Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security

Four prisoners released from Guantanamo who have ended up in very different circumstances following the closure by Donald Trump of the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Clockwise from top left: Abu Wa'el Dhiab, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi and Ravil Mingazov.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners Endangers U.S. National Security,” 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 presence of Donald Trump in the White House has been an unmitigated disaster for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and any notion of justice regarding those held there, or, indeed, those freed from the prison over the years.

For Trump, the notion that there might be anything wrong — or un-American — about imprisoning people forever without any meaningful form of due process clearly doesn’t exist. Since he took office nearly two years ago, only one prisoner has been released, out of the 41 men still held at the prison when Obama took office; and that man, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi, was only released, and transferred to ongoing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, because of a plea deal he agreed to in his military commission trial proceedings back in 2014.

Trump, clearly, has no desire to meaningfully continue the parole-type process — the Periodic Review Boards — that Barack Obama initiated to release lower-level prisoners who could demonstrate that they didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. Indeed, his contempt for the process is such that he has shut down any possibility of the two men whose release was approved by Obama’s PRBs, but who didn’t get released before Obama left office, being freed by shutting down the State Department office that dealt with resettlements — the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. Read the rest of this entry »

With Transfer of Ahmed Al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, Guantánamo’s Population Drops to 40; No New Arrivals on Horizon

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

So there was good news on Wednesday, when the Pentagon announced that Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi citizen in Guantánamo, had been repatriated, to serve out the rest of a 13-year sentence that he was given as the result of a plea deal that he agreed in his trial by military commission in February 2014.

Under the terms of that plea deal, al-Darbi acknowledged his role in an-Qaeda attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen’s coast in 2002, and was required to testify against other prisoners at Guantánamo as part of their military commission trials, which he did last summer, and was supposed to be released on February 20 this year.

However, February 20 came and went, and al-Darbi wasn’t released, a situation that threatened to undermine the credibility of the military commission plea deals. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers for Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Urge Court to Enable Mental Health Assessment and Possible Repatriation to Saudi Arabia

Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Last Thursday, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani, the only prisoner at Guantánamo whose torture was admitted by a senior official in the George W. Bush administration, urged Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District Court in Washington, D.C. to order the government “to ask for his current condition to be formally examined by a mixed medical commission, a group of neutral doctors intended to evaluate prisoners of war for repatriation,” as Murtaza Hussain reported for the Intercept. He added that the commission “could potentially order the government to release him from custody and return him home to Saudi Arabia, based on their evaluation of his mental and physical state.”

A horrendous torture program, approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was developed for al-Qahtani after it was discovered that he was apparently intended to have been the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks. As Hussain stated, court documents from his case state that he was subject to “solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding.” On two occasions he was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate. The log of that torture is here, and as Hussain also explained, “The torture that Qahtani experienced at Guantánamo also exacerbated serious pre-existing mental illnesses that he suffered as a youth in Saudi Arabia — conditions so severe that he was committed to a mental health facility there in 2000, at the age of 21.”

The high-level acknowledgement of al-Qahtani’s torture, mentioned above, came just before George W. Bush left office, when Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, told Bob Woodward, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” She was explaining why she had refused to refer his case for prosecution. Read the rest of this entry »

As Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Disappear in Libya After Repatriation from Asylum in Senegal, There Are Fears for 150 Others Resettled in Third Countries

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Congratulations to the New York Times for not giving up on the story of the two former Guantánamo prisoners who were recently repatriated to Libya despite having been given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, on the understanding that they would not be sent back to Libya, as it was unsafe for them. The story is particularly significant from a US perspective, because of the role played — or not played — by the State Department, which, under President Obama, facilitated the resettlement of the men, and many others, and, in general, also kept an eye on them after their release.

The story first emerged three weeks ago, when I was told about it by former prisoner Omar Deghayes, and the Intercept published an article. My article is here. A week later, the New York Times picked up on the story, reporting, as Omar Deghayes also confirmed to me, that one of the two men, Salem Ghereby (aka Gherebi) had voluntarily returned to Libya, as he desperately wanted to be united with his wife and children, and because he hoped that his connections in the country would prevent him from coming to any harm. My second article is here.

Unfortunately, on his return, Salem Ghereby was imprisoned at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, where human rights abuses have been widely reported, and the British NGO CAGE then reported that the other Libyan, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), who didn’t want to be repatriated, had also been sent back to Libya, where he too was imprisoned at the airport. I wrote about that here, and then exclusively published Salem Gherebi’s letter explaining why he had chosen to be repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on Senegal’s Dire Determination to Send Back to Libya Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Granted Humanitarian Asylum in 2016

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Last week, I published an article, Betrayal: Senegal Prepares to Send Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Back to Libya, Where They Face Imprisonment, Torture and Even Execution, looking at the terrible news that two Libyan nationals were being threatened with deportation to Libya. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), were given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, on the understanding, agreed with the US State Department, that it was permanent, and that they would not, under any circumstances, be returned to Libya, where the security situation was so fraught that it was not possible to guarantee their safety as former Guantánamo prisoners tainted, unfairly, with the stamp of terrorism.

