Former Guantánamo Prisoner Asim Al-Khalaqi Dies in Kazakhstan, Four Months After Being Freed

The US flag at Guantanamo (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly/Huffington Post).Vice News broke the news on Thursday that Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, a Yemeni, and a former prisoner at Guantánamo, died in Kazakhstan, just over four months since he was freed, after spending 13 years in US custody without charge or trial.

The 46- or 47-year old, identified in Guantánamo as ISN 152, was one of five men freed on December 31, 2014, 13 years and one day after his capture, on December 30, 2001, in Pakistan. Three weeks later, he was flown to Guantánamo, less than two weeks after the prison opened.

As I explained in an article in 2012, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” al-Khalaqi was approved for release under President Bush, as well as by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009: Read the rest of this entry »

MPs Visit US to Discuss the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with John McCain and Dianne Feinstein

The delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to call for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at a meeting with Sen. John McCain on May 20, 2015. From L to R: Alka Pradhan of Reprieve, Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Sen. John McCain, David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.

One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following motion — “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary). Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls for Compensation for the 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners Still Held

Former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, photographed before his retirement in 2010.Last week, as three prominent Democratic Senators — Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin — wrote to President Obama urging him to take urgent action to release the 57 men still held at Guantánamo who have been approved for release by high-level governmental review boards, and who, for the most part, have been waiting over five years to be freed, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Supreme Court Justice from 1975 until his retirement in 2010, made a speech at which he not only urged the release of these men, but also suggested that some of them may be due compensation for their long and ultimately unjustifiable ordeal. The 57 men make up almost half of the total of 122 men still held, and include, prominently, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

This is not, of course, the first time that former Justice Stevens, who is now 95 years old, has dealt with Guantánamo. When he retired, SCOTUSblog — the official Supreme Court blog — ran a series of articles about him, and in one of these articles, “Justice Stevens, Guantánamo, and the Rule of Law,” Daniel A. Farber, a law professor at Berkeley who clerked for him in 1976, explained the importance of his role in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Supreme Court rulings that granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights (Rasul v. Bush in June 2004 and Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, which I wrote about here), and that dealt with the legality — or rather the lack of it — of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006).

Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in which, almost two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, and after a long journey through the lower courts, the Supreme Court “held that the habeas statute covered Guantánamo,” and turned down the Bush administration’s argument that the prison was on foreign soil. Although Congress then passed legislation that purported to block the prisoners’ habeas rights, the ruling allowed lawyers to take on prisoners as clients, and to visit the prison, breaking through the veil of secrecy that had allowed torture and other forms of abuse to proceed unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Supreme Court Rules That Omar Khadr Was A Juvenile Prisoner, Not An Adult

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.How much money will the Canadian government spend in its futile effort to demonize Omar Khadr? A week after the former child prisoner — now 28 years old — was freed on bail after nearly 13 years behind bars (ten years in Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada), winning over numerous Canadians with his humility as he spoke in public for the first time, the Canadian government, which had unsuccessfully argued that releasing him on bail would damage its relations with the US, faced another humiliating court defeat, this time in Canada’s Supreme Court.

The government was claiming that Omar — just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father — had been sentenced as an adult, not a juvenile. The intention was that, if Omar is to be returned to prison if his appeal against his conviction in the US fails (which, it should be noted, seems unlikely), he would be returned to a federal prison. The ruling followed an appeals court ruling in Omar’s favor last July, which I wrote about here.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that Omar had been sentenced as a juvenile, and that, if he were to be returned to prison, it would therefore be to a “provincial reformatory,” as the Globe and Mail described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Senators Leahy, Feinstein and Durbin Tell Obama to Free 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners “As Quickly As Possible”

Campaigners from organizations including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International and Close Guantanamo call for the closure of the prison outside the White House on January 11, 2011.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 now nearly five months since the last prisoners were released from Guantánamo, even though 57 of the 122 men still held have been approved for release from the prison, the majority since President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force issued its recommendations about the disposition of the remaining prisoners in January 2010.

As any decent person would agree, still holding men five years after you said you no longer wanted to hold them is a particularly offensive betrayal of any notion that you believe in justice and fairness.

