Eroding Hyperbole: The Steady Reclassification of Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Mansoor-al-Zahari 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.

Despite the relentless fearmongering of Republican supporters of Guantánamo, claims that the prison holds a significant number of people who pose a threat to the US continue to be eroded; primarily, in recent years, through the deliberations of Periodic Review Boards — panels 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, who hear from the prisoners, their lawyers and their military representatives via video-link from Guantánamo, where the men are able to make a case for why they should be approved for release.

The men in question have, with some accuracy, been dubbed “forever prisoners” by the media. Originally numbering 71 men, they comprised two groups: 46 men assessed to be “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 to recommend whether the men he inherited from George W. Bush should be released or prosecuted. This third alarming option — “too dangerous to release” — was, as far as we know, dreamt up by the task force itself, for prisoners regarded as a threat but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Reading between the lines, this meant tainted evidence — in other words, men regarded as unprovably dangerous because the evidence against them was derived through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, making it fundamentally untrustworthy — or, in some (perhaps many) cases, a perceived attitude problem: prisoners who, though perhaps understandably aggrieved at being held without charge or trial for over a decade in abusive conditions, had threatened retaliation, however hollow those threats may have been, that were taken seriously by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

Fayiz Al-Kandari, the Last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, and a Saudi Prisoner Ask Review Boards to Send Them Home

Fayiz al-Kandari. photographed at Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2009.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.

Since November 2013, 17 prisoners at Guantánamo have had their cases reviewed by Periodic Review Boards, panels 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 review boards are — albeit slowly — examining the cases of all the men still held who are not facing (or have faced) trials (ten of the 116 men still held) or who have not already been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 (44 of those still held).

Of these 17 men, ten have been approved for release (and two have been freed), while four others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved, on the basis that “continued law of war detention … remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Three other decisions have yet to be taken, and 47 other men are still awaiting reviews.

In recent weeks, reviews have also taken place for two of the four men whose review boards concluded that they should continue to be held — Fayiz al-Kandari (aka Faez, Fayez), the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last July, and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani (aka al-Shamrani, al-Shimrani), a Saudi whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last October. Read the rest of this entry »

War Is Over, Set Us Free, Say Guantánamo Prisoners; Judge Says No

Guantanamo prisoner Mukhtar al-Warafi, in a photo from 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.

Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration, in which they sought their release, on the basis that, as the lawyers put it, “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.”

In my article, I also mentioned a federal court filing submitted on behalf of a Yemeni prisoner, Mukhtar al-Warafi, at the end of February calling for his release for similar reasons. I stated, “One of al-Warafi’s lawyers is Brian Foster, who, with colleagues at the law firm Covington & Burling, represents prisoners accused of being involved with the Taliban as well as others accused of having some involvement with al-Qaeda. Foster said they ‘chose al-Warafi’s case as a first test because he was only ever named as a member of the Taliban, offering a clearer argument for why he should be set free now,’ as opposed to men accused of having al-Qaeda connections.”

As I also discussed recently, al-Warafi was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but had his habeas corpus petition subsequently challenged by the Justice Department, in an example of a lack of joined-up thinking within the government. Al-Warafi’s habeas petition was subsequently turned down by a judge in March 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom

Released Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab in a screenshot from an interview he did with an Argentinian TV channel in February 2015, two months after his release in Uruguay with five other men.In December, the release of six Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay attracted the attention of the world’s media — in part because Uruguay’s President Mujica was a former political prisoner, who had openly criticized Guantánamo and had welcomed the men as refugees.

At the time, the situation looked hopeful for the men — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — but that may just have been because of President Mujica’s attitude. After 13 years in Guantánamo, the reasonable expectation would have been that the released men would have post-traumatic stress disorder, and would find it hard to adapt to life in an alien country with no Muslim population.

In February, the most prominent of the former prisoners, Abu Wa’el Dhiab (aka Jihad Diyab) — a Syrian who had embarked on a hunger strike in despair at ever being released, and had fought in the US courts to prevent the Obama administration from force-feeding him — made what the Guardian described as “a surprising visit” to Argentina, Uruguay’s neighbour, to ask the country to take in other prisoners from Guantánamo, where 55 of the remaining 122 prisoners have also been approved for release, but are, for the most part, in need of third countries to offer them new homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Al-Jazeera Article About the Significance of the Dismissal of David Hicks’ Military Commission Conviction at Guantánamo

A screenshot of my article for Al-Jazeera about the dismissal of David Hicks' conviction at Guantanamo.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my new article for Al-Jazeera English, “The collapse of Guantánamo’s military commissions,” which, at the time of writing, has over 350 Facebook likes and shares, and has been tweeted over 125 times.

