Life after Guantánamo: Stories from Afghanistan

On February 24, I was delighted to be interviewed about Guantánamo by BBC World News — the BBC’s global, commercial arm — as part of their “Freedom” series. As the website states, “Whether it’s freedom from surveillance or freedom to be single, the BBC is investigating what freedom means in the modern world.”

The interview, which, unfortunately, isn’t available online, was preceded by a short clip of two former Guantánamo prisoners, from Afghanistan, talking about their experiences to the reporter Dawood Azami, who travelled to Afghanistan to meet former prisoners. The two men were Shahzada Khan (ISN 952, also known as Haji Shahzada), who was released in April 2005, and Haji Ghalib (ISN 987), who was released in February 2007.

Dawood Azami’s visit, and his meetings with former prisoners were also featured in a BBC World Service broadcast, “Guantánamo Voices,” and in an article for the BBC World Service’s online magazine, which I’m cross-posting below because it provides a powerful insight into some generally little-known stories, which demonstrate clearly the kind of chronic failures of intelligence that led to so many insignificant or completely innocent men — and, in some cases, boys — ending up at  Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Abandoned in Guantánamo: Mohammed Taha Mattan, an Innocent Palestinian

As we approach the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (on January 11, 2014), it remains profoundly unacceptable that, of the remaining 164 prisoners, 84 were cleared for release nearly four years ago, in January 2010, by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.

These men are still held because of legislative obstacles raised by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, which are designed to prevent prisoners from being released, and because President Obama has been unwilling to spend political capital challenging Congress or bypassing lawmakers using a waiver in the NDAA.

In the cases of two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, an additional complication, until recently, was that they are Yemeni citizens, and after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a NIgerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit in December 2009, President Obama imposed a ban on releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, which he only lifted in May this year, in a major speech on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?

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.

The short answer to the question, “Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?” is probably no, for reasons I will explain below, although it is, of course, significant to numerous interested parties that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year provides an opportunity for new discussions about the ongoing detention of 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, and, probably, new legal challenges on their behalf.

On October 18, the Washington Post discussed these issues in an article entitled, “Afghan war’s approaching end throws legal status of Guantánamo detainees into doubt,” in which Karen DeYoung suggested, “The approaching end of the US war in Afghanistan could help President Obama move toward what he has said he wanted to do since his first day in office: close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

The article described how officials in the Obama administration were “examining whether the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2014 could open the door” for some of the remaining 164 prisoners “to challenge the legal authority of the United States to continue to imprison them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from Guantánamo: Obaidullah, an Afghan, Says “There is No Hope that We Will Ever Leave Here”

As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, having reached the three-month mark on Sunday, it is more important than ever that the voices of the prisoners continue to be heard, to maintain the pressure on the Obama administration to act.

For meaningful action to be taken, President Obama needs to find ways to release the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by the sober and responsible inter-agency task force he appointed to review the prisoners’ cases in 2009.

Two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, so the President needs to drop his ban on releasing any of these men, which he imposed in response to hysteria following the foiled Christmas bomb plot in 2009, when a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen tried and failed to bomb a plane bound for the US with a device in his underwear.

As I wrote in response to President Obama’s discussion of Guantánamo at a news conference last week, he can choose to tackle Congress — as he said he would — and to tell lawmakers that they need to drop the obstructions they have raised to prevent the release of prisoners over the last two years — in the National Defense Authorization Act. However, if Congress refuses to engage with him, he needs to use the waiver in the NDAA, which allows him to bypass Congress if he and the defense secretary regard it as being in America’s best interests.

Releasing men already cleared for release from the abominable open tomb that is Guantánamo — where all the prisoners are suffering indefinite detention without charge or trial, whether cleared for release or not — needs to happen as soon as possible, before some poor soul in Guantánamo dies. That, I am compelled to say, would most emphatically not be in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: A Warning from Guantánamo – Four Prisoners Are Close to Death, and the Authorities Don’t Care

I have just received a brief message from a credible source inside Guantánamo, about the situation in the prison today, which I wanted to make available because it exposes how four prisoners are close to death, as a result of the prison-wide hunger strike that is on its 80th day, and yet the guard force are behaving with brutality and indifference.

The source stated that it “looks like GTMO is going backward,” with the guards “putting people in isolation and all day long making lots of noise by speaking loudly, running on the metal stairs and leaving their two-way radios on all day and night. People cannot sleep.”

The source added, “There are at least four people that are at the very edge and one named Khiali Gul from Afghanistan is in a bad shape and cannot move and cannot talk or eat or drink. When other detainees tell the guards about him, they say, ‘When he is completely unconscious, then we will take him.’ The chances are that he will die.”

The source also explained that he has been trying to get an Afghan lawyer “to notify his family to at least call him and they might have a chance to talk to him for the last time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Can We Have A Discussion About Releasing the Majority of the Guantánamo Prisoners?

With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now entering its third month, conditions at the prison have come under sustained scrutiny for the first time in many years, and media outlets, both domestic and international, have learned, or have been reminded that 166 men remain at the prison.

These men remain imprisoned despite President Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo, which he made when he first took office in January 2009, and despite the fact that over half of them — 86 in total — were cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by the President to decide who should be freed and who should continue to be held.

For those of us who understand that Guantánamo will poison America’s moral standing as long as it remains open, the awakening or reawakening of interest in the prison — and the prisoners — is progress, although there is still some way to go before President Obama or lawmakers understand that they need to release prisoners, or face the very real prospect that everyone still held at Guantánamo will remain there until they die, even though the overwhelming majority have never been charged with any crime, and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

When is a hunger strike not a hunger strike? Apparently, when the government says it doesn’t exist.

At Guantánamo, reports first began to emerge on February 23 about a camp-wide hunger strike, of a scale not seen since before Barack Obama became President. On the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison, the following message appeared: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”

Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrived at the prison on February 25, and the day after announced, “Fayiz has lost more than twenty pounds and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”

On February 27, the team reported, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January 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.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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