The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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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.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Former Child Prisoner at Guantánamo, Tortured in Jordan, Is the Last of 64 Men to Face a Periodic Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Hassan bin Attash, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 8, Guantánamo prisoner Hassan bin Attash, born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, who appears to have been just 17 years old when he was seized in a house raid in Pakistan and sent to Jordan to be tortured, became the last of 64 prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force) and were not facing trials (just ten of the 61 men still held), the PRBs have played an important role in reducing the prison’s population in President Obama’s last year in office.

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 function like parole boards, assessing prisoners’ contrition, and plans for the future that will mitigate any concerns about them engaging in terrorism or military activity against the US after their release.

To date, 33 men have been approved for release by the PRBs (and 20 of those men have been freed), while 19 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld — although all are entitled to further reviews at which they and their attorneys can submit further information in an effort to change the board’s opinion. Purely administrative file reviews take place every six months, and, every three years, prisoners are entitled to full reviews, although in reality those that have taken place — for four men, who all ended up with recommendations for their release — have occurred sooner (between ten months and two years after their initial PRBs). See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details. Read the rest of this entry »

29th Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo – for Sharqawi Ali Al-Hajj, Alleged Al-Qaeda Facilitator

Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.

23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat  in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Abu Qatada’s Release in Jordan Discredits Tory Hysteria About the Need to Dismiss Human Rights Law

Last Wednesday, in Amman, Jordan, 12 years of British hysteria about terrorism was thoroughly undermined when the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who was returned to Jordan from the UK in July 2013, was acquitted of terrorism charges and freed.

Abu Qatada (real name Omar Mahmoud Othman) was arrested in October 2002 — as were a handful of other foreign nationals — and imprisoned without charge or trial in Belmarsh Prison, under terrorism legislation passed in 2001. In 2005, the system of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial was replaced with control orders, a form of house arrest, and Abu Qatada was released from Belmarsh, but after the London terrorist attacks in July 2005, he and other men were rounded up and imprisoned once more.

This time around the intention was to deport the men imprisoned without charge or trial, but although a secret terrorism court — the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) — ruled that he could be deported in February 2007, that decision was overturned by the appeals court in April 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

If Abu Qatada is Guilty of Crimes, Why Not Prosecute Him in the UK?

When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.

The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.

In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.

Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada —  and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. 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 (The State of London).
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