Last week, a 48-year old Yemeni citizen held at Guantánamo, Abd al-Salam al-Hela (aka Abd al-Salam al-Hilah or Abdul al-Salam al-Hilal), became the 37th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. This high-level, US review process, which involves 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, began in November 2013.
In the two and half years since, the PRBs have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 41 men originally described by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009), as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.
For the 41 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, which set alarm bells ringing for anyone paying close attention, because, if insufficient evidence exists to put someone on trial, then it is not evidence at all. At Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — the reasons for this emerged under minimal scrutiny from anyone paying attention. Instead of being evidence, information was extracted from prisoners through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions, which, as a result, is demonstrably unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.
One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.
In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” 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.
The last three months have been a period of commendable progress at Guantánamo, as 27 prisoners have been released, reducing the prison’s population to just 122 men. On December 30, two Tunisians and three Yemenis were given new homes in Kazakhstan, and on January 14 five more Yemenis were given new homes — four in Oman, in the Gulf, and one in Estonia. All of these men had long been approved for release, having had their cases reviewed in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its final report in January 2010.
Obstacles raised by Congress — and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles — had led to these men being held for so long after the task force unanimously approved them for release, as well as a particular fear throughout the US establishment of repatriating Yemenis, because of unrest in their home country.
Two years ago, 86 of the men still held had been approved for release by the task force but were still held. That number is now down to 50, of whom 43 are Yemenis, and just seven are from other nations, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve known about the Occupy movement’s May Day General Strike for ages, ever since a good friend, an activist in Denver, posted an excellent promotional poster back in the middle of February (see the bottom of this article), and while I didn’t need any reminding about the date, as I’ve been a May Day supporter for my whole adult life, I had intended to post something about it sooner than the day before.
However, I’m sure you know all about what can happen to the best-laid plans — and it’s not like I haven’t been busy! — so here, just in time, is my supportive message for all workers — the employed and the self-employed — to down tools tomorrow, along with everyone else who is part of the 99 percent — parents, children, the unemployed and the disabled, as well as those who have retired — to let the 1 percent who still lord it over us from their tax havens and gated communities, and in board rooms and parliaments, know that the inequality that caused the Occupy Wall Street movement to spring to life last September and to become an international phenomenon last October has not diminished in the last seven months.
Governments may have acted to shut down the extraordinary Occupy camps in public spaces, in coordinated raids across the United States at the end of last year, and by various means elsewhere, but it remains as true now as it was last year that you can”t kill an idea, and also that, if you’re part of the 1 percent, you can’t get away with presiding over a program of endless enrichment for those who are already rich — when doing so involves increasing unemployment and destroying the middle class — without some people deciding to fight back, and others waking out of a slumber of self-obsession and materialism to realize that all is not well with the world, and that those who claim to be in charge bear the lion’s share of the blame that they’re trying to shift onto us instead. Read the rest of this entry »
In the last week, two Guantánamo stories have emerged from Albania, home to ten former Guantánamo prisoners — all prisoners who could not be safely repatriated after being cleared for release from Guantánamo. Four men are Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) released in May 2006, three others — an Algerian, an Egyptian and a Russian — were freed in December 2006, and three others — a Libyan, a Tunisian and another Egyptian — were released in February 2010.
One of the stories, cross-posted below, concerns Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the Uighurs, who recently became a father, and was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on a recent visit. The other concerns Sherif El-Meshad, the Egyptian released in February 2010.
On March 23, the website Balkan Insight explained that El-Meshad (described as Sherif Almeshad), who is 35 years old, is being prevented from returning to Egypt by the Albanian government, even though “the post-Mubarak government in Egypt says he is welcome to come back.” Representatives of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent El-Meshad, told Balkan Insight that the “Albanian authorities have repeatedly denied El-Meshad’s requests to return home although the new government in Cairo has provided written assurances that he will be welcome in Egypt and faces no risks there.” In addition, the Albanian border police have twice prevented El-Meshad’s Albanian wife from traveling to Egypt, even though she has a valid Egyptian visa. Read the rest of this entry »
When looking at the stories of the released Guantánamo prisoners, one of the most tragic individual stories of last year was that of Adel al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), a former officer in the Egyptian army, who lost a leg in US custody and spent eight years in Guantánamo. Adel returned to Egypt last June, after being freed in Slovakia in January 2010, where he embarked on a hunger strike to protest about the Slovakian government’s inability to look after him adequately, and where, at one point, he was interviewed by his fellow ex-prisoner Moazzam Begg in a powerful and revealing interview available here. On his return to Egypt, he was promptly arrested, and imprisoned based on trumped-up charges that had been used to secure a conviction against him while he was in Guantánamo, and while the now-deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak was in power.
