20th Guantánamo Prisoner – Part of the Non-Existent “Karachi Six” – Approved for Release by Review Board; 5th Man’s Detention Upheld

1.4.16

Ayub Salih (aka Ayoub Saleh), in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo made two decisions — to recommend one prisoner for release, and to recommend another for ongoing imprisonment. The decisions mean that, since the PRBs began in November 2013, 20 prisoners have now been approved for release, while five have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, a success rate, for the prisoners, of 80%.

This is all the more remarkable — and all the more damaging for the government’s credibility — because the PRBs were established to review the cases of all the men not recommended for trials, and not already approved for release (by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009) — men who were described as “too dangerous to release”; a description that, it now transpires, was patently untrue, as myself and other commentators remarked at the time.

The task force itself acknowledged that it had insufficient evidence to put these men on trial, which alarmed those of us paying close attention, as it obviously meant that what purported to be evidence was not evidence at all, but a collection of dubious statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, possibly involving the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or assessments that, because of their behavior, and threats they may have made while at Guantánamo, it was unsafe to release them. It should be noted that these assessments of the threat level may or may not have been true, because, of course, men treated as appallingly as the Guantánamo prisoners have been might not have posed a threat, but might only have been extremely indignant about the circumstances of their imprisonment.

When the PRBs began, 46 men were initially in the “too dangerous to release” category, and all but one of the men about whom decisions have been taken were in this category. 25 others had initially been recommended for prosecution, but had been made eligible for PRBs when a number of critical appeals court decisions largely discredited the military commission trial system used for the Guantánamo prisoners. The one man in this category approved for release, an Egyptian, was freed in January, but reviews have recently begun for others, and others are scheduled for the coming months.

The man approved for release on March 23 was Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836, Yemen), also identified as Ayoub Saleh or Ayyub Salih, whose review took place in February, as I wrote about here. He was seized in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2002, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and on the same day as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the men allegedly responsible for the attacks, but while he and five others were initially described as “the Karachi Six” and sent for to CIA “black sites” for torture, “based on concerns that they were part of an al Qa’ida operational cell intended to support a future attack,” as the military described it, by the time of his PRB it was acknowledged that “this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and … it is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

In its final determination, the board, after specifically noting that its members had, “by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” stated:

In making this determination, the Board noted that the detainee’s degree of involvement and significance in extremist activities has been reassessed to be that of a low-level fighter, and the detainee’s relative candor in discussing his time in Afghanistan. Further, the Board considered the detainee’s acceptance of the mistakes he has made and credible desire not to repeat those mistakes, his acknowledgement that he has benefitted from his time in detention and has taken advantage of educational opportunities while at Guantánamo, and his lack of ongoing extremist ties.

The decision is not only good news for Ayyub Salih, but also suggests that the other five men captured at the same time as him might also secure their release. Two of these men currently have PRBs scheduled — Said Salih Said Nashir (ISN 841), whose PRB is on April 21, 2016, and Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (ISN 838), whose PRB is on May 19, 2016 — while the other three — Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah (ISN 837), Musab Omar Ali al-Mudwani aka Musa’ab al-Madhwani (ISN 839) and Hail Aziz Ahmed al-Maythali (ISN 840) — await dates for theirs. Of the five, only al-Madhwani has had his case previously examined publicly, when, in 2010, a judge ruling on his habeas corpus petition reluctantly turned it down, noting, however, that he did not think Madhwani was dangerous, and adding, “There is nothing in the record now that he poses any greater threat than those detainees who have already been released.”

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi (aka Muhammad al-Ansi) in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On the same day that Ayyub Salih was recommended for release, Mohammed al-Ansi (ISN 29, Yemen), also identified as Muhammad al-Ansi, was recommended for ongoing imprisonment, even though, as I noted at the time of his PRB in February, his lawyer, Lisa Strauss, had made a convincing case for his release, when, as I put it, “she explained how he has become a prolific artist, how he is ‘at peace with his fellow detainees and the guards as reflected in the minimal disciplinary infractions,’ and how he loves American culture.”

Nevertheless, the board members obviously had doubts based on al-Ansi’s own contributions, which were not made public at the time of his PRB. In its final determination, after stating that its members had, “by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” the board explained that they had “considered the significant derogatory information regarding the detainee’s past activities in Afghanistan,” and had, in particular, “noted [his] lack of candor resulting in an inability to assess [his] credibility and therefore his future intentions.”

Bearing in mind that al-Ansi will have a further administrative review in six month’s time, the board then encouraged him “to continue to be compliant, continue taking advantage of educational opportunities and continue working with the doctors to maintain his health,” as well as also encouraging him “to be increasingly forthcoming in communications with the Board.”

Note: The next PRB, for Obaidullah (ISN 762, Afghanistan), whose innocence, I think, was convincingly demonstrated by his legal team many years ago, is on April 19. As noted above, Said Salih Said Nashir’s PRB is two days after, and the PRB for Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 027, Yemen), whose habeas corpus petition was granted in 2010, in a decision that was then reversed by the Washington, D.C. appeals court in 2011, is on April 26.

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).

