Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.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.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process 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, the PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights

Tariq-Al-Sabah, from an interview conducted by BBC Alba after his release from Guantanamo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.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.

 

As part of my ongoing coverage of Guantánamo, I try, wherever possible, to keep track of the stories of former prisoners, especially those who were resettled in third countries, either because the US government refused to send them home, or because it was considered unsafe to do so — or, in the case of Palestine, because the Israeli government would not allow them to be repatriated, even if the US government wanted to.

Many of those resettled in third countries are Yemenis, and third countries had to be found for them because, since the start of 2010, the entire US establishment has regarded the situation in Yemen as too unstable from a security perspective to allow any Yemenis to be repatriated. Amongst those for whom repatriation was regarded as too dangerous are the Uighurs, 22 men from China’s Xinjiang province, historically oppressed by the Chinese government, who were found new homes around the world between 2006 and 2013, and a handful of men from other countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia.

In March, for Middle East Eye, the journalist Lidia Kurasinska wrote an article about Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian, who had been resettled in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the capital, Sarajevo, in January 2016. Before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Sawah had been living in Bosnia, where he had been granted citizenship, and had married a Bosnian woman, with whom he had a child, so this was not a random resettlement based solely on whichever country could be persuaded, through a combination of cash and favors, to give a former prisoner a home. Read the rest of this entry »

100 Days of Trump: Join Us in Telling Him to Close Guantánamo

Some of the Close Guantanamo supporters who have stood with posters calling on Donald Trump to close Guantanamo over the first 100 days of his presidency.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.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

On Saturday, Donald Trump will have been in office for 100 days, and all but his most deranged and devoted supporters must surely conclude that this has been the most shambolic and disappointing first 100 days of any presidency — as reflected in his historically low approval ratings. As we approach 100 days, Trump’s approval rating is just 44%, 11 points lower than Bill Clinton after 100 days, and 19 points lower than Barack Obama at the 100-day mark.

Trump’s sweeping and indefensible travel ban remains one of the low points of his presidency, an effort to target, by religion, seven Muslim-majority countries for a ban on all travel to the US, on the basis of a supposed terrorist threat that, to be blunt, doesn’t exist at all. Unfortunately, however, the racism of the travel ban continues to bleed into other aspects of Trump’s policies — his obsession with a wall between the US and Mexico, for example, and, for us at Close Guantánamo, his enthusiasm for keeping Guantánamo open and for sending new prisoners there.

In his first week in office, a leaked draft executive order found Trump threatening the worst possible scenario for Guantánamo and the US’s counter-terrorism policies — reviving torture and CIA “black sites,” and bringing new prisoners to Guantánamo. On torture, a barrage of criticism, including from prominent Republicans, including his own defence secretary  and others at the CIA, persuaded him to back down, but on Guantánamo a second leaked draft executive order found him still intending to bring new prisoners — Islamic State prisoners — to Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo

Mohammad Rahim, an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo, regarded as a "high-value detainee," in photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who made it available to his family, who, in turn, made it publicly available.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.

 

In trying to catch up on a few stories I’ve missed out on reporting about recently, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, a CIA torture victim held at Guantánamo, who was, in fact, the last prisoner to arrive at the prison in March 2008.

The petition was submitted by Major James Valentine, Rahim’s military defence attorney, and the researcher Arnaud Mafille, and it follows previous submissions to the IACHR on behalf of Djamal Ameziane, whose release was requested in April 2012 (and who was eventually released, but not as a direct result of the IACHR ruling), and Moath al-Alwi, whose lawyers submitted a petition on his behalf in February 2015, which led to the IACHR issuing a resolution on March 31, 2015 calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission  considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Al-Alwi was, at the time, a hunger striker, and in the petition his lawyers stated that, “During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Limbo of Guantánamo under Trump and Obama’s Failure to Close the Prison with Scott Horton

Andy Worthington speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14, 2015.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.

 

A few days ago, I was delighted to speak to an old friend with whom I haven’t spoken for over a year — Scott Horton, formerly of Antiwar Radio, who now runs his own website, the Libertarian Institute, where he continues to make and broadcast hard-hitting radio interviews about every aspect imaginable of America’s insane foreign policy, as he has for the last 13 or 14 years, with over 4,000 conducted to date.

Scott and I have spoken many times since I was first interviewed by him in the summer of 2007, but for some reason we hadn’t spoken for 14 months until last week. I’d been going through my archives, updating links and trying to work out which articles to include in a forthcoming collection of the best of my writing about Guantánamo over the last ten years, and I realized we hadn’t spoken for some time, so I sent him an email and he got back to me almost immediately.

