For Review at Guantánamo, DoD Acknowledges That 20th “Forever Prisoner” Is Case of Mistaken Identity, As He Seeks Release

Mustafa-al-Shamiri, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo began two years ago, to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release (48 of the 107 men still held) or put forward for trials (just ten men), and last week I put together the first full annotated list, to assist anyone interested in the reviews to work out who has already has had their cases looked at and who is still awaiting a review.

The PRBs were set up in response to the conclusions reached by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The task force suggested that 46 men were “too dangerous to release,” even though they acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, and President Obama promised periodic reviews of their cases when he approved their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011. 25 others — initially recommended for prosecution, were later added to the list, after the basis for trial largely collapsed following a handful of devastating appeals court rulings. The mainstream media have helpfully labelled these men “forever prisoners,” but in reality assessing men as “too dangerous to release” is irresponsible, and not justified by a close examination of the facts.

Shamefully, although President Obama declared, in his March 2011 executive order, that, “For each detainee, an initial review shall commence as soon as possible but no later than 1 year from the date of this order,” we are now nearing the five-year mark, and yet just 20 prisoners have had their cases reviewed, and another 44 are waiting. Of those 20, 18 cases have been decided, and 15 men have been recommended for release, which is a success rate of 83%. This quite solidly demonstrates that the “too dangerous to release” tag was the hyperbolic result of an over-cautious approach to what purported to be the evidence against the men held at Guantánamo by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. 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 »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

The Prisoners Speak: Reports from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

On Friday, I received an alarming message from inside Guantánamo, from a reliable source who described the impact of the prison-wide hunger strike, now nearing the three-month mark, by stating that the the guards were “putting people in isolation and all day long making lots of noise by speaking loudly, running on the metal stairs and leaving their two-way radios on all day and night. People cannot sleep.”

The source added, “There are at least four people that are at the very edge and one named Khiali Gul from Afghanistan is in a bad shape and cannot move and cannot talk or eat or drink. When other detainees tell the guards about him, they say, ‘When he is completely unconscious, then we will take him.’ The chances are that he will die.”

I have been reporting on the hunger strike since it first became public knowledge in February, and it is reports like the one above, and the statements that have been featured in prominent newspapers — by Samir Moqbel, a Yemeni, in the New York Times, and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, in the Observer — that have helped to put the spotlight back on Guantánamo, after several years in which most people had lost interest. Read the rest of this entry »

A Premonition of Death at Guantánamo: Adnan Latif’s Hunger Strike Poem

Note: This image was produced by Amnesty International as part of their letter-writing campaign for this December, featuring Adnan Latif (on the left), a Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo last weekend, and Hussein Almerfedi, another Yemeni who, like Latif, won his habeas corpus petition, but then had it reversed by the malignant rightwing ideologues of the D.C. Circuit Court. Amnesty made the image available to Latif’s attorneys, so please feel free to circulate it widely.

The news cycle is such that we are all trapped like hamsters on a fast-moving wheel, and even when something terrible happens, the media tends to move on after a couple of days — even when that terrible event is the death of a man at Guantánamo who had mental health problems, who was cleared for release in 2006 by a military review board under George W. Bush, and in 2009 by Barack Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and who had his habeas corpus petition granted by a federal judge in July 2010.

Instead of being released, Latif had his successful habeas petition thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court last October, not on any factual basis, but because of the application of a twisted ideology, and in June this year the Supreme Court also failed him, refusing to get involved when he — and six others — appealed for them to restore justice to the habeas process. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Seven Guantánamo Prisoners Whose Appeals Were Turned Down by the Supreme Court

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.

This week, the Supreme Court took a decision not to accept appeals by seven Guantánamo prisoners who, over the last few years, either had their habeas petitions denied, or had their successful petitions overturned on appeal. The ruling came the day before the 4th anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush, the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

That led to a number of stunning court victories for the prisoners between 2008 and 2010, but in the last two years no prisoners have had their habeas petitions granted, because judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, a bastion of Bush-era paranoia about the “war on terror,” where the deeply Conservative Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph holds sway, have unfairly rewritten the rules in the government’s favor, so that it is now almost impossible for a habeas petition to be granted. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago

This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January 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 of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).

Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.

However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well as documents made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted. Read the rest of this entry »

Judges Keep Guantánamo Open Forever

Seven years ago, on June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court issued a historically important ruling in Rasul v. Bush, establishing that foreign nationals held at the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right, under the “Great Writ,” first established in England in 1215, to ask an impartial judge to rule on whether there were grounds for their detention.

A bulwark against arbitrary imprisonment, habeas corpus was essential for the prisoners at Guantánamo, who, for the previous two and a half years, had been held in what Lord Steyn, a British law lord, described as a “legal black hole” in a speech in November 2003, unable to seek any redress whatsoever if, as many of them claimed, they had been seized by mistake.

With breathtaking arrogance, the Bush administration had refused to screen those it captured through Article 5 competent tribunals. Also known as battlefield tribunals, these are part of the Geneva Conventions, designed to screen prisoners who, like those in the “War on terror,” were not part of a regular army. The US military had used them since Vietnam, and in the first Gulf War, for example, had held 1196 tribunals, and, in 886 cases (74 percent), found it had detained civilians instead of combatants, and released them (PDF, p.663). 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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