Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo”

Ahmed Abdul Qader, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 or 2010 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.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.

 

For some months now, I’ve been meaning to post a handful of articles about former Guantánamo prisoners resettled in third countries, as part of my ongoing efforts not only to tell the stories of the men still held in Guantánamo and to call for the prison’s closure, but also to focus what has happened to released prisoners, especially those resettled in third countries, as part of an ongoing process of encouraging people to reflect on what the United States’ responsibilities ought to be towards men resettled in third countries without any internationally agreed arrangements regarding their status. In recent months, I have written about Mansoor al-Dayfi, a Yemeni released in Serbia, and, earlier this week, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian released in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a handful of new articles, I’ll be catching up on some stories that were published last year, but that I didn’t get the opportunity to cover at the time, and the first of these is about Ahmed Abdul Qader, a Yemeni who was given a new home in Estonia in January 2015.

Last spring, Charlie Savage of the New York Times visited Estonia to meet with Qader and to interview him, over a number of days, for a story, “After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer,” which was published in the New York Times at the end of July. Read the rest of this entry »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).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.

 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Reportedly Close to Finalizing Executive Order Approving Imprisonment of Islamic State Prisoners at Guantánamo

A collage of Donald Trump and Guantanamo prisoners on the first day of the prison's operations, January 11, 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.

 

In shocking news from the Trump administration regarding Guantánamo, the New York Times has obtained a new draft executive order, “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorist and Other Designated Enemy Elements,” directing the Pentagon to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo.

Two weeks ago, the Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” (which I wrote about here), calling for two executive orders issued by President Obama when he first took office in January 2009 to be revoked — one banning the CIA’s use of “black sites” and torture techniques, and the other ordering the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The draft order also called for new prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo, and for “any existing transfer efforts” to be suspended “pending a new review.”

After a huge outcry regarding the torture proposals, these were dropped from a revised order that Charlie Savage was told about, which he discussed in an article on February 4 — and which I mentioned yesterday in an article for the Close Guantánamo campaign looking primarily at opposition to the draft executive order from senior Democrats and rights groups.

Now, however, with the leaking of the new draft executive order, it has become clear that, although Trump has given up on his torture plans, he is close to telling defence secretary James Mattis to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo, “despite warnings from national security officials and legal scholars that doing so risks undermining the effort to combat the group,” as Charlie Savage described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).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 two months.

 

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture for other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence. Read the rest of this entry »

Emptying Guantánamo: Obama to Release 17 or 18 Prisoners Before Trump Takes Over

Muieen Abd al-Sattar, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, who is not one of the men who will be released before President Obama leaves office, despite having been approved for release in 2009. The photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Excellent news from Guantánamo yesterday, as Charlie Savage, in the New York Times, confirmed what those of us seeking the prison’s closure had hoped — that the majority of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 men still held) will be freed before President Obama leaves office.

Because of requirements put in place over many years by a hostile Congress, the Pentagon must notify Congress 30 days before a release — a “transfer” — is to take place, and the deadline for securing releases before Obama leaves office was therefore this Monday, December 19. By late in the day, officials told the Times, the administration had secured homes for 17 or 18 of the remaining prisoners, who, crucially, will be sent to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf countries have all taken prisoners in the last two years — almost all of them Yemenis, for whom third countries had to be found because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis based on fears about the security situation in their homeland. Four were sent to Oman in January 2015, another six in June 2015, and five were sent to the UAE in November 2015. Another ten were sent to Oman in January 2016, and another 12 were sent to the UAE in August 2016 (with three Afghans, whose repatriation had been prohibited by Congress, based on fears about them ending up taking up arms against US forces). In addition, another nine Yemenis were sent to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump, Guantánamo and Torture: What Do We Need to Know?

An image made by supporters of Donald Trump based on his comments about Guantanamo.I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) 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.

So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”

As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.

The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November. Read the rest of this entry »

In Contentious Split Decision, Appeals Court Upholds Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul’s Conspiracy Conviction

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.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.

Last week, in the latest development in a long-running court case related to Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington, D.C. (the D.C. Circuit) upheld Ali Hamza al-Bahlul’s November 2008 conviction for conspiracy in his trial by military commission, but in a divided decision that means the case will almost certainly now make its way to the Supreme Court.

Al-Bahlul, a Yemeni, was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, and taken to Guantánamo, where, in June 2004, he was charged in the first version of the military commissions that were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration in November 2001, primarily on the basis that he had made a promotional video for al-Qaeda.

Two years later, the commissions were scrapped after the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, but they were subsequently revived by Congress, and in February 2008 he was charged again, and convicted in November 2008, after a trial in which he refused to mount a defense, on “17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism,” as I described it at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Plea Deals in Federal Court Mooted for Guantánamo Prisoners in Next Year’s National Defense Authorization Act

A campaigner wearing a President Obama mask calls for the closure of Guantanamo in London (Photo: AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth).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.

Last week there was an interesting development in relation to President Obama’s hopes of closing Guantánamo, when the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that it had included a provision in its version of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which, as Charlie Savage reported for the New York Times, would allow Guantánamo prisoners to “plead guilty to criminal charges in civilian court via video teleconference,” and would also allow them to be “transferred to other countries to serve their sentences.”

Last November, a number of lawyers sent a letter to the Justice Department, which the New York Times discussed here, in which they “express[ed] interest in exploring plea deals by video teleconference — but only in civilian court, not military commissions.”

Lawyers for six prisoners said that they “may wish” to negotiate plea deals — Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA’s torture program was developed, Abu Faraj al-Libi, another “high-value detainee,” Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni who recently went before a Periodic Review Board, Abd al-Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani, Abdul Latif Nasser, the last Moroccan in the prison, and Soufian Barhoumi (aka Sufyian Barhoumi), an Algerian whose PRB is taking place on May 24. As Savage described it, the letter also “said several others are interested, and that Majid Khan, who has pleaded guilty in the [military] commissions system but has not been sentenced, would like to plead again, in civilian court.” 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 »

The Path to Closing Guantánamo

Campaigners with the group Witness Against Torture occupy the national Museum of American History 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.

On Saturday, six Yemenis were freed from Guantánamo, and resettled in Oman, bringing the prison’s population down to 116 men, the lowest total it has been since the first few months of the prison’s operation back in 2002. I wrote about the release of the men here, and amended the details of our prisoner list here, and, in response to the releases, I thought it would also be useful to follow up by looking at where we stand with President Obama’s long-promised mission to close the prison.

President Obama made his promise to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, pledging to close it within a year. Since failing to keep the promise, he has sporadically stated again his desire to see the prison closed — most notably two years ago, when a prison-wide hunger strike prompted him to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress and the president ‘s refusal to expend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

In April, as I wrote about here, the Washington Post reported, as I paraphrased it,  that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — at the time 57 out of the 122 men still held — would be “freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.” I added, however, that, realistically, “it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.” 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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