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 »

Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free

On Friday, 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, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force’s final report was issued in January 2010.

Until now, the government has always refused to release the names, hindering efforts by the prisoners’ lawyers — and other interested parties — to publicize their plight.

The rationale for this was explained by Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, in June 2009, when he stated that “indiscriminate public disclosure of the decisions resulting from reviews by Guantánamo Review Task Force will impair the US Government’s ability effectively to repatriate and resettle Guantánamo detainees” under the executive order establishing a review of the prisoners’ cases, which was issued on President Obama’s second day in office in January 2009, at the same time that he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

Earlier this year, there was much discussion in the US media about the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo to Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest.

Those plans came to nothing, but last week the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was “considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban,” which would involve some — or all — of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo being transferred to Afghanistan, to be held in the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram, the huge prison established to replace the original prison at Bagram, where several prisoners were killed in the early years of the “war on terror.”

As part of the Obama administration’s 2014 deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, the Parwan Detention Facility is scheduled to be transferred to Afghan control in September this year, and the fate of the remaining Afghans in Guantánamo is clearly part of the negotiations for all parties involved — the Taliban and the Karzai government, as well as the US. Read the rest of this entry »

How US Investigators Established that Obaidullah, an Afghan Still Held in Guantánamo, Is Innocent

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

According to the US Justice Department, Obaidullah (also referred to as Obaydullah), one of 17 Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo, “was plainly a member of an Al-Qaeda bomb cell,” even though Obaidullah himself, and his lawyers, have always contended that, like so many of the 200 or so Afghans who have been repatriated from Guantánamo over the last ten years, he was actually seized by mistake.

In February, when discussions between the US government and the Taliban were underway, regarding the possibility that five of the 17 — all apparently significant figures in the Taliban — would be transferred to Qatar as part of the peace process in Afghanistan, the New York Times picked up on Obaidullah’s case, and reporter Charlie Savage recognized that, unlike the five senior Taliban figures, no one was pushing for his release, because he was “not an important enough figure to be a bargaining chip.”

As Charlie Savage also reported:

It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Abdul Ghani, An Insignificant Afghan Villager Held for Nine Years

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

As we at “Close Guantánamo” continue our series profiling prisoners still held at Guantánamo — and specifically, at this time, the Afghans who are still held — our latest profile is of Abdul Ghani, an unfortunate villager from Kandahar province, who farmed pomegranates and scavenged for scrap metal, and was seized in November 2002 and arrived in Guantánamo nine years ago.

Alarmingly, Abdul Ghani was one of a number of insignificant Afghan prisoners put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush in 2008. The authorities claimed that he had played a part in attacks and planned attacks as part of the insurgency against US forces, although Ghani himself, and his lawyers, have consistently disputed his purported involvement.

It should, however, be noted that, even if Abdul Ghani had been involved in the activities of which he is accused, it is extraordinary that, over nine years later, he remains in Guantánamo, a prison cynically described as holding “the worst of the worst” terrorists by the Bush administration, when, if he had been held in Afghanistan instead of being flown to Guantánamo, he would have been released many years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Taliban Five” and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

In the last three months, much discussion has focused on the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. Almost entirely forgotten are 12 other Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo, who are mostly so insignificant that they have no one to lobby for them, and are being rather disgracefully overlooked.

The first information about discussions regarding the release of prisoners emerged in a Reuters article on December 19 last year, which explained how secret negotiations between the US government and the Taliban had begun ten months earlier. As part of “the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy,” Reuters explained, the US was “considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.”

The day after, at a UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin “stressed the government’s determination to pursue reconciliation efforts despite Taliban attacks and assassinations,” as AFP described it. “We believe the process may benefit from the establishment of an office, within or outside Afghanistan, whereby formal talks between relevant Afghan authorities and representatives of armed opposition, including the Taliban, could be facilitated,” Ludin told the council, and AFP noted that Afghan authorities had “put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the best places to set up a Taliban liaison office abroad to enable peace talks to end the devastating 10-year insurgency.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Case of Shawali Khan, an Afghan in Guantánamo, Sold to US Forces 10 Years Ago

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been watching with interest the ongoing negotiations regarding five of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo. In December, it was revealed that, for the previous ten months, the US government and the Taliban had been conducting secret negotiations, and that the US was considering releasing the five men from Guantánamo, all of whom were allegedly significant Taliban prisoners.

It was not until January that it became clear that the men were to be exchanged for a US prisoner, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old US Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan, and that the negotiations would involve the five Taliban prisoners being released in Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest, and, at the prisoners’ request, would be reunited with their families.

These releases are now on hold, as the Taliban suspended negotiations with the US last week, following the killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. 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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