As Guantánamo’s 14th Year of Operations Begins, This Must Be the Year It Closes

Campaigners outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia on January 10, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).As the prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 14th year of operations, I am in the US for a short tour calling for the prison’s closure — and, specifically, in Washington D.C. for a protest outside the White House on the actual anniversary of the prison’s opening — January 11.

With 28 men freed in the last year, and just 127 men still held, there are reasons for cautious optimism that the end is now in sight for the prison, a reviled symbol of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 overreach and disdain for the law, and of President Obama’s difficulty in placing principles above political expediency.

Two good reviews of where we stand on Guantánamo’s 13th anniversary were published last week in the New York Times. In the first, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” Cliff Sloan, who has just resigned as the State Department’s envoy for closing Guantánamo (a role he has held since 2013), praised the progress made in the last 18 months — with 39 prisoners released, compared to four in the previous two years, when Congressional obstruction was at its most potent, and President Obama’s political will at its weakest. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Kazakhstan?

Three of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo and given new homes in Kazakhstan in December 2014. From L to R: Adel al-Hakeemy, a Tunisian, and two Yemenis, Mohammed Ali Hussain Khenaina and Sabri Mohammad Ibrahim al-Qurashi, in photos included in the classified US military files released by WikILeaks in 2011. No public photos exist of the other two men freed.On December 30, five men were released from Guantánamo, bringing to 28 the number of men released from the prison in 2014, and reducing the prison’s population to 127. The five men were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009, and three of them had previously been approved for release under President Bush.

The released prisoners — two Tunisians and three Yemenis — were not returned to their home countries, but were given new homes in Kazakhstan. As the New York Times described it, “Officials declined to disclose the security assurances reached between the United States and Kazakhstan,” but a senior Obama administration official stated that the five “are ‘free men’ for all intents and purposes after the transfer.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for its efforts, although, of the 127 men still held, 59 were also approved for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and there can be no rest for campaigners until these men are also freed. 52 of them are Yemenis, whose release was prohibited by President Obama and by Congress in 2010 after it was revealed that a failed airline bomb plot in December 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Andy Worthington’s US Tour Dates, January 8-15, 2015

Andy Worthington speaking outside the White House on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Palina Prasasouk).To contact Andy for interviews, or to arrange events, please send an email or phone 347-272-3576.

January 11, 2015 is the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for prisoners seized in the brutal and fundamentally lawless “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

779 men have been held at the prison — plus at least one other, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, in the “black site” that the CIA ran briefly at Guantánamo. Over the years, that population has been reduced significantly. 532 men and boys were released by President Bush, and 110 have been released by President Obama. Nine others died at the prison, and one was transferred to the US mainland to face a trial, leaving 127 men still held.

This is still 127 men too many, because everything about Guantánamo is fundamentally unjust, and has been since the day the prison opened, and although President Obama has released 28 men in the last year, 59 of the 127 men still held have been approved for release (all but four by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009), and the other 68 men must either be tried or released. Read the rest of this entry »

As Three Yemenis Are Freed from Guantánamo, Video Highlights Plight of 52 Others, Long Cleared for Release

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.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 January 11, 2015, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 13 long and unforgivable years. In the last year, President Obama has released 30 prisoners from Guantánamo, leaving 127 men still held, and today, on the last day of the year, the last of those 30 men — three Yemenis and two Tunisians, all approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — were given new homes in Kazakhstan.

This is progress, after the lean period between October 2010 and July 2013 when just five men were released, because Congress imposed obstacles that the president was unwilling to expend political capital overcoming. However, 59 of the prisoners still held are men who, like the five just freed, are men the Guantánamo Review Task Force said should no longer continue to be held back in 2009, and their continued detention, therefore, remains a source of serious concern.

Of the 59, all but seven are Yemenis, and whilst it is reassuring that Yemenis approved for release are finally being freed — after nearly five years in which their release was banned by both the president and Congress, following a foiled airline bomb plot in December 2009 that was hatched in Yemen — it is still a significant uphill struggle for the administration to find new homes for these 52 men. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Forgotten in the Fallout from the CIA Torture Report

Anti-torture protestors outside the White House in May 2009, after President Obama's first 100 days in office.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.

It’s a week now since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the post-9/11 CIA torture program was published, and here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are concerned that (a) the necessary calls for accountability will fall silent as the days and weeks pass; and (b) that people will not be aware that the use of torture was not confined solely to the CIA’s “black sites,” and the specific program investigated by the Senate Committee, and that it was a key element of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention program — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Guantánamo, where elements of the current operations can still be defined as torture.

The Senate Committee report contains new information, of course — much of it genuinely harrowing — but journalists and researchers uncovered much of the program over the last ten years, and that body of work — some of which I referred to in my article about the torture report for Al-Jazeera last week — will continue to be of great relevance as the executive summary is analyzed, and, hopefully, as the full report is eventually made public.

Mainly, though, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is crucial that the news cycle is not allowed to move on without an insistence that there be accountability. The Senate report chronicles crimes, authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, implemented by the CIA and two outside contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had worked for a military program designed to train soldiers how to resist torture if captured, but who had no real-life experience of interrogations, or any knowledge of Al-Qaeda or the individuals involved (see Vice News’ extraordinary interview with Mitchell here). Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Uruguay?

Photos of five of the six men released to Uruguay from Guantanamo - from L to R: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abdelhadi Faraj, Mohammed Taha Mattan and Abu Wa'el Dhiab. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and the collage is by LeaNoticias.com.Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.

In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »

More Guantánamo Releases Planned Despite Hostility in Congress

"President and Congress: Close Guantanamo" - a banner from the protest calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.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.

In a hopeful sign of ongoing progress on Guantánamo, following the recent release of six prisoners, Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that defense and congressional officials had told him that the Pentagon was “preparing to transfer additional detainees” from Guantánamo “in the coming weeks.”

After four Yemenis and a Tunisian were given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia, and a Saudi was repatriated, defense officials “said there would be more transfers in December, but declined to detail their numbers or nationalities.”

Laura Pitter, the senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch, said in response, “There does seem to be a renewed effort to make the transfers happen,” which, she added, seems to indicate a desire on the president’s part to continue working towards closing the prison, as he promised when he took office in January 2009, before Republicans raised obstacles that he has, in general, not wished to spend political will overcoming. Read the rest of this entry »

Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is President Obama Planning an Executive Order for the Closure of 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.

Last Thursday, out of the blue, Carol E. Lee and Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Obama administration officials had told them that the White House was drafting options that would allow President Obama to close the “war on terror” prison established by President Bush at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, through the use of an executive order.

Such an order would bypass lawmakers in Congress, who have imposed a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland since 2010, in response to President Obama’s proposal to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo to a maximum-security prison in Thomson, Illinois. Lawmakers have also passed legislation designed to make it difficult to release prisoners to other countries.

Reading on, it became apparent that this was only an option being considered. As the article explained, the officials said that President Obama “strongly prefers a legislative solution over going around Congress.” However, because, as one official said, the president is “unwavering in his commitment” to closing the prison, which he promised to close on his second day in office, he “wants to have all potential options available on an issue he sees as part of his legacy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Gitmo Clock: 500 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners; 79 Cleared Men Still Held

Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, marking 500 days since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo.

On May 23, 2013, President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which just five prisoners were released.

The slow-down in prisoner releases came about because of Congressional obstruction to the release of prisoners for largely cynical reasons (in passages in the annual National Defense Authorization Act), and because President Obama was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming those obstructions, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so.

The slow-down was unacceptable because over half of the remaining prisoners had been 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 yet they were held, year after year, making a mockery of America’s claims that it believes in justice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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