessman kidnapped in Thailand in 2003 and held in “black sites” before being flown to Guantánamo in September 2004, had his PRB on March 8, which I’ll be writing about very soon, and also forthcoming are reviews for Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj (ISN 1457), a Yemeni subjected to torture in “black sites,” on March 15, Obaidullah (ISN 762), an Afghan whose military lawyers established his innocence five years ago, on April 19, and, on June 2, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (ISN 760), a Mauritanian and the best-selling author of “Guantánamo Diary,” who had his habeas corpus petition granted in March 2010, although it was later vacated and sent back to the lower court, where, shamefully, it has languished ever since, in November 2010.
Zohair al-Shorabi is one of 17 men seized in a number of house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on February 7, 2002, and, as I noted in an article in September 2010:
[He] stated in Guantánamo that he went to Pakistan in 1999 to find work, and that he subsequently established a trading business. However, the US authorities allege that he attended a Libyan training camp near Kabul, and fought on the Taliban front lines. At one point, he was also accused of working as a guard at Kandahar airport before the 9/11 attacks, where he was “seen in the company of Osama bin Laden and another senior al-Qaeda operative,” and is “believed to be al-Qaeda because of his access to Osama bin Laden.” However, while this allegation matched a pattern of false statements made by one of al-Shorabi’s fellow prisoners, identified by the FBI as a notorious liar who had falsely accused 60 prisoners in Guantánamo, he was also picked out for two even more worrying allegations: that, on an unspecified date, he traveled to Malaysia, where he allegedly stayed with Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of the 9/11 hijackers, and that he was “one of seven individuals selected as martyrs” for a future terrorist operation.
The unclassified summary prepared for the Periodic Review Board supports this assessment, describing him as “part of al-Qa’ida external operations chief Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s (KU-10024) plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia [who] traveled to Malaysia, where he stayed with al-Qa’ida operative Walid Muhammad Salih Bin Attash (YM- 10014) and two of the 9/11 hijackers.” He was also described as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. For what it’s worth, I have serious doubts that a future terrorist operation was planned — and al-Shorabi’s previously classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, states that “[t]he purpose of the trip to Malaysia was to accompany [bin Attash] to the hospital for his fitting for a prosthetic leg.”
It is unknown how much of the information about al-Shorabi is accurate reporting. The military concedes that “[m]ost reporting about [his] involvement in al-Qa’ida is from other detainees, who consistently state that he was a Bin Ladin bodyguard and may have been associated with an aborted hijacking plot in Southeast Asia.” Al-Shorabi himself has only “admitted to al-Qa’ida membership once, and has since denied involvement with the group.” Perhaps more importantly, he has also “denied knowledge of any al-Qa’ida operational plans.”
It was also noted that, at Guantánamo, he “has made anti-US statements and expressed support for extremism,” has “provided little information of value,” and has also “had a poor compliance record for the majority of his detention, including assaults on the guards and more than 1,000 forced cell extractions” during his long-term hunger striking (which, for the record, was described by the authorities, according to the latest spin, as a “long-term, non-religious fast”). It was also noted, however, that “he ended his fast in November 2014, probably because he wants to remain in communal living,” according to Joint Task Force Guantánamo, since when his “compliance record has improved.”
It was also noted that he “has no known ongoing terrorism connections and maintains only intermittent contact with his family in Taiz, Yemen, who do not appear to be involved in terrorist activity.” The summary added that, “If repatriated, the political instability and AQAP activity in Yemen would provide opportunities to reengage,” but although this indicates that he has no terrorism connections outside Guantánamo, it is irrelevant regarding whether or not he should be released, as the entire US establishment agrees that no Yemenis should be repatriated. More significant is the assessment that al-Shorabi “has not discussed any definite post-detention plans,” without which a recommendation for release is highly unlikely.
Included on the Periodic Review Secretariat’s website is the opening statement of al-Shorabi’s personal representatives (military personnel appointed to represent him in his PRB). I imagine that his lawyers also made a statement, although that is not included. However, the personal representatives succeeded in painting a different portrait of al-Shorabi than that presented by the military — of a sports enthusiast desperately missing his family, who wants only to get on with his life, who “wishes to stay out of any and all conflicts,” and who “has not expressed any ill will or anger about his detention at Guantánamo.”
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 01 Mar 2016
Suhayl Abdul Anam Al Sharabi, ISN 569
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Members of the Board, we are the personal representatives for Suhayl Abduh Anam al Sharabi. Suhayl was extremely happy, when we made our initial visit to notify him of his entry into the Periodic Review Board process, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that Suhayl was very cooperative and receptive to meet with us. Indeed, he was anxious to get to know us and to tell his story. During our first meeting he explained his background, his childhood, his family and the future he hopes to have.
As is the case in many families in his village, Suhayl comes from a large family. His father and mother are both still alive and miss him terribly. He has three brothers that have started their own families and are productive members of society. Suhayl has three sisters that are married with their own families as well. They live peacefully in the same village and wish to stay together. Suhayl’s family places a high value on respect and the golden rule of treating each other as they would like to be treated. Together they are ready to welcome him back and move forward with him.
