Photos and Report: Parliamentary Meeting for Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, April 19, 2016

The actor Toby Jones reading from "Guantanamo Diary' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi at a Parliamentary briefing on April 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here.

On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.

A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. 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 »

Obama Plans to Move 24 Guantánamo Prisoners to US Mainland, Send A Dozen for Trials in Other Countries

Campaigners in Florida call for the closure of Guantanamo outside the gates of US Southern Command, January 9, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

As the Countdown to Close Guantánamo continues, with over 150 people now having submitted photos of themselves holding posters telling President Obama how many days he has left to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay (see the photos here and here), Ben Fox of the Associated Press has provided an informative update about how the Obama administration plans to close the prison before President Obama leaves office.

With just 91 men left at Guantánamo, we have been calling for the 34 men currently approved for release to be released as soon as possible, for arrangements to be made for the men facing (or having faced) trials (just ten of those still held) to be moved to the US mainland, and for reviews to take place as swiftly as possible for the 47 other men, who are all eligible for Periodic Review Boards.

A high-level, inter-agency review process, the PRBs were set up in 2013 to ascertain whether to release or continue holding 46 men previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” (despite a lack of evidence against them) and 25 others recommended for prosecution in military commissions until the courts struck down the charges in most of the trials because they had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

For Feb. 4, Send Us A Photo for the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo,” Telling Obama He Now Has Just 350 Days to Close It

The musician David Knopfler supports the new Countdown to Close Guantanamo campaign, and stands with a poster telling President Obama that, on February 4, 2016, he has just 350 days left to close Guantanamo before he leaves office.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Two weeks ago, as the co-founder of “Close Guantánamo,” I launched a new initiative, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, with music legend Roger Waters, on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. See the video of that show here.

We encouraged people to take photos of themselves with posters counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as he promised on his second day in office in January 2009, and to send them to us — with personalized messages, if they wish. Supporters can also let us know where they are, to demonstrate the breadth of support across the US, and around the world.

Following the launch, we set up two dedicated pages for photos of supporters — Celebrity Photos and Public Photos — and also posted photos on social media, on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

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).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Long-Term Hunger Striker, Repatriated from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, in a photo from the classified military files from Guantanamo that were made available by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Yesterday (September 22), the US authorities reduced the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay to 114 by releasing Abdul Rahman Shalabi, the prison’s most enduring hunger striker, who had been on a hunger strike for over ten years.

As I explained in an article in October 2010, he “weighed 124 pounds when he arrived at Guantánamo in January 2002,” but “rarely weighed more than 110 pounds [after] he began his hunger strike in August 2005, as part of the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history. At one point, in November 2005, he weighed just 100 pounds (PDF) … In September 2009, after four years of being force-fed daily, Shalabi weighed just 108 pounds, and wrote a distressing letter to his lawyers, in which he stated, ‘I am a human who is being treated like an animal.’ In November 2009, when his letter was included in a court submission, one of his lawyers, Julia Tarver Mason, stated, ‘He’s two pounds away from organ failure and death.'”

Shalabi, who is 39 years old, spent a third of his life at Guantánamo, and was one of 48 prisoners designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, whose remit was to recommend prisoners for release or for trial. In the end, the task force decided that 48 men were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. This was deeply problematical, because it meant that the evidence was no such thing — and was, for example, a collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, bribery (the promise of “comfort items” and better living conditions) or exhaustion as the result of never-ending interrogations. Read the rest of this entry »

14 Years After 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Be Closed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture occupy the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Click here for Andy’s 20-minute interview on Cii Broadcasting, a Muslim radio station based in South Africa, discussing who is still held at Guantánamo, and how, on almost every front, justice is not being delivered to these men.

14 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is time to take stock of what has — or hasn’t — been achieved, and what the cost has been for America’s standing in the world, how it sees itself and its values.

Unfortunately, an honest audit delivers an alarming response. As Tom Engelhardt has written in “Mantra for 9/11: Fourteen Years Later, Improbable World,” an article to mark the anniversary:

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

Does President Obama Still Have a Plan for Closing Guantánamo?

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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