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 »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Illegally Imprisoned in Morocco; As Murat Kurnaz Calls for His Release, Please Ask John Kerry to Act

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 but imprisoned ever since (Photo collage by Reprieve).

Please write to John Kerry!

Three and a half months ago, in September 2015, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years, was repatriated. As his lawyers, at the London-based legal charity Reprieve noted, he was “unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense” in 2009, and yet it took another six years to secure his release.

Significantly, his return to Morocco — where he had previously feared being repatriated because of human rights concerns — only took place because the US authorities were told that the Moroccan government accepted that there was no case against Younous.

However, on his return, as I noted at the time, he was imprisoned. I followed up on that story in October, in two articles, “Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?” and “Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011,” and again in November, when  his wife Abla wrote an article for Newsweek, in which she asked John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, to intervene. “Secretary Kerry, I am asking one thing of you,” she wrote. “Hold the Moroccan government to its promises. Please get them to release my husband from prison. After 14 years of injustice, I just want this nightmare to end. I just want Younous back by my side.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mauritanian, Cleared for Release Since 2009, Finally Repatriated from Guantánamo

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, in a screenshot from a video taken in Mauritania after his release from Guantanamo after over 13 years of imprisonment without charge or trial.The news about the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has been so all-consuming that I’ve had no time to report about another prisoner release last week — of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian who, like 41 other men still held, was approved for release six years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

112 men are still held at Guantánamo, and 12 other men have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards, making 53 men altogether who have been approved for release but are still held.

Ahmed, 45, is a cultured man, seized by mistake in a house raid in Pakistan over 13 years ago, who wanted only to be reunited with his family. As three of his lawyers, John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, stated in an article for Close Guantánamo, the website I co-founded with the US lawyer Tom Wilner, in June 2013: Read the rest of this entry »

Ignoring President Obama, the Pentagon Blocks Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.I’m just back from a fortnight’s family holiday in Turkey (in Bodrum and Dalyan, for those interested in this wonderful country, with its great hospitality, history and sights), and catching up on what I missed, with relation to Guantánamo, while I was away. My apologies if any of you were confused by my sudden disappearance. I was working so hard up until my departure that I didn’t have time to put up an “on holiday” sign here before heading off.

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook or who follow me there will know that I managed to leave a brief message there, announcing my intention to be offline for most of the two-week period — and encouraging you all to take time off from the internet and your mobile devices for the sake of your health!). While away, my Facebook friends will also know that I touched on one of the most significant Guantánamo stories to take place during my absence — the disgraceful revelation that, despite having been approved for release in 2010 by a thorough, multi-agency US government review process (the Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009), Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is still being held because of obstruction by the Pentagon, and, moreover, that the Pentagon has specifically been blocking his release since October 2013.

The story appeared in the Guardian on August 13, following a Washington Post article three days earlier, in which, during a discussion about the Obama administration’s quest for a prison on the US mainland that could be used to hold Guantánamo prisoners, it was noted that, in a meeting last month with President Obama’s top national security officials, defense secretary Ashton Carter “indicated he was inclined to transfer Shaker ­Aamer.” By law, the defense secretary must certify that steps have been taken to mitigate any possible risk posed by released prisoners, and provide Congress with 30 days’ notice of any planned releases. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo and Resettled in Oman?

Idris Ahmad Abdu Qader Idris, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.

They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.

Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama to Release Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Including Shaker Aamer, Says Washington Post

Shaker Aamer's sons outside the Houses of Parliament on March 17, 2015, before a Parliamentary debate about his father's case (Photo: Andy Worthington).The media is suddenly buzzing with the suggestion, first aired in the Washington Post, that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.

Realistically, however, it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.

It is certainly true that the release of prisoners is likely to resume soon, with willingness on the part of the administration, and with the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, imminently to be presented with a number of cases to sign off on. According to US law, implemented in the last few years, Congress must be notified of intended releases 30 days before they happen, but this is not a process that involves significant roadblocks. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo, No News is Bad News

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 Guantánamo, the news has largely dried up in recent weeks, which is not reassuring for the 79 men — out of the 149 men still held — who have had their release approved but are still held. 75 of these men were recommended for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and four others were recommended for release this year by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force.

Since last May, when President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners — after a period of nearly three years when only five men were released — 17 men have been released, which is obviously progress of sorts. The drought of releases from 2010 to 2013 was because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s refusal to use a waiver in the legislation to bypass Congress, but although it is reassuring that 17 men have been freed, the last of those releases was at the end of May, and campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo can be forgiven for wondering when the next prisoner will be released, especially as that last prisoner release — six Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan — attracted such cynical and hysterical opposition.

According to reports in May, six of the cleared prisoners, from Syria, Palestine and Tunisia — all men who cannot be safely repatriated — were offered new homes in Uruguay after President Mujica responded positively to a request for assistance from the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz: The Mauritanian Teacher Still Awaiting Release from 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.

On Friday, the hopes of those of us campaigning for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba were briefly raised when it was reported that the last two Mauritanian prisoners at Guantánamo had been released, along with another Mauritanian held in Afghanistan. It later turned out that only the latter was returned to his home country.

This is, of course, distressing news for the families of the two men still in Guantánamo — and especially for the family of one of the men, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, because he is one of 56 prisoners told in January 2010, after deliberations by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama, that the US no longer wanted to continue holding him, and would be arranging for his return to his home country.

That document told him he had been “cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo,” and informed him, “The US government intends to transfer you as soon as possible.” Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Denies Reports That Two Guantánamo Prisoners Were Released to Mauritania

I’m sorry to report that claims that two prisoners were released from Guantánamo to Mauritania on Friday have apparently proved to be false. I was alerted to the story by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook on Friday night, and checked out two Arabic news sources that were cited — here and here. These seemed plausible, and so I wrote the first English language report and published it at 4am GMT.

I then found out that the purported release of the men had been announced in a French language news report at 1.11am GMT, and had also been discussed, at 9.33 am, by AFP. The Associated Press ran with the story at around 4pm, under the heading, “Mauritania receives 2 prisoners from Guantánamo, according to support group,” and stated that Hamoud Ould Nabagha, chairman of the Support Committee for Guantánamo prisoners said that Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, both held at Guantánamo, had been returned, along with El Haj Ould Cheikh El Houssein Youness, who had been held at Bagram in Afghanistan.

Within an hour of that report being published, a revised version appeared, quoting Army Lt. Col. Joseph Todd Breasseale, a US Defense Department spokesman, stating that, as the AP put it, “No detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo since October last year.”

I am extremely saddened to hear that the news has turned out to be untrue, as we need to hear about President Obama fulfilling the promises he made last week to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo. The reported release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi was surprising news, as he was not included in the 86 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, and some Republicans believe him to be significant terror suspect, even though that theory ought to have been laid to rest when Slahi had his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge in 2010. Slahi’s successful habeas petition was later vacated on appeal by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., but they had their own agenda designed not to deliver justice but to prevent prisoners from ever having their habeas corpus petitions granted. 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 (The State of London).
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