Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.’” Read the rest of this entry »

“It Is All Theater, It Is All A Game,” Yemeni “Forever Prisoner” Says from Guantánamo

It is, I believe, impossible to argues with the logic of Muaz al-Alawi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, who recently told his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, that, when attempting to make sense of Guantánamo, only one analysis is necessary: “It is all political,” al-Alawi told him. “It is all theater, it is all a game.”

The US has such disdain for the prisoners at Guantánamo that, 12 and a half years on from the prison’s opening, they are still identified by the names given to them at the time of their capture, by personnel unfamiliar with the languages of their home countries — Arabic, for example. As a result, al-Alawi is identified as Moath al-Alwi.

His comments, made to Kassem, an associate professor of law at the City University of New York who directs the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, which represents prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere, were in the context of the manufactured hysteria regarding the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, which I have written about here, here and here (and also see my Democracy Now! appearance). Read the rest of this entry »

Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo

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 sign and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s release.

Last Monday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, 45, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a federal judge to order his release because he is chronically ill. A detailed analysis of Mr. Aamer’s mental and physical ailments was prepared by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, following a request in October, by Mr. Aamer’s lawyers, for him to receive an independent medical evaluation.

The very fact that the authorities allowed an independent expert to visit Guantánamo to assess Mr. Aamer confirms that he is severely ill, as prisoners are not generally allowed to be seen by external health experts unless they are facing trials. Mr. Aamer, in contrast, is one of 75 of the remaining 154 prisoners who were cleared for release from Guantánamo over four years ago by a high-level, inter-agency task force established by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.

As a result, the authorities’ decision to allow an independent expert to assess Mr. Aamer can be seen clearly for what it is — an acute sensitivity on their part to the prospect of prisoners dying, even though, for many of the men, being held for year after year without justice is a fate more cruel than death, as last year’s prison-wide hunger strike showed. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses “The State of Guantánamo Today” with Rose Aguilar, Ramzi Kassem and Sharon Adams in San Francisco

Andy Worthington at KALW Public Radio's studios in Los Angeles on January 13, 2013, photographed by Rose Aguilar after appearing on her show, "Your Call."I’m currently in southern California — on the campus of Cal Poly (aka California Polytechnic State University) in San Luis Obispo, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles. As I wait for the last public event of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour, with the support of the World Can’t Wait, I have some time, while hiding from the sun — which alarmingly, is currently hotter than the hottest day in summer in the UK — to catch up on some of the events in which I’ve taken part.

I recently posted videos from my first event — a panel discussion in New York — and a video of the creative protests in Washington D.C. last Saturday, January 11, on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo.

The morning after, I flew out to San Francisco, where I stayed for three days, and after a gathering of like-minded individuals at the house of friends in Oakland on the Sunday evening, Monday began with a visit to KALW Public Radio, high up on San Francisco’s hills, for an interview with Rose Aguilar, as part of her “Your Call” show from 10-11am.

The 53-minute show, entitled, “What’s the state of Guantánamo today?” is available here, and I do hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. I’ve spoken to Rose on my visits before, and it’s always good to spend some time with her, and with her indefatigable producer, Malihe Razazan. Read the rest of this entry »

Although Two Men Weigh 75 Pounds or Less, Guantánamo Prisoner Moath Al-Alwi Says, “We Will Remain on Hunger Strike”

Moath al-Alwi (aka Muaz or Moaz al-Alawi), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For six months, Guantánamo managed to be in the news on a regular basis, as a prison-wide hunger strike succeeded in pricking the consciences of the mainstream media. Unfortunately, since the numbers of those involved fell (from 106 on July 10 to 53 a month later), the media largely moved on. At the height of the hunger strike, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, a process condemned by medical professionals, but although the US authorities state that just 15 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike, all of them are being force-fed.

Moreover, as was explained this week in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera America by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner also known as Moaz al-Alawi, the men who are still hunger striking have no intention of giving up, even though, as al-Alwi explains, some have lost so much weight that their appearance would send shockwaves around the world if a photograph were to be leaked. As he states, “one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility.”

The situation for the prisoners who are still on a hunger strike is clearly horrific. As al-Alwi states in his op-ed, which I’m posting below, the force-feeding remains “painful and horrific,” as it was when he described it previously, in another op-ed for Al-Jazeera in July that I’m also posting below. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Support for an Independent Medical Evaluation for Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo

Following my recent article about a newly-submitted motion to a US court on behalf of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling for him to be examined by an independent medical expert of his choice, I am pleased to be able to post a detailed declaration submitted by Clive Stafford Smith, one of his lawyers, and the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held in Guantánamo. Please also see the declaration by Ramzi Kassem, posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

As I explained when I posted the original article:

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

The lawyers also note, “Additionally, as his past and continued mistreatment threatens irreparable harm, Mr. Aamer is entitled to the relief sought herein in the form of an injunction.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation

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 sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures. Please also see the declarations by Clive Stafford Smith and Ramzi Kassem.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., seeking to persuade Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the US government to “permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice,” retained by his lawyers.

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Zuhair, Long-Term Former Hunger Striker at Guantánamo, Speaks

Last week I published an article, “Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo,” about Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian prisoner, following up on an article written by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal and published in July. As I explained at the time, “Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention … I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks.”

Following up on that promise, this article revisits an Associated Press article by Ben Fox, published in June, which featured an interview with Ahmed Zuhair, a Saudi citizen and former sheep merchant released from Guantánamo in June 2009, whose story I covered in detail three months before his release, in an article entitled, “Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home.” This recent article was based on a phone call with Zuhair, who is now 47 years old, for which Fox was accompanied by Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), who represents other men still held, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, and Abdelhadi Faraj, a Syrian prisoner.

At the time of his release, Zuhair was one of three hunger strikers who had been on a hunger strike since the summer of 2005, when as many as 200 prisoners engaged in prison-wide hunger strike, and had not given up when the first restraint chairs arrived at the prison in January 2006. Fox noted that he now weighs 190 pounds, but that, in December 2005, he weighed just 108 pounds, and, prior to his release, just 115 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Hunger Striker Abdelhadi Faraj Describes the Agony of Force-Feeding

Although I’ve been very busy for the last few months with a steady stream of articles about Guantánamo and the ongoing hunger strike, I haven’t been able to keep track of everything that has been made available. In terms of publicity, this is an improvement on the years before the hunger strike reminded the world’s media about the ongoing existence of the prison, when stories about Guantánamo often slowed to the merest of trickles, and everyone involved in campaigning to close the prison and to represent the men still held there was, I think it is fair to say, becoming despondent and exhausted.

However, it is also profoundly depressing that it took a prison-wide hunger strike to wake people up to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, where 86 cleared men are still held (cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force), and 80 others are, for the most part, held indefinitely without charge or trial. And it is just as depressing to note that, despite making a powerful speech eight weeks ago, and promising to resume releasing prisoners, President Obama has so far failed to release anyone.

With Ramadan underway, there has been a slight dip in the total number of prisoners on the hunger strike — 80, according to the US military, down from 106, although there has been a slight increase in the number of prisoners being force-fed — from 45 to 46. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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