Last week (on May 10), the sole Kenyan held at Guantánamo, Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (aka Mohammed Abdulmalik) became the 36th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. A high-level review process that began in November 2013, the PRBs involve representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, in the two and half years since they were set up, they have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 41 men described by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009) as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.
For the 41 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but what this means, of course, is that it is not evidence at all, but something far less trustworthy — information that was extracted from the prisoners themselves through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions.
Of the 36 cases reviewed up to and including Mohammed Abdulmalik, 21 men have so far been approved for release, and just seven have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, a success rate of 75%, which rather demolishes the US claims about the men question being “too dangerous to release.” The eight others reviewed are awaiting decisions.
Mohammed Abdulmalik, born in 1973, was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, on March 23, 2007, when he was described by the Pentagon as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who had “admitted to participation in the 2002 Paradise Hotel attack in Mombasa, Kenya, in which an explosive-filled SUV was crashed into the hotel lobby, killing 13 and injuring 80,” and had also “admitted to involvement in the attempted shootdown of an Israeli Boeing 757 civilian airliner carrying 271 passengers, near Mombasa.”
However, the authorities have never given him a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), which almost all the other prisoners have received, except for a few of the last arrivals. This means that we have never heard from him directly in the context of the administration of Guantánamo, and it also means that there does not seem to be a case against him, as a CSRT is required to be eligible for a trial by military commission.
His lawyers at Reprieve have always maintained that there is no case against him. In a profile on their website, they explained that he is a father-of-three, and that he “was transferred by his own government to [the] US secret prison system.”
As Reprieve proceeded to explain, Abdulmalik’s ordeal “began with an arrest by Kenyan police in a hotel café in Mombasa in February 2007. He was held by Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, during which time he was badly beaten and interrogated over alleged plans to attack a forthcoming marathon event in Mombasa.”
However, “[a]fter two weeks of detention the Kenyan authorities apparently found no evidence linking Abdulmalik to any criminal activity. But he was not set free. Instead, Kenyan authorities drove him to an airport and handed him, with no form of judicial process, to US military personnel.”
From Kenya he was flown to Djibouti, “where he was detained in a shipping container on a US military base and told by interrogators that he was about to embark on a ‘long, long journey,'” and was then flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at Bagram “in appalling conditions,” and at a second prison, and was then flown to Guantánamo.
In Kenya, Reprieve noted, there has been “justified anger amongst civil rights groups” about the government’s perceived betrayal of a Kenyan citizen, although in response, as Reprieve also noted, the Kenyan government has “tried to duck responsibility by denying that Abdulmalik is Kenyan.”
Describing this as “a laughable claim,” Reprieve explained that “[d]ozens of people, including his father and the midwife who delivered him – in Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria – stand witness to his Kenyan birth and heritage.”
The Kenyan government has also sought to deny its involvement in Abdulmalik’s transfer out of Kenya by US forces, by claiming that he was deported. However, the US Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, confirmed on Kenyan radio that Abdulmalik was “moved to Guantánamo Bay with the full consent of the Kenyan government … [as] part of collaboration between the two governments to fight global terrorism.”
Assessing his situation at Guantánamo, Reprieve noted that he was “no longer regularly interrogated,” and saw this as “perhaps a sign that the US government have realized that he is not the big fish they thought he was.”
In September 2012, the Daily Nation also covered his case, when his step-sister, Mwajuma Rajab Abdalla, said from her home in Mombasa, “We don’t know what has happened to him. We last heard from the government about him two years ago. Nobody is willing to help us.”
The 2012 article quoted extensively from Abdulmalik’s own testimony about his experiences, provided to his lawyers — how, after he was first seized, “[i]n the car, two of the policemen held pistols to each of [his] temples, and one of them choked [him] and then crushed his head under his boot. Another still held a pistol to his head. The policeman continued to choke [him] until one of his colleagues said: ‘Not so tight, we’ll kill the guy.’”
Held briefly in a variety of facilities in Kenya, “he saw three white men observing him from outside the interrogation room” in one prison — presumably, Americans — and, when taken to an airport, “saw, through the bottom of his blindfold, a huge plane with a US flag painted on its side.” Subsequently “stripped naked, put in a diaper and then dressed in a tracksuit,” he was flown to Camp Lemonier, a US military facility in Djibouti, where “he remained chained to the floor of the cargo plane, with his eyes, head and mouth covered.” In his testimony, he said that, at one point during the flight, US soldiers “took him to the door of the aircraft and threatened to throw him out.”
In Djibouti, “he was taken to a shipping container and put in an interrogation room with four people — two guards and two interrogators — who told him that he was connected to people from all over the world” involved in terrorism. It was here that he was also told that he was “suspected of planning to attack the World Cross-country Championships in Mombasa in 2007.”
He said a US interrogator told him, “You have two possible journeys: one back to your family, or another that is very, very long. If you don’t tell us what we want to hear, you will have a long, long journey; you will spend your life in a cage.”
