The Absurdity of Guantánamo: As US Prepares to Release Ahmed Al-Darbi in Plea Deal, Less Significant Prisoners Remain Trapped Forever

The sign and flags at Camp Justice, Guantanamo, where the military commission trials take place.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

In the long and cruel history of Guantánamo, a major source of stress for the prisoners has been, from the beginning, the seemingly inexplicable release of prisoners who constituted some sort of a threat to the US, while completely insignificant prisoners have languished with no hope of release.

In the early days, this was because shrewd Afghan and Pakistani prisoners connected to the Taliban fooled their captors, who were too arrogant and dismissive of their allies in the region to seek advice before releasing men who later took up arms against them. Later, in the cases of some released Saudis, it came about because the House of Saud demanded the release of its nationals, and the US bowed to its demands, and in other cases that we don’t even know about it may be prudent to consider that men who were turned into double agents at a secret facility within Guantánamo were released as part of their recruitment — although how often those double agents turned out to betray their former captors is unknown.

Under President Obama, an absurd point was reached in 2010, when, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, the only men freed were those whose release had been ordered by a judge (as part of the short-lived success of the prisoners’ habeas petitions, before politicized appeals court judges shut down the whole process) or as a result of rulings or plea deals in their military commission trials. Just five men were freed in a nearly three-year period from 2010 to 2013 — with former child prisoner Omar Khadr, low level al-Qaeda assistant Ibrahim al-Qosi, and military trainer Noor Uthman Muhammed all released via plea deals — as President Obama sat on his hands, and refused to challenge Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to bypass lawmakers if he wished. Read the rest of this entry »

A Dream of Freedom Soured: Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Tunisia Face Ongoing Persecution

Salah Sassi, in a screenshot from the Associated Press's interview with him in June 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Back in February — as part of a ongoing effort to cover the stories of former Guantánamo prisoners, as well as maintaining pressure on the Trump administration to close Guantánamo once and for all — I covered the story of Hedi Hammami, a Tunisian who, on release from Guantánamo in March 2010, was given a new home in Georgia, because, at the time, it was regarded as unsafe for Tunisian prisoners to be repatriated. However, after Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown in the first optimistic flourish of the Arab Spring, in January 2011, Hammami “negotiated his return to Tunisia,” as Carlotta Gall described it in an important article for the New York Times.

Gall’s article proceeded to reveal, however, how, although his return began positively, with him “benefiting from a national amnesty for political prisoners and a program of compensation that gave him a job in the Ministry of Health,” the tide soon turned, and Tunisia once more became a repressive regime, with Hammami subject to “a constant regimen of police surveillance, raids and harassment” to such an extent that he told Gall that he had recently visited the Red Cross and “asked them to connect me to the US foreign ministry to ask to go back to Guantánamo.”

Six months on, nothing has improved for Hammami. Reporting for the Associated Press, Bouazza Ben Bouazza found him “on the outskirts of Tunis in a rented room he describes as smaller than his Guantánamo cell.” He told Ben Bouazza,  “I was in a small prison and today I find myself in a larger one in Tunisia.” Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months of Trump: Is Closing Guantánamo Still Possible?

A collage of Donald Trump and the sign for Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Just a few days ago, we passed a forlorn milestone: six months of the presidency of Donald Trump. On every front, this first six months has been a disaster. Trump humiliates America on the international stage, and at home he continues to head a dysfunctional government, presiding by tweet, and with scandal swirling ever closer around him.

On Guantánamo, as we have repeatedly noted, he has done very little. His initial threats to send new prisoners there, and to revive CIA “black sites,” have not materialized. However, if he has not opened the door to new arrivals, he has certainly closed the door on the men still there.

These include, as Joshua A. Seltzer, the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2015 until Trump took office, wrote in “Is Closing Guantánamo Still Conceivable?,” a recent article for the Atlantic, “the five still held at Guantánamo despite being recommended for transfer.” He added, “This official designation refers to those still believed to be lawfully detained under the law of war, but unanimously recommended for repatriation or resettlement by an interagency group of career officials. In other words, their continued detention has been deemed unnecessary, assuming an appropriate country can be identified to accept them under conditions that ensure their humane treatment and address any lingering threat they might pose.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Choose Peace”: An Inspiring Message of Tolerance From Former Guantánamo Prisoner and Torture Victim Mustafa Ait Idir

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mustafa Ait Idir, photographed after his release from Guantanamo in December 2008 (Photo: Amer Kapetanovic).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last year, I was honored to be asked to write a short review to promote a Guantánamo memoir by two former prisoners, Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir, two of six Algerians living and working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had been kidnapped by the US authorities in January 2002 and flown to Guantánamo, where they were severely abused. The US authorities mistakenly thought they were involved in a plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, despite no evidence to indicate that this was the case. Before their kidnapping, the Bosnian authorities had investigated their case, as demanded by the US, but had found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, on the day of their release from Bosnian custody, US forces swooped, kidnapping them and beginning an outrageous ordeal that lasted for six years.

