Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

Emad Hassan’s Story: How Knowing a Town Called Al-Qa’idah Got Him 13 Years in Guantánamo

Emad Hassan, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.

Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009,  and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Is 27th Guantánamo Prisoner to Face Periodic Review Board; 4th Man Has Detention Upheld, 36 Others Await Reviews

Guantanamo prisoner Zohair al-Shorabi (aka Suhayl al-Sharabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Al-Shorabi's Periodic Review Board was on March 1, 2016.

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In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.

In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Speaks: First Interview with Kuwaiti Released from Guantánamo in 2014

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Via the Arabic language newspaper Al-Rai, the Kuwait Times last week featured the first interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Fawzi al-Odah since his release from the prison in November 2014, which I’m posting below with some minor changes of my own to the English language translation to make it more comprehensible.

Fawzi hasn’t spoken before, because he was in a rehabilitation center in Kuwait for a year after his release, and because no one in Kuwait wanted to do anything that might jeopardize the release of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, who was freed just three weeks ago. I visited the rehabilitation center during a visit to Kuwait in February 2012, to work towards securing the release of Fawzi and Fayiz, and the photos below are from that visit. At the time the facility, located next to Kuwait’s main prison, was empty, but it had briefly been used for the two prisoners previously released, who returned to Kuwait in 2009. The government had staffed it, and had clearly spent money — and was still spending money — that was only for Fawzi and Fayiz, and yet they remained entangled in the absurd bureaucracy of Guantánamo.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the story that Fawzi told the Kuwaiti media. In Guantánamo, for example, he always maintained, as I described it in 2007 in my book The Guantánamo Files, that he “took a short vacation and travelled to Afghanistan in August 2001 ‘to teach and to help other people.’ After finding a liaison in the Taliban, which ‘was necessary because that was the government in Afghanistan at that time,’ he was ‘touring the schools and visiting families,’ teaching the Koran and handing out money, until his activities were curtailed after 9/11.” As I explained after his release, “He said he was then advised to leave the country, and given instructions about how to do so, and ended up, with other men, crossing the border into Pakistan, where they were then handed over to the Pakistani authorities.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Discusses His 13 Years in Guantánamo, Built to “Destroy Human Beings,” and Adjusting to Freedom Since His Release

Shaker Aamer photographed by Craig Hibbert for the Mail on Sunday, December 8, 2015.The Mail on Sunday yesterday featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below, following my first article yesterday, are excerpts dealing with his 13 years and eight months in Guantánamo — over 5,000 days — and his adjustment to life since his release: the changes in the world, and, in particular, getting to know his family again after so long separated from them. Also included are great anecdotes about Shaker helping someone in a wheelchair — a rather typical act, I believe, for someone renowned for wanting to help others — and what happened when he tried to open a bank account. As the co-founder of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, established just over a year ago to call for his release, it is reassuring to me that he has now undertaken major media interviews — including with ITV News and with The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2, broadcast today — and that he will, hopefully, soon be free to devote more of his time to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo. If viewers outside the UK have difficulty accessing the broadcasts, there are clips from the BBC interview on Twitter here, here and here.

Please also feel free to listen to me on BBC Radio London this morning. The section on Shaker began at At 01:06:27, and my interview started at 01:08:26 and finished at 01:15:10. A good interview, I thought. Please have a listen, and share it if you agree. And please also free to check out my interview with Wandsworth Radio, recorded in the evening.

Shaker Aamer speaks about Guantánamo

Remembering brutality in Guantánamo, and recalling, in particular, the approach of the Forcible Cell Extraction team, six armored soldiers, empowered to suppress, with violence, any perceived infringement of the rules, Shaker told David Rose, “You feel scared.” In Shaker’s case, FCE visits to his cell were shockingly regular, and as he said, “You know you can get hurt, because there are some huge guys there, 18, 20 stone guys, muscular. You could be paralyzed. Anything can happen. Anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Shaker Aamer’s 5000th Day in Guantánamo – Vigil Outside 10 Downing Street, October 24, 2015

Campaigners marking Shaker Aamer's 5000th day in Guantanamo outside 10 Downing Street on October 24, 2015. From L to R: Chris Tranchell, Joanne MacInnes, Harriet Walter and Tania Mathias MP (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

On Saturday (October 24), campaigners for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a vigil on Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street, to mark Shaker’s 5000th day in Guantánamo, and the last day before his anticipated return from Guantánamo. The vigil was organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker and the London Guantánamo Campaign.

President Obama announced Shaker’s release on September 25, and Congress was then given a 30-day notification period, as required in US law in recent years. During the 30 days, Shaker told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, that he had embarked on a hunger strike because of ill-treatment, and that he feared not making it out of Guantánamo alive, and as a result, myself and Joanne MacInnes, the founders and directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, set up Fast For Shaker, to encourage supporters to fast for 24 hours, on a day of their choice, in solidarity with Shaker, to encourage him to give up his hunger strike (which he did), and to keep up the pressure on the US and UK governments to make sure his release is not further delayed. We are encouraging people to sign up to fast until Shaker is released, joining the 406 people who have already done so.

