Two More Yemeni “Forever Prisoners” Seek Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards

Yemeni prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place for men held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The PRBs, which began in November 2013, are reviewing the cases of all the men still held who are not facing trials or 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.

The PRBs that took place last week were for the 32nd and 33rd prisoners to have their cases considered. Of the previous 31, 20 have so far been approved for release, eight have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and three are awaiting results. Of the decisions taken, the prisoners’ success rate is 71%, a figure that is a stern rebuke to the task force, which either described them as “too dangerous to release,” while conceding that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, meaning that there are serious problems with the so-called “evidence,” or recommended them for prosecution in a system — the military commissions — that is so discredited that, after the task force made its recommendations, appeals court judges began overturning some of the few convictions achieved in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the prisoners had been convicted were not legitimate war crimes at all but had been invented by Congress.

Most of the PRBs to date have been for the “forever prisoners,” those mistakenly described as “too dangerous to release,” and last week’s PRBs were for two more from this group.

Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, first ordered to be freed by a judge in 2010

The first man, Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 027), is 36 years old, and, according to the government’s unclassified summary for his PRB, “left Yemen to participate in jihad in Afghanistan.” This much may be true, although Uthman has always maintained that he was a missionary. It may well also be true, as alleged, that he fought in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, although the authorities’ claim that this was “probably against Coalition Forces” is rather far-fetched, as no western forces were on the ground, only Afghan proxies. What is certainly true is that, in December 2001, he ended up crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan, “where he was detained,” and was subsequently flown to Guantánamo when the prison opened in January 2002.

What is less clear is whether, as alleged, he was “selected to be a bodyguard for Usama bin Ladin,” as he was just 23 years old at the time, and had only been in Afghanistan since March 2001. In Guantánamo, he and others caught with him have long been described as the “Dirty Thirty,” and have all been accused of being bodyguards for bin Laden, but the evidence has never existed to back up this claim.    One of the men who made the claim is Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni widely acknowledged — including by the US authorities — as Guantánamo’s most prolific liar, who made false claims about at least 120 of his fellow prisoners. In Uthman’s classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, it is noted that Basardah “identified detainee as a UBL bodyguard whom he saw eating with UBL,” and “felt that due to detainee’s close friendship with UBL that he may have been a guard for UBL for a substantial period of time.”

Another dubious witness is Abdu Ali al-Haji Sharqawi (ISN 1457), aka Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj, who was recommended for ongoing imprisonment by his PRB just three weeks ago. Uthman’s file stated that Sharqawi “recognised detainee as an individual who became a UBL bodyguard several months prior to 11 September 2001,” but as a US judge, District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr., noted in February 2010, while evaluating Uthman’s habeas corpus petition, Sharqawi’s statements, and those of another prisoner, Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453), were unreliable because they were both tortured in CIA “black sites.”

Back in February 2010, Judge Kennedy granted Uthman’s habeas petition, as I wrote about in an article entitled, Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture, but the government appealed, and in March 2011 that ruling was reversed by the D.C. Circuit Court in a politically-motivated ruling that I dissected in a hard-hitting article at the time, entitled, Mocking the Law, Judges Rule that Evidence Is Not Necessary to Hold Insignificant Guantánamo Prisoners for the Rest of Their Lives.

Five years after this ruling, Uthman maintains, as he always has, that he was not involved with Al-Qaeda. As the unclassified summary for his PRB states, “In interviews, [he] has never admitted to being part of al-Qa’ida or being a bin Ladin bodyguard, and has maintained that he was in Afghanistan to teach Islamic law.” The summary also notes that, according to Joint Task Force Guantánamo, he “has been mostly compliant at the Guantánamo detention facility, and “has committed less than 80 infractions since his arrival — a low number relative to other detainees — the majority of which have been non-violent failures to comply with the guard force.”

Nevertheless, the authorities note how his “statements while at Guantánamo suggest that he retains anti-US sentiments and is sympathetic to extremist causes,” although no examples are cited. It is also noted that he “has received one letter from a former detainee suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities, but did not respond” — a statement that I find shocking because of its casual intrusion on his privacy, and the inference that, if he had respond to a letter sent to him by a former prisoner he would have been tarnished by association.

