Who Are The Last Four Men Freed from Guantánamo Under President Obama and Sent to the UAE and Saudi Arabia?

26.1.17

Ravil Mingazov, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by Wikileaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

With Donald Trump promising, in a draft executive order leaked to the New York Times, to keep Guantánamo open, to stop all releases until after a new review process has reported back to him, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” the last few days of the Obama administration now seem like ancient history, but it was just last Thursday — Obama’s last day in office — that the last four prisoners on his watch were released from Guantánamo, and sent to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The releases unfortunately leave five men approved for release still held at the prison, along with ten men facing (or having faced) trials, and 26 others eligible for ongoing Periodic Review Boards, unless Donald Trump scraps them. Three of the five approved for release had those decisions taken back in 2009, while the other two were approved for release last year, but it is worrying for all of them that Donald Trump has no interest in the fact that the decisions about them were taken unanimously by high-level US government review processes.

The fact that these five men approved for release are still held — and that 41 men in total are still at the prison — is a profound disappointment, to put it mildly, and Trump’s bellicose attitude already makes it apparent that President Obama’s failure to fulfill his promise to close Guantánamo once and for all cannot be considered an abstract failure, as it plays directly into Donald Trump’s hands. Had Obama prioritized closing Guantánamo much earlier in his presidency, and taken on Congress with the required forcefulness, it would have been closed, and Donald Trump would, I believe, have faced an impossible uphill struggle to reopen it.

So who are the four men who managed to escape from Guantánamo before Trump shut the prison door?

All were approved for release last year by the Periodic Review Boards — consisting of 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 — which were established in 2013 to review the cases of 64 men regarded as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution by the previous review process, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office for the first time in 2009. Those recommendations were very obviously over-cautious, as the PRBs — which function like parole boards, assessing contrition and viable post-release scenarios — approved 38 of the 64 for release, and the ongoing process (unless it is scrapped) may well approve more prisoners for release based on subsequent reviews, on the basis that the perceived threat levels posed by men who have never been charged or tried with any crime may not be unchanging.

The first of the four, sent to the UAE, was Ravil Mingazov (ISN 702, Russia), an ethnic Tatar born in 1967 in Ust-Bolsheretskiy, in Kamchatka Oblast, in the far east of the Soviet Union, who had fled his homeland because of religious oppression. A former ballet dancer, who became a logistics warrant officer in the Russian military, “he seems to have drifted around Afghanistan and Pakistan, ending up in a Jamaat-al-Tablighi centre in Lahore, from where he took a ride with two other men to a place in Faisalabad where, they were told, those who needed passports to return home would find help,” as I explained at the time of his PRB in June.

He was then taken briefly to the house of Abu Zubaydah, for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was initially developed, and was then moved to another house, the “Issa House,” which mostly housed students, where he was seized on March 28, 2002, in a raid that took place on the same night that Abu Zubaydah’s house was raided. Mingazov’s long imprisonment was based mainly on his spurious connection to Abu Zubaydah, who was initially regarded as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, even though it has since become apparent that he was not a member of Al-Qaeda, and had no prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks — although he is still held almost incommunicado, as though he is still who the US initially and mistakenly thought he was.

Mingazov had his release ordered by a US judge May 2010, but shamefully the Obama administration appealed that decision, and the case was not dealt with in the six and a half years years after the appeal was made, leaving Mingazov in a disgraceful state of limbo.

He was finally approved for release — again — by his PRB in July, but could not, of course, be safely returned to Russia. His lawyers sought to persuade the British government to allow him rejoin his wife and son in Nottingham, where they had successfully sought asylum. That application was first submitted towards the end of 2015, before Mingazov was approved for release, but the British government appeared to have no interest in helping him, and efforts by MPs to raise his case with the Home Office, which I was involved in, had come to nothing by the time of his release. I can only hope that some way can be found for him to be reunited with his son in future.

Responding to the news of his release, Gary Thompson, a partner at Reed Smith in Washington, D.C., who worked on his case for many years with a team of attorneys including former Reed Smith partners Doug Spaulding and Bernie Casey (a former US Marine and Army Ranger who originally took the case), said, “We are overjoyed for Ravil and his family. Reed Smith was honored to step up to the unique challenges presented by the civil and human rights issues posed by Guantánamo.  The firm took on six detainee clients and all six have now been released – with Ravil being the last detainee transferred by President Obama.”

