On August 16, Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Muhammad Mas’ud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi (ISN 10017), a Libyan prisoner in Guantánamo who is better known as Abu Faraj al-Libi, became the 59th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board.
The PRBs — which include 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 — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release or were facing trials as a result of the recommendations made in reviews conducted in 2009 by another high-level government review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.
41 of the men judged to be eligible for PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that it was not evidence at all, but — and on this the task force was silent — generally untrustworthy information extracted from prisoners subjected to torture or other forms of abuse, or from prisoners bribed with the promise of better living conditions.
The other 23 men had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, but were put forward for PRBs after the basis for prosecution in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system largely collapsed as a result of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013. The hugely significant rulings overturned some of the few convictions secured in the troubled military commission system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress and had no legitimacy.
Al-Libi, who, according to US records, is 45 years old, and was born in November 1970, is one of the 23 men recommended for prosecution, and is, moreover, one of 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 after spending up to three and a half years in “black sites” — torture prisons — run by the CIA. 6 of the 14 are facing trials, one, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was transferred to the US to face a trial (before Congress banned all transfers to the US from Guantánamo), one, Majid Khan, agreed to a plea deal in his military commissions, while al-Libi and four others had initially been recommended for prosecution, and one other man had been placed in the “too dangerous to release” category.
Of the 23 men initially recommended for prosecution but then moved to the PRB system, six have so far been recommended for release, while nine have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. Two reviews have yet to take place, and six decisions have not yet been taken. In contrast, of the 41 men deemed “too dangerous to release,” 27 have been recommended for release, ten have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, while four are awaiting decisions. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.
Abu Faraj al-Libi is one of the last “high-value detainees” to be seized. He was captured in May 2005 in Pakistan, and was first transferred to a “black site” in Afghanistan, code-named “Orange,” and then to the site code-named “Black,” in Romania, where he was probably held until October or November 2005, when the site closed. It is not known where exactly he was then held prior to his arrival at Guantánamo, but it is likely that it was either Lithuania or Afghanistan again.
The UK-based Rendition Project reports that the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention program provides confirmation from CIA records that al-Libi was subjected to specific torture methods in Romania between May 28 and June 2, 2005, and again between June 17 and June 28, 2005. As detailed in the report:
The CIA interrogated Abu Faraj al-Libi for more than a month using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. On a number of occasions, CIA interrogators applied the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques to Abu Faraj al-Libi when he complained of a loss of hearing, repeatedly telling him to stop pretending he could not hear well. Although the interrogators indicated that they believed al-Libi’s complaint was an interrogation resistance technique, Abu Faraj al-Libi was fitted for a hearing aid after his transfer to US military custody at Guantánamo Bay in 2006.
Despite the repeated and extensive use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Faraj al-Libi, CIA Headquarters continued to insist throughout the summer and fall of 2005 that Abu Faraj al-Libi was withholding information and pressed for the renewed use of the techniques. The use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Faraj al-Libi was eventually discontinued because CIA officers stated that they had no intelligence to demonstrate that Abu Faraj al-Libi continued to withhold information, and because CIA medical officers expressed concern that additional use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques “may come with unacceptable medical or psychological risks.”
Little has been heard from al-Libi at Guantánamo. He refused to attend the hearing in 2007 — the Combatant Status Review Tribunal — that almost all the Guantánamo prisoners had been subjected to, which was required if the US government wished to put them forward for trial by military commission. As a military representative appointed to represent him told the tribunal, “[He] has decided that his freedom is far too important to be decided by an administrative process and is waiting for legal proceedings.”
The legal proceedings never arrived. Instead, four years later, and just one week after WikiLeaks released classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners in April 2011 (on which I worked as a media partner), the US government shut down all interest in those files by killing Osama bin Laden, after which supporters of Guantánamo rushed to defend torture and the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, even though neither had anything to do with tracking down bin Laden, and al-Libi, thought still silenced personally, became used in a cynical effort to justify his own torture.
The clues that led to locating bin Laden — centering on a courier — had come from two “high-value detainees,” al-Libi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and a third man, Hassan Ghul, who had been held only in “black sites,” and never even resurfaced at Guantánamo (see here and here for more on Ghul).
