Last week, as I reported here, a Periodic Review Board was convened to look at the case of Obaidullah, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, to see if he can be approved for release. The PRBs are a high-level, US government process, assessing the cases of prisoners who are not facing trials, and have not already been approved for release by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
31 men have so far had their cases considered, and in 20 cases have been approved for release, while eight men have had their ongoing imprisonment approved (although they are eligible for further reviews), and three are awaiting the results of their reviews.
The 31st prisoner to have his case considered, two days after Obaidullah, was Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah (ISN 841), a 46-year old Yemeni, also identified as Said Salih Said Nashir. He is one of a group of six men seized in house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, on the same day that alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized, who were then sent to CIA-run torture prisons for six weeks. They were initially regarded as recruits for a specific terrorist attack, although the government has long since walked away from this claim, as became apparent when the first of the six, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836), had his PRB in February, and was approved for release last month.
Crucially, the government conceded that, although the six Yemenis were initially “labeled as the ‘Karachi Six,’ based on concerns that they were part of an al Qa’ida operational cell intended to support a future attack,” it had become apparent that “a review of all available reporting” indicated that “this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and that 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.”
The government’s profile of Abdullah added that he “was probably intended by al-Qa’ida senior leaders to return to Yemen to support eventual attacks in Saudi Arabia, but [he] may not have been witting of these plans.” The profile also stated that he “traveled to fight in Afghanistan in June 2001, trained at al-Qa’ida’s al-Farouq camp, and admitted to a close association with some of the group’s external operations planners and senior leadership, including senior al-Qa’ida operative and 9/11 conspirator Walid bin Attash, better known as Khallad (YM-10014).” It is not known, however, whether this “close association” actually existed, or was invented during interrogations.
The authorities also noted that he “has committed less than 70 infractions since his arrival in 2002 until March 2015, a low number relative to other detainees,” although they also claimed that he “has repeatedly attempted to minimize his role within al-Qa’ida, evade questions, and manipulate interrogators,” and “has also expressed continued support for jihad against ‘legitimate’ military or government targets, has celebrated the idea of Muslims killing invaders, and has requested, on occasion, to see news footage of past al-Qa’ida attacks.” It was also noted that he “has also continued to defend terrorist tactics and violence to overthrow un-Islamic governments, repel invaders, or in order to seek revenge.” In contrast, back in 2010, when I wrote about his case, I noted that he had “stated he would never kill innocent women or children in the United States because it was against his religion.”
Abdullah also said he was “willing to go anywhere and participate in a rehabilitation program in order to leave Guantánamo,” and wanted the board members to know that he “ran a small business and was an experienced electrician in Yemen — skills that could potentially help him gain employment outside of GTMO.” It was also noted that, as of August 2015, “he was attending all available life skill courses” at Guantánamo.
In discussing his possible release, it was noted that he “would have avenues for reengagement in jihad if he returned to Yemen,” because his sister is married to the brother of Khalid Ahmed Qasim (ISN 242), who is also held at Guantánamo (and was turned down for release by a PRB), and Yasser Ahmed Qasim, described as a “conspirator” in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. It was also noted that his family “is believed to be living in al-Burayqah, an area reported to have a strong AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] presence.” This, however, is irrelevant to considerations of his release, because, if he were to be recommended for release, he would not be sent back to Yemen, as the entire US establishment refuses to send any Yemenis home, and would need to be rehoused in a third country, far from his family.
The reviews last week are part of a new, and belated trend to review two cases a week, to make sure that all those eligible for PRBs have their cases reviewed before President Obama leaves office. This should have happened years ago — by March 2012 at the latest, in fact, because it was in March 2011 that President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 46 men, as recommended by his task force, but with the proviso that they would have their cases reviewed within a year. The task force based its decisions on claims that the men in question were “too dangerous to release,” while acknowledging that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not actually evidence at all, but was based on dubious statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, after being tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of more favorable conditions.
The reviews, however, did not even begin until November 2013, and although they currently have a success rate of 71%, rather discrediting the “too dangerous to release” tag as unjustifiably hyperbolic, 36 men are still awaiting reviews or the results of reviews, and as a result it is reassuring to hear that reviews are now being scheduled twice-weekly.
Around the same time that Abdullah’s review was taking place, the authorities announced that the eighth prisoner to have his ongoing imprisonment upheld was another Yemeni, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (ISN 1457), also identified as Abdu Ali Sharqawi, in a decision taken on April 14.