Reed Smith associate Kristin Davis added, “Finally, we have a day to celebrate. After so many years, so much work, and so many trips to Guantánamo, we are ecstatic that Ravil is free.”

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second man to be freed in the UAE was Haji Wali Mohammed (ISN 560, Afghanistan), for whom a third country had to be found that would offer him a home because of a ban on repatriating Afghans from Guantánamo that Congress had enacted in recent years because of hysterical recidivism claims. He had his case reviewed in August 2016 and was approved for release in September.

Born in 1965 or 1966, he had been a money exchanger, and, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, he “was captured at his home in Peshawar, on 24 January 2002.” As I also explained, he was “[m]arried with two wives and ten children, [and] was born in Afghanistan, but his family fled to Pakistan in 1978 and lived in refugee camps for the next ten years until he established himself as a successful moneychanger and moved to Peshawar in 1988. All was well until 1995, when he first lost a significant amount of money, and in 1998, after entering into a business deal with the Bank of Afghanistan that also failed, he ended up being blamed by the Taliban, who made him responsible for the whole debt — around one million dollars — even though he only had a 25 percent stake in the deal.”

At his PRB, as I explained, “the US authorities seemed to recognize that Mohammed might not have been the bigshot they had spent years pretending he was,” and, in particular, claims that he was involved with Osama bin Laden largely evaporated.

The military’s summary of his case noted that “[e]fforts to link [Mohammed] to Bin Ladin [sic] are complicated by several factors, including incomplete reporting, multiple individuals with [his] name — Haji Wali Mohammad — and lack of post-capture reflections,” and, as I stated, “As a result, it is, I think, acceptable to conclude that Mohammed actually had no connection with Osama bin Laden at all.”

Guantanamo prisoner Yassin Ismail (aka Yassim Qasim), a Yemeni, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The third man to be released in the UAE is Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail (ISN 522, Yemen), known to the US authorities as Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim and born in 1979, according to the US authorities, but 1982 according to his lawyer. As I explained in an article last month, when he was finally approved for release, he was a low-level foot soldier for the Taliban, but “had his habeas corpus petition turned down in April 2010, a decision that was upheld on appeal a year later, [although] to be honest there was nothing about his case to suggest that he actually constituted any kind of threat to the US.”

Ismail then had his case reviewed by a PRB in February 2016 and he was approved for ongoing detention in March. However, on September 1, he had a file review — an administrative review that takes place every six months for those whose PRBs have recommended their ongoing imprisonment — at which it was decided that, “After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted.”

That review took place on November 8, 2016, and he was approved for release on December 8, 2016, just seven weeks before he landed in the UAE, a situation that must surely make him reflect that, after nearly 15 years in Guantánamo, he finally ended up very lucky indeed.

The first known photo of Jabran-al-Qahtani, taken on his return to Saudi Arabia after over 14 years in Guantanamo. The photo is from an Al-Arabiya English article about his release, in which he is described as Jubran al-Qahtani.The last man, returned to Saudi Arabia, is Jabran al-Qahtani (ISN 696, Saudi Arabia), whose case was reviewed on May 19, 2016. He was finally approved for release on November 21, 2016, although the probability was that he would face prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Born in 1977, according to the US authorities, al-Qahtani was seized in the house raid that led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah. A graduate in electrical engineering from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, he is is one of 28 prisoners put forward for a trial by military commission under George W. Bush. He was charged in 2008, with two other men facing PRBs — Ghassan al-Sharbi (whose ongoing imprisonment was approved in July 2016) and Sufyian Barhoumi, whose release was approved in August, although he was not released before Obama left office — and Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese prisoner who accepted a plea deal in his military commission trial and was sent home in December 2013, although the charges against all but Noor Uthman Muhammed were later dropped.

When the board members approved al-Qahtani for release, they mentioned his “past terrorist-related activities and connections, specifically [his] admission of support for the Taliban, association with two al-Qa’ida leaders, and his training in building electronic circuit boards,” but added that they “found the risk [he] presents can be adequately mitigated by transfer for prosecution and rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia.”

