Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security

Four prisoners released from Guantanamo who have ended up in very different circumstances following the closure by Donald Trump of the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Clockwise from top left: Abu Wa'el Dhiab, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi and Ravil Mingazov.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners Endangers U.S. National Security,” for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has been an unmitigated disaster for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and any notion of justice regarding those held there, or, indeed, those freed from the prison over the years.

For Trump, the notion that there might be anything wrong — or un-American — about imprisoning people forever without any meaningful form of due process clearly doesn’t exist. Since he took office nearly two years ago, only one prisoner has been released, out of the 41 men still held at the prison when Obama took office; and that man, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi, was only released, and transferred to ongoing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, because of a plea deal he agreed to in his military commission trial proceedings back in 2014.

Trump, clearly, has no desire to meaningfully continue the parole-type process — the Periodic Review Boards — that Barack Obama initiated to release lower-level prisoners who could demonstrate that they didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. Indeed, his contempt for the process is such that he has shut down any possibility of the two men whose release was approved by Obama’s PRBs, but who didn’t get released before Obama left office, being freed by shutting down the State Department office that dealt with resettlements — the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Freed from Guantánamo in Montenegro; 29 Cleared Prisoners Remain

Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi (aka Abdul Malik al-Rahabi), in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Guantanamo, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.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. Read the rest of this entry »

24th Periodic Review Board Held at Guantánamo for Yemeni Who Has Become A Health Adviser to His Fellow Prisoners

Guantanamo prisoner Yasin Ismail, a Yemeni, in a photo from 2005 included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Last week — delayed for a week because of bad weather — the 24th Periodic Review Board took place at Guantánamo, for Yasin Ismail (aka Yassin Ismail), a Yemeni prisoner who is reportedly 36 years old — although, years ago, one of his lawyers stated that his year of birth had incorrectly been recorded as 1979, when he was actually born in 1982, which would mean that he is currently 33 years old. I note that no one, apart from Human Rights First, has actually written about this PRB.

The Periodic Review Boards were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that, in 2009, had reviewed the cases of all the prisoners held when Barack Obama took office. Alarmingly, these men — 46 in total — were given this description even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. In other words, rumor, hearsay and unreliable statements by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, hinted that they were dangerous, when that might not have been true at all.

25 other prisoners, initially recommended for prosecution, were also made eligible for the PRBs after the basis of their trials collapsed following a series of devastating rulings by the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., which ruled that Congress had invented a raft of war crimes, and had used them to illegally prosecute prisoners in Guantánamo’s already discredited military commission trial system. Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Prisoner Refuses to Attend His Periodic Review at Guantánamo, Complains About Intrusive Body Searches

On Monday, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani, refused to attend his Periodic Review Board, convened to assess whether he should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether he should be recommended for release. He refused to attend for a reason that his personal representatives — two US military officers appointed to represent him — described as “very personal and tied to his strong cultural beliefs.” The representatives explained that he “has consistently stated his objection to the body search required to be conducted prior to his attendance at legal meetings or other appointments,” adding that he regards “the body search as conducted, which requires the guard to touch the area near his genitals,” as “humiliating and degrading.” The representatives stressed, however, that his refusal to attend, because of his problems with the body search, does “not imply an unwillingness to cooperate.”

The PRBs were set up last year to review the cases of 71 of the remaining 154 prisoners. 46 of these men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review all the prisoner’s cases shortly after he took office in 2009.

The task force issued its report recommending prisoners for release, prosecution or ongoing imprisonment in January 2010, and in March 2011 President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of the 46 men, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (3/3): Salem Bin Kanad, from Riyadh, Refuses to Take Part in a System That Appears Increasingly Flawed

This article, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Salem bin Kanad, a prisoner held at Guantánamo since January 20, 2002, is the last of three providing updates about developments in the Periodic Review Boards, a system put in place last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners (out of the 154 men still held), who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, or designated for trials that will not now take place. The original recommendations were included in a report that was issued in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama had appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office in January 2009.

The task force recommended 48 men for indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though it was conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which means, of course, that the so-called “evidence” is no such thing. In March 2011, President Obama responded to the task force’s recommendations by issuing an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, although he did promise that the men would receive periodic reviews to establish whether they should still be regarded as a threat.