In its final determination, the board, “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 members added that they had considered that Al-Hajj had “developed ties to senior al-Qaida leaders such as Usama Bin Laden and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, associated with al-Qaida plotters and operatives including members of the USS Cole bombing and some of the 9/11 hijackers, and probably provided logistical and financial support for al-Qaida operations to include facilitating the travel of fighters from Yemen.”
It was also noted that his “statements and behavior while in detention indicate that he remains committed to engaging in violent acts against the United States,” and the board members also remarked on their “difficulty in assessing his current mindset and credibility due to his decision to not participate in the hearing, and insufficient information presented to the Board regarding his plans if transferred and the support that he would have if transferred.”
As I noted at the time of his review, his failure to turn up for his hearing would have counted against him to a significant extent. As I stated, “Most of the prisoners reviewed to date have accepted that a recommendation for their release can only come about, if at all, through their full engagement with the process, and it is, of course, unimaginable that anyone in the penal system would have parole granted if they refused to turn up to attend a hearing.”
Of course, his failure to attend the hearing would not have been the primary reason that his efforts to secure his release were turned down. He is one of 25 prisoners made eligible for PRBs back in 2013 who were initially recommended for prosecution by the task force in 2010, and last March the Miami Herald noted (as I discussed here) how Pentagon officials were still hoping to prosecute another seven of the men still held, including Al-Hajj, indicating that he remains someone unlikely to be approved for release — and if this is the case, then it would be preferable if he were to be put forward for prosecution if there are crimes of which he is accused, rather than continuing to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Below, I’m also cross-posting the opening statements made at Hani Abdullah’s PRB by his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help the prisoners prepared for their hearings), and by his attorney, Charles H. Carpenter, which I hope you will find useful.
The representatives, who only met him around six weeks ago, had found him to be a very positive person, always smiling, and Carpenter, who has known him much longer, has described him, over the course of his 11-year relationship with him, as someone who has “remained optimistic and focused on the future,” has always sought out educational opportunities, and is “devoted to his family,” and it will, I think, be appropriate for the board to recommend his release.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 21 Apr 2016
Said Salih Said Nashir, ISN 841
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 841, Mr. Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah. We will be assisting Mr. Abdullah with his case this morning, along with the assistance of his Private Counsel.
Hani has been overjoyed and eager to participate in the Periodic Review process since we first met with him in mid-March 2016. When we explained why we were meeting with him, not only did he express his happiness, but it was obvious by the way his face lit up. He has maintained his positive attitude throughout all of our meetings and has always been gracious and respectful towards us. What is probably most amazing is that he is almost always smiling. Even when discussing hardship, he maintains his humor. He tells his stories much in the same way one might tell of a terrible situation where, with time, the memory of has become a little less painful. Perhaps even to the point where one might be able to see at least a small amount of humor in it.
During our meetings, Hani has expressed his desire to return home to reunite with his family, although he does realize that it is not likely that he would be transferred to Yemen. He is open to transfer to any country, but would prefer an Arabic-speaking country, if possible. He is willing to participate in any rehabilitation or reintegration program as well. He looks forward to getting married after his transfer from Guantánamo Bay, and starting his own family. He also hopes that at some point his sisters and brothers could visit him and he could get to know the youngest members of his close-knit family who were born during his detention. His 10 years of experience as an electrician, as well as the classes he has taken while here at GTMO, will help him to find employment regardless of where he is transferred.
Hani has been a compliant detainee and has taken advantage of the many educational opportunities here at the detention facility. He has learned basic computer skills, including how to use Photoshop, and has taken classes in art, life skills and English. He has done well in all courses and his teachers speak highly of him. By being exposed to so many people of various cultural and religious backgrounds here at GTMO, Hani has also had a chance to better understand and appreciate their beliefs and customs which will also serve him well wherever he is transferred.
We are confident that Rani’s desire to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantánamo Bay is genuine and that he bears no ill will towards anyone. We remain convinced that Hani does not pose a significant threat to security of the United States or any of its allies.
Thank you for your time and attention and we look forward to answering any questions you may have during this Board.
Statement of Charles H. Carpenter
Good morning, ladies and Gentlemen of the Board. I am Charley Carpenter, and am here as private counsel to ISN 841. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I am a member of the bars of Montana, Idaho, Maryland, and the District of Columbia and, together with Stephen M. Truitt, have been representing Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah (ISN 841) since January 2005. I have visited Abdullah more than a dozen times over the years, and have come to know him well.
