So after last week’s news that torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, there has been more good news this week, as Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in the prison, has also been approved for release (on July 21), bringing to 30 the number of men approved for release by the PRBs. Just 14 men have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld by the review boards, although one of those decisions also took place last week — for Haroon Gul, known to the US authorities as Haroon al-Afghani, who was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo in 2007.
With these 44 results, the success rate for the prisoners is 68%, which is remarkable when you consider that the men in question were all described as “too dangerous to release” or were recommended for prosecution by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009. With such results, it would be impossible not to conclude that the task force overreacted massively in its recommendations, contained in its final report in January 2010.
With less than six months remaining of the Obama presidency, ten results are still awaited, and ten reviews are still to take place. For further information about the PRBs, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.
The prisoner approved for release, Ravil Mingazov (ISN 702), had his case reviewed on June 21, which I wrote about at the time, making reference to how, like Mohamedou Ould Slahi, he had his release ordered by a judge over six years ago, in response to his habeas corpus petition, but the government appealed, and, like Slahi’s, his case “ha[d], shamefully, not been dealt with in the six years since, leaving Mingazov in a disgraceful state of limbo.”
An ethnic Tatar, Mingazov had been subjected to religious persecution, and, as a result, had left the country, ending up in a guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002, where he was seized, with over a dozen other men, mostly young and mostly Yemeni, on the same night that a separate raid led to the capture of the alleged “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah, for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was implemented.
In their final determination, the board members, having determined, by consensus, “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,” added that they had “some concern with [his] failure to demonstrate sufficient cantor related to events prior to detention,” but with appropriate security assurances found that “the risk [he] presents can be adequately mitigated.”
The board members also “considered that [he] did not express any intent to reengage in terrorist activities nor has he espoused any anti-US sentiment that would indicate he views the US as his enemy.” They also noted that his “degree of involvement and significance in extremist activities appears to be that of a low-level fighter,” and noted his “record of compliance while at Guantánamo and history of positive engagements with the guard force,” as well as ”multiple letters of support, to include willingness to provide [him] with financial and integration support upon transfer.”
It now remains to be seen where Mingazov will be sent, as he obviously cannot be repatriated with any assurance of safety. In 2009, at the instigation of the Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos group, the town of Amherst, Massachusetts passed a resolution welcoming cleared prisoners, and focusing on two prisoners including Ravil Mingazov. Similar resolutions were later passed in Leverett, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California, but sadly Congressional restrictions prevent any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.
A better bet is the UK, where, as the Guardian explained last November, “his Washington DC-based lawyers have filed an official application with the UK Home Office appealing for Mingazov to be allowed to rejoin his family, who were granted political asylum in the UK last year. His 15-year-old son Yusef and former wife Dilyara Mingazov live in Nottingham along with several relatives.” The Guardian added that, “In the application, Mingazov’s family promises to provide [him] with full housing and financial support should he be released from Guantánamo.” As the document says, “They are ready to do everything they can to receive and heal Ravil Mingazov after his long nightmare in GTMO.”
The prisoner whose detention was upheld, Haroon Gul, known to the authorities as Haroon al-Afghani (ISN 3148), arrived at Guantánamo in June 2007, and was alleged to have been a senior commander of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), an Afghan political party that has been militarily opposed to the US presence in Afghanistan. As I explained at the time of his PRB, he “was not given an administrative review after his arrival at Guantánamo — a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) — which would have made some information about him publicly available, and he is the only prisoner not to be assigned a number specific to Guantánamo. His number, ISN 3148, is actually a number from Bagram. The conclusion to be drawn from all this can only be that he was never regarded as a significant threat — as a CSRT is required to be eligible for a military commission trial.”
Al-Afghani also had no legal representation until very recently, when Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve began representing him, meeting him for the first time a week before his PRB. As she explained, “Very little is known to the world about Haroon, and Guantánamo’s secrecy laws currently ban me from filling in the blanks.” She added that she was able to say that “the bright-eyed, chatty young man I met for the first time last week is not allowed to meet me alone for more than ten minutes before government representatives forcibly remove him from the room,” and that, at his PRB, he would “not be allowed to see the evidence against him; the Board can hold its findings against him without ever asking him if the information is true.”
In their final determination, the board members, 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,” and explained that, in making this determination, they had “considered the long-term membership and leadership position in Hezb-e-lslami Gulbuddin (HIG) and his extensive time spent fighting Coalition forces.” In addition, they “noted [his] lack of a realistic plan for the future,” adding that, “Due to his lack of credibility and truthfulness, as well as his evasiveness and vague answers,” they were “unable to assess [his] intentions for the future and claimed change of mindset.”
