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

Mahmud al-Mujahid (aka Mahmoud-al-Mujahid), in a photo included in the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners that were released in 2011.Last week, 15 prisoners were released from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates, the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, bringing the total number of men held to just 61. 12 of the 15 men are Yemenis, and the other three are Afghans. A third country had to be 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.

On Sunday I published an article about six of the Yemenis, who were all approved for release from Guantánamo in 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review the cases of all the men held when he took office and to decide whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial.

The other nine men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, which began in 2013, and which was set up to review the cases of men who had not already been approved for release, and are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category). The reviews started in November 2013, and, to date, 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 63% success rate. This is an extraordinary success rate for men previously described as “too dangerous to release,” by the task force, and it clearly establishes that the task force was unnecessarily cautious in its appraisal of the prisoners held when President Obama took office. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Complain About Slow Progress of Periodic Review Boards

Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who us one of 36 men eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but who have not yet been given a date when their reviews will take place. This photo is of Ravil with his family, in a photo taken before his capture.Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.

When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.

Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Zahir Hamdoun, the 21st Guantánamo Prisoner Seeking Release Via A Periodic Review Board

Zahir Hamdoun, in a recent 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.

Last Tuesday, the 21st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — Zahir Hamdoun, a 36-year old Yemeni — asked the board, 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, to approve his release from the prison. The board members communicate with Guantánamo by video feed, and hear directly from the prisoners and their representatives, although very little of what takes place is open to the media, and, by extension, the public.

The PRBs, which began in November 2013, were established to review the cases of 46 men deemed “too dangerous to release” in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, plus 25 others originally recommended for prosecution — until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny.

The description of 46 men as “too dangerous to release” sounds dramatic, but in fact the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put these men on trial, so instead of “too dangerous to release” a better description would have been “subjected to unreliable information, in many cases obtained through torture, or other forms of abuse, or bribery, or regarded as a threat because of their attitude while unjustly imprisoned for years without charge or trial.” Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Attorney Tells the Story of a Father and Son Freed, But Separated By 1,850 Miles

Former Guantanamo prisoner Muhammed Khantumani is one of the four boys in this photo, taken many years before his eight-year ordeal in Guantanamo. The photo is a screenshot from an interview on Democracy Now with his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights.Back in 2006, when I began working full-time on Guantánamo, researching the stories of the men held there for my book The Guantánamo Files, which was published in September 2007, the main research I undertook involved a detailed analysis of 8,000 pages of documents relating to the prisoners that had been released in 2006 as a result of freedom of information submissions and federal lawsuits submitted by the Associated Press.

The documents consisted primarily of unclassified allegations against the prisoners and transcripts of various review processes — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and Administrative Review Boards (ARBs) — that had been conducted from 2004 onwards, purportedly to establish the status of the prisoners, although these processes were so one-sided and what passed for evidence was generally so poor that, as the AP put it, all the transcripts generally revealed about the prisoners was “the often vague reasons the United States used for locking them up.”

Also included in the releases by the Pentagon were the first ever lists of the prisoners that had been made public, and, although all the files released required significant cross-referencing to create a coherent account of all the prisoners held at Guantánamo, past and present, I was able, over a period of 14 months, to do just that, producing the first — and still the only — comprehensive account of all the prisoners who, in such a cavalier and unsubstantiated manner, had been described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst.”

The overwhelming majority of the men held — I would say as many as 97 percent of the 779 men held throughout Guantánamo’s history (of whom 116 remain) — had no involvement with terrorism, and were either humble foot soldiers for the Taliban or civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong time and the wrong place while the US was handing out substantial bounty payments to its Afghan and Pakistani allies for anyone who could be packaged up as being involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Prisoner Zaher Hamdoun Says He Is “Buried in a Grave Called Guantánamo”

Guantanamo prisoner Zaher Hamdoun (aka Zaher bin Hamdoun) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On Friday, the Guardian published words from Guantánamo written by Zaher Hamdoun (ISN 576), aka Zahir Hamdoun or Zahar Hamdoun, and also identified as Zaher bin Hamdoun or Zahir bin Hamdoun, a Yemeni who has been held at the prison since May 2002. Hamdoun’s words were interspersed with commentary by his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei, a Senior Staff Attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

I’m cross-posting the article below, which is worth reading not only for Hamdoun’s own words about his long ordeal, but also for Pardiss Kebriaei’s frustration with the review process — the Periodic Review Boards — established by President Obama in 2013 to examine the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office who were not subsequently approved for release in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force he appointed (44 of the 116 men still held) or who have not been put forward for trials (just ten of the men still held).

