Insignificant Afghan Finally Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Good news from Guantánamo, as another prisoner, Obaidullah, an Afghan, is approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Decisions have now been taken in the cases of 29 prisoners, with 22 recommended for release, and just seven recommended for ongoing imprisonment. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 76%, which is hugely significant, because, back in 2010, they were either recommended for prosecution or were described as “too dangerous to release” by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners held when he became president. 18 men were in the former category, and 46 in the latter.

The decision also means that, of the 80 men still held, 28 have been approved for release — 15 by the task force in 2010, and 13 by the PRBs (nine of those approved for release by PRBs have already been freed). 35 others are awaiting PRBs, or are awaiting decisions, and just ten men are facing trials — or have already had trials.

Obaidullah, who was just 19 years old when he was seized at his home in Afghanistan in July 2002, is one of the prisoners who had initially been recommended for prosecution — and is the second former prosecution candidate to be recommended for release by a PRB (three others have been recommended for ongoing imprisonment). He had been put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008, charged with providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy, based on claims that he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Tribal Chief, Businessman, Intelligence Officer and Torture Victim Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Abd al-Salam al-Hela, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, a 48-year old Yemeni citizen held at Guantánamo, Abd al-Salam al-Hela (aka Abd al-Salam al-Hilah or Abdul al-Salam al-Hilal), became the 37th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. This high-level, US review process, which 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, began in November 2013.

In the two and half years since, the PRBs have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 46 men originally described by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009), as “too dangerous to release,” and 18 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.

For the 46 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, which set alarm bells ringing for anyone paying close attention, because, if insufficient evidence exists to put someone on trial, then it is not evidence at all. At Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — the reasons for this emerged under minimal scrutiny from anyone paying attention. Instead of being evidence, information was extracted from prisoners through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions, which, as a result, is demonstrably unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

Sole Kenyan at Guantánamo, Seized in 2007, Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed Abdulmalik (aka Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu), the sole Kenyan prisoner, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family. Last week (on May 10), the sole Kenyan held at Guantánamo, Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (aka Mohammed Abdulmalik) became the 36th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. A high-level review process that began in November 2013, the PRBs involve 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, in the two and half years since they were set up, they have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 46 men described by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009) as “too dangerous to release,” and 18 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.

For the 46 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but what this means, of course, is that it is not evidence at all, but something far less trustworthy — information that was extracted from the prisoners themselves through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions.

Of the 36 cases reviewed up to and including Mohammed Abdulmalik, 21 men have so far been approved for release, and just seven have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, a success rate of 75%, which rather demolishes the US claims about the men question being “too dangerous to release.” The eight others reviewed are awaiting decisions. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: After Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer’s 90-Minute BBC Interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Shaker Aamer, in a screenshot from his interview with the BBC, broadcast on December 14, 2015.On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.

Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Speaks: First Newspaper Interview Since Release from Guantánamo, in the Mail on Sunday

A photo that Shaker Aamer made available to the We Stand With Shaker campaign to thanks all his supporters who worked so hard to secure his release from Guantanamo.The Mail on Sunday today featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below are excerpts dealing with his life from 1989 to February 2002, when he arrived at Guantánamo, providing information not previously discussed — in particular, about the circumstances of his visit to Afghanistan and his capture. As someone who campaigned for many years for his release — including in the last year with the We Stand With Shaker campaign I co-founded last November — it is wonderful to hear from him.

Speaking to David Rose, Shaker spoke about his experiences in the US after he left Saudi Arabia, where he was born in 1966, in Medina. From 1989 to 1995, he explained, as Rose noted, that he “lived mostly in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia, working as a chef in restaurants. In those days he lived a Westernised life: a lover of rock music, he often attended concerts by his favourite bands — including AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. In this period, in 1990, he responded to a US army recruitment drive for Arabic/English translators during the first Gulf War — which is how he came to find himself working for the US infantry in Saudi.”

“First I was in the south, then at a base in Tabuk, near the Jordanian border,” Shaker said, explaining that he needed security clearance for the job. “Of course I had to be checked. I was right inside the US base. I got to know those guys very well, especially the colonel — his name was Johansen. Later, I used to tell my interrogators: call Colonel Johansen, he will tell you I’m not a terrorist, that I’m a good guy, and that I’m telling you the truth. I’m sure they never did.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; On a Hunger Strike, Fearful That He Won’t See His Family Again

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo). The birthday card is by Dot Young, and the message, of course, was ironic, and meant to shame both the British and American governments.Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.

Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”

This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Speaks: Major Profile of Former Guantánamo Prisoner in the Toronto Star

Omar Khadr with Dennis Edney on May 9, 2015 (Photo: Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star).For nine years, I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr, the former child prisoner at Guantánamo, who was released on bail in Canada a month ago. I first wrote about Omar in my book The Guantánamo Files, which I wrote in 2006-07, and since then I’ve written 94 articles about him, watching as he was first put forward for a trial by military commission in June 2007, shortly after I started writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and writing a major profile of him in November 2007.

In 2008, I followed his pre-trial hearings in the military commissions (see here and here, for example), and watched in horror as videos of his profoundly insensitive interrogations by Canadian agents were released, and in October 2008 I wrote a detailed article about him based on the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize the rights of juvenile prisoners.

I then wrote about the Obama administration’s lamentable decision to charge Omar — again — in the revived military commissions, and watched as the pre-trial hearings unfolded, leading to one of the bleakest moments in the Obama presidency — the plea deal Omar agreed to, in order to leave Guantánamo, in which, to his eternal shame, President Obama allowed a former child to be prosecuted, in a war crimes trial, not for war crimes, but for having engaged in armed conflict with US soldiers during a war — something that has never been a war crime and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Four Insignificant Afghan Prisoners Released from Guantánamo

Shawali Khan, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.More good news regarding Guantánamo, as four Afghans have been released, and returned to Afghanistan in what US officials, who spoke to the New York Times, “are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.”

The Times added, “Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four — long cleared for release — as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved US-Afghan relations.”

The Times also noted that there is “no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men” — Shawali Khan, 51 (ISN 899), Abdul Ghani, 42 (ISN 934), Khi Ali Gul, 51 (ISN 928) and Mohammed Zahir, 61 (ISN 1103) — adding that Afghanistan’s government-appointed High Peace Council also “requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantánamo,” 63 of whom have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?

Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.

Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.

The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo

Please sign and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s immediate release from Guantánamo.

Two weeks ago, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, submitted a motion to the District Court in Washington D.C. asking a judge to order his release because of his profound mental and physical health problems. These were confirmed in a report by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, who had been allowed to visit Shaker for five days in December, following a request by his lawyers last October.

I wrote about the motion in an article last week, entitled, “Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo,” and I’m following up on that article by reproducing the passages in Dr. Keram’s report in which Shaker talked about the torture and abuse to which he was subjected in US custody, primarily in the prisons in Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan, following his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. Also included are passages dealing with his 12 years of torture and abuse in Guantánamo, as well as passages dealing with his  torture and abuse during his initial detention in Northern Alliance custody. Please note that the sub-headings are my own.

I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye for posting most of these excerpts from Shaker’s testimony last week, in a widely-read article for Firedoglake entitled, “‘You are completely destroyed’: Testimony on Torture from Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report at Guantánamo,” and I hope I’m not treading on his toes by posting it again in the hope of reaching some readers who didn’t catch it the first time around. 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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