Disgraceful US Justice Department Secretly Blocks Release from Guantánamo of Gravely Ill Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah

Guantanamo hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah, photographed at Guantanamo before the long-term effects of his eight-year hunger strike took hold. He now weighs just 74.5 pounds.“Wonderful.” This is the only word that Guantánamo prisoner Tariq Ba Odah said, over and over, as he “looked through photos of vigils and protests, tweets and Facebook posts, and dozens of articles about efforts to free him” from Guantánamo, at a meeting last week with his lawyer, Omar Farah, of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

Tariq, as regular readers will know, is a Yemeni, and a long-term hunger striker, who has been refusing food since 2007, and is force-fed on a daily basis. He now weighs just 74.5 pounds, and is at risk of death, but the Obama administration refuses to help him. Three weeks ago, I wrote about his lawyers’ efforts to have a US judge order his release because of the very real risk he faces of imminent death.

Tariq’s plight sparked media interest — and gasps of horror from anyone still sensitized enough, after nearly 14 years of the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to realize that a man weighing just 74.5 pounds would look like a survivor of — or a corpse at — the concentration camps run by the Nazis. Read the rest of this entry »

Tariq Ba Odah, Hunger Strikes, and Why the Obama Administration Must Stop Challenging Guantánamo Prisoners in Court

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).In June, I wrote an article, “Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life,” about the desperate plight of Tariq Ba Odah, a Guantánamo prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since 2007 and is at risk of death. His weight has dropped to just 74.5 pounds, and yet the government does not even claim that it wants to continue holding him. Over five and a half years ago, in January 2010, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at that time, concluded that he should no longer be held.

The task force approved 156 men for release, although Tariq was one of 30 placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” made dependent on a perception that the security situation in Yemen had improved or “an appropriate rehabilitation program or third- country resettlement option becomes available,” as his lawyers described it.

Collectively, the whole of the US establishment has — with one exception — refused to repatriate any Yemenis approved for release since January 2010 (after a foiled terror plot was revealed to have been hatched in Yemen), although, since last November, the administration has been finding third countries willing to offer new homes to Yemenis approve for transfer — in part became of persistent pressure from campaigning groups. 18 Yemenis have so far been found homes in third countries — in Georgia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Oman — so all that now ought to prevent Tariq Ba Odah’s release is if the US government proves unable to find a third country prepared to offer him a new home. Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes, Condemns Government Delays

Former Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab after his release (in Uruguay in December 2014). This is a screen shot from a TV broadcast in Argentina, where Mr. Dhiab travelled in February, to call for the government to offer new homes to other Guantanamo prisoners.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.

Sick of delaying tactics, a US federal court judge has ordered the government to stop wasting time with “frivolous” appeals against her rulings, and to release videotapes showing a Guantánamo prisoner being brutally force-fed.

On October 3 last year, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to prepare for public release 32 videotapes of a Guantánamo prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, being dragged from his cell and force-fed. The tapes contained 11 hours of footage in total, and, as I explained at the time, Judge Kessler responded to the government’s concerns about the need for anonymity for US personnel by ordering them to be “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.”

That was over nine months ago, and on Friday (July 10), Judge Kessler ordered the government to “complete all national security-related redactions to the first eight tapes — which show Abu Wa’el Dhiab being forcibly removed from his cell and tube-fed — by August 31, and to complete other key redactions by September 30,” as Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers at Reprieve explained in a press release. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Guantánamo Hunger Striker for Ten Years, Is Approved for Release to Saudi Arabia

Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 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.

I’m pleased to report that Abdul Rahman Shalabi (ISN 042), a Saudi at Guantánamo, who has, astonishingly, been on a hunger strike for ten years, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, which explained, in its final determination regarding Shalabi’s case, “The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

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.

Originally, there were 48 men in this category of prisoners neither approved for release nor for trials, but two died before the PRBs began. To these 46 were added 25 others, originally recommended for trials, until the trial system at Guantánamo began to unravel spectacularly, with a series of damning rulings, by judges in the generally quite conservative appeals court in Washington D.C. The D.C. Circuit Court judges established that what the government called war crimes were no such thing, and had been invented by Congress, thereby rendering the entire trial system of the “war on terror” to be only one notch up from useless and thoroughly discredited. Read the rest of this entry »

Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).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.

For the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, introduced by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987, a vivid reminder of the horrors of Guantánamo emerged the day before, when lawyers for Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner identified by the US authorities as Tarek Baada, sought “a court order granting his habeas petition and compelling the government to facilitate [his] immediate release” because of fears that, otherwise, he will die at the prison. The submission to the court is here.

Tariq, who was picked up in Pakistan by the local authorities at the end of 2001 and turned over to the US military, arrived at Guantánamo shortly after the prison opened in 2002, when he was 23 years old. He is now 36, and he is still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. He is one of 30 men, all Yemenis, who were placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” which was made dependant on perceptions of the security situation in his home country improving, although it was never made clear who would make that decision, or how it would come about.

