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 »

Guantánamo Reviews: US Accepts that Former “Black Site” Prisoner, Like Five Others, Wasn’t Part of Al-Qaeda Plot, As Another Prisoner is Approved for Release

Majid Ahmed (aka Majid Ahmad), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.As the countdown to the end of the Obama presidency continues (see the Countdown to Close Guantánamo we launched last month), and with just 329 days left for President Obama to fulfill the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office back in January 2009, we are reassured that progress continues in the Periodic Review Boards set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release and not facing trials — currently 46 of the 91 men still held, as one man has been approved for release, and another, seeking release, has had the military acknowledge that they exaggerated his role, and that he was “a low-level militant not part of an al-Qaida terrorist cell as previously believed,” as the Associated Press described it. Moreover, by extension, the same admission should apply to five other men seized at the same time as him, who are also still held and awaiting PRBs.

Just ten of the 91 men still held are facing trials, and of the 35 men already approved for release, eleven have been approved for release by PRBs, to add to seven others already freed after being approved for release.

In total, of the 21 decisions reached by the PRBs, 18 have led to recommendations that the men in question should be released — a success rate of 86%, which 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. 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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