We were first engaged to represent Abdullah by his sister, who lives with her husband in Bahrain. Abdullah’s family had learned from the Red Crescent that he was in US captivity, and wanted a lawyer to represent him in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
We first visited Abdullah in June of 2005. He described for us his brief experience in Afghanistan prior to fleeing that country in late 2001, and his efforts to get home to Yemen for the next 10 months or so. He also described the horrendous treatment to which he was subjected in the “Prison of Darkness” after his arrest in Pakistan. It was particularly striking to me that he seemed, less than three years after that ordeal, to be nearly without rancor, and to have a fairly positive outlook on life.
My experiences with him over the ensuing 11 years have borne that out: though the ups and downs of the delays in his case, and the changes in conditions at the prison, Abdullah has remained optimistic and focused on the future. From the beginning, he has asked us about educational opportunities, and has had us find written material to supplement the classes he has been taking while in the prison. He has maintained a healthy sense of humor — sometimes a little dry, but always fairly positive. He has never seemed angry, nor motivated to do harm.
Abdullah has been devoted to his family throughout our representation of him. He was always as interested in family news as in the progress in our case, and has always expressed the hope that he would be reunited with them. Mr. Truitt and I visited with Abdullah’s oldest brother in Yemen in 2008, and I met Abdullah’s father at the time. They were, and remain, devoted to helping Abdullah rebuild his life once he is released. Neither Abdullah nor his family has ever expressed to me any sentiment that could be called either political or religious extremism, nor do they seem inclined in that way in any sense.
Similarly, Mr. Truitt and I stand ready to help Abdullah re-integrate to the extent we can — our post-Guantánamo work with our other client ISN 519 has been rewarding for us and helpful for him.
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to you. I would be happy to answer any 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, looking at the Periodic Review Board last week for Hani Abdullah, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo who was mistakenly regarded as part of an Al-Qaeda plot, and the decision that another man, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj, should continue to be held. 28 decisions have now been taken, and 20 have ended favorably for the prisoners. Two reviews are taking place every week for the next month, with more to follow.
Steve Bremner wrote:
When is Abu Zubaydah going to be reviewed?
It’s a good question, Steve, to which I don’t have an answer. I believe all the prisoners who are eligible for PRBs were told at the start of the year that their reviews would be taking place this year, but Abu Zubaydah is one of 21 who haven’t had dates set yet.
Only Human Rights First previously covered this PRB, btw. No interest from the rest of the US media: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/guantanamo-review-board-holds-hearing-another-one-karachi-six
I’ve just updated the definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website. Please check it out: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards
Abu Zubaydah will probably be reviewed last. I think the PRB has made the less infamous detainees more of a priority than Zubaydah which is great. There’s no chance in Hell Zubaydah will ever be approved for transfer so it makes sense that the PRB is focused on detainees not accused of plotting international terrorist attacks.
I think you must believe Abu Zubaydah to be more significant than I do, Martin. I think he’s the US government’s greatest and most colossal embarrassment, for whom an entire torture program was developed, even though some people within the military/intel establishment knew before his capture that he was not al-Qaeda, but the gatekeeper of Khaldan. I agree, however, that we shouldn’t expect to see a review for him taking place anytime soon.
According to former FBI agent Ali Soufan (who interrogated him WITHOUT torture), Abu Zubaydah was an independent terrorist in charge of the Khaldan camp along with Ibn Sheikh al-Libi and responsible for the Millenium Plot and planning attacks against U.S forces and further attacks against the U.S. He was NOT a member of al-Qaeda. Soufan even admits that. But he IS significant. To let him go would be foolish. He’s not an innocent person. He’s also not mentally ill. He has memory problems from a shrapnel wound.
From Ali Soufan’s book.
“The FBI had been looking for Abu Zubaydah for a while. He was originally wanted for his connection both to Ahmed Ressam’s attempt to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999 and to the millennium plot in Jordan. Abu Zubaydah’s name had come up with increasing frequency in intelligence reports after the millennium plot. While he was not a member of al-Qaeda, his role as external emir of Khaldan was of considerable importance. Senior al-Qaeda members, such as Khallad, regularly turned to Abu Zubaydah for help with passports and travel. In turn, al-Qaeda guaranteed Abu Zubaydah’s protection elsewhere in Afghanistan, and he often stayed in their guesthouses. He was one of the most important cogs in the shadowy network that we were struggling to disrupt.”
He traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime (1989–1992).
“During a battle, he was hit in the head by shrapnel. The shrapnel wiped out his memory. He didn’t even know who he was. He was rushed to a hospital for treatment, and it was judged too dangerous to remove the shrapnel. To this day, he has a hole in his head. After treatment, he was taken for therapy to a guesthouse in Peshawar. He was shown his passport. As was standard for mujahideen, it had been stored with an emir at a safe house while Abu Zubaydah had been fighting on the front. To help him with his therapy, everyone in the guesthouse would tell him, “Your name is Abu Zubaydah.” This is why he was one of the few terrorists who operated under his actual name rather than an alias. In the guesthouse, as part of his therapy to try and piece together his past, Abu Zubaydah began keeping a diary that detailed his life, emotions, and what people were telling him. He split information into categories, such as what he knew about himself and what people told him about himself, and listed them under different names [6 words redacted] to distinguish one set from the other. When the diary was found, some analysts incorrectly interpreted the use of the different names as the symptom of multiple-personality disorder.”
“Even after Abu Zubaydah’s therapy was completed and he had left the guesthouse, he kept writing in his diary. [1 word redacted] later evaluated it, and it both provided us with new information and confirmed information he had given [1 word redacted]. The diary, for example, contained details of how, days before 9/11, he began preparing for counterattacks by the United States, working with al-Qaeda to buy weapons and prepare defensive lines in Afghanistan. Another entry, from 2002, details how he personally planned to wage jihad against the United States by instigating racial wars, and by attacking gas stations and fuel trucks and starting timed fires. He went into greater detail later in [1 word redacted] interrogation.”
“As [1 word redacted] was drawing up an interrogation plan, at around 3:00 AM, the CIA medic tending to Abu Zubaydah came to my room. “Hey, Ali, how important is this guy?” he casually asked. He knew nothing about Abu Zubaydah and was only at the location because of his medical skills. “He’s pretty important,” [1 word redacted] replied.”
In my opinion, he should be tried for his alleged role in the Millenium Plot and for plotting attacks against the U.S.
Yes, I agree, Martin. If there’s a case to be made, then he should definitely be prosecuted. My feeling, however, is that he wasn’t actually involved in those plots.
I doubt he’s innocent but to each his own. Anyway, it looks like the PRB are speeding up their decision timing. Obaidullah and Nashir will get an answer on their fate soon.
Thanks for the update, Martin.
“My feeling, however, is that he wasn’t actually involved in those plots”
Sure he wasn’t. And the moon is made of cheese. Why do I even bother?
Because we’re dealing with grey areas, Martin, in which “evidence” is partly hidden and partly highly subjective, and becoming uncivil really isn’t constructive.
The question, with respect to AZ and anyone else appearing before a PRB, isn’t about whether or not they did something 15 years ago, but whether there’s a reason to think they’ll do something in the future, if released. 13 years ago, lots of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq. What they thought then isn’t nearly enough to tell you what they’d say now. Some people haven’t changed their minds. Most have.
I’m getting the unfortunate feeling that there is now a trend in the PRB toward finding “continued threats”– the success percentage was well over 80% at one point, and is now down to the low 70’s… not sure if there is a personnel change among the reviewers, or if there are new marching orders… I’m disturbingly reminded of what happened with the earliest habeas cases, which detainees won at a comparably overwhelming rate, until, almost by magic, the DC Circuit intervened, and the habeas success rate trickled down to about zero.
One would think that even dropping the success rate for those awaiting PRBs to merely half would double the cleared rate from about 22 to about 44 or 45 (and leave the “commissions” 10 plus “too tortured to try but too Muslim to release” count at another two dozen) leaving a “mere” 35 or so (assuming all the cleared men are actually released). This 35 or so presumably, might be a “small enough”: group to move to “Guantanamo North” somewhere on the North American mainland, thereby achieving the propaganda win of “closing Guantanamo” while, of course, preserving indefinite detention, and doubling down on it by continuing it as “normalized” within the “regular” U.S. “justice” system. None of this is how you bet.