However, since President Obama began finding new homes in third countries for Yemenis approved for release last November, the only obstacle to his release now is the difficulty of finding a country to accept him, as well as countries prepared to offer new homes to the 29 other Yemenis in “conditional detention,” and 13 other Yemenis approved for release by the task force — or approved for release in the last year and a half by Periodic Review Boards — but still held. Since last November, 18 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo to third countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Appeals Court Refuses to Allow Government to Block Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes

Abu Wa'el Dhiab photographed after his release in Uruguay with a picture he painted after his release (Photo: Oscar Bonilla).Last Friday, the appeals court in Washington, D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — kept alive hopes that the US government will be forced to release footage of a hunger striking Guantánamo prisoner being violently removed from his cell and force-fed, when a three-judge panel — consisting of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Patricia Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins — refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes.

When the court heard the case last month, Justice Department attorneys “argued that the courts cannot order evidence used in trial to be unsealed if it has been classified by the government,” as The Intercept described it. Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges, “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents.” The Intercept added that the judges “appeared skeptical. Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court ‘has absolutely no authority’ to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on ‘irrationality’ or that it’s ‘hiding something.'”

The tapes are of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner who spent last year challenging the government’s force-feeding program in the courts. Dhiab was freed in Uruguay in December, but his case continues. In June, Cori Crider, one of Dhiab’s lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, said after viewing the videos, which have only to date been seen by the lawyers, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.”

Writing of the ruling, Reprieve noted that the court “ordered the Obama Administration to redact 12 hours of secret Guantánamo force-feeding footage in preparation for its public release, rejecting the Administration’s argument that not one single frame should be seen by the public.” 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 »

90-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Appeals in Court for Assistance from Pakistani Government

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmad Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve.On April 14, lawyers for Ahmad Rabbani (aka Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani), one of the last few Pakistani prisoners in Guantánamo, “filed an emergency application with the Islamabad High Court, demanding that the Pakistani government intervene immediately in his case,” as the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Mr. Rabbani) explained in a press release.

The filing notes that Mr. Rabbani “has been unlawfully captured and later on illegally detained, without a charge or notification of any pending or contemplated charges against him since 2001,” and that he “has been repeatedly tortured and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as a result of gross and flagrant violation of national and international law.” The lawyers added that his  “unfortunate torture … still continues.”

In addition, the lawyers stated that Mr. Rabbani’s case “involves a matter of urgency, as the fundamental rights, life, health, liberty and dignity of a man, who has been unlawfully detained, admittedly on mistaken identity, without a due process of law or fair trial guarantees, is at stake.” They added, “The ongoing torture, humiliation and deterioration of health of a Pakistani citizen, who has a right over the state institutions to protection of his life, dignity and liberty requires this case to be heard on an urgent basis.” Read the rest of this entry »

Former Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Uruguay Discuss Their Problems

Abu Wa'el Dhiab (aka Jihad Dhiab) photographed for the Washington Post by Joshua Partlow in March 2015, four months after his release from Guantanamo.

To donate to support the six men released in Uruguay, please follow this link to a Just Giving page set up by Cage for Reprieve.

A month ago, I wrote a well-received article, “Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom,” looking at the problems faced by the six former Guantánamo prisoners given new homes in Uruguay in December. The six men, long cleared for release, couldn’t be safely repatriated, as four are from war-torn Syria, one is from Tunisia, where, it appears, the US is now concerned about the security situation, and the sixth is Palestinian, and the Israeli government has always prevented Palestinians held in Guantánamo from being returned home.

As I pointed out in my article, and in a follow-up interview with a Uruguayan journalist, “Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay,” the former prisoners are struggling to adapt to a new country, in which they don’t speak the language and there is no Muslim community, and in which they are still separated from their families, over 13 years since they were first seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan by or on behalf of US forces.

Most of all, however, I believe that, while there have been murmurings in Uruguay about the men’s apparent unwillingness to work, those complaining are overlooking the fact that all six men are evidently grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their long ordeal in a experimental prison where abusive indefinite detention without charge or trial is the norm. Read the rest of this entry »

Sen. Dianne Feinstein Urges Pentagon to End “Unnecessary” Force-Feeding at Guantánamo

Released Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab in a screenshot of an interview he did with an Argentinian TV channel in February 2015, two months after his release in Uruguay with five other men.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently sent a letter to Ashton Carter, the new defense secretary, urging him to “end the unnecessary force-feedings of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

Sen. Feinstein, who, until recently, was chair of the committee, and oversaw the creation of the hugely important report into the CIA’s use of torture whose executive summary was released in December, has long been a critic of Guantánamo. After a visit to the prison in July 2013, with Sen. Dick Durbin, she and Durbin “asked President Barack Obama to order the Pentagon to stop routinely force-feeding hunger strikers at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo and adopt a model that feeds out of medical necessity, like in the federal prison system,” as the Miami Herald described it.

As she noted in her letter to Ashton Carter, “The hunger strikes themselves stem in part to the fact that many detainees have remained in legal limbo for more than a decade and have given up hope. Therefore, it is imperative that the Administration outline a formal process to permanently close the Guantánamo facility as soon as possible. I look forward to continue working with you to achieve that end.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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