Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Speaks: First Interview with Kuwaiti Released from Guantánamo in 2014

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Via the Arabic language newspaper Al-Rai, the Kuwait Times last week featured the first interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Fawzi al-Odah since his release from the prison in November 2014, which I’m posting below with some minor changes of my own to the English language translation to make it more comprehensible.

Fawzi hasn’t spoken before, because he was in a rehabilitation center in Kuwait for a year after his release, and because no one in Kuwait wanted to do anything that might jeopardize the release of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, who was freed just three weeks ago. I visited the rehabilitation center during a visit to Kuwait in February 2012, to work towards securing the release of Fawzi and Fayiz, and the photos below are from that visit. At the time the facility, located next to Kuwait’s main prison, was empty, but it had briefly been used for the two prisoners previously released, who returned to Kuwait in 2009. The government had staffed it, and had clearly spent money — and was still spending money — that was only for Fawzi and Fayiz, and yet they remained entangled in the absurd bureaucracy of Guantánamo.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the story that Fawzi told the Kuwaiti media. In Guantánamo, for example, he always maintained, as I described it in 2007 in my book The Guantánamo Files, that he “took a short vacation and travelled to Afghanistan in August 2001 ‘to teach and to help other people.’ After finding a liaison in the Taliban, which ‘was necessary because that was the government in Afghanistan at that time,’ he was ‘touring the schools and visiting families,’ teaching the Koran and handing out money, until his activities were curtailed after 9/11.” As I explained after his release, “He said he was then advised to leave the country, and given instructions about how to do so, and ended up, with other men, crossing the border into Pakistan, where they were then handed over to the Pakistani authorities.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fayiz Al-Kandari, the Last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, and a Saudi Prisoner Ask Review Boards to Send Them Home

Fayiz al-Kandari. photographed at Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2009.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.

Since November 2013, 17 prisoners at Guantánamo have had their cases reviewed by Periodic Review Boards, panels consisting of 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. The review boards are — albeit slowly — examining the cases of all the men still held who are not facing (or have faced) trials (ten of the 116 men still held) or who have not already 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 (44 of those still held).

Of these 17 men, ten have been approved for release (and two have been freed), while four others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved, on the basis that “continued law of war detention … remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Three other decisions have yet to be taken, and 47 other men are still awaiting reviews.

In recent weeks, reviews have also taken place for two of the four men whose review boards concluded that they should continue to be held — Fayiz al-Kandari (aka Faez, Fayez), the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last July, and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani (aka al-Shamrani, al-Shimrani), a Saudi whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards Clear Kuwaiti Prisoner Fawzi Al-Odah for Release, But Defend Ongoing Imprisonment of Fayiz Al-Kandari

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 July 14, the board members of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo — consisting of 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 — approved the release of Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, but recommended that the other Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, should continue to be held.

This is good news for Fawzi al-Odah, but the decision about Fayiz al-Kandari casts a dark cloud over the whole process. I have been covering the stories of both men for many years, and it remains as clear to me now as it always has been that neither man poses a threat to the US. Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we profiled both men back in February 2012, shortly after Tom Wilner and I, the co-founders of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, had been in Kuwait trying to secure their release (see here, here and here).

The Periodic Review Boards were established last year, to review the cases of 46 Guantánamo prisoners specifically detained on the basis that they are allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Kuwaiti Prisoners Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari Ask Periodic Review Board to Free Them from Guantánamo

Over the last few weeks, Periodic Review Boards have been held at Guantánamo for the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fawzi al-Odah and Fayiz al-Kandari, who have been held for the last 12 years.

The PRBs, consisting of 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, have been taking place since last November, and were established to decide whether 71 of the remaining prisoners should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

As opposed to the 75 men still held who were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, these 71 men were either recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial (on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial) or for prosecution (until most of the charges in the military commission trial system collapsed following legal challenges). Both Fawzi and Fayiz were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close 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.

The short answer to the question, “Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?” is probably no, for reasons I will explain below, although it is, of course, significant to numerous interested parties that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year provides an opportunity for new discussions about the ongoing detention of 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, and, probably, new legal challenges on their behalf.

On October 18, the Washington Post discussed these issues in an article entitled, “Afghan war’s approaching end throws legal status of Guantánamo detainees into doubt,” in which Karen DeYoung suggested, “The approaching end of the US war in Afghanistan could help President Obama move toward what he has said he wanted to do since his first day in office: close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

The article described how officials in the Obama administration were “examining whether the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2014 could open the door” for some of the remaining 164 prisoners “to challenge the legal authority of the United States to continue to imprison them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Stories: 19 of the 43 Men Being Force-Fed in the Prison-Wide Hunger Strike

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This is my 2000th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator six years ago. Please donate to support my work if you appreciate what I do.

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo reaches its 128th day, we are still awaiting action from President Obama, who promised three weeks ago to resume the release of cleared prisoners (who make up 86 out of the remaining 166 prisoners), and to appoint new envoys in the State Department and the Pentagon to deal with the resettlement of prisoners.

In the meantime, conditions in Guantánamo are harsher than they have been at any time since President Obama took office, nearly four and a half years ago. Two months ago, the authorities staged a violent dawn raid on Camp 6, where the majority of the prisoners are held, and where they had been allowed to spend much of their time communally, and locked everyone up in solitary confinement.

Militarily, this may have restored order, but it has not broken the hunger strike, and morally and ethically it is a disgrace. The reason the men are on a hunger strike is not to inconvenience the guard force, but to protest about their ongoing imprisonment — in almost all cases without charge or trial, and literally with no end in sight, after their abandonment by all three branches of the US government. As a result, a lockdown, which involves isolating these men from one another while they starve themselves, and while many of them are force-fed, is the cruellest way to proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

When is a hunger strike not a hunger strike? Apparently, when the government says it doesn’t exist.

At Guantánamo, reports first began to emerge on February 23 about a camp-wide hunger strike, of a scale not seen since before Barack Obama became President. On the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison, the following message appeared: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”

Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrived at the prison on February 25, and the day after announced, “Fayiz has lost more than twenty pounds and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”

On February 27, the team reported, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.” 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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