Two Yemenis Approved for Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards As “Highly Compliant” Afghan and Another Yemeni Also Seek Release

Zahir Hamdoun, in a photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.

Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.

Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.

Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »

Fayiz Al-Kandari is Free! The Last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo Is Released, Plus a Saudi: Now 103 Men Remain

Fayiz al-Kandari reunited with his father after his release from Guantanamo (Photo courtesy of Barry Wingard).For Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, who turned 40 at the prison in 2015, there is finally justice, as he was released on Friday January 10 and sent back home, over 14 years after he was first seized in Afghanistan, where, he always maintained, he had traveled to engage in humanitarian aid work.

Fayiz’s release, and that of another prisoner, a Saudi, appears to provide a demonstration of President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, as four men have now been freed in the last few days, and 13 more releases are expected soon. Without a doubt, it also provides further vindication that the Periodic Review Board process at Guantánamo — established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials — is working. in the cases of both men, they were recommended for continued imprisonment after PRBs, but were then reviewed again, when they both worked harder to convince the boards that they pose no threat and want only to rebuild their lives in peace — as, it should be noted, do most of the 103 men still held.

Of the 18 cases so far decided in PRBs, 15 have ended with recommendation for the release of the prisoners — a great result when all were previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” — although the process is moving far too slowly. Those 18 cases took over two years, and 42 other men are awaiting reviews, which will not be completed until 2020 at the current pace. If President Obama is serious about closing Guantánamo, he needs to find a way to speed up the process considerably in his last 12 months in office. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Guantánamo Hunger Striker for Ten Years, Is Approved for Release to Saudi Arabia

Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 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.

I’m pleased to report that Abdul Rahman Shalabi (ISN 042), a Saudi at Guantánamo, who has, astonishingly, been on a hunger strike for ten years, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, which explained, in its final determination regarding Shalabi’s case, “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.”

The PRBs — which 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners who had neither been approved for release by the high-level, multi-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, nor had been put forward for trials.

Originally, there were 48 men in this category of prisoners neither approved for release nor for trials, but two died before the PRBs began. To these 46 were added 25 others, originally recommended for trials, until the trial system at Guantánamo began to unravel spectacularly, with a series of damning rulings, by judges in the generally quite conservative appeals court in Washington D.C. The D.C. Circuit Court judges established that what the government called war crimes were no such thing, and had been invented by Congress, thereby rendering the entire trial system of the “war on terror” to be only one notch up from useless and thoroughly discredited. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Hunger Striker Since 2005, Asks Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

"Close Guantanamo": a campaigner holds a postcard promoting the "Close Guantanamo" campaign on January 11, 2012 in Washington D.C., the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.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. 

Last Tuesday, April 21, Abdul Rahman Shalabi became the 14th “forever prisoner” at Guantánamo to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — which 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners who had neither been approved for release by the high-level, multi-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, nor had been put forward for trials.

At the time of the PRBs’ creation, 71 men were deemed to be eligible for reviews, but, according to my records, five of these men have been released, one other accepted a plea deal in the military commissions, and another was charged, leaving 50 more prisoners eligible for the process.

Progress has been slow, but, of the 13 cases so far decided, nine have ended with the boards approving the release of the prisoners in question, and just four have been approved for ongoing imprisonment. Read the rest of this entry »

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s Unexpected Testimony in New York Terrorism Trial

On Wednesday, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (also identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghayth), the Kuwaiti cleric who is on trial in New York accused of terrorism, surprised the court by taking to the witness stand to defend himself.

Abu Ghaith, 48, who was held for over ten years under a form of house arrest in Iran before being freed in Turkey, and, via Jordan, ending up in US custody last year, appeared in broadcasts from Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda.

