Sad Confirmation that Second Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Resettled in Senegal Has Been Forcibly Returned to Libya, Where His Life Is At Risk

16.4.18

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who have now been sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them, and where they have been imprisoned. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Two weeks ago, I reported the terrible news that two former Guantánamo prisoners, both Libyans, who had been given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, were about to be sent back to Libya by the Senegalese government. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes, but they had been resettled in Senegal because it was unsafe for them to be returned to Libya. In negotiations between the US State Department and the Senegalese government, the understanding was that their resettlement would not involve any efforts to repatriate them.

My initial information about the men’s dire situation came from the Intercept, and from discussions with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, also Libyan, who I got to know well during the filming and touring of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released in 2009.

I continued to liaise with Omar Deghayes, and on April 5 the New York Times got involved, noting that Salem Gherebi had “apparently consented to repatriation,” and it would seem that he did so because he was desperate to be reunited with his wife and children, and was disappointed that they “had not been permitted to stay with him in Senegal,” and also believed he had connections that would protect him on his return.

Unfortunately, on his return, he was imprisoned. As I explained in an article last week, following an email exchange with Omar Deghayes:

“One insider friend told us they took him to Tripoli Mitiga Airport,” Deghayes told me, adding that for three days his family had not been told where he was, even though two of his children, 16 and 18 years of age, had asked about his whereabouts. Deghayes added that he had spoken to his brother, who said he had “no idea where to find him.” He also said that the militia holding him were running a notorious prison at the airport, where some people had died, and others, who had survived their imprisonment, sought to bring a case against their captors for the use of torture.

At the time, it seemed that Khalifa was still in Senegal, and there were hopes that his repatriation was preventable. The New York Times spoke to Lee Wolosky, the special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo in Barack Obama’s second term as president, who “negotiated the 2016 deal to resettle the two men in Senegal,” and who said that he “had been told by a Senegalese diplomatic official that Mr. Ghereby had left the country but that Mr. Khalifa was not being forcibly deported, though he had been relocated within Senegal.” He added that “his inquiry appeared to bring to the attention of high-level Senegalese officials that mid-level civil servants were trying to send both men to Libya,” and, as a result, last Sunday “Omar Baldé, an official with the Senegalese ministry of communications, “said Mr. Khalifa was not going to be deported.”

On reading this comment, I couldn’t help but wonder how strong this promise was, and within days its flimsiness became apparent. Last Wednesday, CAGE, the British NGO formerly known as Cageprisoners, issued a press release entitled, “Refoulement: Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khalifa Abu Baker forcibly taken from Senegal to Libya.”

As CAGE stated, “This alarming situation has developed over the past few days during which time Salim Ghereby, the first of the prisoners to be deported, was flown via Tunis and handed over to the Rada militia. Our sources have confirmed that Omar Khalifa has also been sent to the Mitiga Air Base in Tripoli and is in the custody of the same militia.”

The NGO added, “We understand that the situation in Libya is complex and uncertain. Ghereby opted to return home voluntarily, primarily to be reunited with his wife and children in the west of the country, near Tripoli. However, the situation in eastern Libya, where Omar is from and may be sent, is far more unsafe, volatile and unstable. It is further clear now that both men have been subjected to refoulement and a breach of both international law and agreements between the governments of the USA and Senegal.”

CAGE’s Outreach director, the former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, said, “I have been reliably informed that Omar was beaten and forcibly removed from Senegal to a place where he feared persecution and repression. When he first told me of his fears about this happening I really did not think that Senegal and the US would permit this to happen. Now it has, he is facing arbitrary imprisonment, torture and cruelty after 14 years of the same. This is in contravention of international law and basic human decency.”

Begg also said, “Our fear now is that handing ex-Gitmo prisoners over to abusers may be a new phase in the US ‘resettlement policy’, and that other countries may follow suit. I have been told by another ex-Gitmo prisoner that he has now been threatened with the same treatment by the country in which he has been resettled. These men have long been cleared of any wrongdoing. This torture of Guantánamo survivors must stop.”

Moazzam Begg was undoubtedly correct to wonder if this is “a new phase in the US ‘resettlement policy’” regarding former prisoners, because of Donald Trump’s clear enthusiasm for keeping Guantánamo open, and his deliberate failure to maintain the office of special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, which President Obama introduced, and which, crucially, not only dealt with efforts to resettle prisoners approved for release, but also monitored those already freed.

The failure to maintain this role not only indicates a lack of interest in diplomacy, but also reveals a disdain for America’s national security, as monitoring former prisoners is evidently sensible. Moreover, it is impossible to find a reason to doubt Moazzam Begg’s suspicion that other countries who took in former prisoners might now renege on their own deals, perhaps even calculating that doing so will endear them to Donald Trump and his administration.