It is not known if Saudi Arabia will prosecute him, or whether he will, instead, be monitored closely and put through the well-established Saudi rehabilitation program — at the Mohammed bin Naif Counselling and Care Center. Noticeably, the board members also expressed their “confidence in the efficacy of the Saudi rehabilitation program, and Saudi Arabia’s ability to implement security assurances after completion of the program,” suggesting that he may evade prosecution unless the Saudi government has a particular axe to grind. See the brief report here about his return to Saudi Arabia.

In articles to follow, I’ll examine the cases of the men still held who have been approved for release, and also provide updates on the Periodic Review Boards. For now, however, I hope you find this article useful, and will share it if you do.

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.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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 192 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 16, 2017 (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 Filesand 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 (herehere and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians1 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 Tajik2 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 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 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 Algerian1 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 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 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, 1 Palestinian and 1 Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 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 Ghana1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here); October 2016 — 1 Mauritanian (Mohammedou Ould Slahi); December 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Cape Verde; January 2017 — 4 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; 8 Yemenis and 2 Afghans to Oman.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, telling the stories of the last four men to be freed from Guantanamo under President Obama – and probably the last men to be freed from the prison for some time, as Donald Trump renews his enthusiasm for keeping it open and not releasing any more prisoners (and reintroducing torture). Ravil Mingazov (the last Russian), an Afghan and a Yemeni were sent to the UAE, while Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi and an alleged bomb-maker, was repatriated. The photo here is of al-Qahtani, seen for the first time on his release, as no photos of him were made available or leaked from Guantanamo. Unfortunately, 41 men remain at Guantanamo, five approved for release, 10 facing trials, and 26 eligible for ongoing Periodic Review Boards – unless, of course, Donald Trump decides to scrap them. We must all be vigilant, and we must continue to demand that Guantanamo is closed once and for all.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    From my friend, Andy
    Andy, we fight a good fight but the wall of psycho has hit DC. I would send Trump $5 to buy a soul but I think he would just use it to hire someone to pull wings off flies

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m with you, Jan. The madness is full-on here too, but no one’s really fighting back against the “will of the people” to commit economic suicide. Barely a murmur as the Tories genuinely start talking about making Britain into a global tax haven. Well, why not, eh? They’re so obsessed with destroying the state provision of almost all services (not their salaries, of course) that they’re thinking it will give them a great opportunity to turn the clock back to the 1860s.
    Of course, it ‘s worse in a way in the US, because Trump is such a deranged embarrassment. BUT precisely because he’s such a deranged embarrassment, there is, at least, the prospect of – and, it seems to me, the reality of – mass protest, if not from the Democrats (hello, where are you, Democrats?) then from the people, from government employees and even from parts of the mainstream media. You and your far right scumbag friends want to take on the government, Mr. Trump? And you want to start a war with the media? And you want to see how many countries you can insult, and I end wondering how long you can last.

  4. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, sorry to comment off the topic but I’m watching the press conference in Turkey of May and their PM. Watch the first – brilliant – press question and how she flatly ignored it and answered with propaganda fluff.
    Wonder whether her next stop on her Brittania-Re-Rules-The-Waves fan tour, will be that other icon of democracy, Mr Assad?
    The world is falling apart while we watch …

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s disgusting watching Theresa May pander to these tyrants and would-be tyrants, Anna. I understand she refused to condemn Trump for his immigration ban that is already seeing permanent US residents from the seven countries affected who made the mistake of traveling abroad being refused re-entry into the US.
    While every other world leader is trying to avoid meeting Trump, recognizing that he’s toxic, she was there like a shot, desperate for the famed “special relationship” to rescue her from the Brexit disaster that it ought to be her job to resist. So what if a slim majority in an advisory referendum voted to leave the EU? The reality will be the biggest act of self-inflicted suicide by a nation state in living memory, and any grown-up in charge, rather than an ideologically-obsessed inadequate like May and her ministers, would recognize this. But as it is, it’s possible to see now that the pro-Brexit Tories are accepting that we’ll become an international tax haven, with ever-dwindling tax receipts and therefore the decimation of services, but that’s exactly what these rabid Tory scum want – almost everything privatised (not their salaries, obviously) so they and their chums can stay rich while everyone else suffers. If nothing changes – like my deluded fellow citizens waking up, for example – we are, I fear, quite literally heading back to the 1860s.
    It enrages me so much that I actually have only a certain amount of bile left over for the horrors of Donald Trump and his dangerous advisors, like the repulsive Steve Bannon …
    The world does indeed appear to be falling apart.

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Andy Worthington

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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