He is charged with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists — charges that include the claim that he had knowledge of Al-Qaeda’s operations, including plots involving shoe bombs (for which a British man, Richard Reid, was arrested, tried and convicted in 2002). As the New York Times described it, the government “said in court papers that as part of his role in the conspiracy and the support he provided to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abu Ghaith spoke on behalf of the terrorist group, ’embraced its war against America,’ and sought to recruit others to join in that conspiracy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Where Unsubstantiated Suspicion of Terrorism Ensures Indefinite Detention, Even After 12 Years

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Last week, in a decision that I believe can only be regarded objectively as a travesty of justice, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of six government departments and intelligence agencies — recommended that a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi), should continue to be held. The board concluded that his ongoing imprisonment “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In contrast, this is how al-Rahabi began his statement to the PRB on January 28:

My family and I deeply thank the board for taking a new look at my case. I feel hope and trust in the system. It’s hard to keep up hope for the future after twelve years. But what you are doing gives me new hope. I also thank my personal representatives and my private counsel, and I thank President Obama. I will summarize my written statement since it has already been submitted to the board. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Declaration in the New York Trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith

So here’s a fascinating document from the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in New York — a 14-page statement by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, written in response to questions Abu Ghaith’s lawyers submitted to him at Guantánamo, where he has been held since September 2006, following three and half years in “black sites” run by the CIA, and where, notoriously, he was subjected on 183 occasions to waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that is a form of controlled drowning. I am posting a transcript of the statement below, as I believe it is significant, and it is, of course, rare to hear directly from any of the “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo, because every word they speak or write is presumptively classified, and the authorities generally refuse to unclassify a single word.

Abu Ghaith (also identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghayth) is charged with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists, primarily for his alleged role as a spokesperson for Al-Qaeda immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, he fled to Iran, where he was held under a form of house arrest — and where he met and married one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters, who was also held under house arrest — until January 2013, when he was released to Turkey.

It was at this point that the US authorities became aware of his release from Iranian custody. At the request of the US, he was briefly detained, but soon released because he had not committed any crime on Turkish soil. The Turkish government then apparently decided to deport him to Kuwait, but on a stop-over in Amman, Jordan, he was arrested by Jordanian officials and turned over to US officials, who subsequently extradited him to the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

“Dirty Wars”: An Immensely Powerful Anti-War Film, Uncovering Obama’s Global “War on Terror”

On May 13, I was privileged to be invited to a London preview of “Dirty Wars,” the new documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley and focusing on the journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into America’s global “war on terrorism” — not historically, but right here, right now under President Obama.

In particular, the film, which opens in the US this weekend, and is accurately described by the New York Times as “pessimistic, grimly outraged and utterly riveting,” follows Scahill, who wrote it with David Riker, and is also the narrator, as he uncovers the existence of the shadowy organization JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, established by 1980, which is at the heart of the “dirty wars” being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

I had seen rushes with representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the London base of the Bertha Foundation, one of the backers of the film, last year, and I remembered the powerful sequences in Afghanistan, where Scahill found out about JSOC after meeting the survivors of a raid in Gardez by US forces in 2010 in which two pregnant women had been killed, and there had then been a cover-up.This involved US soldiers returning to the scene of their crime to remove bullets from the corpses — something difficult to forget once informed about. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

US Honors Deal to Release Convicted Bin Laden Cook from Guantánamo to Sudan; 87 Cleared Men Still Await Release

Getting out of Guantánamo is such a feat these days (with just three men released in the last 18 months) that it is remarkable that Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese prisoner who agreed to a plea deal at his war crimes trial in Guantánamo in July 2010, guaranteeing that he would be freed after two years, has been repatriated as promised. 168 prisoners now remain in Guantánamo.

With a typical disregard for the principle that a prisoner — any prisoner — must be freed when their sentence comes to an end, the US has maintained, since the “war on terror” began nearly 11 years ago, that prisoners at Guantánamo can continue to be held after their sentence has come to an end, and be returned to the general population as “enemy combatants,” even though President Bush failed to do this when he had the opportunity — with Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed after serving a five-month sentence handed down after his military trial in 2008.

A source with knowledge of al-Qosi’s case, who does not wish to be identified, told me that the Obama administration was unwilling to detain al-Qosi after his sentence came to an end, and I believe that one of the reasons that the President negotiated a waiver to the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing him to bypass restrictions on releasing prisoners that were imposed by Congress, was to prevent Republicans from trying to force him to continue holding al-Qosi. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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