Crucially, the clues had not involved the use of torture, and had nothing fundamentally to do with Guantánamo, as they were discovered through non-coercive interrogation, which did not need the existence of Guantánamo to be viable, but this did not stop the cheerleaders for torture and for the continued existence of Guantánamo from lying to further their aims. For further information about the lies told about bin Laden’s death and the clues that led to locating him, see my May 2011 article, Osama Bin Laden’s Death and the Unjustifiable Defense of Torture and Guantánamo.
Abu Faraj al-Libi’s Periodic Review Board
On August 16, when al-Libi’s Periodic Review Board took place, almost ten years since he first arrived at Guantánamo, he did not attend, presumably because, as with his CSRT, he still thinks “his freedom is far too important to be decided by an administrative process and is waiting for legal proceedings.”
However, failing to turn up guarantees a prisoner that his review board will endorse his ongoing imprisonment, because participation — plus contrition, a viable plan for a peaceful future, and a demonstrable lack of anti-US sentiment — are all required in the PRB process, which functions like parole board.
That said, it is highly unlikely, from the allegations against him, that a board would approve his release even if he took part and made the right sort of noises, simply because he held a senior position in Al-Qaeda, and also because, as the government’s summary of evidence against him states, he “has praised previous attacks against Western targets, to include 9/11, and has expressed support for future attacks against Western civilian targets.”
In contrast, his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help prisoners prepare for their PRBs) tried to paint a portrait of a man who sought only to live in peace and be reunited with his wife and three children, and also pointed out that he has serious health problems, stating that “[h]is medical issues alone would present a barrier to any kind of threat.”
The summary also states that he “traveled to Afghanistan to fight at a young age, joined al-Qa’ida, and worked his way up through al-Qa’ida’s hierarchy to become the group’s general manager and a trusted advisor for and communications conduit to Usama Bin Ladin [sic] and deputy amir Ayman al-Zawahiri.”
According to the summary, “He was first recruited in Tripoli, Libya, attended training at al-Farouq [the main al-Qaeda-affiliated training camp in Afghanistan prior to 9/11], and participated in al-Qa’ida operations in Afghanistan before becoming an instructor of topography, artillery, and small arms. Health issues eventually forced [him] to take on an administrative role at al-Qa’ida’s training camps and he rose to become the amir of al-Farouq in probably late 1998.” He then apparently “became the head of al- Qa’ida’s general administrative functions in Kabul until the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom [the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001].”
The summary added that, after relocating to Pakistan, he “saw to the financial and logistic needs of al-Qa’ida members and their families until early 2003 when he became al-Qa’ida’s general manager and third in command following the detainment of several senior al-Qa’ida leaders.” At this time, he “conveyed [Osama] Bin Ladin’s guidance to al-Qa’ida’s international associates, maintained the group’s relationship with terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leveraged his international contacts for fundraising, and played an overarching role in al-Qa’ida’s external operations before his capture in May 2005.”
Moving on to Guantánamo, the summary noted that he “has been generally compliant although he is prone to act out, sometimes with violence, to enact change or if he believes his point of view is not being heard.” As of February 2016, it was noted, he “was involved in forced cell extractions, physical altercations, and verbal altercations, according to information documented by Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO),” although it was also noted that this was “an overall low number of infractions relative to other detainees.”
Contrition, as noted above, is lacking according to the summary, which stated that al-Libi “almost certainly remains committed to al-Qa’ida’s global jihadist ideology,” while acknowedlging that he “has provided limited details about his own activities and associations with al-Qa’ida, focusing his admissions on minor details and incidents or providing blanket denials.” As noted above, the summary also states that he “has praised previous attacks against Western targets, to include 9/11, and has expressed support for future attacks against Western civilian targets.”
Those compiling the summary concluded by stating, “We lack information on [al-Libi’s] intentions for a potential post-detention, although he has indicated an interest in living in Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar.” This lack of information, of course, also precludes any recommendation of this release. As those compiling the summary also noted, “In addition to his extensive, historical network of extremist contacts, members of [al-Libi’s] extended family are known to have varying levels of involvement in terrorist activities and probably could facilitate efforts by [him] to reengage if he chose to do so.”