In December, following six months of pressure from his lawyers — at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces agreed to hear his case on December 27, in an appeal for a new trial, and on December 30, as AllAfrica.com reported, “The Military Court of Cassation accepted the claim of Adel Fattouh al-Gazzar for the re-trial,” noting that “Hafez Abu Seada, attorney at law, submitted the claim after Adel was sentenced to three years in prison.”
On January 16, Adel was freed, although the English-speaking media did not report the story, and I did not discover it until last week, when Moazzam Begg told me about it while we were in Brussels for a screening at the European Parliament of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash. Read the rest of this entry »
Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analyzed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As recent events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo have shown, this remains an intolerable situation, as Guantánamo is as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work nearly six years ago.
Throughout my work, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen.
This has involved demonstrating that the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »
For nearly six years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last ten years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analysed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, this is an intolerable situation, as the prison remains as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work in 2006.
Over the last six years of researching Guantánamo and writing about it on an almost daily basis, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in June, I wrote about the case of Adel el-Gazzar, who, after eight years in US custody, mostly at Guantánamo, and another 17 months in Slovakia (where he was held in prison-like conditions and only released after embarking on a hunger strike), had returned to his homeland, where he was promptly arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges that were widely regarded as fabricated. Adel had been seized in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he had been working as a volunteer with the Saudi Red Crescent, and had been living in Slovakia since being freed from Guantánamo in January 2010, on the basis that it was unsafe for him to be returned to his home country while it was still under the control of Hosni Mubarak. As I explained back in June:
This was not because of anything he had done, but because, as a critic of the regime, he had left the country in 2001, and had been in Pakistan, undertaking humanitarian work in a refugee camp when he was caught in a US bombing raid (which, with subsequent medical neglect on the part of the US authorities, led to him losing a leg). As a result, following his departure from Egypt, he had been given a three-year sentence in absentia by the Egyptian State Security Court for his alleged part in a supposed plot that was known as al-Wa’ad.
This, as the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm explained, was “the first major terrorism case in Egypt” after the 9/11 attacks, in which the defendants — 94 in total — were charged with “attempting to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory.” However, the case “was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents,” and this was an interpretation that carried considerable weight, as “[m]ore than half of the suspects were subsequently released.” Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago, only those looking closely realized that huge cracks were developing in the facade of stability maintained by the West, and echoed, in the Middle East, by the ageing dictators who had helped preserve the status quo for decades. Only those looking closely heard about the mobilization of workers in North Africa to protest against the stagnation of their economies, or realized the full impact of the sacrifice of Greece at the altar of the neoliberal Euro project.
A year ago, hints of unrest emerged in the UK, when an “age of austerity” implemented by the Conservative-led government, who couldn’t even hide their delight at being presented with an opportunity to destroy the British state under the pretence of slashing the deficit, met with resistance, in large numbers, from the students and schoolchildren whose futures were being sold off.
By early December, however, when Parliament approved the government’s proposals to triple university tuition fees, and to end all state support for arts, humanities and the social sciences, the students capitulated, and went home instead of staying on the streets. That lesson ultimately played a part in feeding the Occupy Wall Street movement that established itself in New York two months ago, and then spread across America and around the world, but the true inspiration for change were the people of Tunisia and Egypt, who, last January, mobilized in huge numbers, and, unfazed by the risk of death at the hands of the security forces whose sole purpose was to protect the dictators from the people, overthrew those dictators — first, after 24 years, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who ran away from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, and then, after 30 years, Hosni Mubarak. 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.
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