One of Suhayl’s passions is sports; in particular, he enjoys playing and watching soccer. He aspires to become a sports administrator for a soccer team someday. In the meantime, he continually follows and supports the Brazilian National Team, and he spends his time with other detainees discussing sports and of course, his team’s chances of winning the World Cup.
Since his time in Guantánamo, Suhayl has come to believe strongly in mutual respect. His fellow detainees would attest to this fact. He deeply desires to reunite with his family and to start one of his own. In terms of the conflicts in his homeland, he is saddened about the attacks and that innocent people are caught up in such terrible strife. He wishes to stay out of any and all conflicts. In fact, he wishes to stay out of other people’s business and to focus on his own well being and future. Suhayl has not expressed any ill will or anger about his detention at Guantánamo, and he has expressed the great sadness that has happened to his family. While Suhayl would prefer to be transferred to an Arabic Speaking country, it is not necessary. Suhayl is willing to take part in a rehabilitation program and wants to make it perfectly clear to the Board that he is not a threat to the United States. Suhayl looks forward to answering your questions.
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 (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), 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.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article about Guantanamo, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Zohair al-Shorabi, a Yemeni, and the board’s recommendation that another Yemeni, Yasin Ismail, should continue to be held. Currently 19 men have had their release recommended by PRBs, while four have had their detention upheld – a success rate of 83%. 36 men eligible for PRBs are still awaiting their reviews, first promised by Obama five years ago (when he also promised that they would be completed within a year).
When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:
More from Andy Worthington on the fate of those POWs held, illegally and immorally in Guantanamo (or as Obama, Bush 2, Clinton, Bush 1 and Ronald Reagan would say – “due process, we don’t need no stinking due process”)
Thanks, Jan. Yes, the slow crawl towards something that may or not be justice – but that is supposed to look like it – continues. Will Guantanamo close before a third president gets to own it?
Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:
Less than 10 months left for Obama to come through. Down to the wire
Thanks, Rose Ann, for your comments. Time is indeed running out. On Mar. 25, the Countdown to Close Guantanamo I launched in January with Roger Waters will mark 300 days until the end of Obama’s presidency. Why not take a photo with a poster, and send it to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to put up on the website?
Please note that my quarterly fundraiser is ongoing. I’m still hoping to raise $2150 (£1500) to support my work over the next three months, if you can help: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2016/03/11/please-support-my-guantanamo-work-200-140-a-week-needed-for-the-next-three-months/
More reviews are coming. The 20th hijacker is going to be reviewed in July. No chance in Hell he’ll be released. It looks like there will be three to four hearings a month.
Judging by Sharqawi’s review file, he’s still a commited unrepentant jihadist who supports recent terrorist attacks and refuses to renounce violence. He, the high value detainees, 20th hijacker, Abdul Zahir, Abdul Malik and Sanad al-Kazimi should be prosecuted.
By the way, the plot you “have serious doubts” about was in fact real as confirmed by former FBI agent Ali Soufan.
The initial al-Qaeda plan for 9/11 was to launch attacks in the United States and Southeastern Asia simultaneously but the latter plan was aborted because Bin Laden felt it was too complicated. Not all of the allegations in the files are BS. I suspect the majority of the “prosecution” detainees (facilitators and attempted bombers) will remain in custody. Ironically the majority of the “Dirty 30” will be transferred since they were either bodyguards or low ranking jihadists.
Thanks for the update, Martin. I haven’t had the opportunity to look at Sharqawi’s file just yet. I’ve been out all evening at a marathon Stewart Lee comedy show at the Royal Festival Hall, if that means anything to you.
Interesting who you’re recommending for prosecution, in addition to the “high-value detainees.”
What I meant, Martin, was not that it hadn’t been discussed, but that it wasn’t what I would describe as a plot, in the sense of something that was going to happen. Perhaps it’s semantic quibbling, but over the last 14 years I’ve seen too many things described as plots that haven’t risen above the most basic level of discussion; in other words, one step up from thought crimes. I don’t mean to belittle the initial Al-Qaeda intent regarding SE Asia, but if it was dropped then it was dropped.
Thought crime? LOL, someone’s been reading too much 1984. Forget I said anything.
No, not at all. Your comments are well thought out and appreciated, Martin – it’s just that I find a big difference between talking about something and actually making plans to do it.
Uh huh, well Sharabi has been denied transfer. Looks like the prosecution detainees are still considered too dangerous even for the PRB. The other five detainess part of the Karachi Six (the alleged plot has been discredited) and two Bin Laden bodyguards at the most have a better chance of being approved for transfer as long as their behavior and candor is good.
Thanks, Martin. Yes, I just wrote about it for Close Guantanamo: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Articles/206-Periodic-Review-Board-Decides-Yemeni-at-Guantanamo-Still-Poses-A-Threat-14-Years-After-Capture
Will be posting it here soon.
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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