In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, in which prisoners recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a high-level task force six years ago are being given a parole-like opportunity to plead for their release. I’ll be writing about those reviews soon, but before I do so I’d like to sum up four other decisions taken over this same period — one decision to approve a prisoner for release, and three others upholding prisoners’ ongoing detention. 62 reviews have now taken place, since the PRBs began in November 2013, and out of those reviews 33 men have been recommended for release, 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and ten decisions have yet to be taken. Two final reviews are taking place in the next two weeks.
The man whose release was approved is Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), an Algerian, born in July 1973, whose PRB took place on May 26. Seized in a house with the “high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah, whose review also took place recently, Barhoumi was alleged by the US authorities to have been a bomb-maker, and had been put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush, although the charges were later dropped.
For his PRB, however, his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights painted a compelling portrait of a ”natural diplomat,” popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, 15 prisoners were released from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates, the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, bringing the total number of men held to just 61. 12 of the 15 men are Yemenis, and the other three are Afghans. A third country had to be found that would offer them new homes, because the entire US establishment refuses to repatriate any Yemenis, on the basis that the security situation in Yemen means they cannot be adequately monitored, and Afghans cannot be repatriated because of legislation passed by Congress.
On Sunday I published an article about six of the Yemenis, who were all approved for release from Guantánamo in 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review the cases of all the men held when he took office and to decide whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial.
The other nine men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, which began in 2013, and which was set up to review the cases of men who had not already been approved for release, and are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category). The reviews started in November 2013, and, to date, 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 63% success rate. This is an extraordinary success rate for men previously described as “too dangerous to release,” by the task force, and it clearly establishes that the task force was unnecessarily cautious in its appraisal of the prisoners held when President Obama took office. Read the rest of this entry »
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 July 10, the Pentagon announced that Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman (ISN 153), a 41-year old Yemeni who arrived at the prison in its first week of operations, on January 17, 2002 and was approved for release from Guantánamo six and a half years ago, had finally been freed, and given a new home in Italy. Two prisoners, both Tunisians, were previously transferred to Italy, in 2009, where they were briefly imprisoned before returning to Tunisia during the optimistic early days of the Arab Spring.
Suleiman — who, it should be stressed, will be a free man in Italy — was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and that issued its final report in January 2010. He is the last Yemeni out of 126 men approved for release by the task force to be freed.
In addition, eleven Yemenis are left out of 30 approved for release by the task force but then placed in a sub-category of “conditional detention” — conditional on a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen. No indication was given as to how this would be decided, but what happened instead was that the entire US establishment agreed not to repatriate any Yemenis, and so the “conditional detention” group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, with Suleiman’s release, has led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?
The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.
It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, two days after Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, sought release from Guantánamo via a Periodic Review Board, a high-level, inter-agency US government review process, established in 2013, another Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, also went before a PRB to ask for his freedom, and was the 41st prisoner to do so. Of the 30 decisions already taken, 23 have resulted in recommendations for the prisoners’ release, while just seven have resulted in recommendations for the men’s continued detention — and even those are subject to further review. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 77%, thoroughly undermining the excessive caution and misplaced zeal for prosecution that, in 2010, led the previous high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to describe the men who were later made eligible for PRBs as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution.
The former were largely groundless claims, in a prison full of statements obtained through torture and other forms of coercion, while the latter was based on a mistaken understanding of what constitutes war crimes, spelled out in a number of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013, which humiliated the government by dismissing some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system on the embarrassing basis that the war crimes for which the men in question has been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.
Barhoumi, whose prisoner number is 694, is 41 years old, and, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explain, he was “born and raised in Algiers, where his mother still lives and his late father practiced law.” CCR also explain that, as a young man, he “lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France, and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years,” before traveling to Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he ended up in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered and implemented the crimes committed by the United States since 9/11 in its brutal and counter-productive “war on terror,” victory has so far proven elusive, and no one has had to answer for the torture, the extraordinary rendition, the CIA “black sites,” the proxy torture prisons elsewhere, the shameful disregard of the Geneva Conventions and the embrace of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial that has been such a shame and disgrace for anyone not blinded by the violence and vengeance that have consumed so much of the US’s actions and attitudes in the last 14 and a half years.
In the US itself, President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he was looking forwards and not backwards when it came to accountability, as though sweeping the crimes mentioned above under the carpet would remove their poison from infecting US society as a whole. An early example of refusing to allow any victims of extraordinary rendition and torture anywhere near a courtroom was the Obama administration, in 2009 (and into 2010), invoking the “state secrets doctrine” (a blanket denial of any effort to challenge the government’s actions) to prevent the British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed and others from challenging the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen for its role as the CIA’s travel agent for torture.
In February 2010, President Obama also allowed a Justice Department fixer to override the conclusions of an ethics investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the 2002 “torture memos” that cynically purported to redefine torture so it could legally be used by the CIA. The investigation had concluded that they were guilty of “wrongful conduct,” but they received only a slapped wrist after Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this entry »
The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.
The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.
Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.
When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.
Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.
Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.
Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.
Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: