Another Sad, Forgotten Anniversary for Guantánamo’s Dead

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death in June 2006.

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.

 

Today, June 10, is an important date in the Guantánamo calendar — the 11th anniversary of the deaths, in dubious circumstances, of three men at Guantánamo in 2006: Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni.

According to the US authorities, the three men committed suicide, hanging themselves in their cells, after having stuffed rags down their own throats, but that explanation has never seemed convincing to anyone who has given it any kind of scrutiny. Even accepting that the guards were not paying attention, how did they manage to tie themselves up and stuff rags down their own throats?

An official investigation by the NCIS yielded an inadequate statement defending the official narrative in August 2008, and then, in January 2010, an article in Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton presented the US authorities with a powerful critic of the official suicide narrative, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who was in charge of the guards in the towers overlooking the prison. On the night of June 9, 2006, just before the deaths were acknowledged, Hickman had noticed unusual movements by vehicles traveling to and from the prison, in the direction of a secret facility he and his colleagues identified as “Camp No,” where, he presumed, they had been killed — whether deliberately or not — during torture sessions. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Writing About Guantánamo: Please Support My Work!

Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo at an event at Revolution Books in New York in November 2009.Please support my work! After ten years of writing about Guantánamo, 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.

 

Dear friends and supporters,

Exactly ten years ago, on May 31, 2007, I began writing full-time, here on AndyWorthington.co.uk, about Guantánamo and related issues, starting with the sad story of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who died at the prison the day before. I had completed and delivered the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files just two weeks earlier, and had spent the intervening time in the bewildered fog that those who have written books may recall occurring when the birthing of a book is complete. However, when I saw the news of al-Amri’s death, I knew that I had to comment.

In researching and writing The Guantánamo Files, I had studied the publicly available information on all the prisoners— or as many as information was available for — and, as a result, was in a good position to know about al-Amri, a Saudi, and a former soldier. With hundreds of pages of notes on all the prisoners, I thought I’d contact a well-known, left-leaning newspaper to ask if they wanted an article about al-Amri, but was told that they’d take a wire from the Associated Press, and so, thwarted in my one attempt at going mainstream, I decided I would use the blog that my neighbour, Josh King-Farlow, had set up for me the year before, which, at the time, featured pages about my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, and, if I recall correctly, my very first blog post, published in April 2006, a review of Mark Danner’s book, Torture and Truth, about the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Two days after publishing al-Amri’s story, I posted an update, after the Pentagon had, as I predicted in my first article, slandered him in death. As I noted: Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner, and Two Others

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

Three weeks ago, in Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace, I looked in detail at the current state of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, a parole-type process that quietly dominated Barack Obama’s detention policy at Guantánamo throughout his eight years in office, when, despite promising to close the prison on his second day, he left the White House with 41 men still held, and Donald Trump threatening to send new prisoners there.

Trump’s threats, have, fortunately, not materialized — hopefully, because wiser heads have told him that federal courts are more than adequate for dealing with captured terrorists — and the Periodic Review Boards are still functioning, despite a call for them to be scrapped by eleven Republican Senators in February, although they have not recommended anyone for release since before Trump took office.

After Obama took office in January 2009, he set up a high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to assess what he should do with the 240 men he had inherited from George W. Bush. The task force recommended that 156 of the 240 should be released and 36 prosecuted, and that the 48 others should continue to be held without charge or trial because they were too dangerous to release — although the task force members conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was actually unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

Witness Against Torture Launch “Forever Human Beings,” a 41-Day Campaign for the 41 “Forever Prisoners” Still Held at Guantánamo

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

 

Since Donald Trump became president just over four months ago, the aggressive, and often unconstitutional incompetence emanating from the White House every day, on so many fronts, has unfortunately meant that long-standing injustices like the prison at Guantánamo Bay are in danger of disappearing off the radar completely, even more comprehensively than during the particular lulls in the presidency of Barack Obama, who largely sat on his hands between 2011 and 2013, when confronted by cynical obstruction in Congress to his hopes of closing the prison, doing very little until the prisoners forced his hand, embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike that drew the world’s attention, and embarrassed him into renewed action.

Through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the attorney Tom Wilner in 2012 I have tried to keep Trump’s responsibility for Guantánamo in the public eye. Since his inauguration, opponents of Guantánamo have been sending in photos of themselves holding posters calling for Trump to close Guantánamo, which I’ve been posting on the website, and on social media — particularly through Facebook — ever since. Over 40 photos have now been published, with many more to come. Please join us. This Wednesday marks 125 days of Trump’s presidency, a suitable occasion to remind him that Guantánamo must be closed.

I’m pleased also to endorse a new initiative by Witness Against Torture, the campaigning group whose work is very close to my heart. Every January, on my annual visits to call for the closure of Guantánamo on an around the anniversary of its opening (on January 11), I spend time with members of Witness, many of whom have, over the years, become my friends, and I was delighted, a few days ago, to receive an email notifying me about “Forever Human Beings,” a 41-day campaign for the 41 “forever prisoners” still held at Guantánamo, launching this Friday, May 26. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Zone of Non-Being: Guantánamo,” Featuring Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, Clive Stafford Smith, Michael Ratner

A screenshot from 'Zone of Non-Being: Guantanamo', a documentary film released in 2014.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.

