Guantánamo Review Boards Clear Kuwaiti Prisoner Fawzi Al-Odah for Release, But Defend Ongoing Imprisonment of Fayiz Al-Kandari

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 July 14, the board members of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo — 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 — approved the release of Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, but recommended that the other Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, should continue to be held.

This is good news for Fawzi al-Odah, but the decision about Fayiz al-Kandari casts a dark cloud over the whole process. I have been covering the stories of both men for many years, and it remains as clear to me now as it always has been that neither man poses a threat to the US. Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we profiled both men back in February 2012, shortly after Tom Wilner and I, the co-founders of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, had been in Kuwait trying to secure their release (see here, here and here).

The Periodic Review Boards were established last year, to review the cases of 46 Guantánamo prisoners specifically detained on the basis that they are allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Kuwaiti Prisoners Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari Ask Periodic Review Board to Free Them from Guantánamo

Over the last few weeks, Periodic Review Boards have been held at Guantánamo for the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fawzi al-Odah and Fayiz al-Kandari, who have been held for the last 12 years.

The PRBs, 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, have been taking place since last November, and were established to decide whether 71 of the remaining prisoners should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

As opposed to the 75 men still held who were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, these 71 men were either recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial (on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial) or for prosecution (until most of the charges in the military commission trial system collapsed following legal challenges). Both Fawzi and Fayiz were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force. 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 »

“It’s Going to End in Men Dying”: Carlos Warner, Guantánamo Attorney, Discusses the Hunger Strike

As the hunger strike continues to rage at Guantánamo, with at least 130 of the remaining 166 prisoners involved, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to cross-post an interview with Carlos Warner, an attorney with the Office of the Federal Defender for the Northern District of Ohio, who represents ten prisoners at Guantánamo — including a number of Yemeni prisoners, a “high-value detainee,” one of the last five Tunisians in Guantánamo, the only Kenyan, and Fayiz al-Kandari, one of the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.

The interview was conducted by my friend The Talking Dog, a New-York based independent journalist who has conducted dozens of interviews with lawyers, journalists and former prisoners over the last eight years — which someone should publish as a book, at some point!

I am enormously grateful to The Talking Dog for putting me up on my generally annual visits to New York to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, which began as a result of the friendship that we struck up after he interviewed me, back in September 2007, just as my book The Guantánamo Files was being published, and I hope you have time to read and publicize this interview. The hunger strike began because of aggression by the guards and the perceived abuse of the prisoners’ Korans, but as time has gone on, it has become a sustained protest against the men’s indefinite detention, and the fact that, having been abandoned by President Obama, they may die at the prison, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established just after taking office in 2009.

Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

When is a hunger strike not a hunger strike? Apparently, when the government says it doesn’t exist.

At Guantánamo, reports first began to emerge on February 23 about a camp-wide hunger strike, of a scale not seen since before Barack Obama became President. On the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison, the following message appeared: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”

Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrived at the prison on February 25, and the day after announced, “Fayiz has lost more than twenty pounds and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”

On February 27, the team reported, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.” Read the rest of this entry »

My Photos on Flickr: Visiting Kuwait to Campaign for the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo

Welcome to KuwaitHotel foyer, KuwaitCooking breakfast in KuwaitServing breakfast in KuwaitBread and cakes for breakfastJuice for breakfast
Luxury restroomsThe Gents, Arab styleDowntown KuwaitLiberation Tower, KuwaitAt a dewaniya in KuwaitThe Kuwait Towers
Kuwait skylineKuwait's shorelineA beautiful oasis becomes a dead landLe cafe and the total destructionDewaniya with Fayiz al-Kandari's family (1)Dewaniya with Fayiz al-Kandari's family (2)
Lamb kebabs with the al-KandarisCooking kebabs at the al-Kandaris' houseThe brainstorming suite, KuwaitLeaving Kuwait

Visiting Kuwait to Campaign for the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo, a set on Flickr.

In the six months following the opening of the Bush administration’s cruel and lawless ”war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002, twelve Kuwaitis joined the hundreds of other “detainees” deprived of their rights as “enemy combatants.” In Guantánamo, these men were subjected to torture and abuse that was supposedly designed to produce “actionable intelligence,” but that, in reality, was a house of cards constructed of false statements made under duress  — not only in Guantanamo, but also in other “war on terror” prisons, including those where “high-value detainees” were held and tortured — or made by those who, having had enough of the abuse, volunteered false statements in exchange for better living conditions. (For more, see “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” my ongoing analysis of the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011).

