Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.

 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

As Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Disappear in Libya After Repatriation from Asylum in Senegal, There Are Fears for 150 Others Resettled in Third Countries

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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.

 

Congratulations to the New York Times for not giving up on the story of the two former Guantánamo prisoners who were recently repatriated to Libya despite having been given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, on the understanding that they would not be sent back to Libya, as it was unsafe for them. The story is particularly significant from a US perspective, because of the role played — or not played — by the State Department, which, under President Obama, facilitated the resettlement of the men, and many others, and, in general, also kept an eye on them after their release.

The story first emerged three weeks ago, when I was told about it by former prisoner Omar Deghayes, and the Intercept published an article. My article is here. A week later, the New York Times picked up on the story, reporting, as Omar Deghayes also confirmed to me, that one of the two men, Salem Ghereby (aka Gherebi) had voluntarily returned to Libya, as he desperately wanted to be united with his wife and children, and because he hoped that his connections in the country would prevent him from coming to any harm. My second article is here.

Unfortunately, on his return, Salem Ghereby was imprisoned at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, where human rights abuses have been widely reported, and the British NGO CAGE then reported that the other Libyan, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), who didn’t want to be repatriated, had also been sent back to Libya, where he too was imprisoned at the airport. I wrote about that here, and then exclusively published Salem Gherebi’s letter explaining why he had chosen to be repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Salem Gherebi’s Letter Explaining Why He Voluntarily Returned to Libya from Senegal Despite the Danger in Doing So

Former Guantanamo prisoner Salem Gherebi, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

Two weeks ago, I published an article about the Senegalese government’s disgraceful intention to repatriate two Libyans released from Guantánamo and given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, and expressed my alarm that doing so was a fundamental betrayal of the terms of the agreement made by the US when the men’s resettlement took place, which was supposed to guarantee that they wouldn’t be sent back to Libya, because of the dangerous instability in their home country.

That initial article drew on reporting by the Intercept, and also on correspondence with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, a British resident and Libyan national who knows both men, and who I got to know during the filming, and subsequent touring of the documentary film I co-directed, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ which was released in 2009. A week later the New York Times — and Omar Deghayes, again — confirmed that one of the two men, Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had returned to Libya voluntarily, because he wanted to be reunited with his family, and because he hoped that his connections in the country would prevent him from coming to any harm. My update on the story is here.

Unfortunately, on his return, Salem Gherebi was imprisoned by a militia, Rada, that has a prison at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, where human rights abuses have been widely reported. The British NGO CAGE subsequently reported that the other Libyan, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), who didn’t want to be repatriated, had also been sent back to Libya, where he too was imprisoned at the airport. I provided an update about this yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Sad Confirmation that Second Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Resettled in Senegal Has Been Forcibly Returned to Libya, Where His Life Is At Risk

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who have now been sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them, and where they have been imprisoned. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

Two weeks ago, I reported the terrible news that two former Guantánamo prisoners, both Libyans, who had been given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, were about to be sent back to Libya by the Senegalese government. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes, but they had been resettled in Senegal because it was unsafe for them to be returned to Libya. In negotiations between the US State Department and the Senegalese government, the understanding was that their resettlement would not involve any efforts to repatriate them.

My initial information about the men’s dire situation came from the Intercept, and from discussions with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, also Libyan, who I got to know well during the filming and touring of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released in 2009.

I continued to liaise with Omar Deghayes, and on April 5 the New York Times got involved, noting that Salem Gherebi had “apparently consented to repatriation,” and it would seem that he did so because he was desperate to be reunited with his wife and children, and was disappointed that they “had not been permitted to stay with him in Senegal,” and also believed he had connections that would protect him on his return. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on Senegal’s Dire Determination to Send Back to Libya Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Granted Humanitarian Asylum in 2016

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

Last week, I published an article, Betrayal: Senegal Prepares to Send Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Back to Libya, Where They Face Imprisonment, Torture and Even Execution, looking at the terrible news that two Libyan nationals were being threatened with deportation to Libya. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), were given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, on the understanding, agreed with the US State Department, that it was permanent, and that they would not, under any circumstances, be returned to Libya, where the security situation was so fraught that it was not possible to guarantee their safety as former Guantánamo prisoners tainted, unfairly, with the stamp of terrorism.