When I published my article, the Senegalese government’s threat was to send the two men back to Libya on April 3, and there were hopes that criticism might stop the plans from going ahead. However, on April 4, the Guantánamo Justice Centre, set up by former prisoners, posted the following update: “Regarding the situation of Omar and Salem previously given refuge in Senegal, we regret to report that eye witnesses have said one of the Guantánamo survivors was transferred today to Tripoli Mitiga Airport.”

On April 5, the New York Times picked up the story. On the ground in Senegal, Dionne Searcey confirmed that Khalifa had “disappeared from his once-guarded apartment in Dakar that now appears abandoned.” The Times added that the Senegalese government had said that Khalifa, identified as Awad Khalifa, “was not being deported.” However, neighbors said Khalifa and Salem Ghereby “were taken away on Tuesday afternoon.” The Times also explained that, hours earlier, “they had told a New York Times reporter visiting the apartment” — Dionne Searcey, presumably — “that they had received handwritten notices that they would be sent to Libya.” Read the rest of this entry »

Betrayal: Senegal Prepares to Send Two Former Guantánamo Prisoners Back to Libya, Where They Face Imprisonment, Torture and Even Execution

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who are now threatened with being sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Dreadful news from Senegal, where two former Guantánamo prisoners, both from Libya, have been told that their resettlement in the country in April 2016, which they had been led to believe was permanent, is to be brought to a sudden end tomorrow, with their unwilling — and potentially fatal — repatriation to Libya.

For the Intercept, Murtaza Hussain and Glenn Greenwald reported the story on Saturday night, focusing on the story of one of the men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), whose release in Senegal was “the by-product of a deal negotiated by his attorneys with the U.S. government.” His lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, a professor at CUNY School of Law in New York, told the Intercept that the agreement “expressly guaranteed that the Libyan would have the right to permanently settle in Senegal and rebuild his life there, rather than be returned to war-torn Libya.”

As the Intercept explained, “In addition to the deteriorating security situation in his home country, Khalifa’s status as a former Guantánamo detainee as well as his tribal background meant that being sent back to his country of origin would mean an almost certain death sentence.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi: Still Held, the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Was Supposed to Have Been Sent Home Two Weeks Ago

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

On Friday, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, publicly criticized his government for failing to secure his release from the prison on February 20. The  release date had been agreed last October as part of a plea deal he had initially agreed to in February 2014.

In what the New York Times described as “an unusual statement” conveyed through his lawyer, he said, “It’s shameful. Unlike other countries, the Saudi government never even provided me with an attorney all these years.” He added, “And now my own government is an obstacle to my repatriation. What kind of country abandons its citizens in the custody of another government for 16 years? My country won’t take a step that was agreed on four years ago so that I can finally go home. It’s been my daily dream for four years to see my wife and children.”

Under the terms of his plea deal, al-Darbi admitted that he played a part in a 2002 attack by Al-Qaeda on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the Yemeni coast, in exchange for a promise that he would be repatriated, after cooperating further with the US, to serve out the rest of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. As I explained in October, when he was given a 13-year sentence, his sentencing didn’t take place before “because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook [last] summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.” Read the rest of this entry »

Curator of Guantánamo Art Show Responds to Authorities’ Threats to Burn Prisoners’ Work: “Art Censorship and Destruction Are Tactics of Terrorist Regimes, Not US Military”

"Shipwreck," a 2011 painting by Djamel Ameziane, a Guantanamo prisoner released in 2013.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Stung by criticism of its paranoid and heavy-handed approach to Guantánamo prisoners’ art, the Pentagon now seems to be involved in a rearguard damage limitation exercise, but it may be too late.

Last week, as I explained here, the Miami Herald reported that “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” a show of prisoners’ art in New York, featuring 36 works by eight prisoners, four of whom are still held, had led the US military to say that it would be stopping prisoners from keeping any artwork they have made, and to threaten to burn it, prompting widespread criticism.

In a powerful op-ed in the New York Times, which I’m cross-posting below, Erin Thompson, a professor of art crime and one of the curators of the show at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “Art censorship and destruction are tactics fit for terrorist regimes, not for the US military. The art poses no security threat: It is screened by experts who study the material for secret messages before it leaves the camp, and no art by current prisoners can be sold. Guantánamo detainees deserve basic human rights as they await trial. Taking away ownership of their art is both incredibly petty and utterly cruel.” Read the rest of this entry »

Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture

"Empty glassware" (2015) by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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 (as “The Persistent Abuse of Guantánamo Prisoners: Pentagon Claims It Owns Their Art and May Destroy It, But U.S. Has Long Claimed It Even Owns Their Memories of Torture“) 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.

After years of letting Guantánamo prisoners keep the artwork they have made at the prison, subject to security screening, the Pentagon has suddenly secured widespread condemnation for banning its release, and, it is alleged by one of prisoners’ attorneys, for planning to burn it.

The story was first reported on November 16 by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and updated on November 20. Rosenberg explained how, for years, prisoners’ art had been released “after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.”

However, as Rosenberg explained, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition in the President’s Gallery of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice until January 16, 2018, which features “paintings and other works by current and former captives” — and “which garnered international press coverage” — “apparently caught the attention of the Department of Defense,” because of an email address provided for people “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” 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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