Last Wednesday, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi (aka Abdel Malik Wahab al-Rahabi), a Yemeni prisoner held at Guantánamo since the day the prison opened on January 11, 2002, became the 690th prisoner to be released, when he was given a new home in Montenegro. He was the second prisoner to be resettled in the Balkan nation, following another Yemeni in January.
Al-Rahabi is also the 10th prisoner to be freed after being approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up in 2013 to review the cases of men described as “too dangerous to release” or recommended for prosecution by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. 36 decisions have been taken to date, and two-thirds of those — 24 — have ended up with recommendations for release, a rather damning indictment of the task force’s extreme caution and/or mistaken analyses of the prisoners’ significance.
The task force described 48 men as “too dangerous to release,” despite conceding that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial (which, in other words, was not evidence at all, but a collection of dubious statements made by the prisoners themselves), and the men recommended for prosecution has their proposed charges dropped after appeals court judges, embarrassingly, threw out some of the few convictions secured in Guantánamo’s permanently troubled military commission trial system, because the war crimes for which they had been convicted had been invented by Congress.
Al-Rahabi’s case was first reviewed on January 28, 2014, and he was approved for ongoing detention on March 5, 2014, but when his case was reviewed again, on November 5, 2014 (see documents here), he was approved for release. This was on December 5, 2014, but he has languished at Guantánamo ever since. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list for all the other prisoners approved for release but, sadly, still held, although the Obama administration has promised to release them by the end of summer — along with the 15 other prisoners approved for release by the task force in its final report in January 2010.
Reporting on al-Rahabi’s release, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald explained that the government of Montenegro issued a statement that it took in al-Rahabi as a humanitarian gesture, and that both he and the man freed in January — Abdul Aziz al-Suadi — “were applicants for asylum at no cost to ‘Montenegrin taxpayers.’” The statement added that both men “will eventually be free to choose the country they want to live in.”
The US government will not repatriate Yemeni prisoners, because of security fears about their homeland, and, when al-Rahabi was approved for release, the review board “recommended that he be sent to a country where his wife and now teenaged daughter could join him,” as the Miami Herald put it.
His attorney, David Remes, said, “He’s been waiting for 14 years to reunite with his wife and the daughter he’s never met. We are glad he’s been released at last.”
Remes added that al-Rahabi “has seen his daughter, Aisha, in occasional Skype video chats in his years at Guantánamo but last saw her in person when she was three months old in 2001.”
Al-Rahabi, who was regarded as one of the “Dirty Thirty,” a group of men dubiously described as Al-Qaeda bodyguards, had been “a committed hunger striker during the 2013 protests, so much so that Navy medics kept him on a force-feeding list,” as the Miami Herald described it.
With al-Rahabi’s release, 79 men are left at Guantánamo — the 29 approved for release, mentioned above, just ten facing, or having faced trials, and 40 others awaiting PRBs or the results of PRBs.
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.
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 157 prisoners released from February 2009 to April 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; 1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi; 10 Yemenis to Oman; 1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal; 9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article about Guantanamo – about the release last week of Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi, a Yemeni given a new home in Montenegro. One of the first prisoners to arrive at Guantanamo on its opening day, January 11, 2002, he was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board in December 2014 (on his second try), and it is to be hoped that he will be able to be reunited with his wife and his daughter, who was just three months old when he last saw her in 2001 before he embarked on the ill-advised trip to Afghanistan that led to his 14 years in Guantanamo. With this release, 79 men are still held.
Jean Noël wrote:
How many hours is the trip back to Irak or Yemen from Montenegro… for business as usual?
What an insulting and idiotic comment, Jean.
Jean Noël wrote:
The future will tell what is idiotic. After seeing an attack killing 130 persons in a café you or family members have an occasionnal drink in just a few streets away from your home, you are more circumspect and less insulting. Condemning an innocent is terrible but releasing a potential mass assassin is even worse.
There was never any suggestion that he had any interest in being a mass assassin, Jean. He was a foot soldier for the Taliban in its civil war against the Northern Alliance. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and his capture, he became regarded an enemy of the US, but there’s no evidence he ever actually fought against the US. He was also accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, but that really is a rather far-fetched allegation, to be honest. So he was a soldier, and should have been held as such, and then lawyers would have been able to argue that you can’t have a war that goes on forever, but instead the US government clung to its insistence that it was holding “enemy combatants,” essentially without any rights.
When it comes to releasing prisoners, the Obama administration is behaving very cautiously, attempting to establish without much of a margin or error that men to be released do not bear violent ill-will against the US, and that governments who take them in will, in general, keep an eye on them. Remember, they have no money of their own, no passports – travel really isn’t very easy.
My apologies for writing “idiotic,” by the way. That was a bit strong, but you writing “back to Irak” suggests someone has been there before, and no one has suggested that al-Rahabi ever went to Iraq or ever intended to. As for Yemen, the suggestion from the US, via his PRB, very much seems to be that his wife and child might be able to come and join him in Montenegro, not the other way round. And I honestly can’t see how he could get to Yemen from Montenegro.