Five of the six — including Boumediene and Ait Idir — were eventually ordered released by a federal court judge, who responded to a habeas corpus petition they submitted in 2008, after the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, by telling the US government, in no uncertain terms, that they had failed to establish that they had any connection to Al-Qaeda or had any involvement in terrorism.

Ait Idir, who had worked for Qatar Charities in Bosnia before his capture, where he had been widely recognized as a talented athlete and coach, was returned to his wife and family in Sarajevo, where he is now a computer science teacher at a secondary school, while Boumediene, an aid worker for the Red Crescent Society in Bosnia before his kidnapping, who gave his name to the Supreme Court case establishing the prisoners’ habeas rights, was resettled in France in May 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Stumbling Efforts to Revive Guantánamo

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 Guantánamo, Donald Trump has, essentially, done nothing since he took office, despite promising, on the campaign trail, to fill the prison “with bad dudes,” and to revive the use of torture. Shortly after he took office, a draft executive order was leaked, which saw him proposing to set up new “black sites,” and to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but on the former he was shut down immediately by critics from across the political spectrum, and even from some of his own appointees, and on the latter we presumed that silence meant that he had been advised that it was not worth sending new prisoners to Guantánamo.

There are a number of reasons why this advice was to be expected: because the federal courts have such a good track record of dealing successfully with terrorism-related cases, and because the legislation authorizing imprisonment at Guantánamo — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks — focuses on 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and related forces, and not on newer threats — like Islamic State, for example, for which new legislation would be required.

As a result, although Guantánamo has almost entirely slipped off the radar, with the impression given that the men still held are trapped in a place that Trump has largely chosen to ignore, it has at least been reassuring that he has gone quiet on his previously-promised notions of reviving the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

For Witness Against Torture, My Independence Day Article About Tyranny at Guantánamo Bay

A screenshot of my article for Witness Against Torture on US Independence Day 2017.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

For the last 41 days, my friends with Witness Against Torture — an organization of volunteer activists, founded in 2005, which “seeks to end torture worldwide, close the Guantánamo detention center, and seek reparations for torture victims” — have been running a campaign, “Forever Human Beings,” which I wrote about when their campaign started. the 41 days chosen for the campaign — from May 26 to July 5 — was chosen to reflect the number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo, and every day they highlighted the story of one particular prisoner.

To coincide with the end of their campaign — and US Independence Day — I wrote an article for Witness Against Torture about the significance of Guantánamo on the day that ordinary Americans celebrate their liberation from tyranny; this year, the 241st anniversary of the new nation’s freedom from the tyranny of King George III in 1776.

Ironically, however, those celebrating, for the most part, are unaware or unwilling to think of the uncomfortable fact that, at Guantánamo, a version of that same tyranny still exists, set up by the very government that is supposed to make sure that the kind of tyranny overthrown in 1776 can never happen again — specifically, imprisonment without charge or trial, which is supposed to be something that countries that claim to be civilized, and that claim to respect the rule of law, condemn without reservation. Read the rest of this entry »

For US Independence Day, Please Join Us in Telling Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo

Supporters of the Close Guantanamo campaign urging Donald Trump to close the prison.Please send us a photo of yourself with a poster urging Donald Trump to close Guantánamo!

Please also support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Just hours before the United States celebrates the 241st anniversary of its freedom from the yoke of British tyranny, all is not well in the Land of the Free. With Donald Trump in the White House, the US’s reputation abroad is floundering. Trump seems to govern by tweet and to have no idea of what the position of president entails, and far from “draining the swamp” as he promised, cleaning up politics and standing up for ordinary Americans, he has, predictably, embarked on a corporate-pleasing, right-wing agenda, slashing healthcare for poorer Americans, being gung-ho for war, showing contempt for the environment and love for energy companies, and hammering away at creating a travel ban for Muslims that is disgracefully racist and unacceptably wide-reaching and imprecise in its scope.

On Guantánamo, he has, to date, done very little despite threatening to send new prisoners there and to reintroduce torture — both ambitions that wiser heads counselled him to drop. However, inaction does absolutely nothing to deal with the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, something that Trump cares nothing about, but that continues to trouble those of us who care about justice and the rule of law.

In a law-abiding world, there are only two ways to deprive someone of their liberty — as a criminal, put forward for a trial without excessive delay, or as a combatant seized in wartime, who can be held off the battlefield, unmolested, until the end of hostilities, under the terms of the Geneva Conventions. The men at Guantánamo are neither. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration arbitrarily rounded up hundreds of men, and claimed that they had no rights whatsoever. Read the rest of this entry »

Four London Gigs for Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers, Promoting Songs from Forthcoming Album, How Much Is A Life Worth?

A poster for The Four Fathers' gigs in London in July 2017.Over the month of July, my band The Four Fathers have four gigs in south east London, and we hope that, if you’re around, you’ll come and see us — and even if you’re not around, we hope that you’ll check out our music, and even buy a download or two!

In the last few months, we’ve been releasing songs from our forthcoming second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? — Close Guantánamo, which I wrote for the Close Guantánamo campaign, and with a new verse dealing with the menace posed by Donald Trump, Dreamers, a song about friendship and parenthood, which I wrote for a friend’s 50th birthday, and, most recently, two of our hardest-hitting political songs, Riot, which warns politicians about what to expect if the poorer members of society are relentlessly exploited and treated with contempt, and London, a love song to the city that has been my home for the last 32 years, in which I reflect with sorrow and anger on how the UK capital’s wildness and its relentless and persistent state of dissent in the 80s and 90s has been tamed — or bludgeoned — by greed over the last 20 years, and how, sadly, the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower in west London is the most distressing outcome of this institutional disdain for the poor.

Other key songs we play live include our anthemic anti-austerity song, Fighting Injustice, our cover of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War (from our debut album, Love and War), the folk song Rebel Soldier that I put to a reggae tune in Brixton in the 1980s, and other songs not yet released — How Much Is A Life Worth?, about how white people perceive the value of their lives against those of (i) the victims of our wars, (ii) refugees and (iii) in the US, black people killed by the police, and Equal Rights and Justice For All, about the importance of habeas corpus. A recent addition is Stand Down Theresa, our updated version of the Beat’s classic protest song, Stand Down Margaret. A rough but energetic version of Stand Down Theresa is on video here. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Five Men Still Held at Guantánamo Who Were Approved for Release Under Obama

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on June 30, 2017.Dear friends and supporters — and any casual passers-by,

I’m delighted to announce that my latest article for Al-Jazeera, Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo, has just been published, and I encourage you to read it, and to share it as widely as possible if you find it useful.

In it, I look at the cases of the five men still held at Guantánamo who were approved for release under President Obama, but who didn’t make it out before Donald Trump took over, with a particular focus on Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan whose government sought his release, but failed to get the paperwork to the US authorities in time. I also look at the cases of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni. The two other men, sadly, don’t wish to have their cases discussed.

It’s important for these men’s cases to be remembered, because, although Donald Trump has not followed up on threats he made after taking office to send new prisoners to Guantánamo and to reintroduce torture, he has effectively sealed the prison shut for the last five months, releasing no one, and showing no signs of wanting to release anyone, and those of us who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo must continue to do what we can to bring this deplorable state of affairs to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Quarterly Fundraiser Day 3: Still Seeking $2000 (£1600) to Support My Reader-Funded Writing and Activism

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo near the White House on January 11, 2013 (Photo: Palina Prasasouk).Please support my work and my efforts to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work on Guantánamo for the next three months!

 

Dear friends and supporters,

I’m posting a second request for donations for my quarterly fundraising appeal after my first post on Monday. I’m trying to raise $2500 (£2000) in total  — not a huge amount, I hope, for the 50+ articles I write every quarter — and so far, via ten supporters and some of my monthly sustainers, I’ve received around $500 (£400). I’m hugely grateful for those donations, but, as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s not possible to live for 13 weeks on $500. That amount will, instead, only cover the hosting fee for my website for a year, and maintenance costs — I recently had to hire someone to satisfy Google that my site hadn’t been hacked.

If are able to help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal (and I should add that you don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal). 

You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. 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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