In conclusion, the board members encouraged al-Afghani “to continue to work with his family and representatives on his future plans and to be forthcoming with the Board in future reviews,” which begin, in six months, with an administrative file review, but will include a full review within one to two years at which al-Afghani will be allowed, if he wishes, and if he is able, to thoroughly address the board’s concerns.
Reprieve were unimpressed. In a press release, “Gitmo refuses to release ‘mistaken identity’ prisoner after 9 years without lawyer,” they described al-Afghani, 33, as Haroon Gul, and explained how he was “an apparent case of mistaken identity by the US government.”
Reprieve noted that the board members decided that Gul “must continue to be detained indefinitely without charge or trial because his plan for what he would do post-release was insufficient,” and that they “also seemed unimpressed by Mr. Gul’s insistence that the government’s allegations against him are false.” This is one of the quandaries of the PRBs — as a parole-type process, the purpose is not to establish innocence or guilt, but to establish if it is safe for prisoners to be recommended for release; in other words, to ascertain whether they show remorse, whether they demonstrate a lack of violent intent towards the US, and whether they can demonstrate a coherent and peaceful post-release plan for their lives. On this basis, Gul would be better showing remorse than arguing that he had nothing to be remorseful for.
Reprieve’s press release continued by explaining that Gul’s hearing was “the first time in nine years” that he “has been given the opportunity to defend himself,” and yet “the process was inadequate and unfair,” because “neither Mr. Gul’s attorney nor his military representative were allowed to discuss the allegations with him under attorney-client privilege, nor was he given the chance to rebut the classified allegations against him before the Board.” Reprieve also explained that his efforts to secure an attorney, since his arrival at Guantánamo, had been “desperate and persistent.”
Evidently still in the process of finding out information about their new client, Reprieve cited an Al-Jazeera report about Gul by Sami Yousafzai and Jenifer Fenton, from January this year, in which they tracked down a relative, and “noted that Gul’s wife and young daughter now live in a refugee camp.” As Reprieve put it, however, “little more is known to the world about him.”
Commenting after the board’s decision was announced, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis was highly critical of the US authorities, discussing Reprieve’s belief that he may be a case of mistaken identity — based, it seems, on false confessions made as a result of torture — and eloquently criticizing what passes for justice at Guantánamo. She explained how Gul has worked hard at Guantánamo to improve himself, and delivered a withering condemnation of how the law has gone missing at the prison: “I went to law school to be a part of the American justice system, but in Guantánamo, I cannot find it.”
Her full statement is as follows:
We have reason to believe that Haroon is one of the many proven cases of mistaken identity, but without a lawyer, he had no capacity to challenge his detention in federal court, as others did. He was given less than three hours out of the last nine years to prepare with an attorney for this hearing that determined his fate. This is status-quo justice in Guantánamo.
When I met this bright-eyed, chatty young man I was blown away by his attitude. He was smiling and laughing and making American cultural references that even I didn’t get.
This denial is a slap in the face to Haroon’s persistent efforts to toe the line the government has drawn for its prisoners. Haroon has learned English from scratch; he learned math and science and computers; he has played soccer with fellow detainees and been kind to the guards that lock his cage at night. To this day, he says he does not understand why he’s in there. “Why me?” But day after day he makes the very best of his situation and treats those who have wronged him charitably.
Haroon is not a bad man, Haroon is not even an irritable or ill-tempered man. He is a man who was tortured into speaking against himself and held captive by my government for nine years without an attorney.
The allegations against our clients in Guantánamo, to this day, include information that the government admits is wrong. We are still relying on this torture-evidence to keep men hundreds of miles from their families for years on end.
I went to law school to be a part of the American justice system, but in Guantánamo, I cannot find it.
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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). 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, providing the good news from Guantanamo that Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in the prison, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, while, unfortunately, Haroon Gul, an Afghan who arrived at the prison in 2007, and may be a case of mistaken identity, had his request turned down. 30 men have now been approved for release by PRBs, while 14 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 68% success rate for the prisoners.
Meena B Sharma wrote:
Why they are holding Haroon Gul? if this a mistaken identity? Andy..
This is what seems to be being suggested, Meena – that he was tortured into producing an incriminating statement about himself. But he only had legal representation for four days before his PRB, so there was no time to prepare a case.
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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: