New Life in Uruguay for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Former Guantanamo prisoners released in Uruguay: from left to right, Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Mahmoud Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, pose for a picture after lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14, 2014 (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula, AFP/Getty Images).Good news from Uruguay, where five of the six men released from Guantánamo on December 7 and given new lives in Montevideo have been photographed out and about in the city. From left to right, in the photo, they are: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, photographed by Pablo Porciuncula, after eating lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14. See more photos here.

The sixth man, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian who became confined to a wheelchair whilst at Guantánamo, had been on a hunger strike and had challenged the US authorities in the courts, has not yet been seen publicly, but is apparently recovering from his long ordeal. His lawyer, Cori Crider of Reprieve, commented that he “had difficulty believing he would ever be released until he boarded the plane out of the US military base,” as the Guardian put it. Crider said, “You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”

Immediately after their arrival, the Associated Press reported that Michael Mone, Ali al-Shaaban’s Boston-based lawyer, said that, with the exception of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, “The other men are all up on their feet. They have big smiles on their faces and they are very happy to be in Uruguay after 12 plus years of incarceration.” As the AP described it, Mone was “accustomed to his client being shackled and strictly monitored during meetings in Guantánamo,” and said it was “an emotional experience to see al-Shaaban experiencing freedom for the first time in years.” The AP also reported that al-Shaaban “spoke by phone with his parents, who are in a refugee camp in a country Mone declined to identify, fleeing the turmoil of their homeland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Uruguay?

Photos of five of the six men released to Uruguay from Guantanamo - from L to R: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abdelhadi Faraj, Mohammed Taha Mattan and Abu Wa'el Dhiab. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and the collage is by LeaNoticias.com.Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.

In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »

Disappointment as US Judge Upholds Force-Feeding of Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and District Judge Gladys Kessler, who, earlier this year, ordered the government to preserve all videotapes of his force-feeding and "forcible cell extractions," and who, last month, ordered those videotapes to be publicly released. On November 7, 2014, unfortunately, she refused to order the government to change the way it force-feeds him, and to make it more humane.On Friday, in the latest twist in the legal challenge mounted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker at Guantánamo, District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C., disappointed Mr. Dhiab, his lawyers and everyone who wants personnel at Guantánamo to be accountable for their actions by denying his request “to significantly change the manner in which the US military transfers, restrains and forcibly feeds detainees on hunger strike to protest their confinement,” as the Guardian described it.

Mr Dhiab, a father of four who is in a wheelchair because of the decline in his health during 12 years in US custody, was cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office, but he is still held because of Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and because he needs a third country to take him in (and although Uruguay has offered him new home, that deal has not yet materialized). Last year, he embarked on a hunger strike because of his despair that he would never be released, along with two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and he also asked a judge to order the government to feed him in a more humane manner.

That request was turned down last summer, because of legislation passed under President Bush that was cynically designed to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, but in February this year the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — overturned that ruling and an allied ruling, determining that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” and that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit.” Read the rest of this entry »

76 US Lawmakers Ask Obama to Let Them See Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who sent a letter to President Obama on October 30, 2014, asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantanamo.

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

On Thursday, 76 members of the US Congress — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison — sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.

In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding — and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) — of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes — eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total — to be publicly released, once they have been “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Grants Government a Month’s Delay in Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes

Last Thursday, in the latest development in Guantánamo prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s quest to stop his force-feeding, District Judge Gladys Kessler gave the US government a one-month delay in complying with her recent order for videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding and his “forcible cell extractions” — in which armored guards violently remove prisoners from their cells — to be publicly released.

The challenge by Mr. Dhiab — one of 80 prisoners approved for release but still held — has been putting pressure on the Guantánamo authorities, and on the Obama administration, for many months, as I explained at the time of the ruling about releasing the videotapes, three weeks ago, when I wrote:

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.” Read the rest of this entry »

Experts Deliver Damning Testimony at Guantánamo Force-Feeding Trial

For an update on October 9, see below.

This week, a historic and unprecedented trial has been taking place in Washington D.C., as lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo, have been challenging the government’s claimed legality for force-feeding prisoners.

Mr. Dhiab has been a frequent hunger striker for the last seven years, and weighs just 152 pounds, despite being six feet five inches tall. Last February, he took part in a hunger strike that involved up to two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, who were in despair at ever being released or given justice, and he has continued his hunger strike, even though throughout this period he has been subjected to painful force-feeding. He is one of 75 of the remaining 149 prisoners who were approved for release by a government task force in 2009 — and four others have had their release approved this year through another review process, the Periodic Review Boards. He is also in a wheelchair as a result of his physical decline during his 12 years in US custody.

Last summer, Mr. Dhiab challenged the legality of his force-feeding in court, and, as I explained in an article on Sunday, in May, after some to-ing and fro-ing, Judge Gladys Kessler, in the District Court in Washington D.C., “briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his ‘forcible cell extractions’ (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Ground-Breaking Ruling, US Judge Gladys Kessler Orders Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos to be Made Public

Congratulations to Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court in Washington D.C., who, yesterday, followed up on a powerful order prohibiting the government from holding a secret hearing in the case of Guantánamo hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab, which I wrote about here, with an even more powerful order calling on the government to prepare for public release eleven hours of videotapes showing Mr. Dhiab being dragged from his cell and force-fed.

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

In a press release, Reprieve explained that the eleven hours of video footage — consisting of 28 tapes in total — “is to be redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab,” and further explained how Judge Kessler’s ruling came in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, seeking to have the videotapes unsealed. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge in Guantánamo Force-Feeding Case Rejects Government’s Call for Secret Hearing

Sometimes, when it comes to Guantánamo, the shamelessness of the US government know no bounds.

The most recent example is in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, long cleared for release and confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment over the last 12 years. In despair at ever being released, Mr. Dhiab embarked on a hunger strike last year, as part of the prison-wide hunger strike that reminded many people of the existence of Guantánamo — and in May he won an unprecedented court victory, when, as I described it recently, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in  Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), whereby a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, which was another unprecedented decision.

On August 12, as I explained in another article, Judge Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health had “deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Most of the Hunger Strikers Are Vomiting on the Torture Chairs”: Emad Hassan’s Latest Harrowing Letter from Guantánamo

In the long-running struggle by prisoners at Guantánamo to get US judges to order the prison authorities to stop force-feeding them when they are on a hunger strike to protest about their indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, the focus in the last few months has been on Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office, but still held, like 78 other prisoners cleared for release.

In May, in Washington D.C., District Judge Gladys Kessler delivered a powerful and unprecedented ruling in Mr. Dhiab’s case, ordering the government to stop force-feeding him, and also ordering the release, to his lawyers, of videotapes showing his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), where prisoners are violently extracted from their cells by a group of armored guards and taken for force-feeding after refusing to voluntarily drink the liquid nutritional supplements given to hunger strikers.

The order regarding Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding was withdrawn by Judge Kessler shortly after it was issued, as she feared that otherwise Mr. Dhiab would die, but the videotapes have been seen by his lawyers, who described them as profoundly shocking — and 16 US media organizations are currently engaged in trying to get the videotapes released to the public. 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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