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 »

After Powerful Screening of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo’ at Westminster University, I’m Available for Further Events

A screenshot of former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes in 'Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo', shown at the University of Westminster on November 17, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

 

On Friday, I was delighted to attend a screening of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo’, the 2009 documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, at the University of Westminster, followed by a lively Q&A session with a packed room full of very engaged students.

My thanks to Sam Raphael, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, for arranging the event. Sam, with Ruth Blakeley, set up The Rendition Project, described on his university page as “an ESRC-funded project which works with NGOs and human rights investigators to uncover and understand human rights violations in the ‘War on Terror.’” Sam’s page also explains that the project “provides an unparalleled picture of the CIA’s torture programme, and has been described by the Guardian as ‘a groundbreaking research project which sheds unprecedented light on one of the most controversial secret operations of recent years.’”

Sam and I have worked together before, most recently last November at ‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions’, a panel discussion at the University of Westminster, which I spoke at, and which Sam moderated, and which also featured Alka Pradhan, Human Rights Counsel at the Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions, and Carla Ferstmann, the director of REDRESS. My report about that and other Guantánamo-related events in London at that time was entitled Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Zone of Non-Being: Guantánamo,” Featuring Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, Clive Stafford Smith, Michael Ratner

A screenshot from 'Zone of Non-Being: Guantanamo', a documentary film released in 2014.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 next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Several years ago (actually, way back in December 2012), I was interviewed at my home for a documentary produced by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which was directed by the filmmaker Turab Shah. For some reason, I never heard about the film being completed (I think its initial screening was in January 2014, when I was in the US), but after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I received an email from the IHRC stating that they were screening the film, which prompted me to look it up, and to discover that it had been put online in July 2014.

The film features a fascinating array of contributors, including myself, former prisoners including Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, the late Michael Ratner, the founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author and academic Arun Kundnani, Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist Victoria Brittain, the writer Amrit Wilson, and Massoud Shadjareh of the ICRC.

The ICRC described the film as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously Ill Libyan Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Back in June, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner (and an amputee) at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, underwent a Periodic Review Board to ascertain whether he should be recommended for release or continue to be held without charge or trial, as I wrote about here, and on August 20 he was recommended for release, although that information was not made publicly available until last week.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated that, “by consensus,” they “determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRBs, which are 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, were established in 2013 to review the cases of the “forever prisoners,” 48 men who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at the time to decide whether they should be released or put on trial, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Shrapnel-Damaged Libyan Amputee Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On June 24, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, took part in a Periodic Review Board, a process that involved him talking by video-link, accompanied by his civilian lawyer and two US military personal designated as “personal representatives,” who also spoke on his behalf, to 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, in a secure facility near Washington D.C.

Khalifh is one of 39 prisoners still held who were 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 to review the cases of all the prisoners held at that time and to recommend whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial, because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In a world that respects the rule of law, this third option is a disgrace, as it gives weight to information that is too flimsy to be regarded as evidence and should therefore be discredited — often because it was derived through the use of torture or other abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013

The power of Islamophobia, it seems, is such that when a tabloid newspaper — the Daily Star — published an article with the headline “Mosque terror doc fundraiser,” claiming that “Britain’s biggest mosque is under investigation after it scheduled a fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” it led to the event being moved.

The mosque in question was the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, and the alleged investigation was by the Charity Commission. The Star reported that the Charity Commission “said it had started a probe into the mosque,” and had “not yet launched a full investigation,” but was “looking into the issue.” That sounds very vague, but it was enough to get the mosque jumpy, and the event has, as a result, been moved to another venue in Whitechapel.

As for the “fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” another way of putting it would be that the Justice for Aafia Coalition (also see here) is putting on a fundraising event for a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who disappeared for nearly five and a half years, from March 2003 to July 2008, when, they contend, she was kidnapped and she and two of her three children were held in secret prisons run by or for the CIA and the US government. The third child, a baby at the time of her disappearance, may, it appears, have been shot and killed at the time of Dr. Siddiqui’s kidnapping. 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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