Our half-hour interview is here — and here as an MP3 — and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find useful. We spoke about Donald Trump and what he has threatened to do regarding Guantánamo — keeping it open and bringing new prisoners there — but as with so much this lamentable imitation of a coherent president says and does, it’s difficult to know quite what he will end up doing. He has already backed down on his ludicrous intention to bring back torture and “black sites,” after all but his own most deranged advisers told him that was not on the cards, but on Guantánamo we will have to wait and see if he is told that federal court trials are preferable to bringing anyone new to Guantánamo, if he gets told that he doesn’t have the authorization to bring ISIS prisoners to Guantánamo, and if, as I hope, someone he listens to tells him that, given how ridiculously expensive Guantánamo is, he really ought to close it and bring the men still held to the US mainland. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Lewis, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure Under Obama, Urges Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo

Paul Lewis, the U.S. Department of Defense Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2016, as Code Pink demonstrators held up placards urging the closure of Guantanamo (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images).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.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

On closing Guantánamo, Paul Lewis, the former Special Envoy for Guantánamo Detention Closure at the Department of Defense under President Obama, recently had an article published on Lawfare, in which he explained why Guantánamo must be closed.

We’re cross-posting the article, “The Continuing Need to Close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility,” below, because it largely echoes what we at Close Guantánamo think, and because we believe it contributes to a necessary message to Donald Trump — that his proposals to keep Guantánamo open, and to send new prisoners there are ill-conceived, unnecessary and counter-productive.

Lewis began by thanking John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the Bush administration, for an article he had also written for Lawfare, “Guantánamo Redux: Why It was Opened and Why It Should Be Closed (and not Enlarged).” Bellinger did indeed call for Guantánamo’s closure — and it is always significant when officials who served under George W. Bush, rather than Barack Obama, tell home truths to the Republican Party, but in his article he spent rather too much time, to our liking, trying to defend the reasons why Guantánamo was chosen as the site of a prison in the first place, and distorting some realities. Read the rest of this entry »

Karen Greenberg on Why America, and Its Values, Remain Imprisoned at Guantánamo As Long As The Prison Stays Open

A panel discussion about the future of Guantanamo at New America in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2016 with, from L to R: Peter Bergen, Karen Greenberg, Andy Worthington and Tom Wilner.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.

 

As we mark 60 days of Donald Trump’s reign as the clown-in-chief of the United States, those of us who care about the rule of law and America’s reputation will be breathing only a small sign of relief that, amongst the many appalling policies introduced by Trump in his first two months in office, an executive order officially keeping Guantánamo open and committing to sending new prisoners there has not yet been issued, despite being threatened (as I reported here and here).

However, the very fact that Guantánamo is still open is a cause for sorrow, overshadowing any relative sense of relief that Trump has, evidently, found it harder than anticipated to sell the expansion of Guantánamo to the grown-ups in his administration.

Below, I’m very pleased to be cross-posting an article encapsulating that sense of sorrow, written by one of the few writers I know who, like myself, has lived with, and agonized over the continued existence of Guantánamo for many long years — Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, published in 2010, and Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, published in 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Released in Serbia Struggles to Cope with Loneliness and Harassment

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mansoor al-Dayfi (aka al-Zahari), photographed in Serbia, where he was released in July 2016.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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

Last week, I posted an article about Hedi Hammami, a Tunisian national held in Guantánamo for eight years, who was released in 2010, but is suffering in his homeland, where he is subjected to persecution by the authorities.

I drew on an article in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall, and I’m pleased to note that, two weeks ago, NPR also focused on the story of a former Guantánamo prisoner as part of a two-hour special on Guantánamo.

I’m glad to see these reports, because Guantánamo has, in general, slipped off the radar right now, as Donald Trump weighs up whether or not to issue an executive order scrapping President Obama’s unfulfilled promise to close the prison, and ordering new prisoners to be sent there, but the stories of the former prisoners provide a powerful reminder of how wrong Guantánamo has always been, and how much damage it has caused to so many of the men held there. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Donald Trump and Guantánamo with Brian Becker on Sputnik Radio’s “Loud and Clear”

Donald Trump and a sign at Guantanamo Bay.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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

I’ve been so busy recently that I’ve overlooked, until now, my last media appearance in the US, during my recent tour to call for the closure of Guantánamo. The show was ‘Loud & Clear,’ an hour-long Sputnik Radio show presented by Brian Becker, which is available here as an MP3.

The show began with an interview with CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who was jailed under President Obama for exposing details of the CIA torture program, and who was representing 20 US intelligence, diplomatic and military veterans, who, as Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), “signed a statement calling on President Obama to present the proof of allegations that Russia was responsible for hacking during the election.”

As Donald Trump attempts, on as many fronts as possible to remake America in his image, this story now seems like something from another age, as does Guantánamo under President Obama. My segment with Brian starts at 18:40 and ends at 36:00, and I ran through why I was in the US, and Obama’s legacy — his eloquent explanations for why Guantánamo should be closed, but also his failure to prioritize Guantánamo sufficiently so that when Congress raised cynical obstructions to prevent the prison’s closure, he refused to challenge lawmakers as robustly as he should have done, moving so slowly that he ended up releasing men approved for release the day before he left office, and, of course, failed to close the prison, leaving 41 men still held — five approved for release, just ten facing trials, and 26 others eligible for Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, established in 2013. 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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