There was good news from Guantánamo last week, as 15 men were released, to begin new lives in the United Arab Emirates. The release was the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, and takes the total number of men held at Guantánamo down to 61, the lowest level it has been since the prison’s first few weeks of its operations, in January 2002.
12 of the 15 men released are Yemenis, while the remaining three are Afghans. All had to have third countries found that would offer them new homes, because the entire US establishment refuses to repatriate any Yemenis, on the basis that the security situation in Yemen means they cannot be adequately monitored, and Afghans cannot be repatriated because of legislation passed by Congress. The UAE previously accepted five Yemenis prisoners from Guantánamo last November.
Of the 15 men, six — all Yemenis — were approved for release back in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office for the first time. This article tells the stories of those six men, while another article to follow will tell the stories of the other nine. Read the rest of this entry »
With just 168 days left for President Obama to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009, the reassuring news is that there are now just 76 men held, and 34 of those men have been approved for release. 13 of the 34 were approved for release in Obama’s first year in office, by an inter-agency task force he established to review the cases of all the prisoners held at the start of his presidency, while 21 others have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list here on the Close Guantánamo website.
The PRBs, another inter-agency process, but this time similar to parole boards, have been reviewing the cases of all the men who are not facing trials and who had not already been approved for release, and, to date, 56 reviews have taken place, with 32 men being approved for release (and eleven of those already freed), and 16 approved for ongoing imprisonment, while eight decisions have yet to be taken. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and ought to be a source of shame for the Obama administration’s task force, which described these men as “too dangerous to release” or recommended them for prosecution back in 2009.
In the cases of those described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but clearly failed to recognize that their recommendations were based on extreme, and, it turns out, unjustifiable caution. In the cases of those recommended for trials, embarrassingly, the basis for prosecution collapsed in 2012-13 when appeals court judges struck down some of the only convictions secured in the troubled military commission trial system on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place — the 48th and 49th — for the last Russian prisoner held at Guantánamo, Ravil Mingazov, and for Ghassan al-Sharbi, a Saudi. Both men were seized in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, on the day that Abu Zubaydah, regarded as a “high-value detainee,” was seized. The CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was initially developed for Zubaydah, who was 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.
Nevertheless, Abu Zubaydah remains hidden in Guantánamo, still not charged with a crime, and those seized on the same night as him — either in the same house, or in another house that the US government has worked hard to associate with him — have faced an uphill struggle trying to convince the authorities that they are not of any particular significance, and that it is safe for them to be released.
In May, three men seized in the house with Abu Zubaydah, Jabran Al Qahtani (ISN 696), a Saudi, Saeed Bakhouche aka Abdelrazak Ali (ISN 685), an Algerian, and Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), another Algerian, all had reviews, although no decisions have yet been taken about whether or not they should be released. Ghassan al-Sharbi (ISN 682) is another of the men seized with Zubaydah, and his review took place last Thursday (June 23), although he did not attend this hearing, or cooperate with the military personnel assigned to help him prepare for it, so it is certain that he will not be approved for release. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, two days after Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, sought release from Guantánamo via a Periodic Review Board, a high-level, inter-agency US government review process, established in 2013, another Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, also went before a PRB to ask for his freedom, and was the 41st prisoner to do so. Of the 30 decisions already taken, 23 have resulted in recommendations for the prisoners’ release, while just seven have resulted in recommendations for the men’s continued detention — and even those are subject to further review. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 77%, thoroughly undermining the excessive caution and misplaced zeal for prosecution that, in 2010, led the previous high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to describe the men who were later made eligible for PRBs as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution.
The former were largely groundless claims, in a prison full of statements obtained through torture and other forms of coercion, while the latter was based on a mistaken understanding of what constitutes war crimes, spelled out in a number of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013, which humiliated the government by dismissing some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system on the embarrassing basis that the war crimes for which the men in question has been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.
Barhoumi, whose prisoner number is 694, is 41 years old, and, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explain, he was “born and raised in Algiers, where his mother still lives and his late father practiced law.” CCR also explain that, as a young man, he “lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France, and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years,” before traveling to Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he ended up in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday May 24, Saeed Bakhouche, a 45-year old Algerian who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay since June 2002, became the 40th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo.
Like many Guantánamo prisoners, Bakhouche has also been known by another name – in his case, Abdel Razak Ali, a name he gave when he was captured – but to the best of my knowledge he is the only prisoner whose classified military file, compiled in 2008 and released by WikiLeaks in 2011, has a photo that purports to be him, but is not him at all. No one seems to know who it is, but it is not Saeed Bakhouche.