Of the twelve Kuwaitis, ten were eventually released, between 2005 and 2009, but two remain — Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah. Both men are victims of the false statements that plague the government’s supposed evidence, as I have repeatedly reported (see here, here and here, for example), but they are also victims of the legal fallout of the “war on terror”; namely, the limited opportunities for a review of their cases, through their habeas corpus petitions, which they and the other prisoners struggled to secure for many years.

Although the Guantánamo prisoners secured major victories in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, when they were granted habeas corpus rights, the impact of those rulings has suffered from imprecise terms of reference, from an all-out assault by right-wing judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., who have conspired to gut habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, and, most recently, through the complete indifference of the Supreme Court, which has refused to wrest control from the Circuit Court judges. Despite the absence of evidence against them, both Fayiz and Fawzi had their habeas petitions turned down (see here and here). 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 »

For the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo, US Relies on Unreliable Witnesses and Experts Find Evidence Unconvincing

171 men are still held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, even though an interagency task force established by President Obama concluded over two years ago that 89 of them should be released. However, it is now 15 months since the last prisoner left Guantánamo alive, and as the long struggle to resume the release of prisoners from the prison continues, attention has focused on a number of specific cases: on Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (please sign the UK petition and/or the international petition); on five Taliban leaders and the negotiations to release them as part of the Afghan peace process (or part of a prisoner swap); on Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner who was supposed to be released last November according to a plea deal he agreed the year before; and on the last two Kuwaitis, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah.

I have written extensively about Fayiz and Fawzi at various times in the last five years, and in February was delighted to be invited to Kuwait to step up the campaign to secure their release, which I wrote about here and here. I also posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for Fayiz and Fawzi. I was also there with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, and I met Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, and Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project.

I was also delighted to meet Jenifer Fenton, a journalist who has become fascinated by the Kuwaitis’ story in the last year or so, and has been undertaking the kind of research and investigations that, in general, have been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. Last week, I cross-posted the first of two articles that she wrote following our visit, based on interviews with former prisoners, and published on Al-Jazeera’s website, and I’m now cross-posting the second article, analyzing the weakness of the supposed evidence against Fayiz and Fawzi. Read the rest of this entry »

Life after Guantánamo Bay: Jenifer Fenton Talks to Kuwaiti Ex-Prisoners for Al-Jazeera

Last month, I was invited to visit Kuwait to try and help raise awareness of the need for the Kuwaiti people to push for their government to demand the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaitis — out of 12 in total — to be held in Guantánamo. These two men are Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and, like dozens of the 171 men still at Guantánamo, they are held, possibly with the intention that they will be held for the rest of their lives, not because there is any evidence that either of them ever raised arms against US forces or were involved in any way with any acts of international terrorism, but because of institutional cowardice within the Obama administration, and because of fearmongering in Congress, in the mainstream media and in a particular court of appeals in Washington D.C.

That court is the D.C. Circuit Court, where a number of prominent judges have whittled away at the habeas corpus rights that the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008 (and which led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011), gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, by demanding that the government’s supposed evidence be given the presumption of accuracy, even though it has been well established (in the 38 cases won by the prisoners, for example), that the supposed evidence is an unreliable mix of statements and confessions made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, in circumstances where torture, coercion and even bribery were widely used by the interrogators, and of post-capture reports, compiled by US personnel in situations whereby the prisoners were actually seized by Afghan or Pakistani forces, at a time when generous bounty payments were being offered for anyone who could be dressed up as an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

I wrote about my visit to Kuwait here and here, and posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for the two Kuwaitis, and I have since followed up with profiles of the two men on the “Close Guantánamo” website (written by Tom, his colleague Neil Koslowe and myself). My visit was organized by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, who was put forward for a trial by military commission in November 2008, just before George W. Bush left office, and who, absurdly, remains a candidate for a trial by military commission, even though nothing that could objectively be called evidence exists in his case. I also met other members of Lt. Col. Wingard’s team, Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project, and the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, with whom I had lunch. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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