How the Egyptian Media Has Reported the Story of Tariq Al-Sawah, a Severely Ill Prisoner in Guantánamo

Last week I reported the story of Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian prisoner in Guantánamo, whose lawyers are seeking his release because “his health is too poor for him to pose any kind of threat.” Al-Sawah (also identified as Tarek El-Sawah), an explosives expert for al-Qaeda who became disillusioned with his former life and has cooperated extensively with the authorities in Guantánamo, is “in terrible shape after 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, a fact even the US military does not dispute,” as the Associated Press explained in a recent article. He is 55 years old, and as the AP also noted, his weight “has nearly doubled” in his long imprisonment, “reaching more than 420 pounds at one point, and his health has deteriorated as a result, both his lawyers and government officials concede.”

Al-Sawah’s request has not yet been ruled on, but, noticeably, it follows the recent success achieved by lawyers for Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese prisoner who is severely schizophrenic. In Idris’s case, the Justice Department decided not to contest his habeas corpus petition — a first for the DoJ lawyers who are notorious for defending every detention, even those of prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. Al-Sawah’s case is more complicated, because, although Idris was cleared for release by the task force, al-Sawah was recommended for prosecution – a decision that made no sense, as logic dictates that he should be released as a reward for his extensive cooperation, documented in this Washington Post article from 2010.

When I wrote about Tariq al-Sawah last week, I promised I would revisit his story to include further information from two detailed articles written by freelance journalist Tom Dale and published in the Egypt Independent in July last year and March this year, which shed more light on his case. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Seek Release from Guantánamo of Tariq Al-Sawah, an Egyptian Prisoner Who is Very Ill

Two weeks ago, when lawyers in the US Justice Department decided — for the first time — not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a prisoner in Guantánamo, it was a cause for celebration. The man in question, Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese man in his early 50s, is severely mentally ill, as he suffers from schizophrenia, and is also morbidly obese. As his lawyer Jennifer Cowan explained, “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated.”

As I explained in my most recent article, “Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews,” it is disgraceful that the Justice Department lawyers responsible for dealing with the Guantánamo prisoners’ cases have “vigorously contested every petition as though the fate of the United States depended on it.” I have long been outraged that, in particular,  “petitions have been fought even when the men in question have been cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force,” as I described it.

I added:

I am unable to explain why there has been no cross-referencing of cases between the task force (which involved officials from the Justice Department) and the Civil Division of the DoJ, or why Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained the status quo, and no other senior official, up to and including the President, has acted to address this troubling lack of joined-up thinking. However, it is to be hoped that it signals the possibility for further successful challenges by prisoners who are ill — as well as opening up the possibility for cleared prisoners to call for their release through the habeas process. Read the rest of this entry »

News from Albania: One Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Becomes A Father, While Another Is Not Allowed to Return Home

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 »

To Mark 10 Years of Guantánamo, Stern Magazine Profiles Five Former Prisoners

Last week, when I cross-posted an article written for the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo by my friend Todd Pierce, I also noted that when I visited the US in January to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, I was so busy that I did not have time to cross-post other articles of interest that were published at the time, and added, “In the hope of keeping alive some of that spirit of awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo that flickered briefly to life around the anniversary, I’m planning to cross-post some of these articles.”

After starting with Todd’s article, I’m now moving on to a detailed article that was published in Germany’s Stern Magazineavailable here as a PDF, and helpfully translated into English for Cageprisoners, via Google Translate, in a translation that I have tidied up.

The article features interviews with five former prisoners — Sami al-Laithi (aka el-Leithi), an Egyptian; Omar Deghayes, a British resident; Mohammed el-Gharani, a Chadian and former child prisoner; Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, an Afghan and a former Taliban ambassador; and Abu Bakker Qassim, a Uighur (a Muslim from China’s Xinjiang province) released from Guantánamo to Albania. The stories of all of these men have been reported before, but fresh eyes and ears are also ways useful to continue to expose the horrific history of Guantánamo, and its ongoing injustices, and the Stern article also featured a collection of powerful photos, as well as quotes from other prisoners — David Hicks (from Australia), Murat Kurnaz (from Germany) and Moazzam Begg (from the UK). Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Adel Al-Gazzar Is Freed in Egypt After Six Months in Custody

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 »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005 (Part Two of Five)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 17 of the 70-part series.

In late April, WikiLeaks pushed Guantánamo back onto the international media’s agenda by publishing thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which drew on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

As an independent media partner of WikiLeaks, I liaised both before and after the publication of these documents with WikiLeaks’ mainstream media partners (including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais), and then, after the killing of Osama bin Laden pushed Guantánamo aside once more, and allowed apologists for torture, and those who engineered its use by US forces, to resume their malignant, criminal and deeply mistaken defense of torture, and of the existence of Guantánamo, I began to analyze all of the Detainee Assessment Briefs in depth.

I began, in May and June, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. These men and boys were amongst the first 201 prisoners released, and unlike the other prisoners, for whom information was released to the public from 2006 onwards, as a result of court cases involving Freedom of Information requests, no information had been officially released about the first 201 prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Eight of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 13 of the 70-part series.

In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for the detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.

Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to contain allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.

I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Appeal for Amnesty for Former Guantánamo Prisoner Held in Egypt

Back in June, I reported the story of Adel Al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), an Egyptian and a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been imprisoned on his return to Egypt after a decade away from home.

Al-Gazzar 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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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