Two Yemenis Approved for Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards As “Highly Compliant” Afghan and Another Yemeni Also Seek Release

Zahir Hamdoun, in a photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.

Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.

Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.

Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Haji Ghalib, the Afghan Freed from Guantánamo Who Is Now Fighting Isis and the Taliban

Former Guantanamo prisoner Haji Ghalib, photographed after his release from Guantanamo in February 2007.When it comes to reports about prisoners released from Guantánamo, there has, since President Obama took office, been an aggressive black propaganda policy — firstly from within the Pentagon and latterly from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — painting a false picture of the alleged rate of “recidivism” amongst former prisoners, a trend that has also been echoed in the mainstream media, which has repeatedly published whatever nonsense it has been told without questioning it, or asking for anything resembling proof from those government departments that are responsible. For some background, see my articles here, here, here and here – and my appearance on Democracy Now! in January 2010.

The three outstanding problems with the supposed recidivism rate — beyond the lamentable truth that no information backing up the claims has been made publicly available since 2009, and that the media should therefore have been very wary of it — are, firstly, that lazy or cynical media outlets regular add up the numbers of former prisoners described as “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists to reach an alarming grand total, which, in recent years, is over 25% of those released, when the numbers of those “suspected” of recidivism are based on unverified, single source reporting, and may very well be unreliable. Back in March 2012, for example, as I explained in my article, “Guantánamo and Recidivism: The Media’s Ongoing Failure to Question Official Statistics,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said, “Someone on the ‘suspected’ list could very possibly not be engaged in activities that are counter to our national security interests.” (emphasis added).

The second huge problem with the reports is that even the “confirmed” rate is, very evidently, exaggerated, as it is, to be blunt, inconceivable that as many former prisoners as alleged can have been engaged in military or terrorist activities against the US. In the latest DNI report, for example, made available in September 2015, it is claimed that 117 former prisoners (17.9% of those released) are “Confirmed of Reengaging,” but no indication is given of how that can be possible. Claims can certainly be made for a few dozen “recidivists” — primarily in Afghanistan, and amongst those few former Gulf prisoners who apparently set up an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Yemen — but the figure of 117 is simply implausible. Read the rest of this entry »

Fan of Shakira, Taylor Swift and Game of Thrones Asks Review Board to Free Him from Guantánamo, As an Afghan is Approved for Release

Mansoor-al-Zahari, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

Last week, Mansoor al-Zahari, a Guantánamo prisoner from Yemen, who has embraced western culture, becoming a fan of Shakira, Taylor Swift and Game of Thrones, became the 19th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board — the review process, established two years ago, to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten of the 114 men still held) and 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 (43 others).

The PRBs consist 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, and, since January 2014, they have approved the release of 14 men — and have only approved the ongoing detention of two others. The process is moving far too slowly — 50 others are awaiting reviews, and at the current rate the first round of reviews will not be completed until 2020 at the earliest. In addition, of the 14 approved for release, just three have been released — in part because, like 37 of those approved for release by the task force but still held, six of the 11 approved for release by the PRBs but still held are Yemenis, and the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis, because of the security situation in Yemen, and third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them new homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Mohammed Kamin, an Insignificant Afghan Prisoner in Guantánamo, Asks Review Board to Recommend His Release

Prisoners in Guantanamo's Camp 6, photographed on a press visit by Jason Leopold. 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 August 18, Mohammed Kamin, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 36 or 37 years old, became the 17th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, 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 established in 2013 to review the cases of 71 men who had either been recommended for ongoing imprisonment in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009, or had been recommended for trials — recommendations that were taken off the table when judges ruled that the majority of the charges in those trials (the military commissions) had been invented by Congress, and were not legitimate war crimes at all.

46 men were in the former category, and 25 in the latter, and readers paying close attention will realize that 17 reviews in 21 months is slow progress, and, frankly, an insult to the men whose cases have not yet been heard. At this rate, it will take until 2021 for all the reviews to take place. Read the rest of this entry »

Prisoners in Guantánamo Ask to be Freed Because of the End of the War in Afghanistan

Guantanamo prisoner Obaidullah before his capture, in a photo provided to his lawyers by his family in Afghanistan.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 March 30, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration asking for their clients to be released.

The five men in question are: Haji Hamdullah (aka Haji Hamidullah), ISN 1119; Mohammed Kamin, ISN 1045; Bostan Karim, ISN 975; Obaidullah, ISN 762; and Abdul Zahir, ISN 753.

The lawyers wrote, “Their continued detention is illegal because the hostilities in Afghanistan, the only possible justification for detention, have ended. Therefore, these individuals should be released and repatriated or resettled immediately.” They referred to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, on January 20 this year, at which the president said, “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” Read the rest of this entry »

Four Insignificant Afghan Prisoners Released from Guantánamo

Shawali Khan, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.More good news regarding Guantánamo, as four Afghans have been released, and returned to Afghanistan in what US officials, who spoke to the New York Times, “are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.”

The Times added, “Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four — long cleared for release — as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved US-Afghan relations.”

The Times also noted that there is “no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men” — Shawali Khan, 51 (ISN 899), Abdul Ghani, 42 (ISN 934), Khi Ali Gul, 51 (ISN 928) and Mohammed Zahir, 61 (ISN 1103) — adding that Afghanistan’s government-appointed High Peace Council also “requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantánamo,” 63 of whom have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?

Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.

Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.

The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Defends Bowe Bergdahl/Guantánamo Prisoner Swap as Government Accountability Office Delivers Critical Opinion

In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”

When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Talks to Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins About the Latest Manufactured Guantánamo Scandal

That manufactured scandal, as I hope everyone reading this realizes, is the feigned outrage of lawmakers and media pundits regarding President Obama’s decision to rescue a captured US soldier from Afghanistan by exchanging him for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo, who were sent to Qatar, which I first wrote about here, and followed up with an article entitled, “Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl.” Yesterday, I was invited to discuss the manufactured scandal on Democracy Now! and in the last few days I have also spoken about it on the Scott Horton Show (just days after my previous appearance on the show), and with Peter B. Collins on his show from the Bay Area.

My 20-minute interview with Scott is here, and my 40-minute interview with Peter is here. Although it is for subscribers only, you can pay just $1 for a day pass, although other subscription offers, from $5 a month, are also available.

According to the unprincipled, opportunistic lawmakers and commentators laying into the Obama administration regarding the prisoner exchange, the rescued US soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in Afghanistan for the last five years, is a deserter who should have been abandoned, even though no objective investigation has established the truth — or otherwise  — of this claim.

With regard to the five Taliban officials released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, it is true that these are men who, to varying degrees, held leadership positions with the Taliban and who had not been cleared for release from the prison — unlike 78 of the remaining 149 prisoners, cleared for release for years but still held — but while the critics have been wailing about how they were too dangerous to release, the facts and the justifications for the deal say otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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