Review Board Approves “Forever Prisoner” Ghaleb Al-Bihani for Release from Guantánamo, But Also Approves Ongoing Detention of Salem Bin Kanad

Six weeks ago, I reported on the Periodic Review Boards for two “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo — Ghaleb al-Bihani and Salem bin Kanad — who are both Yemenis, and were regarded by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama to review all the remaining prisoners’ cases in 2009, as too dangerous to release, even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

The PRBs — 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by, or on behalf of the prisoners by video link from Guantánamo — took place to establish whether these two men should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

This category of prisoner — as opposed to those approved for release, or those recommended for prosecution — is particularly problematical, as it relies on a presumption that the so-called evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners is somehow reliable, when that is patently not the case. The files on the prisoners are for the most part a dispiriting collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — immediately after capture, in America’s notorious prisons in Afghanistan, or in Guantánamo, all places and circumstances where torture and abuse were rife; or, in some cases, where bribery (the promise of better living conditions, for example) was used to try to secure information that could be used as evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (2/3): Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Cook, Asks to Be Sent Home to Yemen or to Another Country

Last week, I published the first of three new articles about the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, looking at the hearing for a Yemeni prisoner, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, who had the opportunity to ask for his freedom on March 20.

Ali is one of 71 prisoners — out of the 154 men still held — who were either 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 2009 (46 men in total), or were recommended for prosecution (25 others).

The 46 had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by President Obama in an executive order issued in March 2011, on the alarming basis that they were allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. The president tried to sweeten this unacceptable endorsement of indefinite detention by promising that the men would receive periodic reviews of their cases, but the first of these did not take place until last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Close Guantánamo – The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014

Close GuantanamoAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantanamoTorture is always wrongRev. Ron Stief calls for the closure of GuantanamoLeili Kashani calls for the closure of Guantanamo"Tell the world the truth": Shaker Aamer's words from Guantanamo
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and a supporterThe "Close Guantanamo" march leaves the White HouseMr. President, you gave your word to close GuantanamoVeterans for Peace call for the closure of Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners arrive at the Museum of American History"Close Guantanamo" campaigners at the Museum of American History
Shut down Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners occupy the Museum of American HistoryWitness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American HistoryPalina Prasasouk reads out a letter from Shaker Aamer in GuantanamoThe Price of Freedom: Witness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American History

Close Guantánamo: The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014, a set on Flickr.

On Saturday January 11, 2014, a coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and my own group, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I co-founded and run with the attorney Tom Wilner — met outside the White House in Washington D.C., in the pouring rain, to tell President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close the prison, to continue releasing cleared prisoners as a matter of urgency, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the 77 cleared prisoners still held, and to bring justice to the 78 other men still held, either by putting them on trial or releasing them.

These are my photos of the day, and as well as including some of the speakers outside the White House, the set also includes photos of the march from the White House along Constitution Avenue to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where, as I explained in an article for “Close Guantánamo,” featuring a 10-minute video of the day’s events by Ellen Davidson (including clips of me and Tom), which I’m also posting below, activists with Witness Against Torture staged a creative and powerful occupation of the museum, under the clever slogan, “Make Guantánamo History.” Read the rest of this entry »

GTMO Clock Launched, 75 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo, and Six Months Since Hunger Strike Started

Please click on the “GTMO Clock” image to visit the website and see how many days it has been since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed.

Today, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights are launching the “GTMO Clock,” to show how long it is since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed. This article is published simultaneously here and on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

It’s six months since the prisoners at Guantánamo embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to protest about their seemingly endless detention. Although President Obama promised to close the prison within a year when he took office in January 2009, he failed to do so, and in February this year, the majority of the 166 men still held began refusing food, in the hope of attracting the world’s attention to their plight, and forcing President Obama to act.

In May, after the world’s media had picked up on the hunger strike, and international bodies including the UN, the EU and the International Committee of the Red Cross had put pressure on President Obama, he responded with a major speech on national security, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. Today, however, it’s 75 days since that speech, and no prisoners have yet been released. The “GTMO Clock” will be keeping track of how many days it has been since President Obama made his promise, and how many men have been released. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

It is now 119 days since the prison-wide hunger strike began at Guantánamo, and 12 days since President Obama delivered a powerful speech at the National Defense University, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners. The process of releasing prisoners — based on the deliberations of an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009, which concluded that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released — has been largely derailed, since August 2010, by Congressional opposition, but must resume if President Obama is not to be judged as the President who, while promising to close the prison, in fact kept it open, normalizing indefinite detention.

The obstacles raised by Congress consist primarily of a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism. Practically, however, the men are still held because of President Obama’s refusal to deal with this either by confronting Congress or by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him and the secretary of defense to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Monitoring the hunger strike — and pointing out that President Obama must keep his promises — are both hugely important, especially as the media, and people in general, may well lose interest after President Obama’s speech, and believe that, because he has made promises, those promises will inevitably come true. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Guantánamo Hunger Strike with Dennis Bernstein and Michael Slate

The hunger strike in Guantánamo, which is now in its 74th day, continues to draw attention, although it is important that everyone who cares about it keeps publicizing the story — and keeps reminding the mainstream media to keep reporting it — or it will be lost in the hysteria emanating from the Boston bombings, which right-wingers, of course, are using to replenish their Islamophobia — one aim of which will be to shut down discussion of Guantánamo, in order to keep the prison open.