On the flight to Afghanistan, Abdulmalik said, he felt “very alone, confused and scared,” and on arrival, at a time when Bagram was still in US hands and full of prisoners, he was “held in a wooden pen in the cage-like cells,” and was also “taken to another secret prison in Kabul, where Americans took his photographs, weighed him, and gave him a blue jumpsuit to wear.”
On arrival at Guantánamo, he said, he was held in solitary confinement for two months, and was only allowed to wear shorts. Then, as he described it, “the US government discovered that he was not the big fish that they thought he was and moved him to Camp IV … reserved for suspects the US believes present the lowest risk.”
In 2008, in a demonstration of how relentless and largely pointless intelligence-gathering was a major part of the fabric of Guantánamo and the “war on terror,” through the use of photo albums of the prisoners and of men wanted by the US, he told his lawyers, “Months ago, I asked for charges — I am not an enemy combatant! I begged for a process. They said, ‘No, no process’. Instead, they bring pictures of Somalis: you know him? You know him? You know him? Hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures. I don’t know those Somalis. But no court.”
Speaking of the CSRT that never happened, despite being promised by the Pentagon when his arrival at Guantánamo was first announced, Clara Gutteridge, then working with Reprieve, said, “There have] been no legal proceedings. If there is any evidence against him, he has said he is willing to face trial, even in Kenya, rather than be detained against his wish in Guantánamo.”
As the Kenyan newspaper then suggested, in a sharp analysis of US detention failures post-9/11, “Abdulmalik’s continued imprisonment probably highlights the extent to which the United States remains imprisoned by its past mistakes. While its approach to terrorism has evolved, the failure to charge him of any crimes shows how far Washington still has to go if it wishes to develop a rights-respecting national security policy. Guantánamo’s single most important distinguishing feature has been an indefinite military imprisonment without fair process.”
Mohammed Abdulmalik’s Periodic Review Board
In its unclassified summary prior to the PRB, the US government described Abdulmalik as having been “inspired by a radical imam to leave Kenya in 1996 to receive extremist training in Somalia, where he developed a close relationship with members of al-Qa’ida in East Africa (AQEA), to include high-level operational planners.” The government further alleged that he then “became an AQEA facilitator,” and reiterated its original claim that he “was closely involved in the preparation and execution of the November 2002 attacks in Mombasa, Kenya,” in which 13 people died. It was also reiterated that, “[i]n February 2007, Kenyan authorities arrested [Abdulmalik] for his involvement in the Mombasa attacks and transferred him to US custody a few weeks later.”
At Guantánamo, it was noted, he has been “a highly compliant detainee,” although intelligence analysts stated that, in debriefings, he “offered conflicting narratives about his activities prior to his arrest and would not provide much information of value about his AQEA associates or the group’s operations.” The summary added that, after a few months, “he expressed discomfort with providing the US with further information and became uncooperative with interrogators,” and, in mid-2010, “stopped coming to sessions altogether,” leaving gaps in the US’s knowledge of his activities from 1997-2002 and again from 2003-2006.
The authorities also noted that he “has not expressed continued support for extremist activity or anti-US sentiments, although he is critical of US foreign policy,” adding that he “considers himself a Quranic healer and holds conservative Islamic views that are likely to make transfer to and assimilation in non-Muslim countries difficult.” If transferred, the summary’s authors noted, “we expect that [he] will attempt to reunite with his wife and children who currently reside in Somalia.”
Below is the opening statement of his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to represent him in his PRB), who noted that he “has not made any negative or a derogatory remark toward U.S. policies nor has he expressed an interest in extremist activities of any kind,” and who also commended his interest in business and his previous work experience as “small business owner for a fishing and diving company,” which, they noted, “should provide him with skills and abilities to obtain employment regardless of where he is transferred.” They also noted his desire to be reunited with his family, his status as a compliant prisoner, and his role in Guantánamo as a cook for his fellow prisoners. No statement from his lawyers has been made publicly available.
An announcement of the board’s decision will probably be made within the next one to two months, and although it is, of course, impossible to know what the board members will decide, it continues to seem significant to me that he was never regarded as significant enough to be granted a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, and I would hope, therefore, that his release will be recommended.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing
Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, ISN 10025
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10025, Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu. We will be presenting Abdul Malik’s case this morning with the assistance of his Private Counsel.
Abdul Malik has always been willing to participate in the Periodic Review process since our first meeting in mid-March 2016. After initially explaining the reason for our meeting, he was visibly overjoyed to have this opportunity. He has remained positive at all of our meetings and has always demonstrated his gratefulness and his respect toward us.