Below, I’m posting the opening statements made by his personal representatives (military personnel assigned to help him with his PRB) and his attorney, David Remes. The personal representatives were clearly impressed by him, describing him as “polite, sincere and pleasant,” and as having “proven that he has a well-developed set of ethics and a sharp sense of right and wrong.” They added that he “has stated to us on many occasions that he harbors no ill will to the United States for his detention and has a mutual respect for all countries,” and note supportively his business plans (for a sesame oil business), his supportive family in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and his willingness “to attend a rehabilitation program” — in Saudi Arabia, presumably — “and live his life in peace.”

David Remes stressed Uthman’s “quick mind, and his easygoing and good-humored temperament,” and his business acumen, and clearly hoped repatriation to Yemen would be possible, although I am not convinced of the wisdom of this approach, as the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis, because of the unrest on Yemen, and it seems to me that supporting resettlement in Saudi Arabia (as happened recently with nine Yemenis) is the most practical approach.

Below these statements I look at the case of the second Yemeni reviewed last week, Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah (ISN 837).

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 26 Apr 2016
Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, ISN 027
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Yemeni prisoner Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Ladies and gentlemen of the Board, good morning. We are the Personal Representatives for Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, ISN 027. In our submission, we have provided you with information that demonstrates Mr. Uthman does not pose a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. His family is ready to provide support after his transfer, and most importantly, he is willing to attend a rehabilitation program and live his life in peace.

As Uthman’s Personal Representatives, we’ve met with him face to face on several occasions over the past months. Throughout our interactions, we have found him to be polite, sincere and pleasant. He has proven that he has a well-developed set of ethics and a sharp sense of right and wrong. He has stated to us on many occasions that he harbors no ill will to the United States for his detention and has a mutual respect for all countries.

Uthman’s Personal Counsel, David Remes, has had regular contact with Uthman’s family members. Uthman’s family including his mother, sister and two brothers living in Saudi Arabia are ready and willing to support him in his homecoming. In addition, you have documents from Uthman detailing his desire to start a sesame oil business which he has explored in detailed, to include diversifying into a roadside food cart business.

Last month he lost his brother-in-law to the war in Yemen. He was a member of the Yemeni Army. Uthman has told us, that he views his time in Guantánamo as a learning experience. In Yemen, and subsequently in Afghanistan, he stated he did not have access to television or newspapers like he does now which caused him to have a distorted view of the world.

Uthman has demonstrated that he is open minded and willing to change when he sees hope of a better future. He is 36 years old and wishes to begin to live his life again as soon as possible and start a family of his own. He wishes to put this all behind him and build a normal, healthy life outside Guantánamo. Accordingly, we do not believe that Uthman is a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.

Periodic Review Board
Statement of David Remes
Private Counsel for Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman

April 26, 2016

Good morning. My name is David Remes. I am private counsel for Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, ISN 27. I have represented Uthman in his habeas corpus case since July 2004. I have met with him countless times. As I will explain, I hope that the Board will approve Uthman for transfer, with a recommendation that he be repatriated to Yemen.

Uthman would return to a stable, tightly-knit family centered on the mother, the family’s beating heart. He would return to a family with the means to support him while he gets his bearings. His brother who assumed the role of bread-winner 30 years ago, after their father died in a bitter civil war, does not earn merely a “decent living,” as the translation of Uthman’s statement puts it. At the oil company where he has worked for 25 years, his brother, in fact, is both highly regarded and highly paid. The family is relatively affluent. Should Uthman be resettled in Saudi Arabia, his relatives there also have the means to sustain him.

There is no question that Uthman will hit the ground running. Before he went to Afghanistan, Uthman was a successful designer and manufacturer of men’s and women’s clothing wear. He knew his market and catered to it with the trendiest fashions. Uthman’s quick mind, and his easygoing and good-humored temperament, destine him for happiness and success in anything he tries to do.

Uthman’s immediate objective is to reunite with his mother and family. Obviously, that means repatriating him. I have absolutely no concern that Uthman would “rejoin the fight,” whether he is repatriated to Yemen or resettled anywhere else. Just as important, he would return not to Aden itself but to Little Aden. Separated from Aden by the wide Al-Tawahi Harbor, Little Aden has been relatively undisturbed by the turmoil in Aden. Even in Aden, the forces of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi appear to have the upper hand.