Disgracefully, the Periodic Review Boards did not begin until last November, after two of the 48 “forever prisoners” had died, and 25 other men had been added to the list of prisoners eligible to take part in them — men who, although recommended for trials, will not now be prosecuted, after appeals court judges overturned two of the only convictions in the military commissions at Guantánamo, on the basis that the war crimes of which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. The boards consist 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by video link from Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (2/3): Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Cook, Asks to Be Sent Home to Yemen or to Another Country

Last week, I published the first of three new articles about the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, looking at the hearing for a Yemeni prisoner, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, who had the opportunity to ask for his freedom on March 20.

Ali is one of 71 prisoners — out of the 154 men still held — who were either designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 (46 men in total), or were recommended for prosecution (25 others).

The 46 had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by President Obama in an executive order issued in March 2011, on the alarming basis that they were allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. The president tried to sweeten this unacceptable endorsement of indefinite detention by promising that the men would receive periodic reviews of their cases, but the first of these did not take place until last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (1/3): Ali Ahmad Al-Razihi, a Yemeni, Asks to Be Sent Home

In the last five months, five prisoners at Guantánamo — out of 46 men in total who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in 2011 by President Obama — have had their cases heard by Periodic Review Boards, to assess if their ongoing detention is regarded as necessary, or if they can be recommended for release. This article, the first of three, provides information about the third, fourth and fifth of these PRBs, conducted between March 20 and April 21.

The 46 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. The task force reviewed the cases of the 240 men still held when Obama became president, and recommended 156 for release, 36 for prosecution and 48 for ongoing detention without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

These recommendations, unfortunately, not only represented an alarmingly fundamental betrayal of the principles of justice, but also required the task force to take a credulous approach to the array of false and dubious statements that make up what purports to be the evidence against the majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo — statements that, under close scrutiny, ought to be revealed as being largely worthless, produced through the torture and abuse of the prisoners, or of their bribery with better living conditions, as detailed in my research into the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Guantánamo Forever,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera English

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Guantánamo Forever,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. It covers the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) at Guantánamo, convened to assess whether 46 prisoners designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the inter-agency task force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009, or 25 others designated for prosecution by the task force, should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether they should be recommended for release  — even if, ironically, that only means that they get to join the list of 76 other cleared prisoners who are still held. The review boards began in November, and have, to date, reviewed just three of the 71 cases they were set up to review. The fourth, reviewing the case of Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni, takes place on April 8.

The number of prisoners cleared for release (76) includes the first prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, which recommended his release in January, although my Al-Jazeera article is my response to the most recent activity by the review boards — the decision taken on March 5 to continue holding, without charge or trial, a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, who has been at Guantánamo for over 12 years, and the review of Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, the third prisoner to have his ongoing detention reviewed, which took place at the end of March.

In the article I explain that the decision to continue holding Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, taken by 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, is a disgrace. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Where Unsubstantiated Suspicion of Terrorism Ensures Indefinite Detention, Even After 12 Years

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Last week, in a decision that I believe can only be regarded objectively as a travesty of justice, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of six government departments and intelligence agencies — recommended that a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi), should continue to be held. The board concluded that his ongoing imprisonment “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In contrast, this is how al-Rahabi began his statement to the PRB on January 28:

My family and I deeply thank the board for taking a new look at my case. I feel hope and trust in the system. It’s hard to keep up hope for the future after twelve years. But what you are doing gives me new hope. I also thank my personal representatives and my private counsel, and I thank President Obama. I will summarize my written statement since it has already been submitted to the board. Read the rest of this entry »

Indefinitely Detained Guantánamo Prisoner Asks Review Board to Recommend His Release

Two days ago, I published an article looking at the outcome of the first Periodic Review Board held at Guantánamo — a much delayed review process for ascertaining whether 71 of the remaining 155 prisoners should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This process was supposed to begin three years ago, after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 prisoners, based on the recommendations, delivered in January 2010, of his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but the first PRB didn’t take place until November 2013.

As I explained in my article, the board members recommended that the prisoner whose case was reviewed — Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni — should be released, which is good news, as al-Mujahid was wrongly regarded as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, based on the unreliable testimony of a fellow prisoner. However, it means nothing unless he is released, as, with an irony that is evidently being strenuously ignored by the Obama administration, the review board’s decision to recommend him for release means only that he joins a list of 55 other Yemeni prisoners who were cleared for release by Obama’s task force four years ago, but are still held because of fears of political instability in Yemen.

As I also mentioned in that article, the second PRB, for another Yemeni, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, took place yesterday, January 28, and, unlike the first PRB, from which the media and observers were excluded, limited transparency was provided by the Pentagon, which made available a facility in Arlington, Virginia, where a very small section of the review board could be seen and heard, although not the testimony of al-Rahabi himself, nor anything regarded as classified by the military. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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