Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process 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 PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo

Mohammad Rahim, an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo, regarded as a "high-value detainee," in photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who made it available to his family, who, in turn, made it publicly available.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

In trying to catch up on a few stories I’ve missed out on reporting about recently, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, a CIA torture victim held at Guantánamo, who was, in fact, the last prisoner to arrive at the prison in March 2008.

The petition was submitted by Major James Valentine, Rahim’s military defence attorney, and the researcher Arnaud Mafille, and it follows previous submissions to the IACHR on behalf of Djamal Ameziane, whose release was requested in April 2012 (and who was eventually released, but not as a direct result of the IACHR ruling), and Moath al-Alwi, whose lawyers submitted a petition on his behalf in February 2015, which led to the IACHR issuing a resolution on March 31, 2015 calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Al-Alwi was, at the time, a hunger striker, and in the petition his lawyers stated that, “During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Case of Al-Qaeda Suspect Captured in Yemen Seen As Test of Trump’s Plan to Send New Prisoners to Guantánamo

"Not one step back: Close Guantanamo" - campaigners outside the White House during the Obama presidency, with a message that may be even more significant under Donald Trump.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

For the New York Times on Monday, in ‘Case of Captive in Yemen Could Test Trump’s Guantánamo Pledge,’ Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt wrote about the case of Abu Khaybar, an al-Qaeda suspect, around 40 years of age, who was seized in Yemen last fall, and “is being held there by another country, according to four current and former senior administration officials.” The authors added that “[t]he circumstances of his detention are not clear, but he is wanted on terrorism charges in New York.”

However, Abu Khaybar may also be wanted by Donald Trump, to send to Guantánamo, to follow up on his pledge to send new prisoners to the prison. As the authors note, his “suspected affiliation with Al Qaeda gives the United States clear authority to hold him” at Guantánamo, where the detention of prisoners is approved by the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

As the Times noted, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, “has repeatedly said that terrorists should not be prosecuted in civilian courts,” a worrying stance given that the military commissions at Guantánamo have been a colossal failure, while federal courts have proven more than capable of successfully prosecuting terrorists, something they have done throughout the last 15 years, even when the Bush administration was most aggressively touting Guantánamo as a new paradigm of detention. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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 Wednesday our worst fears on Guantánamo and torture were confirmed, when the New York Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” indicating that Donald Trump wants to keep Guantánamo open, wants to send new prisoners there, and wants to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” Trump also, it seems, wants to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Specifically, the draft executive order proposes revoking the two executive orders, 13492 and 13491, that President Obama issued on his second day in office in January 2009 — the first ordering the closure of Guantánamo, and the second to close CIA “black sites,” to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all prisoners, and to ensure that interrogators only use techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

The draft executive order also proposes to “resurrect a 2007 executive order issued by President Bush,” as the New York Times put it, which “responded to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions that had put CIA interrogators at risk of prosecution for war crimes, leading to a temporary halt of the agency’s ‘enhanced’ interrogations program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Final Two Review Board Decisions Announced: 21 Men Now Approved for Release from Guantánamo

12 of the Guantanamo prisoners put forward for Periodic Review Boards. Top row from left: Mohammed Ghanem (Yemen, approved for release), Haji Hamidullah (Afghanistan, freed), Abdul Rahman Shalabi (Saudi Arabia, freed), Ayyub Ali Salih (Yemen, freed). Middle Row​: Yassin Qasim (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdu Ali al-Hajj Sharqawi (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Mauritania, freed), Mansoor al-Zahari aka al-Dayfi (Yemen, freed). Bottom, from left, Ravil Mingazov (Russia, approved for release), Abu Zubaydah (Palestine, not decided yet), Salman Rabei’i (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdul Latif Nasir (Morocco, approved for release).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

On September 9, as I reported at the time, the last of 64 Guantánamo prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board— Hassan bin Attash, who was just 17 when he was seized in September 2002 — had his case reviewed. A month later, a decision was taken in his case (to continue holding him), bringing the first round of the PRBs to an end, with two exceptions.

In the cases of two men whose cases were reviewed in April and May, the board members had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, and. for these two men, decisions were not reached until last week — November 21, to be exact. In the case of one man, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi, the board members approved his release, while in the case of the other man, Said Nashir, a Yemeni, a decision was taken to recommend his continued imprisonment.

The decisions mean that, of the remaining 60 prisoners, 21 have been recommended for release —seven by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the men he had inherited from George W. Bush, and 14 by the PRBs. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions

Sam Raphael, Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington and Carla Ferstman at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.

The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.

At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Humanizing a Torture Victim: Abu Zubaydah’s Letters from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah as a young man (Photo by Abu Zubaydah’s childhood friend, Muhammad Shams al-Sawalha).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On Tuesday, I wrote about the recent decision, by a Periodic Review Board, to approve the ongoing imprisonment of Abu Zubaydah, one of 14 men described as “high-value detainees,” who were brought to Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” just over ten years ago, in September 2006.

Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was actually the first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, but although the US government initially touted him as a significant figure in al-Qaeda, by 2010 they had backed down from their claims, accepting that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. In legal documents, the government claimed that they had “not contended … that Petitioner was a member of al-Qaeda or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaeda” and had “not contended that Petitioner had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, or the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Nevertheless, in approving Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, the members of the review board — 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 — sought to still identify him with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and drew on a videotaped interview, made by militants after the 9/11 attacks, in which he spoke of how closely he and bin Laden had been working together for ten years, a claim that sounds suspiciously like Zubaydah making false claims about his own significance. In contrast, at a tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007, Zubaydah stated that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I’m not his partner and I’m not a member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

First “War on Terror” Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah Denied Release from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. The eye patch covers his lost eye, removed in US custody.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On October 27, it was announced that Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was initiated, had his ongoing imprisonment recommended by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type 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. Zubaydah’s review took place on August 23 (as I reported here), and the decision was taken on September 22, but, for some reason, it was not made public for five weeks.

The PRBs began in November 2013, and have reviewed the cases of 64 men, who were previously recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release” (41 of the 64) or for men initially recommended for trials, until the legitimacy of the military commission trial system was seriously shaken by a court ruling on October 2012, and by subsequent rulings (the remaining 23). To date, 62 decisions have been taken, with 34 men being approved for release, while 28 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

In their Final Determination approving Abu Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment, the board members, having determined, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” described how they had “considered [his] past involvement in terrorist activities to include probably serving as one of Usama Bin Ladin’s [sic] most trusted facilitators and his admitted abilities as a long-term facilitator and fundraiser for extremist causes, regardless of his claim that he was not a formal member of al-Qa’ida.” 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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