In repatriating Uthman to Yemen, the United States would not only be reuniting a strong, loving family, it would be returning a young man, still in his prime, who can succeed and actually contribute to the community around him. He should be approved for transfer.

Thank you.

Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah, part of a non-existent Al-Qaeda plot

The second PRB last week was for Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah (ISN 837), also 36, who is one of a group of six men seized in house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, on the same day that alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized. The six men were then sent to CIA-run torture prisons for six weeks before being sent to Guantánamo. They were initially regarded as recruits for a specific terrorist attack, although the government has long since walked away from this claim, as became apparent when the first of the six, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836), had his PRB in February, and was approved for release in March. Since then, another of the six has had a hearing, although the decision has not yet been announced. Another of the six has his PRB scheduled for May 31.

In an article in October 2010, I described al-Marwalah’s story as follows:

In Guantánamo, al-Marwalah, who had studied nursing in Yemen, admitted traveling to Afghanistan in September 2000 and training at al-Farouq and another camp, but he added that he then returned to Yemen to see his family, and especially his father, who was ill. He said that he then returned to Afghanistan in August 2001 and attended al-Farouq for a second time, but refuted an allegation that he had participated in military operations against the US-led coalition, and said that he had fled to Pakistan after the US-led invasion began. When the tribunal asked him why he had gone to Afghanistan, he said that he wanted to train to fight in Chechnya, and when he was asked, “Are you a member of al-Qaeda?” he said, “I don’t know. I know I am an Arab fighter” (although he also noted that he had not engaged in any actual combat).

In the government’s most recent publicly available allegations, it was noted that, unlike other men who had traveled to Tora Bora, al-Marwalah “and about 400 others” were evacuated to Khost, after “approximately four weeks moving back and forth between two guest houses, one in Kabul, and the other in Bagram,” and that, after traveling through Pakistan, he “stayed in a safe houses” [sic] in Karachi “from July to September 2002.”

These accounts are very similar to what the government has in its unclassified summary, in which it is claimed that al-Marwalah “was a low-level Yemeni militant who traveled to Afghanistan in the fall of 2000 to support the jihadist cause in Chechnya and train to fight with Muslims against the Russians. He received instruction at an al-Qa’ida camp, returned to Sanaa, Yemen in December 2000, and then travelled again to Afghanistan in fall 2001 and received additional militant training. After 9/11, [he] briefly went to the front lines against the Northern Alliance near Bagram, Afghanistan, although he claimed he never saw action [and] subsequently moved through a series of safehouses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, possibly waiting to return to Yemen.”

Refuting the claims that he was part of an Al-Qaeda plot, the summary described him as “one of the Yemenis arrested during the 11 September 2002 raids in Karachi, Pakistan later labelled as the ‘Karachi Six’ based on concerns that they were part of an al-Qa’ida operational cell intended to support a future attack.” Crucially, the summary added, “We judge that this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and that it is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

The summary added, specifically dealing with al-Marwalah’s case, that, “Although his role in al-Qa’ida operational plotting is unverified, his last will and testament found in the Karachi raids included a martyrdom statement.” This is meant to sound significant, and may have had some significance for the 23-year old al-Marwalah, although I don’t see it as relating to the 36-year old currently at Guantánamo.

The summary also noted that, at Guantánamo, al-Marwalah has been extremely well-behaved. He “has been highly compliant with the guard staff and has committed no significant disciplinary infractions apart from participating in one non-religious hunger strike in 2013,” the summary stated. It was also noted that, in debriefings, he “has never admitted to an affiliation with al-Qa’ida, has never expressed anti-American sentiment, and has denied any role in or knowledge of future terrorist activity against the US.” However, a note of caution was sounded with the assessment that some of his statements “suggest deception and withholding of information, including an unwillingness to expand on his activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his knowledge of senior al-Qa’ida members, and his understanding of al-Qa’ida operations and martyrdom.”