Below is the opening statement made by his personal representatives.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing
Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Masud al-Jadid Al-Uzaybi, ISN 10017
Personal Representative Opening Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN l0017, Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Masud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi.
We have met Faraj on several occasions over the past months. During these meetings, he has been respectful and polite.
He is eager to live a life of peace. He wishes to return home to his family. He has a large loving family that is ready to support him upon his return.
Faraj has stated he harbors no ill will to the U.S. and does not consider himself a threat. His medical issues alone would present a barrier to any kind of threat.
He is very eager to reunite with his wife and three children. Currently his brothers support them, and he would like to resume his role as the father and caregiver.
We stand ready to answer any questions you may have.
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, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board (the 59th) for Guantanamo prisoner Abu Faraj al-Libi, a “high-value detainee” seized in Pakistan in May 2005, and held in CIA “black sites” for 16 months until his transfer, in September 2006, to Guantanamo, where he has been held ever since. Oddly, although the US authorities made a detailed case for his involvement with al-Qaeda, he has never been put forward for a trial.
I hope you have time to read this. It’s an interesting story. Al-Libi refused to take part in his PRB, as he did 9 years before in his CSRT (Combatant Status Review Tribunal). He was also one of three prisoners whose interrogations provided information that led to the US locating, and then killing Osama bin Laden, but neither torture nor the existence of Guantanamo led to that information being produced, and those who said that it did – Republican cheerleaders for torture, and for Guantanamo’s continued existence – were liars.
Just updated – my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards
For this article, I did a breakdown of the differences in the decisions regarding the 41 men reviewed who were initially described as being “too dangerous to release” and the 23 initially recommended for prosecution. As I described it:
“Of the 23 men initially recommended for prosecution but then moved to the PRB system, six have so far been recommended for release, while nine have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. Two reviews have yet to take place, and six decisions have not yet been taken. In contrast, of the 41 men deemed ‘too dangerous to release,’ 27 have been recommended for release, ten have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, while four are awaiting decisions.”
So that’s a 40% success rate for the prisoners formerly recommended for prosecution, and a whopping 73% success rate for those initially described as “too dangerous to release,” revealing that particular description to have been a rather disgraceful exaggeration.
When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:
More from my buddy to the East… WAY East… Andy Worthington
Thanks for sharing, Jan. I hadn’t thought of the UK as being in the far east before, but it makes sense. You, therefore, are Way Out West (with apologies to Stan and Ollie).
Ironically, Hassan Ghul was killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in October 2012.
Also, wow, I didn’t know Libi became deaf. I guess loud music during his torture sessions eventually ruptured his eardrums. He, Hambali, Zubair and Lillie will never be prosecuted even though they are monsters with blood on their hands because all of them were tortured. The evidence against them has been tainted. Like Friederich Nietzche said “When dealing with monsters, it’s important that you do not become one yourself.” Something Republicans forget to realize. All waterboarding did was allow IS to do the same to John Cantlie.
Anyway, in regards to prosecution and indefinite detainees, I think Jabran Qahtani and Haji Wali Mohammed are the last detainees who might have a chance at being recommended for transfer though their claims of innocence might not have helped. The HVDs have lived up to their reputations in regards to their extremist comments. They are truly the worst of the worst and will never be free again. It’s a shame we can’t prosecute them.
Thanks for your comments, Adam. That Nietzsche quote, in full, is, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” I think that adds a moral angle to the reasons not to torture, as well as the legal one.
I hope some way can eventually be found for those who are not facing trials to be put on trial.
As for further recommendations for releases, we’ll have to wait and see whether you’re right about the two men you mentioned, although I am reassured that there are opportunities in future for some of the men whose ongoing imprisonment has been upheld to present their cases again. In a few cases I think they could do a much better job of presenting a plausible argument for their release.
I do believe that some detainees will win transfer in their eventual full reviews, though it will probably take years. But there will probably a group of at least 16 detainees who will never be approved for transfer due to their refusal to cooperate (Ghassan Sharbi), their threats to rejoin terrorism (Sharqawi, HVDs), and non-compliant behavior (Khalid Qasim keeps blowing his file reviews).
Thanks for your thoughts, Adam. Yes, there will be that “irreducible minimum” the administration talks about – but I’d still prefer there to be trials.
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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