 

Several years ago (actually, way back in December 2012), I was interviewed at my home for a documentary produced by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which was directed by the filmmaker Turab Shah. For some reason, I never heard about the film being completed (I think its initial screening was in January 2014, when I was in the US), but after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I received an email from the IHRC stating that they were screening the film, which prompted me to look it up, and to discover that it had been put online in July 2014.

The film features a fascinating array of contributors, including myself, former prisoners including Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, the late Michael Ratner, the founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author and academic Arun Kundnani, Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist Victoria Brittain, the writer Amrit Wilson, and Massoud Shadjareh of the ICRC.

The ICRC described the film as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Abu Zubaydah Will Not Testify at Guantánamo Military Court Because the US Government Has “Stacked the Deck” Against Him

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His lawyer Mark Denbeaux released the photo in May 2017, and stated that it was a recent image.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.

 

Yesterday, for Close Guantánamo, the campaign I co-founded in January 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner, I published an article, Abu Zubaydah Waives Immunity to Testify About His Torture in a Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo, explaining how Zubydah (aka Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a Saudi-born Palestinian, an alleged “high value detainee,” and the unfortunate first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, was planning to appear as a witness today a pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo involving Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Zubaydah was planning to discuss bin al-Shibh’s claims that “somebody is intentionally harassing him with noises and vibrations to disrupt his sleep,” as Carol Rosenberg described it for the Miami Herald, but as Mark Denbeaux, one of his lawyers, explained, by taking the stand his intention was for the truth to emerge, and for the world “to know that he has committed no crimes and the United States has no basis to fear him and no justification to hold him for 15 years, much to less subject him to the torture that the world has so roundly condemned.”

Denbeaux also explained how “the Prosecution here in the Military Commissions is afraid to try him or even charge him with any crime,” adding, “The failure to charge him, after 15 years of torture and detention, speaks eloquently. To charge him would be to reveal the truth about the creation of America’s torture program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Prior to Chelsea Manning’s Release on Wednesday, Here’s What She Wrote to President Obama

Free Chelsea Manning posters, via torbakhopper on Flickr.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.

 

This Wednesday, May 17, Chelsea Manning — formerly known as Bradley Manning — will be released from prison, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has been held for the last seven years. her role as a whistleblower was immense. As a private, she was responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner. See my archive of articles based on those files here.

By that time, Manning was already in US custody in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, which I first wrote about in December 2010, in an article entitled, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”? I continued to follow her story closely into 2011 (see here and here), which included President Obama’s indifference to criticism by the United Nations, and when Manning’s trial finally took place, in 2013, I made a particular point of dealing with those parts of the trial in which the significance of the Guantánamo files was examined.

As I stated just before the trial began, “Bradley’s key statement on the Guantánamo files is when he says, ‘the more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would’ve been released if they were held in theater.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process 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 PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo”

Ahmed Abdul Qader, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 or 2010 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.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 some months now, I’ve been meaning to post a handful of articles about former Guantánamo prisoners resettled in third countries, as part of my ongoing efforts not only to tell the stories of the men still held in Guantánamo and to call for the prison’s closure, but also to focus what has happened to released prisoners, especially those resettled in third countries, as part of an ongoing process of encouraging people to reflect on what the United States’ responsibilities ought to be towards men resettled in third countries without any internationally agreed arrangements regarding their status. In recent months, I have written about Mansoor al-Dayfi, a Yemeni released in Serbia, and, earlier this week, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian released in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a handful of new articles, I’ll be catching up on some stories that were published last year, but that I didn’t get the opportunity to cover at the time, and the first of these is about Ahmed Abdul Qader, a Yemeni who was given a new home in Estonia in January 2015.

Last spring, Charlie Savage of the New York Times visited Estonia to meet with Qader and to interview him, over a number of days, for a story, “After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer,” which was published in the New York Times at the end of July. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights

Tariq-Al-Sabah, from an interview conducted by BBC Alba after his release from Guantanamo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.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.

 

As part of my ongoing coverage of Guantánamo, I try, wherever possible, to keep track of the stories of former prisoners, especially those who were resettled in third countries, either because the US government refused to send them home, or because it was considered unsafe to do so — or, in the case of Palestine, because the Israeli government would not allow them to be repatriated, even if the US government wanted to.

Many of those resettled in third countries are Yemenis, and third countries had to be found for them because, since the start of 2010, the entire US establishment has regarded the situation in Yemen as too unstable from a security perspective to allow any Yemenis to be repatriated. Amongst those for whom repatriation was regarded as too dangerous are the Uighurs, 22 men from China’s Xinjiang province, historically oppressed by the Chinese government, who were found new homes around the world between 2006 and 2013, and a handful of men from other countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia.

In March, for Middle East Eye, the journalist Lidia Kurasinska wrote an article about Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian, who had been resettled in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the capital, Sarajevo, in January 2016. Before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Sawah had been living in Bosnia, where he had been granted citizenship, and had married a Bosnian woman, with whom he had a child, so this was not a random resettlement based solely on whichever country could be persuaded, through a combination of cash and favors, to give a former prisoner a home. 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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