With what I regard as unnecessary caution, the summary added that, “As a result, while [al-Marwalah] has voiced a desire to return to his family, get married, and get a job upon release, we do not know if this intent is genuine.” It was also noted that he “has maintained close contact with his Sanaa-based family, including two brothers who probably are involved with AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], one of whom is currently in prison in Sanaa.” The “probably” in the previous sentence rather undermines its intended impact, but in any case, although the summary concluded with a warning that, “Should he reconnect with his brothers upon release, they could provide him access to extremist networks in Yemen and the opportunity to reengage,” even if the willingness was there, which I find unlikely, he will not in any case be repatriated to Yemen, and if approved for release will have to be found a third country prepared to offer him a new home.

Below I’m posting the opening statements of his personal representatives and his attorney, Erin E. Thomas, who made a good case for his release. The representatives described him as “a serious, thoughtful man” from “a large family that works in the medical field,” and stressed how he has retained his interest in medicine at Guantánamo, assisting his fellow prisoners and engaging with medical personnel, and has also learned English, and also noted how he “has learned from his mistakes and deeply regrets his actions in the past.” Erin Thomas also highlighted his regrets, his dedication to medicine, to learning English, and to art, and also described in detail the support of his family, including “working with the Red Cross to obtain a petition for his release, which has been signed by nearly 100 individuals attesting to Bashir’s good character.” She also described how he “has the personal qualities necessary to lead a successful and peaceful life,” adding, “I know him to be a kind, compassionate, and sincere person.”

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 28 Apr 2016
Bashir Nasir Ali Al-Marwalah, ISN 837
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Members of the Board, we are the Personal Representatives for Bashir Nashir Ali Al-Marwalah. When we first went to meet Bashir, he explained to me that he was very happy that we were there and he felt hopeful for the future. His demeanor is one of a serious, thoughtful man which both my partner and I can confirm.

Bashir comes from a large family that works in the medical field. Bashir learned how to work in the medical field by accompanying his father to work throughout his school years. Bashir graduated from the Higher Institute for Health Services, Nursing School Branch. Upon his transfer, even if Bashir is not able to return to Yemen, his education and experience will serve him well wherever he is reintegrated. Bashir’s goals for his future involve continuing his education, as he values knowledge, a career, building his own family and someday reconnecting with his family back home.

Bashir has spent much of his time reading and studying the medical field. In fact, whenever he has the chance, he helps other detainees with his medical knowledge. Bashir also takes the opportunity to engage with medical personnel to ask questions in order to keep his skills sharp. Bashir has spent much of his time reading many health and medical books and journals which we have included as an exhibit in his case file. In fact, because of Bashir’s passion for health, he has requested that he be allowed to assist medical personnel here at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) in the treatment of other detainees.

As you will see during Bashir’s opening statement [note: not made publicly available], he is also working on his English. He will not leave GTMO the same way he arrived. Bashir has broadened his mind. He has the support of his family and is looking to create a successful career and future. Additionally Bashir made friends with American attorneys who have worked with him in the past. These attorneys have stated they stand ready to offer support for Bashir wherever he may be transferred.

We appreciate you taking time to hear his case and your consideration for transfer. Bashir has learned from his mistakes and deeply regrets his actions in the past. As a result Bashir does not pose a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. Bashir understands that in order to be recommended for transfer he must first gain the board’s unanimous recommendation for transfer. Therefore he is willing and ready to answer any and all of your questions. We and Bashir’s Private Counsel are here throughout this proceeding to answer your questions as well.

Statement of Private Counsel Erin E. Thomas

Members of the Board, good morning. I am Erin Thomas, private counsel for Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah. Bashir and I first met in early 2011, when I was an attorney at Allen & Overy LLP. Bashir is now a client of my current firm, Covington & Burling LLP. I am thankful for the opportunity to explain to the Board why Bashir does not present a threat to the security of the United States or its allies.

Bashir deeply regrets the choices that he made as a young man, and their cost to both himself and the members of his family. If Bashir had not chosen to leave Yemen, he would still be close to his beloved family. As the oldest brother, he would have been around to provide guidance to his siblings. He would know his youngest sister and youngest brother who were both born after Bashir left. He would have a career, and likely a family of his own. His children would play with their cousins under the care of Bashir’s mother, just as his sisters’ children do while their own mothers go to work.