My guess is that the PRB process will get bogged down somewhere in the next few weeks, and some number of detainees won’t get reviews (Abu Zubaydah, for example); hopefully, a few more will be cleared and released, before, as I expect, the remainder of the whole mess is handed off to the next President (and, hopefully, at least for people of good will who oppose Guantanamo and “indefinite detention,” that President won’t be Donald Trump.)
Very good to hear from you, Charley, and thanks for making that important point. It’s one I haven’t made often enough with respect to Guantanamo, although I have in discussing foreign nationals regarded as terror suspects in the UK held since 2001 without charge or trial, in prison or under a form of house arrest, on the basis of secret evidence. In their cases I have stated that they remain frozen in a state of alleged dangerousness that is unchanging, and, of course, deeply unfair. If you commit a crime and are caught, then tried, convicted and sentenced, the end of the prison sentence signifies that the crime has been paid for through a loss of liberty. For these poor men regarded as terror suspects, however, their alleged dangerousness never changes. They remain as allegedly dangerous now as they were 15 years ago, which is, of course, absurd.
Wow, great article.Much thanks again. Keep writing.
You’re welcome, William. Thanks.
“and it will, I think, be appropriate for the board to recommend his release.”
I disagree. The intelligence assessment indicates he has “expressed continued support for jihad against “legitimate” military or government targets, has celebrated the idea of Muslims killing invaders, and has requested, on occasion, to see news footage of past al-Qa’ida attacks”, which I find very disturbing. I doubt the PRB will recommend his release because of his big mouth. Uthman, Bashir and Obaidullah have a much better chance.
“My guess is that the PRB process will get bogged down somewhere in the next few weeks, and some number of detainees won’t get reviews (Abu Zubaydah, for example).”
I doubt that. Abu Zubaydah will get a review. The question is whether he’ll actually show up.
Good to hear from you, TD. I thought I’d replied, but I was about to head off for a family wedding in Scotland and everything was a bit hectic.
“Too tortured to try but too Muslim to release” is another good T-shirt slogan.
Thanks for your thoughts. I guess we’re all just having to wait and see – how many men will get approved for release? will everyone actually get a review? will Donald Trump not become the next POTUS? Very much hoping that last one doesn’t come true! (although we do have the baseball caps if necessary, of course 🙂 )
Each to their own, Martin. I certainly can’t see any reason for holding any of the “Karachi Six” any longer, when the US authorities have admitted that there was no Karachi plot and they weren’t part of any cell.
That comment about Abu Zubaydah came from my friend The Talking Dog, not me. I do think he’ll get a hearing, and I very much hope he turns up. I’m also looking forward to his lawyer’s submission on his behalf.
HA HA HA, of course Said should be released so he can “defend terrorist tactics and violence to overthrow un-Islamic governments, repel invaders, or to seek revenge.” Silly me for having common sense.
You want to hold him for the rest of his life, Martin, based on attitudes attributed to him by the authorities at Guantanamo about his verbal opposition to un-Islamic regimes around the world – not the US – and you call that common sense?
So on that basis, if someone actually convicted in federal court of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 14 years was to be released, you would presumably require them to continue to be held unless they could demonstrate that they didn’t oppose un-Islamic regimes around the world, even if they had nothing to say about opposing the US in any way.
This isn’t a sensible approach to detention.
“So on that basis, if someone actually convicted in federal court of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 14 years was to be released, you would presumably require them to continue to be held unless they could demonstrate that they didn’t oppose un-Islamic regimes around the world, even if they had nothing to say about opposing the US in any way. This isn’t a sensible approach to detention.”
Obviously, hence why we had to release Ibrahim al-Qosi after he finished his sentence even though he was clearly dangerous. You can’t hold prisoners after their sentence is finished. At least Ali Bahlul is serving a life sentence.
Anyway, I hope Hani Abdullah’s fate will be revealed this week. It’s been more than 30 days. If the PRB approves his transfer, I’ll accept it. I still find his “requests to see news footage of past al-Qa’ida attacks” disturbing though.
Yes, that decision is hopefully forthcoming, Martin – although it’s not as overdue as Salman Rabei’i, reviewed last July. I’m not sure what happens when the board can’t reach an agreement, as I’d imagine is the case with him.
Salman Rabaei’s decision finally came. He was denied approval for transfer.
Still nothing on Hani Abdullah. I guess they couldn’t reach an agreement so a Review Committee will decide. As I suspected, his past comments don’t help.
Thanks, Martin. My friend who alerted me to the other decisions missed this one.
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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