Life after Guantánamo Bay: Jenifer Fenton Talks to Kuwaiti Ex-Prisoners for Al-Jazeera

Last month, I was invited to visit Kuwait to try and help raise awareness of the need for the Kuwaiti people to push for their government to demand the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaitis — out of 12 in total — to be held in Guantánamo. These two men are Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and, like dozens of the 171 men still at Guantánamo, they are held, possibly with the intention that they will be held for the rest of their lives, not because there is any evidence that either of them ever raised arms against US forces or were involved in any way with any acts of international terrorism, but because of institutional cowardice within the Obama administration, and because of fearmongering in Congress, in the mainstream media and in a particular court of appeals in Washington D.C.

That court is the D.C. Circuit Court, where a number of prominent judges have whittled away at the habeas corpus rights that the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008 (and which led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011), gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, by demanding that the government’s supposed evidence be given the presumption of accuracy, even though it has been well established (in the 38 cases won by the prisoners, for example), that the supposed evidence is an unreliable mix of statements and confessions made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, in circumstances where torture, coercion and even bribery were widely used by the interrogators, and of post-capture reports, compiled by US personnel in situations whereby the prisoners were actually seized by Afghan or Pakistani forces, at a time when generous bounty payments were being offered for anyone who could be dressed up as an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

I wrote about my visit to Kuwait here and here, and posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for the two Kuwaitis, and I have since followed up with profiles of the two men on the “Close Guantánamo” website (written by Tom, his colleague Neil Koslowe and myself). My visit was organized by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, who was put forward for a trial by military commission in November 2008, just before George W. Bush left office, and who, absurdly, remains a candidate for a trial by military commission, even though nothing that could objectively be called evidence exists in his case. I also met other members of Lt. Col. Wingard’s team, Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project, and the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, with whom I had lunch. Read the rest of this entry »

After a Wonderful Visit to Kuwait, New Plans to Close Guantánamo and to Free the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners

Now that my first ever visit to Kuwait has come to an end — in which I was involved in events and discussions designed to raise the profile in Kuwait, and internationally, of the two remaining Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah — I feel as though I have been away from my home in London for weeks, and not just for five days, as the time was so busy.

I recorded an interview for the Al-Rai TV station along with the attorney Tom Wilner, which was aired along with a subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash, and I also traveled out to Kuwait’s main prison, to visit the rehabilitation center which was established for the four remaining prisoners in 2009, but which, after two of these four were freed that year, has been lying empty ever since, its staff and facilities awaiting the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, who, like the majority of the 171 prisoners stili in Guantánamo, 89 of whom have been cleared for release, remain trapped because of the cynical twists and turns of American politics — in the Obama administration, in Congress and in the courts.

I was also driven through the desert, on the highway to Iraq, to visit the grand and spacious farm of a prominent sheikh, in order to discuss the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, and I also attended two dewaniyas (social events described by Wikipedia as being “the core of Kuwait’s social, business and political life, the places where topics of interest are discussed, associates introduced, alliances formed, and similar networking activities undertaken”), with lawyers and with the family of Fayiz. In addition, I met up with the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah and with Khalid al-Odah, Fawzi’s father, and briefly met another former prisoner, Adel al-Zamel. Read the rest of this entry »

In Kuwait, Looking for American Justice — and Showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” on Alrai TV

Please note that the screening has been postponed until Friday evening (February 24) at 10:30 pm.

Greetings from Kuwait, where the weather is fresh and warm, and the people are very friendly. Although I have been studying Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, this is my first visit to the Middle East, and I’m here to play whatever part I can to secure the return from Guantánamo of Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.

I’m here with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the Pentagon-appointed military defense attorney for Fayiz al-Kandari, and his colleagues Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki and Sgt. Chad Darby, and also with the civilian attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign. I am also grateful for the support of Adel Abdulhadi of the Al-Oula law firm, and am delighted to have finally met the journalist Jenifer Fenton, who has recently been focusing on the stories of the Kuwaiti prisoners. The centerpiece of my visit is the screening, at 9.30 pm on Thursday (February 23), on Alrai TV, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, followed by a studio discussion with Tom Wilner and myself. Both Tom and I feature in the film, and we had a very productive question and answer session today, when we pre-recorded the studio talk to accompany the broadcast of the film tomorrow evening.

This is a great occasion, as it is not only the biggest audience by far for the film, but also its first screening in Arabic, following a heroic mission by Polly and a number of Arabic speakers in the UK and Canada to complete the sub-titling of the film in the days before my flight to Kuwait on Monday. I hope — and anticipate — that the film’s comprehensive analysis of the many crimes and failures of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” and the compelling human stories of the men affected by America’s journey to the “dark side,” will be as informative for the Kuwaiti audience as they have been for the Western audiences who have seen the film in screenings in the US, the UK and Europe over the last two years. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Kuwaitis Discuss Their Tortured Confessions

For the 171 prisoners remaining in Guantánamo, a burning question — when, if ever, will any of them ever leave? — has apparently become unanswerable. The Obama administration failed to act swiftly and decisively enough during President Obama’s first year in office, and, ever since, lawmakers in Congress have repeatedly passed legislation to prevent prisoners being released. Their release has also been prevented in the courts by right-wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, who have, as I have repeatedly explained, gutted habeas corpus of all meaning.

This situation has been complicated by the fact that, under President Obama, the Justice Department has continued to deal with habeas corpus claims as though the Bush administration was still in office, and has not cross-referenced its cases with the findings of the President’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force, a sober collection of career officials, lawyers and representatives of the intelligence services, who concluded, after a year-long review of the prisoners’ cases, that only 36 of those still held should be tried, and that 89 should be released.

Add to that the President’s systematic aversion to confrontation on “national security” issues, and it becomes more comprehensible why we have reached a situation whereby the only prisoners to have left Guantánamo in the last nine months left in coffins, and why only three living prisoners have been released in the last 15 months. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Kuwait Break the Guantánamo Deadlock?

As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, those hoping for the closure of the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo, which was, and remains the most notorious emblem of the Bush administration’s excessive and misguided response to the attacks, are wondering how the prison will ever close.

Through a combination of cowardice on the part of President Obama and ferocious opposition in Congress to his plans to close Guantánamo, 171 men remain at the prison, even though the President initially promised to close it within a year of taking office, and even though a Task Force he convened to review the prisoners’ cases, comprising career officials and lawyers in government departments and the intelligence agencies, recommended that only 36 of those men should be tried, and 89 others should be released.

With a Congress-imposed ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and lawmakers insisting that they have the right to interfere in any plans to release prisoners, those campaigning to close Guantánamo have been obliged to seek out new angles in the effort to reawaken awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.

To this end, a recent feature on CNN, dealing with the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, highlighted some of the problems outlined above, as well as casting a baleful eye on the failure of the US judiciary to secure the release of prisoners. Importantly, however, it also provided a possible route out of the current paralysis regarding the closure of the prison, if the Obama administration can locate any political backbone. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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