Humanizing a Torture Victim: Abu Zubaydah’s Letters from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah as a young man (Photo by Abu Zubaydah’s childhood friend, Muhammad Shams al-Sawalha).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On Tuesday, I wrote about the recent decision, by a Periodic Review Board, to approve the ongoing imprisonment of Abu Zubaydah, one of 14 men described as “high-value detainees,” who were brought to Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” just over ten years ago, in September 2006.

Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was actually the first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, but although the US government initially touted him as a significant figure in al-Qaeda, by 2010 they had backed down from their claims, accepting that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. In legal documents, the government claimed that they had “not contended … that Petitioner was a member of al-Qaeda or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaeda” and had “not contended that Petitioner had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, or the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Nevertheless, in approving Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, the members of the review board — 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 — sought to still identify him with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and drew on a videotaped interview, made by militants after the 9/11 attacks, in which he spoke of how closely he and bin Laden had been working together for ten years, a claim that sounds suspiciously like Zubaydah making false claims about his own significance. In contrast, at a tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007, Zubaydah stated that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I’m not his partner and I’m not a member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

First “War on Terror” Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah Denied Release from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. The eye patch covers his lost eye, removed in US custody.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On October 27, it was announced that Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was initiated, had his ongoing imprisonment recommended by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process involving 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. Zubaydah’s review took place on August 23 (as I reported here), and the decision was taken on September 22, but, for some reason, it was not made public for five weeks.

The PRBs began in November 2013, and have reviewed the cases of 64 men, who were previously recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release” (41 of the 64) or for men initially recommended for trials, until the legitimacy of the military commission trial system was seriously shaken by a court ruling on October 2012, and by subsequent rulings (the remaining 23). To date, 62 decisions have been taken, with 34 men being approved for release, while 28 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

In their Final Determination approving Abu Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment, the board members, having determined, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” described how they had “considered [his] past involvement in terrorist activities to include probably serving as one of Usama Bin Ladin’s [sic] most trusted facilitators and his admitted abilities as a long-term facilitator and fundraiser for extremist causes, regardless of his claim that he was not a formal member of al-Qa’ida.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Messed-Up Trial of the Century: Lawdragon’s Exhaustive Report on the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantánamo

The co-defendants in the painfully slow-moving and contentious 9/11 trial at Guantanamo. From top to bottom: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi) and Walid bin Attash.The military commissions at Guantánamo, as I have been reporting for ten years, are a shamefully deficient excuse for justice, a system dreamt up in the heat of America’s post-9/11 sorrow, when hysteria and vengeance trumped common sense and a respect for the law, and it was decided, by senior Bush administration officials and their lawyers, that prisoners seized in the “war on terror” and subjected to torture should be tried in a system that allowed the use of information derived through the use of torture, and swiftly found guilty and executed.

Military prosecutors, however, soon turned against the system and pointedly resigned, and in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled the whole system illegal. Nevertheless, the Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of Congress, revived the commissions in the fall of 2006, followed by further resignations (see here and here), and a third version of the commissions ill-advisedly emerged under President Obama in his first year in office (see here and here). The commissions have been tweaked to be less unjust, but they are still a Frankenstein’s Monster facsimile of a working trial system, full of so many holes that it is difficult for them to function at all, and at their heart is the specter of torture, which the government endlessly tries to hide, while the prisoners’ defence teams, of course, try constantly to expose it, as no fair trial can take place without it being discussed.

In recent years, my coverage of the commissions has been less thorough than it was between 2007 and the summer of 2014, largely because it seemed to me that the commissions were so broken and were going round and round in circles so pointlessly that it was no longer even worth trying to follow what was — or, more often, what wasn’t — happening. In one way, this was a fair reflection of the futility of the commissions’ efforts to secure anything resembling justice, but the more fundamental reality was that, however broken the proceedings may have been, pre-trial hearings were still taking place, however little they were being reported, which, one day, would constitute a damning indictment of America’s post-9/11 flight from justice and the law, and its embrace of torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. As a result, the commissions really ought not to be allowed to drop off the radar. 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 »

Afghan Moneychanger Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 25, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, Haji Wali Mohammed, who was born in February 1965 or 1966, became the 62nd prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — whose closest analogy are parole boards — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release and were not facing trials, and in total 64 men have had their cases reviewed. The last two reviews took place on September 1 and September 8, and I’ll be writing about them very soon.

Of the 64, 12 decisions have yet to be taken, but of the 52 cases decided (see my definitive PRB list here), the board members — comprising 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 — approved 33 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 19 others. That’s a success rate for the prisoners of 63%, which is a rather damning indictment of the caution exercised by the previous review board, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and made the recommendations for the ongoing imprisonment of the 64 men who have ended up facing PRBs.

23 of the 64 had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commissions largely collapsed as a result of a number of devastating appeals court rulings in Washington, D.C., in which judges dismissed some of the handful of convictions secured in the commissions, and concluded that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo “High-Value Detainee” Abu Faraj Al-Libi Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Abu Faraj al-Libi, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 16, Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Muhammad Mas’ud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi (ISN 10017), a Libyan prisoner in Guantánamo who is better known as Abu Faraj al-Libi, became the 59th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board.

The PRBs — which include 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 set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release or were facing trials as a result of the recommendations made in reviews conducted in 2009 by another high-level government review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

41 of the men judged to be eligible for PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that it was not evidence at all, but — and on this the task force was silent — generally untrustworthy information extracted from prisoners subjected to torture or other forms of abuse, or from prisoners bribed with the promise of better living conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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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