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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
On August 4, Muhammad Rahim, an Afghan, became the 56th Guantánamo prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2013, and are reviewing the cases of all the prisoners still held who are not facing trials (just ten of the remaining 76 prisoners) or who were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
33 men have so far been approved for release via the PRBs (and eleven have been released), while 17 have had their ongoing imprisonment held. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and it ought to be embarrassing for the Obama administration, whose task force had concluded that they were “too dangerous to release” or that they should be prosecuted. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further information.
Muhammad Rahim, who was born in November or December 1965, was the last prisoner to arrive at Guantánamo, in March 2008, when he was described as “a close associate” of Osama bin Laden. He has been described as a “high-value detainee” — one of only 16 held at the prison — but if this was the case he would surely have been put forward for prosecution, suggesting that, as with so many of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, his significance has been exaggerated. Read the rest of this entry »
So after last week’s news that torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, there has been more good news this week, as Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in the prison, has also been approved for release (on July 21), bringing to 30 the number of men approved for release by the PRBs. Just 14 men have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld by the review boards, although one of those decisions also took place last week — for Haroon Gul, known to the US authorities as Haroon al-Afghani, who was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo in 2007.
With these 44 results, the success rate for the prisoners is 68%, which is remarkable when you consider that the men in question were all described as “too dangerous to release” or were recommended for prosecution by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009. With such results, it would be impossible not to conclude that the task force overreacted massively in its recommendations, contained in its final report in January 2010.
With less than six months remaining of the Obama presidency, ten results are still awaited, and ten reviews are still to take place. For further information about the PRBs, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. 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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