I checked in with Omar Deghayes today, to see if he had any further information, but he was only able to confirm that he had heard that both men are now with the Rada militia and there is no other news as yet. “As expected,” he said, “if anyone enters those lock-ups in Mitiga Airport, they are lost without any due process.”

While we await further news, I’ll leave you with CAGE’s demands, which strike me as both sensible and necessary, but which also reinforce how perilous it is for all manner of nuanced relationships involving diplomacy and security to have someone as blunt and narrow-minded as Donald Trump in the White House. A close friend, who used to have high-level contacts within the US government, laments that he now has no contacts at all — a situation faced by numerous formerly well-connected people in America, whose government is now closed to them.

In its list of necessary demands, CAGE called for:

1) The government of the USA to fulfil its obligation towards these men who it imprisoned and abused without charge, trial or redress for 14 years. They must ensure beyond all reasonable doubt that they are safe from further arbitrary imprisonment and torture.

2) We also seek assurances on behalf of other ‘resettled’ former Guantanamo prisoners that they will not be subject to refoulement.

3) The US must ensure and monitor the provision of amenities for former prisoners who are resettled. The US must also guarantee that they have access to facilities that afford them a chance to engage in society in a meaningful way and are not left destitute and isolated. This means they must have access to language courses, housing, education, gainful employment, communicability, social interaction and freedom of movement. They must not also be unnecessarily harassed or intimidated by local authorities as has been the case in many instances.

4) In the case of the Libyan deportees, we call on the US to ensure that Omar Khalifa and Salim Ghereby are not imprisoned or tortured but are sent to places of their choice to live in safety.

5) The governments of USA and Senegal to be held accountable for the treatment of these men. We request full disclosure as to why and how the decision to breach international law was reached.

6) The Tunisian government must explain how it allowed the use of its airspace and airport facilities for the transfer of these men through their territory.

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, updating the sad story of how the Senegalese government betrayed two Libyan prisoners who were resettled there from Guantanamo two years ago. The two men were given humanitarian asylum because it was unsafe for them to be returned to Libya, and the agreement with the US State Department was supposed to guarantee that they wouldn’t be repatriated, but both men have now been repatriated, and are imprisoned by a militia in Mitiga Airport in Tripoli. The first man to be returned, Salem Gherebi, went willingly, as he wanted to be reunited with his family, and assessed, incorrectly, that his connections would keep him safe, while the other man, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, didn’t want to be repatriated at all. Shame on the Senegalese government, and shame on Donald Trump for having closed down the office of special envoy with responsibility for Guantanamo within the State Department.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    They need to demand monetary compensation from the US government. Perhaps repatriation is related to this. Thanks for your work, Andy, keep me posted.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Aleksey. Unfortunately, what the men need firstly and most urgently is for their safety to be guaranteed, and the loss of that demonstrates how vulnerable, and fundamentally without rights are former prisoners resettled in third countries, who very genuinely have no settled status as human beings, and no body of international law to protect them. That’s a scandalous failure on the part of the US, and, as a result, as Moazzam Begg hints, under Trump there is no mechanism to stop other countries from doing what Senegal has just done.
    I do agree, though, that somewhere down the line there need to be a proper objective accounting of the damage caused in the “war on terror” (very possibly including reparations), but I think that will require first that Guantanamo is closed, and then for there to be a proper evaluation of everything that has happened with regard to the imprisonment of alleged terrorists and allegedly “irregular” soldiers since 9/11. We all do need to bear in mind, however, that lawyers for the government – whoever is in power – will work assiduously to try to ensure that no one ever admits responsibility for mistakes that were made. It will, unfortunately, as with the efforts to hold John Yoo and Jay Bybee responsible for the torture program, be a case that, officially, the US government was under extraordinary pressure because of 9/11, and was fearing a second terrorist attack, and no one should held accountable for their actions as a result.
    For the whitewash of Yoo and Bybee, see: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/02/23/torture-whitewash-how-professional-misconduct-became-poor-judgment-in-the-opr-report/
    and: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/03/14/what-torture-is-and-why-its-illegal-and-not-poor-judgment/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Andy – that is terrible – what dreadful things are happening all round the world. Thank you so much for your careful, persistent witness and then letting us all know. Goodness – what to do? I’ll answer my own question by saying..NEVER GIVE UP. XXXXX

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your concern and your steadfast support, Lindis. Yes, we must continue to shine a light as the darkness encroaches. It’s so horrible to see Theresa May and her colleagues pounding the drums of war as they kill civilians with their bombs in Syria while pretending that they’re on some sort of humanitarian mission. Blood on their hands! Not in my name!

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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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