During our meetings, Abdul Malik has conveyed his hope of reuniting with his family. Although he is willing to be transferred to any country, he would prefer a country that has a significant Arabic-speaking majority. He is also agreeable to participate in any rehabilitation or reintegration program that may be required. He longs to get on with his life after his transfer from Guantánamo Bay, and he is ready to reconnect with his wife and children. He looks forward to seeing his sisters and brothers and meeting some of the newest members of his family who were born during his time in detention. His experience as a small business owner for a fishing and diving company should provide him with skills and abilities to obtain employment regardless of where he is transferred. He has a strong mind for entrepreneurship. In fact, his thirst for business knowledge includes reading Dale Carnegie business management books.
Abdul Malik has been a compliant detainee and has gained a sense of achievement by being a camp cook for his fellow detainees. With the chance to meet and mingle with so many people of various cultural and religious backgrounds here at GTMO, Abdul Malik has also had an opportunity to be aware of and appreciate these other beliefs and customs which will serve him well to wherever he is transferred. Adbul Malik speaks and understands English very well.
We are convinced that Abdul Malik’s intention to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantánamo Bay is authentic and that he bears no animosity towards anyone. Of note, Abdul Malik has not made any negative or a derogatory remark toward U.S. policies nor has he expressed an interest in extremist activities of any kind.
Thank you for your time and attention, and we look forward to answering any questions you may have during this Board.
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 first of two Periodic Review Boards last week, for Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed Abdulmalik, the prison’s sole Kenyan, who was one of the last men to arrive in 2007. The authorities never seem to have had much of a case against him, to be honest, and I would hope that he will be approved for release. He is the 36th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a PRB. 21 have been approved for release, seven have had their detention upheld, and eight decisions have yet to be taken.
Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Unfortunately, there’s generally very little mainstream media coverage of the Periodic Review Boards, even though the process is significant. It’s flawed, of course (a parole board set-up but without any previous trials or convictions, and a continued reliance by the authorities on some dubious information masquerading as evidence), but it’s the only way that exists for men previously consigned to indefinite detention forever to make a case for their release. I’ve also just updated the definitive Periodic Peview Board list on the Close Guantanamo website, which I hope is of interest: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards
“[A]nd I would hope, therefore, that his release will be recommended.”
From what I’ve read, Malik allegedly was the getaway driver for senior al-Qaeda leader Saleh Nabhan (killed by Navy Seals in 2009) and another al-Qaeda member named Issa Osman Issa when the latter two fired missiles at an Israeli passenger jet in 2002. Thankfully the missiles missed. Malik should not be released and I hope the PRB denies his request. He should be prosecuted. Innocent people on that plane almost died.
As far as “dubious information”, the PRB is forbidden from accepting evidence based on torture.
“The PRB will also receive and take into account all mitigating information relevant to whether the detainee poses a continuing significant threat. The PRB will not rely on information that has been obtained as a result of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to support a determination that continued law of war detention is warranted for a detainee.”
This isn’t a kangaroo parole hearing. I’d say the PRB has been very generous. They’ve approved the transfer of 21 detainees and will probably approve a few more “forever” prisoners for release. Hell, they don’t even use information provided by an unreliable Guantanamo informant (I forgot his name but he’s been released) hence for example Moaz al-Alwi and Saeed Jarabh are no longer considered to be Bin Laden bodyguards despite what their wikileaks file said.
We shall see, Donald. You may be right about Abdulmalik, and if so then prosecution is certainly appropriate, as it always should have been for anyone genuinely accused of involvement with terrorism. If only this had been handled in an appropriate manner from the beginning …
The unreliable informant would have been Yasim Basardah, I think, and I’ve always considered the bin Laden bodyguard story to have been unreliable. Most of these men were too young, and had been in Afghanistan for too short a time to have got close to bin Laden in any way.
Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:
Most Americans have no idea what is wrong with Gitmo, the CSRTs or the PRBs and worse than that, they aren’t concerned about it, either. Gitmo isn’t even an issue that is being discussed by the Presidential candiates, just like drone bombings, supposedly “surgical” strikes, and extrajudicial executions are not issues being discussed by the Presidential candidates. Whatever political “capital” Gitmo may have once had has been lost. So long as the Iraq “war” is over, Americans no longer care. Obama must succeed before January 2017, or all chance for justice will be lost, I fear.
A bleak but generally accurate analysis, Rose. Americans have generally had little interest in Guantanamo, or in any of the many review processes set up over the years, or in the long saga of the prisoners securing habeas corpus rights, but then having them taken away by ideologically-motivated judges in the D.C. Circuit Court. A major fault lies with the media, of course, but it has generally been lawyers and activists who have kept the spotlight on Guantanamo, and without them (us) we wouldn’t have just 10% of the prison’s population left, and be looking at its possible closure.
I agree that Obama should put as much effort as he can into getting Guantanamo closed by January, but I do think that any incoming president will face the same pressures to get rid of this legal, moral and ethical abomination if it is still open on Jan. 21, 2017.
I also think it’s important to remember that the Republicans have been able to campaign so negatively about Guantanamo precisely because the President is a Democrat, and that this would not be the same if a Republican was in the White House when he would have to directly confront the reality of being in charge of an unacceptable facility.
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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