In short, Bashir longs for the things he has lost. He is ready to put the past behind him, and is eager to build a productive life outside of Guantánamo. Importantly, Bashir has demonstrated that he is very well-positioned to accomplish these goals.

First, He is trained as a nurse. He was employed at the Republic Hospital in Sana’a fulfilling a life-long dream to work in the medical field and help people. Bashir was an exemplary and well-liked nurse, as attested to by the support statements of 12 colleagues and teachers.

While at Guantánamo, Bashir has continued his nursing education. At Bashir’s request, his lawyers have sent him numerous medical books in English and Arabic. Bashir frequently brings his coursework to meetings with his attorneys, covered with painstaking notes and translations of medical vocabulary.

Bashir also completed a life skills and nutrition course with a 96% average. Bashir proactively seeks out other opportunities to improve his medical training, including practicing vocabulary with doctors from the Red Cross and in the camps.

Bashir’s nursing expertise will allow him to build a career in any country to which he is transferred. Bashir appreciates, however, that his Yemeni credentials may not be immediately recognized in another country, and has no objection to taking a less specialized job, for example as a home health aide or orderly.

Second, Bashir has used his time in Guantánamo to improve other skills. When we first met, Bashir and I communicated through a translator. Now we can hold a three hour meeting speaking exclusively in English. When he is not studying, Bashir stays productive with activities such as art classes. Bashir has the full support from his art teacher.

Bashir is also preparing himself to be a loving husband and father. He left Yemen a young, unmarried man who never had the opportunity to be in a relationship with a woman. Bashir studies materials on healthy relationships and child rearing. He desires a wife who is a true partner in life.

Third, Bashir enjoys a strong support network. Bashir is much loved and deeply missed by his family. They are proud of his efforts to improve his education while in Guantánamo.

Bashir’s family has demonstrated that they will do whatever they can to support him. They have furnished an apartment for him in Sana’a. While they recognize that Bashir cannot return to Yemen at this time, they can rent or sell the apartment to support him in another country. His family has also purchased wedding jewelry for his future wife. If this jewelry cannot be used, the family can sell it and send the proceeds to him.

Bashir’s father and siblings are employed, and have remained so during a very difficult period in Yemen. Bashir’s father, one sister as well as his two brothers are all employed at the Republic Hospital. Another sister recently began working at a private hospital nearby. The family has property in Sana’a and in the village of Bayt al-Marwalah.

Bashir’s family also actively assisted with the preparation of this submission, working with the Red Cross to obtain a petition for his release, which has been signed by nearly 100 individuals attesting to Bashir’s good character. Bashir’s oldest sister, is a busy, working mother of four, obtained the character affidavits and Bashir’s school and employment records during a period when Sana’a has been wracked by fighting and faces severe restrictions on its infrastructure and communications network. In short, Bashir’s loving family can — and has demonstrated that they will — support him financially and emotionally following his transfer.

Bashir’s former attorneys have also pledged their support. I too am prepared to assist Bashir through phone conversations, visits if possible, financial assistance, and serving as a point of contact for authorities in his country of transfer if needed. I have experience with this through my support of a former detainee client who was transferred to Europe. We are in regular contact, and I plan to visit him later this year. I am also assisting him in completing college courses that I enrolled him in while he was in Guantánamo.

Bashir’s current and former law firms, Covington & Burling and Allen & Overy, are also prepared to explore whether they have any useful contacts in Bashir’s proposed or actual country of transfer that could assist with Bashir’s transition to life post-Guantánamo. The human rights organization Reprieve has offered to share contacts, best practices, and other resources for supporting a client after transfer.

Fourth, Bashir has the personal qualities necessary to lead a successful and peaceful life. I know him to be a kind, compassionate, and sincere person. Throughout his decade-long relationship with his American attorneys, he has been unfailingly gracious, thankful for our work, and curious about the way we live. He sends thank you notes after we visit, and letters of congratulations when we get married or have children. Bashir has never expressed bitterness, anti-American sentiment, or extremist views to us.

