Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 13th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

I wrote the following article, under the heading, “On the 13th Anniversary of 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Close,” 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.

It’s 13 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but while it remains important to remember all those who died on that dreadful day, it is also important to acknowledge the terrible mistakes made by the Bush administration in response to the attacks.

First came the invasion of Afghanistan, to overthrow the Taliban and defeat Al-Qaeda, in which, as Anand Gopal, the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, told me, the US vastly overstayed its welcome, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Then there was the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the blowback from that conflict that is evident in the rise of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, the US also embarked, after 9/11, on a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, in defiance of domestic and international laws, as documented in the still-unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report, and established, at Guantánamo, a prison where those held have been held neither as criminal suspects, nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “enemy combatants,” indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial. For the first two and a half years of their imprisonment, they had no rights at all, and even though they eventually secured habeas corpus rights, the legal avenue to their release has been cynically cut off by appeals court judges. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening with 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.

The short answer to the question, “What’s Happening with Guantánamo?” twelve years and eight months after the prison opened, is, unfortunately, “very little.”

Seventeen men have been released since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues last May, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

Of the 17 men released, eleven were cleared for release in 2009 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office. However, of the 149 men still held, 75 others were also cleared for release by the task force, and their ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace. Four others have been cleared for release in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force. 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 argues 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 »

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 »

President Obama Forcibly Repatriates Two Algerians from 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 disappointed to hear that Djamel Ameziane and Belkacem Bensayah, two Algerian prisoners at Guantánamo — amongst 84 men who have long been cleared for release — were repatriated last week. We are disappointed because both men did not wish to return home, as they fear ill-treatment by the government and threats from Islamist militants, and yet sustained efforts were not made to find new homes for them. We are also disappointed that other cleared prisoners, who do not fear repatriation, continue to be held.

Lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represent Djamel Ameziane, have been fighting his enforced repatriation for years, taking his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which, last year, issued a damning verdict on the US government’s detention policies at Guantánamo. Ameziane’s lawyers also devoted a considerable amount of time to seeking a third country that would offer him a new home instead. However, as the New York Times noted in a powerful editorial criticizing the Obama administration for repatriating Ameziane and Bensayah: Read the rest of this entry »

Editorials Call for the Closure of Guantánamo in the New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian

As the prison-wide hunger strike in Guantánamo continues (sign the petition calling for its closure here!), nearly three months since the majority of the 166 prisoners still held began refusing food, it is abundantly clear that, after several years in which, frankly, almost everyone had forgotten about Guantánamo or had given up on it, the prison — and the remaining 166 prisoners — are now back in the news and showing no signs of being as easily dismissed as they were three years ago, when everyone went silent after President Obama’s promise to close the prison within a year fizzled out dismally.

The need to exert concerted pressure on the Obama administration is more important than ever, because, until the prisoners appealed to the world by putting their lives on the line, President Obama had been content to abandon them, and had been encouraged to do so by Congress, where lawmakers had blocked all his attempts to close the prison, and had ended up imposing restrictions, in the National Defense Authorization Acts passed at the end of 2011 and 2012, that made it almost impossible to release any prisoners.

In the last week, the editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian have all published powerful editorials calling for the closure of Guantánamo, which I’m cross-posting below. The first, on April 26, was the New York Times editorial, which delivered crushing words to President Bush as he sought to reclaim his legacy with the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum about his prison which “should never have been opened,” and which “became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Authorities Respond to Hunger Strike with Violence; Red Cross Complains

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.

In response to the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, the authorities last weekend stormed into Camp 6, the block where the majority of the prisoners are held, and hauled most of the prisoners off to solitary confinement.

The authorities attempted to justify their actions — but failed to understand that the men who are endangering their lives by embarking on a hunger strike are doing so not to upset the authorities for no reason, or to challenge their authority needlessly, but because they despair of ever being released.

Even though 86 of the 166 men still held were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama in 2009, the US government has turned its back on them. Although two-thirds of the cleared prisoners are Yemenis, President Obama issued a blanket ban on releasing any Yemenis after the failed underwear bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 (perpetrated by a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen).

Congress has also raised obstacles preventing the release of prisoners, and the court of appeals in Washington D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — has also issued rulings preventing the release of prisoners for reasons that have much more to do with ideology and paranoia than with the facts.

The men are effectively stranded at Guantánamo, and will die there unless action is taken immediately by President Obama to bring this intolerable situation to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

A Voice from Guantánamo: Samir Moqbel, a Hunger Striker Brutally Force-Fed Every Day

With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now in its third month, it is encouraging that so much of the mainstream media is paying close attention to the story, maintaining pressure on the Obama administration to do something about it — most obviously by securing the release of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009, just after he had issued his executive order promising to close the prison within a year.

Despite that promise, the men have actually been abandoned by all three branches of the US government. President Obama bears huge responsibility, for having imposed a blanket ban, three years ago, on releasing any cleared Yemenis, in the wake of a failed bomb plot that originated in Yemen, and Congress has also imposed almost insurmountable restrictions on the release of prisoners.

The hunger strike seems to have pricked the conscience of the mainstream media, who, for the most part, had lost interest in Guantánamo and the men abandoned by President Obama and used as pawns in a cynical political game by Congress, and I’m relieved that this is the case, because I believe that only sustained pressure — both domestic and international — can persuade President Obama and lawmakers to wake up to the horrors of their indifference and their cynicism. Read the rest of this entry »

United Nations and New York Times Call for Closure of Guantánamo and End to Indefinite Detention

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.

The ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo is now in its third month, and shows no sign of coming to an end. As stories have emerged from the prisoners, via their lawyers, we have learned that it was inspired by deteriorating conditions at the prison, and by the prisoners’ despair at ever being released.

Their despair, sadly, is understandable.

Although 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, they are still held because of cynical Congressional obstruction, and weakness on the part of President Obama — in particular through his failure to close the prison, as he promised when he took office, and because of a ban he imposed in January 2010 on releasing any cleared Yemenis, who make up two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, which he issued in the wake of a failed bomb plot involving a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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