Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! 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.

 

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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process consisting 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, the PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo

Mohammad Rahim, an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo, regarded as a "high-value detainee," in photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who made it available to his family, who, in turn, made it publicly available.Please support my work! 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.

 

In trying to catch up on a few stories I’ve missed out on reporting about recently, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, a CIA torture victim held at Guantánamo, who was, in fact, the last prisoner to arrive at the prison in March 2008.

The petition was submitted by Major James Valentine, Rahim’s military defence attorney, and the researcher Arnaud Mafille, and it follows previous submissions to the IACHR on behalf of Djamal Ameziane, whose release was requested in April 2012 (and who was eventually released, but not as a direct result of the IACHR ruling), and Moath al-Alwi, whose lawyers submitted a petition on his behalf in February 2015, which led to the IACHR issuing a resolution on March 31, 2015 calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission  considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Al-Alwi was, at the time, a hunger striker, and in the petition his lawyers stated that, “During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are The Last Four Men Freed from Guantánamo Under President Obama and Sent to the UAE and Saudi Arabia?

Ravil Mingazov, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by Wikileaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

With Donald Trump promising, in a draft executive order leaked to the New York Times, to keep Guantánamo open, to stop all releases until after a new review process has reported back to him, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” the last few days of the Obama administration now seem like ancient history, but it was just last Thursday — Obama’s last day in office — that the last four prisoners on his watch were released from Guantánamo, and sent to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The releases unfortunately leave five men approved for release still held at the prison, along with ten men facing (or having faced) trials, and 26 others eligible for ongoing Periodic Review Boards, unless Donald Trump scraps them. Three of the five approved for release had those decisions taken back in 2009, while the other two were approved for release last year, but it is worrying for all of them that Donald Trump has no interest in the fact that the decisions about them were taken unanimously by high-level US government review processes.

The fact that these five men approved for release are still held — and that 41 men in total are still at the prison — is a profound disappointment, to put it mildly, and Trump’s bellicose attitude already makes it apparent that President Obama’s failure to fulfill his promise to close Guantánamo once and for all cannot be considered an abstract failure, as it plays directly into Donald Trump’s hands. Had Obama prioritized closing Guantánamo much earlier in his presidency, and taken on Congress with the required forcefulness, it would have been closed, and Donald Trump would, I believe, have faced an impossible uphill struggle to reopen it.

So who are the four men who managed to escape from Guantánamo before Trump shut the prison door? Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer’s Moving Memories of Her Client Obaidullah, an Afghan Released in the UAE in August

Obaidullah’s mother, at her home in Haiderkhil, Afghanistan, holding photos of her son on August 16, just after his release from Guantanamo (Photo: AP/Nishanuddin Khan).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

In August, a long-suffering Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, Obaidullah, was finally released after 14 years of imprisonment without charge or trial, sent to the United Arab Emirates rather than to his home village, because the US Congress had, with a rather hysterical disregard for any sense of proportion, passed a law preventing any Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo from being repatriated. Below I’m cross-posting a moving account of Obaidullah himself, and of his wrongful imprisonment, by one of his attorneys, Anne Richardson. Other civilian lawyers who worked on his case include Dan Stormer and Cindy Pánuco of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP in Pasadena, CA, where Richardson worked before moving to Public Counsel, the US’s largest pro bono firm, where she is the directing attorney of the Consumer Law Project.

Obaidullah, who has just one name like many Afghans, was seized in July 2002, when he was around 22 years old (he doesn’t know his exact year of birth), and was accused of having “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment,” and it was also claimed that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”

The charges were listed when he was, absurdly, put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008. Even if the allegations were true, putting forward a minor insurgent for a war crimes trial was a disgracefully overblown response to his alleged activities, but as an investigation by his military lawyers found in 2011, it appears that the US authorities were mistaken about Obaidullah’s role in any kind of plot against US forces. His wife had just given birth, and blood found in his car, interpreted as being a sign that someone was wounded in an attack, seems to have been from his wife’s labor, which he failed to mention because speaking about such things is not something an Afghan man does. Read the rest of this entry »

How Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards Exposed Woefully Distorted Intelligence Assessments

12 of the Guantanamo prisoners put forward for Periodic Review Boards. Top row from left: Mohammed Ghanem (Yemen, approved for release), Haji Hamidullah (Afghanistan, freed), Abdul Rahman Shalabi (Saudi Arabia, freed), Ayyub Ali Salih (Yemen, freed). Middle Row​: Yassin Qasim (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdu Ali al-Hajj Sharqawi (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Mauritania, freed), Mansoor al-Zahari aka al-Dayfi (Yemen, freed). Bottom, from left, Ravil Mingazov (Russia, approved for release), Abu Zubaydah (Palestine, not decided yet), Salman Rabei’i (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdul Latif Nasir (Morocco, approved for release).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.

Over the last three years, I’ve been monitoring the Periodic Review Boards, the most recent review process at the prison, set up to give some semblance of justice to the cases of men held year after year without charge or trial, and subjected to varying forms of abuse and, in some cases, torture. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

The first two review processes — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and the Administrative Review Boards — took place under President Bush. Consisting of panels of three military officers, they were essentially designed to rubber-stamp the men’s designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial. The prisoners were allowed to be present for the unclassified section of the hearings, but were not allowed to hear classified material, and often had no idea where the allegations against them had arisen.

The third review process, which did not involve any interaction with the prisoners themselves, took place in 2009, under President Obama. The Guantánamo Review Task Force was a high-level, inter-agency process in which the cases of the 240 men who were held when President Obama took office were examined, and decisions taken about whether to release them, to put them on trial, or to continue holding them without charge or trial. In its final report, in January 2010, the task force approved 156 men for release and 36 for prosecution, and designated 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release,” even while acknowledging that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Money Exchanger Approved for Release from Guantánamo; Former Child Prisoner and Pakistani Have Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.

The PRBs — consisting 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 — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.

The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Moneychanger Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 25, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, Haji Wali Mohammed, who was born in February 1965 or 1966, became the 62nd prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — whose closest analogy are parole boards — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release and were not facing trials, and in total 64 men have had their cases reviewed. The last two reviews took place on September 1 and September 8, and I’ll be writing about them very soon.

Of the 64, 12 decisions have yet to be taken, but of the 52 cases decided (see my definitive PRB list here), the board members — comprising 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 — approved 33 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 19 others. That’s a success rate for the prisoners of 63%, which is a rather damning indictment of the caution exercised by the previous review board, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and made the recommendations for the ongoing imprisonment of the 64 men who have ended up facing PRBs.

23 of the 64 had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commissions largely collapsed as a result of a number of devastating appeals court rulings in Washington, D.C., in which judges dismissed some of the handful of convictions secured in the commissions, and concluded that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Releases 15 Prisoners from Guantánamo to UAE; Just 61 Men Now Left (Part 2 of 2)

Mahmud al-Mujahid (aka Mahmoud-al-Mujahid), in a photo included in the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners that were released in 2011.Last week, 15 prisoners were released from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates, the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, bringing the total number of men held to just 61. 12 of the 15 men are Yemenis, and the other three are Afghans. A third country had to be 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.

On Sunday I published an article about six of the Yemenis, who were all approved for release from Guantánamo in 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review the cases of all the men held when he took office and to decide whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial.

The other nine men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, which began in 2013, and which was set up to review the cases of men who had not already been approved for release, and are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category). The reviews started in November 2013, and, to date, 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 63% success rate. This is an extraordinary success rate for men previously described as “too dangerous to release,” by the task force, and it clearly establishes that the task force was unnecessarily cautious in its appraisal of the prisoners held when President Obama took office. 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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