Jean Noël wrote:
A book was just written about how compassion, emotion can blur reason. It was about the little migrant boy found drowned on a beach. Remember your history, all great civilisation were destroyed by migrants, notably the greatest, Rome. Closer, Palestine accepted refugees generously for 50 years until those refugees turned against it to seize the whole territory. We have to find a solution but letting in a million of migrants who practice a very different theocratic religion and politics, and different mores, can provoque problems that were not anticipated. Today, the Brexit. A whole country pulls out of European solidarity because of fear of the migrants and the far right becomes powerful in England + all European countries.
We’re all migrants and immigrants, Jean. I can’t possibly agree that all great civilisations were destroyed by migrants. War and conquest isn’t migration. Mass migration can cause assimilation problems, as is happening now, but I’m wary of stepping beyond that point, and accusing certain groups of immigrants of not conforming. In general, people assimilate. My son, for example, happily attends a school where dozens and dozens of different nationalities generally get on with each other, because they’re all Londoners.
I’m happy Rahabi’s been transferred (Ali Soufan wrote about how he cooperated with him during his interrogation after advice from Salim Hamdan). I do believe his daughter will serve as a deterrent against reengaging.
“Remember, they have no money of their own, no passports – travel really isn’t very easy.”
It’s not if the countries responsible for security measures actually keeps an eye on them. Sudan and Uruguay didn’t keep an eye on Ibrahim Qosi and Jihad Diyab and both of them fled the countries. I hope Diyab doesn’t make it to Syria.
“There was never any suggestion that he had any interest in being a mass assassin, Jean. He was a foot soldier for the Taliban in its civil war against the Northern Alliance. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and his capture, he became regarded an enemy of the US, but there’s no evidence he ever actually fought against the US. He was also accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, but that really is a rather far-fetched allegation, to be honest.”
Rahabi was part of the South Asia hijacking plot that was originally going to be part of 9/11. He even admitted to Ali Soufan that he wrote a martyrdom letter. He was not a simple foot soldier. He planned to be a suicide operative and was a bodyguard for Bin Laden. If you don’t want to believe it, that’s fine. As I said, I do believe Rahabi’s daughter will serve as a deterrent and Europe’s security measures are more stronger than in South America and Africa.
I don’t know why you’re so worried about Dhiab, Martin. He’s obviously anguished, but I don’t think he’s ever been regarded as someone drawn to terrorism. It’s very sad to me that efforts weren’t made, or weren’t made strenuously enough, to reunite him with his family. I find it hard to imagine how isolating it must be to finally be freed from Guantanamo but not to be with your loved ones.
Ali Soufan’s assessment is probably correct, then, Martin, although I would be surprised if he was recommended for release without the board being convinced that he had changed from who he was 15 years ago – and were not just relying on his daughter’s role.
*I don’t know why you’re so worried about Dhiab, Martin. He’s obviously anguished, but I don’t think he’s ever been regarded as someone drawn to terrorism. It’s very sad to me that efforts weren’t made, or weren’t made strenuously enough, to reunite him with his family. I find it hard to imagine how isolating it must be to finally be freed from Guantanamo but not to be with your loved ones.
Hey, calm down. I’m not the only one worried about Dhiab. He’s all over the news. Republicans are having a field day with Dhiab.
I agree detainees should be reunited with their families but you also have to understand that for safety reasons, some of them can’t return home. All detainees approved for transfer are supposed to be subjected to appropriate security measures to ensure they don’t re-engage. I sincerely hope Rahabi is reunited with his family.
My apologies if I offended you. That was not my intent. Anyway, Omar Rammah finally has a hearing date scheduled for 7/21/2016.
It looks like the PRB are now only doing hearings once a week. Now the only detainees without hearing dates are the seven high value detainees, Hassan Bin Attash, and alleged facilitators Mohammed Rabbani and Haji Wali Mohammed.
Those Republicans are so unprincipled, Martin. He wouldn’t have been freed without being approved for release unanimously by the relevant government departments and the intelligence services, but the right-wingers ignore that, and have only one label for released Guantanamo prisoners – terrorists. How successful that black propaganda of the Bush administration has been.
Thanks for the update from the PRBs. I had a look just a few hours ago, but didn’t see it there.
I do wonder if everyone’s actually going to get a PRB, or if some way will be found of shelving some of the reviews for the HVDs.
I wonder the same thing about the HVDs. I do think Rabbani, Attash and Haji Wali Mohammed will get PRBs (Rabbani’s notification date is still on the website) but I doubt they will be approved for transfer. They are also taking longer to decide the detainees’ fate. It could be months before we find out who else will be approved for transfer.
Yes, I agree, Martin. There’s a definite slowdown in issuing results, but the main thing, I think, is that they’re close to completing the initial reviews, as promised.
I can only presume that they’re holding back on some HVDs, because they were the prisoners they were hoping to persuade the Justice Department to allow to make plea deals in federal court via video – the plan Loretta Lynch is resisting.
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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