Hamdoun is one of 47 men awaiting a chance to pitch for his release through a Periodic Review Board, a process that, as Kebriaei notes, is appallingly slow. “At the rate prisoners’ reviews are going,” she writes, “the administration will not finish by the time Obama leaves office.” Just 17 reviews have taken place since November 2013, and, as a result, ten men have been approved for release (but just two have been freed), four others have had their ongoing detention approved (but two are awaiting the results of a second review), and three others are awaiting the results of their reviews. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Board Approves “Forever Prisoner” Ghaleb Al-Bihani for Release from Guantánamo, But Also Approves Ongoing Detention of Salem Bin Kanad

Six weeks ago, I reported on the Periodic Review Boards for two “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo — Ghaleb al-Bihani and Salem bin Kanad — who are both Yemenis, and were regarded by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama to review all the remaining prisoners’ cases in 2009, as too dangerous to release, even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

The PRBs — 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by, or on behalf of the prisoners by video link from Guantánamo — took place to establish whether these two men should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

This category of prisoner — as opposed to those approved for release, or those recommended for prosecution — is particularly problematical, as it relies on a presumption that the so-called evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners is somehow reliable, when that is patently not the case. The files on the prisoners are for the most part a dispiriting collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — immediately after capture, in America’s notorious prisons in Afghanistan, or in Guantánamo, all places and circumstances where torture and abuse were rife; or, in some cases, where bribery (the promise of better living conditions, for example) was used to try to secure information that could be used as evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (2/3): Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Cook, Asks to Be Sent Home to Yemen or to Another Country

Last week, I published the first of three new articles about the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, looking at the hearing for a Yemeni prisoner, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, who had the opportunity to ask for his freedom on March 20.

Ali is one of 71 prisoners — out of the 154 men still held — who were either 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 (46 men in total), or were recommended for prosecution (25 others).

The 46 had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by President Obama in an executive order issued in March 2011, on the alarming basis that they were allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. The president tried to sweeten this unacceptable endorsement of indefinite detention by promising that the men would receive periodic reviews of their cases, but the first of these did not take place until last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House

Guantánamo protestors and the Washington MonumentPeace bikeFree Djamel AmezianeGuantánamo protestors and the White HouseGuantánamo protestors in front of the White HouseThe poet Luke Nephew calls for the closure of Guantánamo
Close Guantánamo: Black hoods, orange jumpsuits and the White HouseAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Andy Worthington in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of Guantánamo in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Protestors outside the White House
Close Guantánamo: Two protestors outside the White HousePardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani at the "Close Guantánamo" protest outside the White HouseLeili Kashani calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Bagram and GuantánamoInaugurate Justice, Close GuantánamoCruel, Inhuman and Degrading
Close Guantánamo: Witness Against Torture's White House protest166 orange ribbons and the White House

Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House, a set on Flickr.

These photos, following on from the previous set, capture some of the key images and the principled, decent and tireless campaigners for justice involved in the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to call on President Obama to fulfil the promise he made to close the prison when he took office in January 2009, or be remembered as a failure, who succumbed to political expediency and settled for a path of cowardice rather than confronting his political opponents, both in the Republican Party and in his own party, and doing what needed to be done.

This, of course, involved the still-pressing need to restore some semblance of justice in the wake of the horrors inflicted on the law, on America’s reputation, and on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the so-called “war on terror,” but instead of addressing the issues, President Obama has expanded the US government’s drone program of extrajudicial assassinations, and has failed those in Guantánamo — especially the 86 men (out of 166 still held in total), who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009. The Task Force spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions, and, in addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. 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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