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 »

Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture

"Empty glassware" (2015) by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.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.

 

I wrote the following article (as “The Persistent Abuse of Guantánamo Prisoners: Pentagon Claims It Owns Their Art and May Destroy It, But U.S. Has Long Claimed It Even Owns Their Memories of Torture“) 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.

After years of letting Guantánamo prisoners keep the artwork they have made at the prison, subject to security screening, the Pentagon has suddenly secured widespread condemnation for banning its release, and, it is alleged by one of prisoners’ attorneys, for planning to burn it.

The story was first reported on November 16 by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and updated on November 20. Rosenberg explained how, for years, prisoners’ art had been released “after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.”

However, as Rosenberg explained, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition in the President’s Gallery of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice until January 16, 2018, which features “paintings and other works by current and former captives” — and “which garnered international press coverage” — “apparently caught the attention of the Department of Defense,” because of an email address provided for people “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” Read the rest of this entry »

At Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane Asks US to Apologize, and Calls for Prison’s Closure

Former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, in an infographic put together by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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, in Mexico City, a symbolically powerful blow was dealt to the United States’ notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law and also respects human rights.

The occasion was a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The hearing last Wednesday was for Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, and an ethnic Berber, who was held at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years.

In the hearing last week, at which Ameziane was represented by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the lawyers representing him urged the IACHR to “hold the US accountable for the abuse” of Ameziane and the “discrimination” against him. CCR explained, in a press release, that it was “a landmark hearing,” and the following brief explanation of his story: Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. 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 »

Eroding Hyperbole: The Steady Reclassification of Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Mansoor-al-Zahari at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 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.

Despite the relentless fearmongering of Republican supporters of Guantánamo, claims that the prison holds a significant number of people who pose a threat to the US continue to be eroded; primarily, in recent years, through the deliberations of Periodic Review Boards — panels 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, who hear from the prisoners, their lawyers and their military representatives via video-link from Guantánamo, where the men are able to make a case for why they should be approved for release.

The men in question have, with some accuracy, been dubbed “forever prisoners” by the media. Originally numbering 71 men, they comprised two groups: 46 men assessed to be “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 to recommend whether the men he inherited from George W. Bush should be released or prosecuted. This third alarming option — “too dangerous to release” — was, as far as we know, dreamt up by the task force itself, for prisoners regarded as a threat but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Reading between the lines, this meant tainted evidence — in other words, men regarded as unprovably dangerous because the evidence against them was derived through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, making it fundamentally untrustworthy — or, in some (perhaps many) cases, a perceived attitude problem: prisoners who, though perhaps understandably aggrieved at being held without charge or trial for over a decade in abusive conditions, had threatened retaliation, however hollow those threats may have been, that were taken seriously by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

97-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker Appears Before Periodic Review Board As Saudi is Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Muhammad al-Shumrani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 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.

After months of inaction on Guantánamo, there has, in recent weeks, been a flurry of activity, with two prisoners released (one to Morocco and one to Saudi Arabia), and with the approval of two prisoners for release by Periodic Review Boards (Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan, and Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, who was recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a PRB last year, but was given a second opportunity in July to persuade the board that he is no threat to the United States, which was successful).

On Friday, it was also revealed that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (who I have written about extensively for Close Guantánamo, and for whom I co-founded a high-profile campaign in the UK, We Stand With Shaker), will be freed within the next month, and it is expected that a Mauritanian, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, long approved for release like Shaker, will also be freed soon, along with two the prisoners whose cases are with defense secretary Ashton Carter, but who have not been publicly identified.

Adding to all this news, last week — largely unnoticed in the media — another prisoner was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, the review process established two years ago to review the cases of all the men who were not previously approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, and who are not facing trials. Read the rest of this entry »

War Is Over, Set Us Free, Say Guantánamo Prisoners; Judge Says No

Guantanamo prisoner Mukhtar al-Warafi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 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.

Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration, in which they sought their release, on the basis that, as the lawyers put it, “Their continued detention is illegal because the hostilities in Afghanistan, the only possible justification for detention, have ended. Therefore, these individuals should be released and repatriated or resettled immediately.” They referred to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, on January 20 this year, at which the president said, “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

In my article, I also mentioned a federal court filing submitted on behalf of a Yemeni prisoner, Mukhtar al-Warafi, at the end of February calling for his release for similar reasons. I stated, “One of al-Warafi’s lawyers is Brian Foster, who, with colleagues at the law firm Covington & Burling, represents prisoners accused of being involved with the Taliban as well as others accused of having some involvement with al-Qaeda. Foster said they ‘chose al-Warafi’s case as a first test because he was only ever named as a member of the Taliban, offering a clearer argument for why he should be set free now,’ as opposed to men accused of having al-Qaeda connections.”

As I also discussed recently, al-Warafi was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but had his habeas corpus petition subsequently challenged by the Justice Department, in an example of a lack of joined-up thinking within the government. Al-Warafi’s habeas petition was subsequently turned down by a judge in March 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Muaz al-Alawi (aka Moath al-Alwi), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In the long struggle for justice at Guantánamo — a prison intended at its founding, 13 years ago, to be beyond the law — there have been few occasions when any outside body has been able to exert any meaningful pressure on the US regarding the imprisonment, mostly without charge or trial, of the men held there.

One exception is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The IACHR has long taken an interest in Guantánamo (as this page on their website explains), and three years ago delivered a powerful ruling in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who was still held despite being approved for release (a situation currently faced by 56 of the 122 men still held). Read the rest of this entry »

“It Is All Theater, It Is All A Game,” Yemeni “Forever Prisoner” Says from Guantánamo

It is, I believe, impossible to argue with the logic of Muaz al-Alawi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, who recently told his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, that, when attempting to make sense of Guantánamo, only one analysis is necessary: “It is all political,” al-Alawi told him. “It is all theater, it is all a game.”

The US has such disdain for the prisoners at Guantánamo that, 12 and a half years on from the prison’s opening, they are still identified by the names given to them at the time of their capture, by personnel unfamiliar with the languages of their home countries — Arabic, for example. As a result, al-Alawi is identified as Moath al-Alwi.

His comments, made to Kassem, an associate professor of law at the City University of New York who directs the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, which represents prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere, were in the context of the manufactured hysteria regarding the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, which I have written about here, here and here (and also see my Democracy Now! appearance). 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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