When I published my article, the Senegalese government’s threat was to send the two men back to Libya on April 3, and there were hopes that criticism might stop the plans from going ahead. However, on April 4, the Guantánamo Justice Centre, set up by former prisoners, posted the following update: “Regarding the situation of Omar and Salem previously given refuge in Senegal, we regret to report that eye witnesses have said one of the Guantánamo survivors was transferred today to Tripoli Mitiga Airport.”

On April 5, the New York Times picked up the story. On the ground in Senegal, Dionne Searcey confirmed that Khalifa had “disappeared from his once-guarded apartment in Dakar that now appears abandoned.” The Times added that the Senegalese government had said that Khalifa, identified as Awad Khalifa, “was not being deported.” However, neighbors said Khalifa and Salem Ghereby “were taken away on Tuesday afternoon.” The Times also explained that, hours earlier, “they had told a New York Times reporter visiting the apartment” — Dionne Searcey, presumably — “that they had received handwritten notices that they would be sent to Libya.” Read the rest of this entry »

Betrayal: Senegal Prepares to Send Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Back to Libya, Where They Face Imprisonment, Torture and Even Execution

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

Dreadful news from Senegal, where two former Guantánamo prisoners, both from Libya, have been told that their resettlement in the country in April 2016, which they had been led to believe was permanent, is to be brought to a sudden end tomorrow, with their unwilling — and potentially fatal — repatriation to Libya.

For the Intercept, Murtaza Hussain and Glenn Greenwald reported the story on Saturday night, focusing on the story of one of the men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), whose release in Senegal was “the by-product of a deal negotiated by his attorneys with the U.S. government.” His lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, a professor at CUNY School of Law in New York, told the Intercept that the agreement “expressly guaranteed that the Libyan would have the right to permanently settle in Senegal and rebuild his life there, rather than be returned to war-torn Libya.”

As the Intercept explained, “In addition to the deteriorating security situation in his home country, Khalifa’s status as a former Guantánamo detainee as well as his tribal background meant that being sent back to his country of origin would mean an almost certain death sentence.” Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

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On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo “High-Value Detainee” Abu Faraj Al-Libi Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Abu Faraj al-Libi, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 16, Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Muhammad Mas’ud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi (ISN 10017), a Libyan prisoner in Guantánamo who is better known as Abu Faraj al-Libi, became the 59th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board.

The PRBs — which include 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 — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release or were facing trials as a result of the recommendations made in reviews conducted in 2009 by another high-level government review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

41 of the men judged to be eligible for PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that it was not evidence at all, but — and on this the task force was silent — generally untrustworthy information extracted from prisoners subjected to torture or other forms of abuse, or from prisoners bribed with the promise of better living conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Algerian Approved for Release from Guantánamo, As Three Other Men Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Sufyian Barhoumi, in a photo taken at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available by his family.In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, in which prisoners recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a high-level task force six years ago are being given a parole-like opportunity to plead for their release. I’ll be writing about those reviews soon, but before I do so I’d like to sum up four other decisions taken over this same period —  one decision to approve a prisoner for release, and three others upholding prisoners’ ongoing detention. 62 reviews have now taken place, since the PRBs began in November 2013, and out of those reviews 33 men have been recommended for release, 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and ten decisions have yet to be taken. Two final reviews are taking place in the next two weeks.

The man whose release was approved is Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), an Algerian, born in July 1973, whose PRB took place on May 26. Seized in a house with the “high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah, whose review also took place recently, Barhoumi was alleged by the US authorities to have been a bomb-maker, and had been put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush, although the charges were later dropped.

For his PRB, however, his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights painted a compelling portrait of a ”natural diplomat,” popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.” 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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