Obama Releases 15 Prisoners from Guantánamo to UAE; Just 61 Men Now Left (Part 1 of 2)

Yemeni prisoner Mohsin Aboassy, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.There was good news from Guantánamo last week, as 15 men were released, to begin new lives in the United Arab Emirates. The release was the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, and takes the total number of men held at Guantánamo down to 61, the lowest level it has been since the prison’s first few weeks of its operations, in January 2002.

12 of the 15 men released are Yemenis, while the remaining three are Afghans. All had to have third countries 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. The UAE previously accepted five Yemenis prisoners from Guantánamo last November.

Of the 15 men, six — all Yemenis — were approved for release back in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office for the first time. This article tells the stories of those six men, while another article to follow will tell the stories of the other nine. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Prisoner to Arrive at Guantánamo, an Afghan Fascinated with US Culture, Asks Review Board to Approve His Release

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.On August 4, Muhammad Rahim, an Afghan, became the 56th Guantánamo prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2013, and are reviewing the cases of all the prisoners still held who are not facing trials (just ten of the remaining 76 prisoners) or who were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

33 men have so far been approved for release via the PRBs (and eleven have been released), while 17 have had their ongoing imprisonment held. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and it ought to be embarrassing for the Obama administration, whose task force had concluded that they were “too dangerous to release” or that they should be prosecuted. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further information.

Muhammad Rahim, who was born in November or December 1965, was the last prisoner to arrive at Guantánamo, in March 2008, when he was described as “a close associate” of Osama bin Laden. He has been described as a “high-value detainee” — one of only 16 held at the prison — but if this was the case he would surely have been put forward for prosecution, suggesting that, as with so many of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, his significance has been exaggerated. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Boards: Two Prisoners Recommended for Release from Guantánamo, Two Have Detention Upheld, Another Seeks Release

Yemeni prisoner Shawqi Balzuhair, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.It’s been a busy week at Guantánamo, with two Periodic Review Boards taking place, two prisoners being approved for release after reviews in April, and two others having their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld.

The Periodic Review Boards — which involve 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 all the men still held who are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this category), or who had not already been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which, in 2009, reviewed the cases of all the men held when President Obama took office.

71 men were originally eligible for PRBs, a number reduced to 64 when five men were freed, and two were charged in the military commissions. 41 of the men were described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which acknowledged, however, that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — meaning, of course, that it was not evidence at all, but, in large part, consisted of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, when the use of torture and other forms of abuse were widespread. 23 others had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed after a number of highly critical appeals court rulings, in which judges dismissed some of the few convictions secured in the troubled military commission system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo for Yemeni Subjected to Long-Term Sleep Deprivation in Prison’s Early Years

Yemeni prisoner Mohammad Abu Ghanim, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last Tuesday, Mohammad Rajah Sadiq Abu Ghanim (aka Mohammed Ghanim), a Yemeni born in 1975, became the 38th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo. These involve 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, and were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release by the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, or were not facing trials. Just ten men are in this latter category.

Those eligible for the PRBs were 41 men described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which also, however, acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that is was not evidence, but unsubstantiated claims made by prisoners subjected to torture, abuse or bribery (with better living conditions), or that they were regarded as having dangerously anti-American attitudes (despite the fact that their appalling treatment may have inspired such sentiments).

23 others had been recommended for trial by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed when appeal court judges overturned some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system, pointing out that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted had actually been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

An Afghan and a Yemeni “Black Site” Prisoner Face Guantánamo Periodic Review Boards, as 21st Man Approved for Release

Yemeni prisoner Salem Bin Kanad, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In President Obama’s last year in office, efforts are clearly being made to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay on his second day in office, back in January 2009. 27 men have been freed this year, leaving just 80 still held, the lowest number since the early months of the prison’s existence back in 2002.

27 of those 80 men have been approved for release — 15 since 2010, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force appointed by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush delivered its final report, and 12 since January 2014, when another review process, the Periodic Review Boards, began delivering decisions about the majority of the men not already approved for release. Just ten of the 80 men still held are facing — or have faced — trials, and the rest are eligible for PRBs.