Bashir’s lawyers are far from the only people who feel this way. Bashir’s written submission includes letters and videos of support from family, friends, and colleagues, as well as fellow detainees. Bashir’s good nature extends to the Guantánamo guard force. His unclassified summary confirms that his behavior has been highly compliant.

*****

Fifteen years ago, a young man made a decision he regrets. In the intervening years, that man has matured, reflected on his regret, and worked tirelessly to channel that regret into self-improvement. A strong support network stands behind him, ready to help. He sits before you, ready to answer your questions and to tell you about the new life that he longs to begin. I am confident that Bashir will not let anything distract him from accomplishing his goals.

Members of the Board, thank you for your time and consideration. I respectfully submit that you should recommend Bashir al-Marwalah for transfer.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Guantánamo Review for Obaidullah, an Afghan Whose Lawyers Established His Innocence Five Years Ago

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo from Guantanamo 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, 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.

On Tuesday (April 19), Obaidullah (ISN 762), an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, became the 30th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release (by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009) or facing trials.

Just ten men are in this latter category, but, when the PRBs were established in 2013, 25 others recommended for prosecution by the task force were made eligible for the PRBs, after a number of appeals court rulings made prosecutions untenable, along with 46 others described by the task force as “too dangerous to release,” on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial; in other words, that the information used to justify their imprisonment was not evidence at all, but, to a large extent, information obtained through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through the bribery of prisoners — who were given “comfort items” in exchange for their cooperation.

Of the 30 cases reviewed to date, 20 have resulted in recommendations that the men in question be released, seven men have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and three decisions have not yet been taken. That’s a success rate of 74%, but only nine of the 20 approved for release have been freed, and 35 others are still awaiting their reviews, even though, when the PRB process was first established, via an executive order in 2011, President Obama promised that they would be completed within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

Nine Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia; 80 Prisoners Remain

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).Good news from Guantánamo, as nine prisoners have been released, bringing the remaining number of prisoners down to 80. The nine men freed are all Yemeni citizens, but all have a connection with Saudi Arabia. Four were born there to Yemeni parents, while the other five have close family members who live in the country.

Only one of the nine is at all well-known: Tariq Ba Odah, a long-term hunger striker, who, last year, asked a judge to order his release, via a habeas corpus petition, because of the precarious state of his health. After more than eight years on a permanent hunger strike, he weighed just 74 pounds, and, according to medical experts and his lawyers, was at risk of death. Disgracefully, the Justice Department challenged his habeas petition, and, at the end of the year, Reuters revealed that the Pentagon had prevented representatives from an undisclosed foreign country that was prepared to offer him a new home from having access to his medical records, so that the country in question dropped its resettlement offer.

The New York Times also discussed the long history of how Saudi Arabia came to take in the Yemenis, revealing how the move completed “a long-sought diplomatic deal ahead of a planned visit to Riyadh by President Obama in the coming week.” Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, 68-Year Old Pakistani Businessman, Has His Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Approved

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He is wearing white, clothing reserved for the most compliant prisoners.Bad news from Guantánamo for Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, a victim of kidnap, extraordinary rendition and torture, and, at 68, the prison’s oldest prisoner, as his ongoing imprisonment has been recommended by a Periodic Review Board, following a hearing on March 8, which I wrote about here. The PRB process involves 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 it was established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release by President Obama’s  high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, or facing trials (and just ten of the remaining 89 prisoners are in this latter category).

With this decision, 27 prisoners have had their cases decided, with 20 men approved for release, and just seven having their ongoing imprisonment approved. However, most of those approved for release were mistakenly described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, while Paracha is from a smaller group of men initially recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, and in that group his is the second application for release that has been turned down, with just one success to date.

I have never found the case against Paracha — that he worked with Al-Qaeda in a plot or plots relating to the US — to be convincing, as he lived and worked as a successful businessman in the US from 1970-86, appears to be socially liberal, and has been a model prisoner at Guantánamo, where he has helped numerous younger prisoners engage with the various review processes established over the years. When his PRB took place, the authorities described him as as “very compliant” with the prison guards, with “moderate views and acceptance of Western norms.” Read the rest of this entry »

Emad Hassan’s Story: How Knowing a Town Called Al-Qa’idah Got Him 13 Years in Guantánamo

Emad Hassan, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.

Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009,  and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Board Decides Yemeni at Guantánamo Still Poses A Threat 14 Years After Capture

Guantanamo prisoner Suhayl al-Sharabi (aka Zohair al-Shorabi) 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, 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.

In its latest “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination,” a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — a high-level review process involving 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 — decided, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention” of Suhayl Abdul Anam al-Sharabi (aka Zohair al-Shorabi, ISN 569), a 38- or 39-year old Yemeni, “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The decision, dated March 31, 2016, and following on from his PRB on March 1, is not entirely surprising for two reasons — firstly, because of allegations levelled against al-Sharabi, suggesting that he was actually involved with terrorists, unlike the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and, coupled with this, a failure on his part to show contrition, and to come up with a plan for his future.

In its determination, the board stated that its members had “considered the detainee’s past involvement with terrorist activities to include contacts with high-level al Qaeda figures, living with two of the 9/11 hijackers in Malaysia, and possible participation in KSM’s plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia. The Board noted the detainee’s refusal to admit the extent of his past activities, as well as his evasive and implausible responses to basic questions. Further, the Board considered the detainee’s defiant behavior while in detention, which has only recently changed to be more compliant, and the detainee’s lack of a credible plan for the future.” Read the rest of this entry »

29th Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo – for Sharqawi Ali Al-Hajj, Alleged Al-Qaeda Facilitator

Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those 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.

Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.

23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat  in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and “Very Compliant” Prisoner, Faces Guantánamo Review Board

A photo of Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.I wrote the following article — as “Guantánamo Review Board for Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and ‘Very Compliant’ Prisoner, Kidnapped in Thailand in 2003” — 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.

Last week Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and, at 68 years of age, Guantánamo’s oldest current prisoner, became the 28th Guantánamo prisoner to have his potential release considered by a Periodic Review Board (see our full list here). This review process was set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) or already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, when almost two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — 156 out of 240 — were recommended for release, or, to use the task force’s careful wording, were “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures.”

Of the 28, five decisions have yet to be made, but of the 23 others the success rate for these men securing approval for their release is extremely high — 83% — with 19 men having their release recommended. What makes these decisions particularly important is that they puncture the rhetoric that has surrounded these men — both under George W. Bush, with the glib dismissal of everyone at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and under Barack Obama, with his task force’s conclusion (more worrying because of its veneer of authority) that 48 of those eligible for PRBs were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not reliable evidence at all.

In attempting to justify its decisions, the task force noted that its members had relied on “the totality of available information — including credible information that might not be admissible in a criminal prosecution — [which] indicated that the detainee poses a high level of threat that cannot be mitigated sufficiently except through continued detention.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Is 27th Guantánamo Prisoner to Face Periodic Review Board; 4th Man Has Detention Upheld, 36 Others Await Reviews

Guantanamo prisoner Zohair al-Shorabi (aka Suhayl al-Sharabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Al-Shorabi's Periodic Review Board was on March 1, 2016.

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In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.

In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Approved for Release from Guantánamo, as Lawyer Presents Persuasive Case for Release of Yemeni Who Has Become A Prolific Artist

Yemeni prisoner Muhammad al-Ansi in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.As the dust settles on President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay before he leaves office, and defense secretary Ashton Carter urges Congress to drop its ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, one key element of the plan — Periodic Review Boards, assessing, on a case by case basis, whether or not around half of the 91 men still held can be released — continue to deliver significant results.

Two weeks ago, a Yemeni, Majid Ahmad — once, I believe, mistakenly described as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden — was approved for release, and last week the Periodic Review Secretariat announced another release, bringing the total number of men approved for release to 19, out of 22 results, a success rate of 86%. 36 of the 91 men still held have now been approved for release, 24 since 2010, and 12 through the PRBs (to add to the seven men already freed as a result of the PRBs).

As I noted last week, the success rate “reveals the extent to which dangerous hyperbole has played such a significant part in the story of Guantánamo, as these are men regarded six years ago as ‘too dangerous to release’ by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, even though the task force also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial,” which “should have been a sign that the information used to continued imprisoning these men was profoundly unreliable, produced through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through bribing prisoners with better living conditions.” 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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