Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security

Four prisoners released from Guantanamo who have ended up in very different circumstances following the closure by Donald Trump of the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Clockwise from top left: Abu Wa'el Dhiab, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi and Ravil Mingazov.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners Endangers U.S. National Security,” 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.

The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has been an unmitigated disaster for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and any notion of justice regarding those held there, or, indeed, those freed from the prison over the years.

For Trump, the notion that there might be anything wrong — or un-American — about imprisoning people forever without any meaningful form of due process clearly doesn’t exist. Since he took office nearly two years ago, only one prisoner has been released, out of the 41 men still held at the prison when Obama took office; and that man, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi, was only released, and transferred to ongoing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, because of a plea deal he agreed to in his military commission trial proceedings back in 2014.

Trump, clearly, has no desire to meaningfully continue the parole-type process — the Periodic Review Boards — that Barack Obama initiated to release lower-level prisoners who could demonstrate that they didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. Indeed, his contempt for the process is such that he has shut down any possibility of the two men whose release was approved by Obama’s PRBs, but who didn’t get released before Obama left office, being freed by shutting down the State Department office that dealt with resettlements — the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Difficult Diaspora: Former Prisoner Hussein Al-Merfedy, in Slovakia, Still Feels in a Cage

Hussein al-Merfedy, a Yemeni and a former Guantanamo prisoner, photographed in Zvolen, Slovakia, where he was released in November 2014 (Photo: Alex Potter for Newsweek).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.

 

Over the last few months, I’ve been catching up on some stories I missed, about former Guantánamo prisoners seeking — and often struggling — to adjust to life in third countries, which took them in when the US government refused or was unable to repatriate them after they had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes.

Since 2006, dozens of countries have offered new homes to Guantánamo prisoners, and the examples I have looked at have mostly focused on men resettled in various European countries — see Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Released in Serbia Struggles to Cope with Loneliness and Harassment (about Mansoor al-Dayfi, released in July 2016), Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights (about Tariq al-Sawah, released in January 2016), and Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo” (about Ahmed Abdul Qader, released in January 2015). In The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland, I also wrote about the difficulties faced by Hammami, a Tunisian first released in Georgia, who returned to his home country after the Arab Spring, only to find that he faces “a constant regimen of police surveillance.”

One day, I hope, all the men released from Guantánamo will have lawyers successfully negotiate an acceptable basis for their existence with the US government. As it currently stands, they are regarded as “illegal enemy combatants” or “unprivileged enemy belligerents,” even though almost all were never charged with any sort of crime, and their status, compared to every other human being on earth, remains frustratingly and unacceptably unclear. This is especially true, I believe, for those settled in third countries, as no internationally accepted rulebook exists to codify their rights, and the obligations of those taking them in. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

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).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Asim Al-Khalaqi Dies in Kazakhstan, Four Months After Being Freed

The US flag at Guantanamo (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly/Huffington Post).Vice News broke the news on Thursday that Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, a Yemeni, and a former prisoner at Guantánamo, died in Kazakhstan, just over four months since he was freed, after spending 13 years in US custody without charge or trial.

The 46- or 47-year old, identified in Guantánamo as ISN 152, was one of five men freed on December 31, 2014, 13 years and one day after his capture, on December 30, 2001, in Pakistan. Three weeks later, he was flown to Guantánamo, less than two weeks after the prison opened.

As I explained in an article in 2012, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” al-Khalaqi was approved for release under President Bush, as well as by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009: Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Kazakhstan?

Three of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo and given new homes in Kazakhstan in December 2014. From L to R: Adel al-Hakeemy, a Tunisian, and two Yemenis, Mohammed Ali Hussain Khenaina and Sabri Mohammad Ibrahim al-Qurashi, in photos included in the classified US military files released by WikILeaks in 2011. No public photos exist of the other two men freed.On December 30, five men were released from Guantánamo, bringing to 28 the number of men released from the prison in 2014, and reducing the prison’s population to 127. The five men were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009, and three of them had previously been approved for release under President Bush.

The released prisoners — two Tunisians and three Yemenis — were not returned to their home countries, but were given new homes in Kazakhstan. As the New York Times described it, “Officials declined to disclose the security assurances reached between the United States and Kazakhstan,” but a senior Obama administration official stated that the five “are ‘free men’ for all intents and purposes after the transfer.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for its efforts, although, of the 127 men still held, 59 were also approved for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and there can be no rest for campaigners until these men are also freed. 52 of them are Yemenis, whose release was prohibited by President Obama and by Congress in 2010 after it was revealed that a failed airline bomb plot in December 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »

As Three Yemenis Are Freed from Guantánamo, Video Highlights Plight of 52 Others, Long Cleared for Release

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to 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.

On January 11, 2015, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 13 long and unforgivable years. In the last year, President Obama has released 30 prisoners from Guantánamo, leaving 127 men still held, and today, on the last day of the year, the last of those 30 men — three Yemenis and two Tunisians, all approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — were given new homes in Kazakhstan.

This is progress, after the lean period between October 2010 and July 2013 when just five men were released, because Congress imposed obstacles that the president was unwilling to expend political capital overcoming. However, 59 of the prisoners still held are men who, like the five just freed, are men the Guantánamo Review Task Force said should no longer continue to be held back in 2009, and their continued detention, therefore, remains a source of serious concern.

Of the 59, all but seven are Yemenis, and whilst it is reassuring that Yemenis approved for release are finally being freed — after nearly five years in which their release was banned by both the president and Congress, following a foiled airline bomb plot in December 2009 that was hatched in Yemen — it is still a significant uphill struggle for the administration to find new homes for these 52 men. 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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