It’s my response to the news, on Wednesday February 18, that the US Court of Military Commission Review dismissed the conviction against David Hicks, an Australian, and the first prisoner to be convicted in the much-criticized military commission trial system, in March 2007.

This was an expected result, following previous dismissals of convictions, beginning in October 2012, but it does not make it any less significant. Hicks first announced an appeal in October 2013, and then lodged a second appeal last August, both with the Court of Military Commission Review that was established in August 2007 because, until then, no review process existed for the commissions, and two of the judges involved had raised issues that only the court could resolve. Read the rest of this entry »

Prosecutions Now! Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Release of the Senate Torture Report

A screenshot of Andy Worthington's Al-Jazeera article about the CIA torture program, published on December 10, 2014.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my new article for Al-Jazeera English, “Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report” looking at yesterday’s release of the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the CIA’s “Detention and Interrogation Program,” which took five years to complete, and cost $40m; or, in other words, the release of the summary of the Committee’s report about the Bush administration’s torture program, as run by the CIA.

In the article, I run through the history of the secretive program and how knowledge of it became public, from 2004 onwards (and including a mention of the report on secret detention for the UN in 2010, on which I was the lead writer and researcher), and I also look at a few of the genuinely shocking stories that emerge from the executive summary, some of which are shocking even for those of us who have spent years — in my case nearly nine years — researching and writing about the torture program.

I remain worried, however, that the Committee’s important work will be swept under the carpet, and that no one will be held accountable — by which I don’t just mean CIA officials, and James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the former SERE psychologists who designed the program (and earned $81m as a result!), as much as those who gave them their orders in the first place; namely, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and the various lawyers around them — David Addington, William J. Haynes II, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, for example — who did so much to initiate the torture program and to attempt to justify it. Read the rest of this entry »

Kuwaiti Prisoners Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari Ask Periodic Review Board to Free Them from Guantánamo

Over the last few weeks, Periodic Review Boards have been held at Guantánamo for the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fawzi al-Odah and Fayiz al-Kandari, who have been held for the last 12 years.

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 been taking place since last November, and were established to decide whether 71 of the remaining prisoners should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

As opposed to the 75 men still held who were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, these 71 men were either recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial (on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial) or for prosecution (until most of the charges in the military commission trial system collapsed following legal challenges). Both Fawzi and Fayiz were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article About Guantánamo for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?”

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?” in which I provide an overview of the manufactured outrage over the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration’s release, in Qatar, of five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, with particular reference to defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s appearance at a whistle Congressional hearing last week, in which he nevertheless defended the administration’s position.

Please like the article, share it, and tweet it if you find it useful.

As I explain, “lawmakers, with support from large parts of the media, have been waging a sustained attack on the Obama administration … accusing both the president and defence secretary Chuck Hagel of recklessness, incompetence and breaking the law in relation to the exchange.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera

The logo of Al-Jazeera.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. Written to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (on May 23, when a global day of action was held to call for renewed action from the president), it provides a round-up of progress — or the lack of it — in the last year.

As I note, although President Obama appointed envoys in the Pentagon and the State Department to work on the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, and 12 men have been freed since last August, 78 of the prisoners, out of 154 in total who are still held, have been approved for release — 75 in January 2010 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and three others in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men have not been cleared for release, including one man, Ghaleb al-Bihani, whose release was approved just yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Guantánamo Forever,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera English

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Guantánamo Forever,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. It covers the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) at Guantánamo, convened to assess whether 46 prisoners designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the inter-agency task force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009, or 25 others designated for prosecution by the task force, should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether they should be recommended for release  — even if, ironically, that only means that they get to join the list of 76 other cleared prisoners who are still held. The review boards began in November, and have, to date, reviewed just three of the 71 cases they were set up to review. The fourth, reviewing the case of Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni, takes place on April 8.

The number of prisoners cleared for release (76) includes the first prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, which recommended his release in January, although my Al-Jazeera article is my response to the most recent activity by the review boards — the decision taken on March 5 to continue holding, without charge or trial, a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, who has been at Guantánamo for over 12 years, and the review of Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, the third prisoner to have his ongoing detention reviewed, which took place at the end of March.

In the article I explain that the decision to continue holding Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, taken by 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, is a disgrace. 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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