21 men have so far been approved for release by the PRBs, and nine of those men have been freed. Just seven men have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended — a success rate for the prisoners of 75%, which thoroughly undermines the task force’s claims, made back in 2010, that they were “too dangerous to release.” The task force also claimed that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but the truth is that the “too dangerous to release” tag was overstated, relying on unreliable information extracted from the prisoners themselves, and produced as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, or bribery (with better living conditions), or on an unnecessarily cautious notion of the threat they posed, based on their attitudes while imprisoned at Guantánamo in defiance of all civilized norms. Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, 68-Year Old Pakistani Businessman, Has His Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Approved

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He is wearing white, clothing reserved for the most compliant prisoners.Bad news from Guantánamo for Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, a victim of kidnap, extraordinary rendition and torture, and, at 68, the prison’s oldest prisoner, as his ongoing imprisonment has been recommended by a Periodic Review Board, following a hearing on March 8, which I wrote about here. The PRB process involves 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, and it was established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release by President Obama’s  high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, or facing trials (and just ten of the remaining 89 prisoners are in this latter category).

With this decision, 27 prisoners have had their cases decided, with 20 men approved for release, and just seven having their ongoing imprisonment approved. However, most of those approved for release were mistakenly described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, while Paracha is from a smaller group of men initially recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, and in that group his is the second application for release that has been turned down, with just one success to date.

I have never found the case against Paracha — that he worked with Al-Qaeda in a plot or plots relating to the US — to be convincing, as he lived and worked as a successful businessman in the US from 1970-86, appears to be socially liberal, and has been a model prisoner at Guantánamo, where he has helped numerous younger prisoners engage with the various review processes established over the years. When his PRB took place, the authorities described him as as “very compliant” with the prison guards, with “moderate views and acceptance of Western norms.” Read the rest of this entry »

29th Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo – for Sharqawi Ali Al-Hajj, Alleged Al-Qaeda Facilitator

Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.

23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat  in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and “Very Compliant” Prisoner, Faces Guantánamo Review Board

A photo of Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.I wrote the following article — as “Guantánamo Review Board for Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and ‘Very Compliant’ Prisoner, Kidnapped in Thailand in 2003” — 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.

Last week Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and, at 68 years of age, Guantánamo’s oldest current prisoner, became the 28th Guantánamo prisoner to have his potential release considered by a Periodic Review Board (see our full list here). This review process was set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) or already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, when almost two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — 156 out of 240 — were recommended for release, or, to use the task force’s careful wording, were “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures.”

Of the 28, five decisions have yet to be made, but of the 23 others the success rate for these men securing approval for their release is extremely high — 83% — with 19 men having their release recommended. What makes these decisions particularly important is that they puncture the rhetoric that has surrounded these men — both under George W. Bush, with the glib dismissal of everyone at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and under Barack Obama, with his task force’s conclusion (more worrying because of its veneer of authority) that 48 of those eligible for PRBs were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not reliable evidence at all.

In attempting to justify its decisions, the task force noted that its members had relied on “the totality of available information — including credible information that might not be admissible in a criminal prosecution — [which] indicated that the detainee poses a high level of threat that cannot be mitigated sufficiently except through continued detention.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Is 27th Guantánamo Prisoner to Face Periodic Review Board; 4th Man Has Detention Upheld, 36 Others Await Reviews

Guantanamo prisoner Zohair al-Shorabi (aka Suhayl al-Sharabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Al-Shorabi's Periodic Review Board was on March 1, 2016.

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In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.

In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Approved for Release from Guantánamo, as Lawyer Presents Persuasive Case for Release of Yemeni Who Has Become A Prolific Artist

Yemeni prisoner Muhammad al-Ansi in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.As the dust settles on President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay before he leaves office, and defense secretary Ashton Carter urges Congress to drop its ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, one key element of the plan — Periodic Review Boards, assessing, on a case by case basis, whether or not around half of the 91 men still held can be released — continue to deliver significant results.

Two weeks ago, a Yemeni, Majid Ahmad — once, I believe, mistakenly described as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden — was approved for release, and last week the Periodic Review Secretariat announced another release, bringing the total number of men approved for release to 19, out of 22 results, a success rate of 86%. 36 of the 91 men still held have now been approved for release, 24 since 2010, and 12 through the PRBs (to add to the seven men already freed as a result of the PRBs).

As I noted last week, the success rate “reveals the extent to which dangerous hyperbole has played such a significant part in the story of Guantánamo, as these are men regarded six years ago as ‘too dangerous to release’ by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, even though the task force also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial,” which “should have been a sign that the information used to continued imprisoning these men was profoundly unreliable, produced through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through bribing prisoners with better living conditions.” 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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