Long-Cleared Algerian Prisoner Ahmed Belbacha Released from Guantánamo

I’m delighted to report that Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian prisoner, has been released from Guantánamo. It’s always good news when a prisoner is released, and in Ahmed Belbacha’s case it is particularly reassuring, as I — and many other people around the world — have been following his case closely for many years. I first wrote about him in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and my first article mentioning him was back in June 2007. I have written about his case, and called for his release, on many occasions since.

Ahmed was cleared for release from Guantánamo twice — by a military review board under the Bush administration in February 2007, and by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by the president shortly after taking office in 2009.

Nevertheless, he was terrified of returning home, and, from 2007 onwards, tried to prevent his forced repatriation in the US courts. This seems to have annoyed the authorities in Algeria, as, in 2009, he was tried and sentenced in absentia, receiving a 20-year sentence for membership of a foreign terrorist group abroad. As his lawyers at Reprieve noted, despite repeated requests, no evidence was produced to support the conviction. Read the rest of this entry »

How Congress Is Finally Helping President Obama to Release Prisoners from Guantánamo

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.

Following three years of presidential inertia on Guantánamo — after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and President Obama refused to spend political capital bypassing or challenging lawmakers — legislative amendments proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, have been accepted by Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which contains the amendments, was approved by the House of Representatives last week and passed the Senate by 84 votes to 15 on Thursday night.

The changes, which I wrote about last month in an article entitled, “Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act,” emerged from the committee in June. They were accepted by the Senate last month, after what the Associated Press described as “a quiet yet effective lobbying push” by senior administration officials, including President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and Cliff Sloan, the veteran diplomat appointed this year, along with Paul Lewis at the Pentagon, to be an envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. However, the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority, had voted to keep all the restrictions in place.

After the Senate vote last month, a compromise had to be thrashed out between the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, in which proposals to remove the onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners survived, but other proposals — allowing prisoners to be brought to the US for detention, for trials or for medical treatment — did not. Without these particular changes, it is still not possible for Guantánamo to be closed, but for now, at least, these amendments make it easier for the president to release prisoners who were cleared for release four years ago by his own high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force — and, perhaps even more importantly, reassure him that he has support for releasing prisoners in Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

The Stories of the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia

I wrote a version of the following article, under the heading, “Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia?” 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 Monday December 16, the Pentagon announced that two Guantánamo prisoners — Saad al-Qahtani and Hamoud al-Wady — had been released to Saudi Arabia over the weekend. In the Miami Herald, veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg noted that, “according to government sources, the Saudi repatriations, carried out in a secret operation Saturday night, were voluntary.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for releasing these two men, as it shows a commitment to the promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo that President Obama made in May, after a two and a half year period in which just five prisoners were released, even though over half of the 160-plus prisoners held throughout this period were cleared for release in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. These releases bring the prison’s total population to 160 prisoners, of whom 80 have been cleared for release.

The release of prisoners had largely ground to a halt because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the Obama administration, requiring certifications to be made guaranteeing that no released prisoner would be able to take up arms or engage in terrorism against the US — promises that were extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama

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 Monday, President Obama fulfilled the first of three promises he made a month ago to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, by appointing an envoy at the State Department to deal with prisoner transfers.

In a speech on national security issues on May 23, in which the President spoke at length about Guantánamo, he made the following promises: “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

In fulfilling the first promise, President Obama has appointed Clifford Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant.” He was “an associate counsel to former President Clinton and an assistant to the solicitor general in the first Bush administration,” and also “worked as associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair and clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.” More recently, he was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. 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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