Moreover, his attorney, Candace Gorman, told me that a different photo – again, not of her client – was displayed outside his cell for a year and a half, a mistake that had disturbing ramifications, because this was the same photo shown to other prisoners during interrogations, leading to a situation whereby information about someone else was added his file as though it related to him.
The fact that the US authorities have, historically, not known who Saeed Bakhouche is, does not, however, appear to have been conveyed to the members of his PRB, which involves 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. Set up in 2013, the boards are reviewing the cases of 41 men previously described, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, as “too dangerous to release,” although that has turned out to have been outrageous hyperbole. Of the 40 men whose cases have so far been reviewed, eleven are awaiting decisions, just seven have had their ongoing imprisonment approved, while 22 have had their release recommended — and nine of those have, to date, been freed. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi national, became the 39th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo.
Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who were not facing trials (just ten men) or the rather larger group of men who had already been approved for release by the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, the PRBs involve 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, and, since January 2014, they have approved 22 men for release and have defended the ongoing imprisonment of just seven men, a success rate for the prisoners of 76%.
The results are a damning verdict on the task force’s decision to describe 41 men facing PRBs as “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force members also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, it was not evidence, but unreliable information extracted from prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — including the CIA’s “black sites” — through the use of torture, other forms of abuse or bribery (with better living conditions, for example). It has also become apparent that another reason some prisoners were described as “too dangerous to release” was because the authorities regarded them as having a threatening attitude towards the US, even though it is, to my mind, understandable that some men confronted with long years of abusive and generally lawless detention might react with anti-social behavior and threats. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article 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.
Last week there was an interesting development in relation to President Obama’s hopes of closing Guantánamo, when the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that it had included a provision in its version of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which, as Charlie Savage reported for the New York Times, would allow Guantánamo prisoners to “plead guilty to criminal charges in civilian court via video teleconference,” and would also allow them to be “transferred to other countries to serve their sentences.”
Last November, a number of lawyers sent a letter to the Justice Department, which the New York Times discussed here, in which they “express[ed] interest in exploring plea deals by video teleconference — but only in civilian court, not military commissions.”
Lawyers for six prisoners said that they “may wish” to negotiate plea deals — Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA’s torture program was developed, Abu Faraj al-Libi, another “high-value detainee,” Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni who recently went before a Periodic Review Board, Abd al-Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani, Abdul Latif Nasser, the last Moroccan in the prison, and Soufian Barhoumi (aka Sufyian Barhoumi), an Algerian whose PRB is taking place on May 24. As Savage described it, the letter also “said several others are interested, and that Majid Khan, who has pleaded guilty in the [military] commissions system but has not been sentenced, would like to plead again, in civilian court.” Read the rest of this entry »
Over ten years since I started working full-time on Guantánamo, there has been undeniable progress in some areas, and absolutely no movement in others. Hundreds of prisoners have been freed, which has been hugely important for a place in which only a few percent of the men — and boys — held there have ever, realistically, been accused of involvement with terrorism, and, after far too many years of delays and inaction, President Obama has been pushing to finally get the prison closed, albeit over seven years since he first promised to do so within a year.
Just 80 men are currently held, and while it is still unclear if the president will be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, as Congress will have to drop its ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason, or he will have to close it by executive action, which may or may not be practical or possible, it is conceivable that the end of Guantánamo is within sight.
And yet, for all of the men abused in Guantánamo, and elsewhere in America’s brutal “war on terror,” it is noticeable that no one has been held accountable for their suffering, and, for some of the 80 men still held, it also appears that no end to their suffering is in sight. I’m thinking in particular of some of the so-called “high-value detainees,” 15 men, including 13 who were brought to the US from CIA “black sites” — torture prisons — in September 2006, after up to four and a half years held incommunicado. One of those men — the first to be seized, in fact — may be the most unfortunate of all: Abu Zubaydah. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.
Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009, and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Finally freed from prison in Morocco on February 11, 149 days after he was released from Guantánamo, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) spoke to the Associated Press last week on the terrace of a cafe in his hometown, Safi, with his younger brother Ridouane, who was freed from Guantánamo in 2004.
I have been covering Younous’s story for many years, as I recognized in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, that he strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised, and in the years that followed nothing deterred me from this opinion, as I found out that Younous was one of the best-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and was also a Sufi Muslim, “whose form of religion,” as the AP described it, accurately, “is viewed with suspicion by extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.” See my archive of articles about Younous here and here.
In its interview last week, the AP noted that, according to unclassified US military documents provided by Younous’s lawyers at the London-based legal organization Reprieve, and submitted to the US authorities as part of Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings, “he suffered serious abuse at the hands of the United States, in detention in Afghanistan,” part of which “involved threats made against his younger brother, Ridouane.” Read the rest of this entry »
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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