Obama Releases 15 Prisoners from Guantánamo to UAE; Just 61 Men Now Left (Part 2 of 2)

Mahmud al-Mujahid (aka Mahmoud-al-Mujahid), in a photo included in the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners that were released in 2011.Last week, 15 prisoners were released from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates, the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, bringing the total number of men held to just 61. 12 of the 15 men are Yemenis, and the other three are Afghans. A third country had to be found that would offer them new homes, because the entire US establishment refuses to repatriate any Yemenis, on the basis that the security situation in Yemen means they cannot be adequately monitored, and Afghans cannot be repatriated because of legislation passed by Congress.

On Sunday I published an article about six of the Yemenis, who were all approved for release from Guantánamo in 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review the cases of all the men held when he took office and to decide whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial.

The other nine men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, which began in 2013, and which was set up to review the cases of men who had not already been approved for release, and are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category). The reviews started in November 2013, and, to date, 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 63% success rate. This is an extraordinary success rate for men previously described as “too dangerous to release,” by the task force, and it clearly establishes that the task force was unnecessarily cautious in its appraisal of the prisoners held when President Obama took office. Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Prisoner Refuses to Attend His Periodic Review at Guantánamo, Complains About Intrusive Body Searches

On Monday, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani, refused to attend his Periodic Review Board, convened to assess whether he should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether he should be recommended for release. He refused to attend for a reason that his personal representatives — two US military officers appointed to represent him — described as “very personal and tied to his strong cultural beliefs.” The representatives explained that he “has consistently stated his objection to the body search required to be conducted prior to his attendance at legal meetings or other appointments,” adding that he regards “the body search as conducted, which requires the guard to touch the area near his genitals,” as “humiliating and degrading.” The representatives stressed, however, that his refusal to attend, because of his problems with the body search, does “not imply an unwillingness to cooperate.”

The PRBs were set up last year to review the cases of 71 of the remaining 154 prisoners. 46 of these men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review all the prisoner’s cases shortly after he took office in 2009.

The task force issued its report recommending prisoners for release, prosecution or ongoing imprisonment in January 2010, and in March 2011 President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of the 46 men, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (3/3): Salem Bin Kanad, from Riyadh, Refuses to Take Part in a System That Appears Increasingly Flawed

This article, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Salem bin Kanad, a prisoner held at Guantánamo since January 20, 2002, is the last of three providing updates about developments in the Periodic Review Boards, a system put in place last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners (out of the 154 men still held), who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, or designated for trials that will not now take place. The original recommendations were included in a report that was issued in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama had appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office in January 2009.

The task force recommended 48 men for indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though it was conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which means, of course, that the so-called “evidence” is no such thing. In March 2011, President Obama responded to the task force’s recommendations by issuing an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, although he did promise that the men would receive periodic reviews to establish whether they should still be regarded as a threat.

Disgracefully, the Periodic Review Boards did not begin until last November, after two of the 48 “forever prisoners” had died, and 25 other men had been added to the list of prisoners eligible to take part in them — men who, although recommended for trials, will not now be prosecuted, after appeals court judges overturned two of the only convictions in the military commissions at Guantánamo, on the basis that the war crimes of which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. The boards consist 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by video link from Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (2/3): Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Cook, Asks to Be Sent Home to Yemen or to Another Country

Last week, I published the first of three new articles about the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, looking at the hearing for a Yemeni prisoner, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, who had the opportunity to ask for his freedom on March 20.

Ali is one of 71 prisoners — out of the 154 men still held — who were either designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 (46 men in total), or were recommended for prosecution (25 others).

The 46 had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by President Obama in an executive order issued in March 2011, on the alarming basis that they were allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. The president tried to sweeten this unacceptable endorsement of indefinite detention by promising that the men would receive periodic reviews of their cases, but the first of these did not take place until last October. Read the rest of this entry »

The Impossibility of Being Released from Guantánamo

Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.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.

For Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, a wish he has cherished for the last 12 years was granted on Wednesday, when a Periodic Review Board, made up 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, recommended his release from the prison. The unclassified summary of the board’s final determination states, “The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

However, in a vivid demonstration that the prison at Guantánamo Bay remains a profoundly unjust place, over 12 years since it first opened, it is not known when — if ever — he will actually be released.

Of the remaining 154 prisoners, almost half — 71 men in total — are undergoing Periodic Review Boards to assess whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial or whether they should be released. 46 of these men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, and President Obama endorsed these recommendations in March 2011, when he issued an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

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 February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

Indefinitely Detained Guantánamo Prisoner Asks Review Board to Recommend His Release

Two days ago, I published an article looking at the outcome of the first Periodic Review Board held at Guantánamo — a much delayed review process for ascertaining whether 71 of the remaining 155 prisoners should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This process was supposed to begin three years ago, after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 prisoners, based on the recommendations, delivered in January 2010, of his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but the first PRB didn’t take place until November 2013.

As I explained in my article, the board members recommended that the prisoner whose case was reviewed — Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni — should be released, which is good news, as al-Mujahid was wrongly regarded as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, based on the unreliable testimony of a fellow prisoner. However, it means nothing unless he is released, as, with an irony that is evidently being strenuously ignored by the Obama administration, the review board’s decision to recommend him for release means only that he joins a list of 55 other Yemeni prisoners who were cleared for release by Obama’s task force four years ago, but are still held because of fears of political instability in Yemen.

As I also mentioned in that article, the second PRB, for another Yemeni, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, took place yesterday, January 28, and, unlike the first PRB, from which the media and observers were excluded, limited transparency was provided by the Pentagon, which made available a facility in Arlington, Virginia, where a very small section of the review board could be seen and heard, although not the testimony of al-Rahabi himself, nor anything regarded as classified by the military. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Where Being Cleared for Release Means Nothing

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.

First, the good news: on January 9, the Pentagon announced that the first Guantánamo prisoner to undergo a Periodic Review Board (PRB) had been recommended for release. The PRBs were first mentioned nearly three years ago, in March 2011, when President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of 48 prisoners without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In issuing the executive order, President Obama was following recommendations made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that he had appointed after taking office in 2009, who spent a year meeting once a week to review the cases of the remaining prisoners. Lawyers and human rights groups were appalled by President Obama’s decision to issue an executive order specifically authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial, and were only vaguely reassured that, as compensation, Periodic Review Boards would be established to ascertain whether or not the men continued to be regarded as a threat, featuring representatives of six US government agencies — including the State Department and Homeland Security — who would hear testimony from the prisoners at Guantánamo via video link in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera About the Problems with Guantánamo’s New Review Boards

Dear friends and supporters,

I do hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Guantánamo’s secretive review boards,” and to share it if you find it worthwhile. It was posted yesterday, and I’m glad to note that it has been in the top ten most viewed articles.

It deals with the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, established to review the cases of the majority of the prisoners who have not been cleared for release. Of the 162 men still held, 82 were cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, while the other 80 were either recommended for ongoing detention without charge or trial, or for prosecution.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing detention without charge or trial of 48 men based on the task force’s recommendations, on the unacceptable basis that they were too dangerous to release but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which meant, of course, that what purported to be evidence was no such thing, and consisted largely of dubious statements by the prisoners, produced in circumstances that were not conducive to truth-telling. 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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