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16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing an update on the Periodic Review Boards at ‪Guantanamo‬, as a 20th man – a Yemeni mistakenly considered part of an Al-Qaeda plot, like five others still held – is approved for release, while another, Muhammad al-Ansi (pictured), who has become an artist in Guantanamo, had his detention approved. Nevertheless, 20 out of 25 prisoners have so far been approved for release, an 80% success rate for men erroneously described as “too dangerous to release” when their cases were last reviewed six years ago.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I also updated the definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards

  3. Martin says...

    “Bearing in mind that al-Ansi will have a further administrative review in six month’s time”

    A review doesn’t automatically mean he will get a hearing. According to the board, “a significant question” has to be raised about a prisoner’s detention.

    http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN242/ISN242FileReview/151015_U_ISN242_MFR_PUBREL_v3.pdf

    Salem Kanad’s file was reviewed several times but he was only approved for a second hearing when he finally decided to appear.

    “The decision is not only good news for Ayyub Salih, but also suggests that the other five men captured at the same time as him might also secure their release.”

    Agreed, out of the remaining detainees, those five men and in addition, two Bin Laden bodyguards have the best chance of being transferred as long as they don’t lack candor and have not caused problems in detention. Prosecution detainees Obaidullah and Bostan Karim will have a tougher time due to being alleged members of an IED cell. Karim is alleged to be the leader and Obaidullah is alleged to be his partner.

    http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/11/ied_cell_leader_deni.php.

    http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/762-obaidullah

    http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/975-bostan-karim

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Martin. Yes, I think it’s clear that cooperation is key for the prisoners if they are to have a chance of being freed.
    Regarding Obaidullah and Bostan Karim, I’ve long had doubts about their alleged involvement in insurgent actions, but as with almost all the Afghans, even if they had done what they are alleged to have done, it seems ridiculous that men like them are still held at Guantanamo when, had they been held at Bagram, when it was under US control, they would almost certainly have been sent home years ago.

  5. Martin says...

    Thanks for the reply Mr. Worthington. I’m more cautious about detainees accused of crimes ever since Ibrahim Qosi became a spokesman for AQAP after being released from Guantanamo in 2012. He obviously wasn’t in Afghanistan to teach the Quran.

    Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah’s PRB date is scheduled for April 28.

    http://www.prs.mil/ReviewInformation/InitialReview.aspx

    Looks like the PRB will do four to five hearings a month this year. Which could mean that all of the detainees will get a decision by January of next year. I guess they are deadlocked in regards to Salman Rabaie. I suspect the dangerous HVTs will be reviewed last. Anyway, keep up the good work.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Martin. For what it’s worth, I suspect al-Qosi was head-hunted by AQAP as a figurehead, not because he has any particular skills, but I could be wrong. I never got the impression that he played a significant role for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and in fact that was always rather the joke – that a cook was prosecuted for war crimes after a driver (Salim Hamdan).

  7. Martin says...

    Qosi was an accountant, a cook and a bodyguard for Bin Laden, as revealed in Ali Soufan’s interrogation of Qosi.

    http://www.rulit.me/books/the-black-banners-read-249656-110.html

    Not a senior leader when he was captured but definitely trusted by Bin Laden. Currently, he’s a spokesman and idealogue for AQAP. The CIA has probably added him to their kill list. To quote John Kerry, “He shouldn’t be doing that.”

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. I still don’t see that al-Qosi was particularly significant, but obviously he was attached to bin Laden and his ideas. However, in that excerpt from Soufan’s book, I was reminded of how shocking it was that Abdullah Tabarak, who was evidently much more significant, was released, and I was also intrigued by al-Qosi’s reference to the US in “a hadith saying that the end of days would come after the land that is today Iraq is invaded by armies fighting over its black gold.” Perhaps that is coming true in ways bin Laden couldn’t see back then, after the madness of the US-led invasion and the rise of IS.

  9. Martin says...

    Agreed and ironically Tabarak has not rejoined al-Qaeda.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    I still don’t know what happened with Tabarak’s release, Martin. When WikiLeaks released the Guantanamo files, his was one of the 14 missing, suggesting that perhaps he had been “turned,” but no other information has emerged to explain it one way or another. This was what I wrote about him after the release of the files: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/05/26/wikileaks-and-the-14-missing-guantanamo-files/
    And this from the Washington Post in 2006: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/29/AR2006012901044.html

  11. Martin says...

    Thanks. As for Obaidullah and Bostan Karim, we shall see what the PRB intelligence assessments will say. I consider them to be very reliable. I don’t believe the remaining detainees are innocent people captured by mistake. All of the latter have been released.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I found Obaidullah’s lawyers investigation convincing, Martin: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/04/29/how-us-investigators-established-that-obaidullah-an-afghan-still-held-in-guantanamo-is-innocent/
    But yes, we shall have to wait and see. In the case of Obaidullah and Bostan Karim, however, even if what is alleged is true, it’s not helpful for them to be lumped into the right-wing media’s lazy description of those held at Guantanamo as “terrorists,” when, even if the allegations were true, they were nothing more than fairly low-level insurgents. If they’d been held in Bagram and not flown to Guantanamo (where the mass transfer of Afghans didn’t end until November 2003), it’s fair to say they would already be free men.

  13. martin says...

  14. Martin says...

    The summary is interesting. Obaidullah told an interviewer in October 2013 that he was afraid of IED cell leader Bostan Karim, who worked for Abu Laith al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2008. Obaidullah also stopped cooperating with interrogators when Karim arrived in Guantanamo in 2003. In any case, Karim is not low-level, Obaidullah is. I guess Obaidullah might be approved for transfer if he’s candid with the PRB.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. Yes, I saw this earlier. I thought his lawyer presented the case for his release very well.
    I’ll be publishing an article on Close Guantanamo tomorrow.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I very much hope so, Martin.

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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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