As my contribution to keeping the story alive, I’ve been publishing articles about the hunger strike on an almost daily basis, and have also been taking part in as many media appearances as possible. On Monday, after the military had clamped down on the hunger strike with violence last weekend, firing non-lethal rounds and moving the majority of the prisoners into solitary, I received several invitations to take part in TV and radio shows, but all but two fizzled out when the Boston bombing occurred. One of the two was a Canadian radio station, and the other was with Dennis Bernstein on Flashpoints, on KPFA in Berkeley, California.

My interview with Dennis is available here, just three weeks after our last discussion about Guantánamo, and I was pleased to be joined by Candace Gorman, the Chicago-based attorney who represents two Guantánamo prisoners — one still held, and the other freed in 2010 — and Stephanie Tang of the World Can’t Wait. Both are friends, and between us, and with Dennis’s informed interest in the topic, I believe we thoroughly analyzed the dreadful situation that is still unfolding at Guantánamo, and pointed out the urgent necessity for President Obama to take action. Read the rest of this entry »

“No Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo,” US Claims, Defying Reality

We live in surreal times. President Obama, who promised “hope and change,” has, instead, proven to be a worthy successor to George W. Bush as a warmonger and a defender of those in positions of power and authority who authorized the use of torture.

In addition, when it comes to another hallmark of Bush-era crimes — indefinite detention without charge or trial, for those that the Bush administration identified as “enemy combatants” — President Obama has gone further than his predecessor.

After the sustained paranoia of the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush found his policies challenged by the Supreme Court, and subjected to international criticism, and began to back down. Obama, however, having promised to close Guantánamo, but then having discovered that it was politically difficult to do so, has contented himself with finding justifications for continuing to hold the 166 men still at Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is in spite of the fact that over half of them (86 men in total) were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established in 2009 by President Obama himself, consisting of around 60 officials from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, who met every week to examine the prisoners’ cases, and to decide who should be released, who should be tried, and — shockingly — who should continue to be held without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, An Innocent Man Pleads for Release

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have long despaired that the power of black propaganda is such that the Bush administration’s claim that Guantánamo held “the worst of the worst” has had a disturbing and enduring power. The reality, as those who have studied Guantánamo know, is that this is an empty claim, not backed up by evidence.

In fact, few of the 779 men held at Guantánamo throughout its 11-year history are genuinely alleged to have had any connection to al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, or any other examples of international terrorism. Sold for bounty payments, or rounded up through woefully inept intelligence, the men and boys flown to Guantánamo were generally so insignificant — either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or mere foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan that predated the 9/11 attacks and had nothing to do with terrorism — that reasons had to be created to justify holding them, even though, for the most part, the authorities did not see it that way. Convinced that their prisoners were holding out on them, they tortured, abused or bribed them into making false statements — about themselves, and about their fellow prisoners — that could be used to justify holding them. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House

Guantánamo protestors and the Washington MonumentPeace bikeFree Djamel AmezianeGuantánamo protestors and the White HouseGuantánamo protestors in front of the White HouseThe poet Luke Nephew calls for the closure of Guantánamo
Close Guantánamo: Black hoods, orange jumpsuits and the White HouseAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Andy Worthington in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of Guantánamo in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Protestors outside the White House
Close Guantánamo: Two protestors outside the White HousePardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani at the "Close Guantánamo" protest outside the White HouseLeili Kashani calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Bagram and GuantánamoInaugurate Justice, Close GuantánamoCruel, Inhuman and Degrading
Close Guantánamo: Witness Against Torture's White House protest166 orange ribbons and the White House

Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House, a set on Flickr.

These photos, following on from the previous set, capture some of the key images and the principled, decent and tireless campaigners for justice involved in the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to call on President Obama to fulfil the promise he made to close the prison when he took office in January 2009, or be remembered as a failure, who succumbed to political expediency and settled for a path of cowardice rather than confronting his political opponents, both in the Republican Party and in his own party, and doing what needed to be done.

This, of course, involved the still-pressing need to restore some semblance of justice in the wake of the horrors inflicted on the law, on America’s reputation, and on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the so-called “war on terror,” but instead of addressing the issues, President Obama has expanded the US government’s drone program of extrajudicial assassinations, and has failed those in Guantánamo — especially the 86 men (out of 166 still held in total), who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009. The Task Force spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions, and, in addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Photos of Protestors outside the Supreme Court on the 11th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison

Close Guantánamo: Protestors outside the US Supreme CourtClose Guantánamo: Hooded protestors outside the Supreme CourtRemembering Adnan Latif, killed by GuantánamoClose Guantánamo Now!End the military commissionsWomen say no to torture
Mr. President, you gave your word to close GuantánamoSolitary prisonerTorture is wrongFree Shaker Aamer and Abdel HakimAndy Worthington, Tom Wilner and the Center for Constitutional RightsClose Guantánamo: The march to the White House
Guantánamo protest outside the D.C. Circuit CourtGuantánamo protestors outside the NewseumAn Amnesty protestor outside FBI HQGuantánamo protestors outside FBI HQGuantánamo protestors march past FBI HQFree Fahd Ghazy
Free Mohammed al-HamiriBringing the Guantánamo protest to the White House

Close Guantánamo: Protestors outside the Supreme Court on the 11th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison, a set on Flickr.

These photos are from the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an annual event that becomes more shameful for the United States with every passing year, and which has also come to test the endurance of those opposed to the prison’s existence.

Four years after President Obama came to office promising to close Guantánamo within a year, the blunt and unforgivable truth is that the prison is still open, and that all three branches of the US government — the administration, Congress and the courts — have failed the 166 men still held, and particularly the 86 men who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama in 2009, which spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions. In addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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