President Obama released dozens of prisoners — 66 in total — from when he took office in January 2009 until September 2010, at which point restrictions on the release of prisoners, which were cynically imposed by Congress, made it more difficult. This was not because the administration was unable to release prisoners, but because the process of certifying to Congress that it was safe to do so, which were the conditions imposed by lawmakers, made the release of prisoners much more politically sensitive than it should have been. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Omar Khadr Speaks, Says, “Freedom Is Way Better Than I Thought”

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.Last night, as Britain collapsed into five more years of Tory rule, from the party that believes only in enriching the already rich, privatising everything that hasn’t yet been privatised, and permanently abusing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, one of the only glimmers of light was not in the UK, but was in Canada, on a suburban street where former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr was holding his first press conference since being released from prison.

Now 28, Omar was held for twelve years and ten months — ten years and two months in US custody (almost all in Guantánamo), and two years and eight months in Canadian prisons. This was in spite of the fact that he was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, and was therefore a juvenile, and not responsible for his actions.

Abused by the Americans, Omar also had his rights ignored by Canadian agents who visited him at Guantánamo, and who destroyed his hopes that his home country would help him. He then had to plead guilty at a disgraceful war crimes trial, in the military commissions at Guantánamo, to secure his release from the prison, receiving an eight-year sentence, with one more year to be served at Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Says He Is “Ready” for Freedom; All Decent People Must Agree

The updated logo for the Free Omar Khadr Now campaign.UPDATE: I’m delighted to report that Justice Myra Bielby has granted Omar’s bail. “Mr. Khadr, you are free to go,” she said at the hearing today in the appeals court in Edmonton. The Toronto Star reported that Omar “broke into a big, wide smile when the decision was read. His supporters in the courtroom erupted in cheers.”

As the Guardian described it, however, “Khadr’s legal ordeal is far from over. The government has given notice that it intends to challenge the bail order itself.” Nevertheless, I believe the government needs to accept that its vindictive demonization of Omar has run its course. On June 25, Omar will go before a parole board, providing another opportunity for him to be granted his freedom.

Omar’s long-established attorney Dennis Edney, with whom he will be living, told reporters, “I intend to drive him straight home,” and added, as the Guardian put it, that “he had squeezed [his] finger and said: ‘We did it.'” His other longtime attorney, Nathan Whitling, said, “Whatever anyone may think of Mr. Khadr, he’s now served his time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Hunger Striker Since 2005, Asks Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

"Close Guantanamo": a campaigner holds a postcard promoting the "Close Guantanamo" campaign on January 11, 2012 in Washington D.C., the 10th anniversary of the opening of 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. 

Last Tuesday, April 21, Abdul Rahman Shalabi became the 14th “forever prisoner” at Guantánamo to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — which consist 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners who had neither been approved for release by the high-level, multi-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, nor had been put forward for trials.

At the time of the PRBs’ creation, 71 men were deemed to be eligible for reviews, but, according to my records, five of these men have been released, one other accepted a plea deal in the military commissions, and another was charged, leaving 50 more prisoners eligible for the process.

Progress has been slow, but, of the 13 cases so far decided, nine have ended with the boards approving the release of the prisoners in question, and just four have been approved for ongoing imprisonment. Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff Sloan, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, On Why Cleared Prisoners, Including Shaker Aamer, Must Be Freed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture show their support for Shaker Aamer in an action outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. in January 2015.Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reawakened discussions about the future of Guantánamo, in an article entitled “Facing threat in Congress, Pentagon races to resettle Guantánamo inmates.” As I described it in my analysis of the article, the Post aired “the suggestion … that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.”

I was at pains to point out that, “[r]ealistically … it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario,” but I found it convincing that, “[a]s a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June,” and that one of these prisoners is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and I was reassured when a journalist friend explained that a source within the administration had told her that there was “cautious optimism” that these releases will indeed take place.

Following up on the story, Ian Woods of Sky News interviewed Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013. A veteran diplomat, Sloan left his job at the end of last year, but has continued to discuss Guantánamo, and the need for the prison’s closure, ever since. See his op-ed in the New York Times in January, for example. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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