After hearing that Shaker’s release has been delayed because of a visit to the prison by three Republican Senators over the weekend, we now hear that he may not be released until Friday, because of the presence of journalists for pre-hearings in the proposed trial of those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Fast For Shaker Aamer Hunger Strike Diary

Andy Worthington points out, to President Obama and David Cameron, that the 30-day notification period required by Congress before any Guantanamo prisoner can be released has now come to an end in Shaker Aamer's case, and he should immediately be returned to the UK. Today, October 25, was supposed to be the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was released and flown back to the UK to be reunited with his family, who he has not seen for over 14 years.

Shaker is still held, despite being approved for release eight years ago, under George W. Bush (and again under President Obama in January 2010), although campaigners for his release, his lawyers, and, of course, his family and Shaker himself, are hoping it will take place in the next couple of days.

Sustained campaigns — and significant pressure from MPs — finally led, a month ago, to a promise by President Obama that Shaker would be freed, and today is the end of the 30-day notification period demanded by Congress before any Guantánamo prisoner can be released.

And yet, Shaker is still not home — and, as the Mail on Sunday reported today, “The release of the last Briton held at notorious US detention centre Guantánamo Bay has been delayed. Shaker … saw his hopes of finally being reunited with his family this weekend dashed thanks to a political visit to the base … [T]he visit of three Republican senators, on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to the base, once again delayed his long-awaited flight to freedom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Mixed Messages on Guantánamo, as Justice Department Tells Judge Not to Intervene in Case of 75-Pound Hunger Striker at Risk of Death

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).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.

One day, when we’re looking back on Guantánamo and apportioning blame to those who contributed most powerfully to its cruelty, and to keeping it open long after the most senior officials in two governments conceded that it should be closed, a spotlight will be shone on the lawyers in the Civil Division of the Justice Department who have worked so assiduously to prevent prisoners from being released.

I have criticized these lawyers occasionally, but I have rarely heard any criticism of them in the mainstream media, and yet, from the moment that the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, they have been making life difficult for lawyers representing the prisoners, micro-managing their meetings with their clients and their travel arrangements, and often, it is impossible not to conclude, in an effort to obstruct the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients.

In addition, as I noted in an article in August, the Civil Division lawyers “have fought tooth and nail against every single habeas petition submitted by the prisoners, with just one exception — the severely ill Sudanese prisoners Ibrahim Idris, whose petition was granted unopposed in 2013.” I added, “Disgracefully, the Justice Department lawyers have repeatedly challenged habeas petitions submitted by prisoners whose release has already been approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” the high-level, inter-agency task force set up by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009, which issued its final report a year later, recommending 156 men for release, 36 for trials and 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the alarming basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Days to Go: The Countdown to Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

Malila Durant, daughter of We Stand With Shaker co-director Joanne MacInnes, stands with a poster marking the countdown to the hoped-for release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo on October 25.Today, October 20, marks five days to the anticipated release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. It was announced on September 25 that he would be coming back to his family in the UK — eight long years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him — and that announcement coincided with the start of the 30-day notification period required by Congress before a prisoner can be freed. As a result, campaigners expect him to be home on Sunday.

With Guantánamo, however, nothing is certain until it has happened, and as a result, last week, myself and Joanne MacInnes — the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched last November to publicise Shaker’s plight through the use of a large inflatable figure of him — set up a new campaign, Fast For Shaker, encouraging supporters to fast for a day in solidarity with Shaker (who is on a hunger strike in Guantánamo), and also to keep up pressure on the Obama administration to make sure he is freed as soon as the 30-day notification period is over. That campaign continues, with, to date, 283 people having pledged to fast — and 33 of those are fasting today.

Also today, in a further initiative to keep the pressure on, the We Stand With Shaker campaign is counting down to the date when Shaker should be a free man with the first in a series of countdown posters. Today’s poster, ‘5 Days to Go’, is held by Malila Durant, the 11-year old daughter of Joanne MacInnes. Tomorrow, the actress Harriet Walter and the actor Guy Paul will be holding signs, and this initiative will continue until Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast For Shaker Supporters Encourage Shaker Aamer to End Hunger Strike, Maintain Pressure to Get Him Home By October 25

Cori Crider of Reprieve, photographed as part of the Fast For Shaker on October 15, 2015, shortly after returning from Guantanamo, where she and her legal team had spent six hours with Shaker Aamer.As people around the world continue to undertake 24-hour fasts in solidarity with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — as part of the Fast For Shaker campaign I launched last week with the activist Joanne MacInnes, with whom I set up the influential We Stand With Shaker campaign last year — there has been some very positive news from Cori Crider, one of Shaker’s lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve, who told me when we met at the weekend that, on her visit to Guantánamo last week, Shaker had been persuaded to break his strike, and to drink a calorie-rich mango smoothie, because he was so moved by the pledges of campaigners to fast on his behalf, so that he can look after himself prior to his release from Guantánamo and his return to his family in London. I am not entirely sure that he has completely given up his hunger strike, but the fact that he has been so moved by campaigners that he has been taking in sustenance is great news indeed.

Shaker’s return to the UK should take place by October 25 — at the end of the 30-day notification period that the US Congress insists on, which campaigners have been marking ever since it was announced on September 25 that President Obama had told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Shaker is be freed.

The second aim of the rolling Fast For Shaker was to make sure that the administration kept to its word, and on that front it is, of course, worthwhile for people to keep fasting, and to keep pledging to fast. Shaker was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him eight years ago, and was told this again six years ago under President Obama, after a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, also concluded that he should no longer be held. 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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