Last week, Haroon al-Afghani, who is around 35 years old and was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, became the 46th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. This latest of many review processes at Guantánamo began in November 2013 to provide reviews akin to parole boards for 71 men — 46 described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and 25 others recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed in 2012-13, after appeals court judges threw out a number of convictions on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been sentenced were not legitimate war crimes, and had been invented by Congress.
By the time the PRBs began, seven men had been removed from consideration — five “forever prisoners” were freed in a prisoner exchange, and two men initially recommended for prosecutions agreed to plea deals in the military commissions. Of the 64 remaining prisoners eligible for PRBs, 35 decisions have so far been taken — and 24 of those decisions have been recommendations for release, demonstrating, if any proof were needed, that the task force’s assessments of the men back in 2010 were unacceptably exaggerated.
Al-Afghani was one of the men recommended for prosecution by the task force in 2010, but in truth there never seemed to have been a viable war crimes case against him. Although the Pentagon described him, when he arrived at Guantánamo, as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who was “known to be associated with high-level militants in Afghanistan,” and had apparently “admitted to serving as a courier for al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL),” it seemed more probable that he had been part of a militia that, although opposed to the US, was not something to genuinely consider in anything other than a military context. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the number of men held at Guantánamo, via Periodic Review Boards, continued with two more reviews. The PRBs were established in 2013 to review the cases of 41 men regarded as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others recommended for prosecution, and were moving with glacial slowness until this year, when, realizing that time was running out, President Obama and his officials took steps to speed up the process.
35 cases have, to date, been decided by the PRBs, and in 24 of those cases, the board members have recommended the men for release, while upholding the detention of 11 others. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 69%, rather undermining the claims, made in 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, that the men described as “too dangerous to release” deserved that designation, even though the task force had conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put the men on trial.
In fact that description — “too dangerous to release” — has severely unravelled under the scrutiny of the PRBs, as 22 of those recommended for release had been placed in that category by the task force. The task force was rather more successful with its decisions regarding the alleged threat posed by those it thought should be prosecuted, as five of the eleven recommended of ongoing imprisonment had initially been recommended for prosecution by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.
Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009, and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Finally freed from prison in Morocco on February 11, 149 days after he was released from Guantánamo, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) spoke to the Associated Press last week on the terrace of a cafe in his hometown, Safi, with his younger brother Ridouane, who was freed from Guantánamo in 2004.
I have been covering Younous’s story for many years, as I recognized in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, that he strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised, and in the years that followed nothing deterred me from this opinion, as I found out that Younous was one of the best-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and was also a Sufi Muslim, “whose form of religion,” as the AP described it, accurately, “is viewed with suspicion by extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.” See my archive of articles about Younous here and here.
In its interview last week, the AP noted that, according to unclassified US military documents provided by Younous’s lawyers at the London-based legal organization Reprieve, and submitted to the US authorities as part of Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings, “he suffered serious abuse at the hands of the United States, in detention in Afghanistan,” part of which “involved threats made against his younger brother, Ridouane.” Read the rest of this entry »
Great news from the legal organization Reprieve, whose lawyers represent men held at Guantánamo Bay, as one of their clients, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), has finally been freed to be reunited with his family, 149 days after he was flown home to Morocco from Guantánamo. Younous was imprisoned on his arrival, despite assurances, made to the US by the Moroccan government, that he would be held no more than 72 hours, and it has taken until now for him to finally be granted the freedom that has eluded him since he was first seized in Afghanistan over 14 years ago.
Six years before his release, Younous was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and in 2010, during habeas corpus proceedings, the US government admitted, as Reprieve described it this evening in a press release, that “their central allegation against him — believed to be the reason for his detention in Morocco — was based on unreliable information extracted primarily through torture.” That information related to his alleged membership in a terrorist organisation, a claim that, it is clear, was absolutely groundless. In October last year, while Younous was imprisoned in Morocco, the US Department of Justice “released a letter publicly conceding this point,” as Reprieve put it, and as I also discussed in an article at the time, Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011.
My other articles following Younous’s release from Guantánamo, discussing his disgraceful imprisonment in Morocco, were Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Released in Morocco But Held Incommunicado in a Secret Location (immediately after his release), Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless? (in October), Moroccan Released from Guantánamo Facing Kangaroo Court Trial Back Home As Wife Says She Is “Still Living a Nightmare” (in November), and, last month, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Illegally Imprisoned in Morocco; As Murat Kurnaz Calls for His Release, Please Ask John Kerry to Act, in which, as noted in the title, I helped promote an email campaign launched by Reprieve, asking the US Secretary of State John Kerry to keep up the pressure on the Moroccan government. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
As the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 15th year of operations, President Obama has been busy attempting to show that, with just one year left in office, he is determined to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009, when he promised to close it within a year. Last month, we heard that 17 men would be released in January, and the releases began just days before the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison with the release of two Yemenis in Ghana and the return to Kuwait of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison. On the actual anniversary, a Saudi was returned home, and two days after the anniversary ten more Yemenis were released in Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, to add to the ten Yemenis sent to Oman last year.
David Remes, who represents three of the men sent to Oman, said it was “a particularly good fit for them,” as the New York Times described it. “I’m sure that they are ecstatic just leaving Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s even better than that. They’ve been sent to Oman, an Arab country, whose language, culture and religion are their own. Oman is also one of Yemen’s neighbors, so their families will be able to visit them often.”
Three more releases — of unidentified prisoners to unidentified countries — are expected soon, and, after the release of the ten men to Oman, Lee Wolosky, the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, said, “We expect to be in a position to empty Guantánamo of all detainees who are currently approved for transfer by this summer.” Including the three men who are expected to be freed soon, Wolosky’s description currently applies to 34 of the 93 men still held — 25 since January 2010, who were approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and nine in the last two years, by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »
Three and a half months ago, in September 2015, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years, was repatriated. As his lawyers, at the London-based legal charity Reprieve noted, he was “unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense” in 2009, and yet it took another six years to secure his release.
Significantly, his return to Morocco — where he had previously feared being repatriated because of human rights concerns — only took place because the US authorities were told that the Moroccan government accepted that there was no case against Younous.
However, on his return, as I noted at the time, he was imprisoned. I followed up on that story in October, in two articles, “Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?” and “Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011,” and again in November, when his wife Abla wrote an article for Newsweek, in which she asked John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, to intervene. “Secretary Kerry, I am asking one thing of you,” she wrote. “Hold the Moroccan government to its promises. Please get them to release my husband from prison. After 14 years of injustice, I just want this nightmare to end. I just want Younous back by my side.” Read the rest of this entry »
Since Shaker Aamer returned to the UK from Guantánamo last Friday, much has been written — most of it, I’m glad to say, positive about a man so evidently wronged; held for nearly 14 years without charge or trial, and approved for release twice, under George W. Bush in 2007, and Barack Obama in 2009.
When Shaker returned — in part, I’m prepared to accept, because of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I conceived and ran with Joanne MacInnes — I wrote an article that was widely liked and shared and commented on, publicized the gracious comment Shaker made on his return, posted a photo of myself holding a “Welcome Home Shaker” card that reached over 20,000 people, and made a number of TV and radio appearances during a brief media frenzy that coincided with the long-overdue news of Shaker’s release.
It was so busy that I haven’t had time to thank the supporters who made such a big difference — John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor, who set up the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group and was its co-chair, the Conservative MP David Davis, the other co-chair, and his colleague Andrew Mitchell, Jeremy Corbyn (now the Leader of the Labour Party), and Andy Slaughter (the Labour MP for Hammersmith), who, with David Davis, visited Washington D.C. in May to call for Shaker’s release. Also noteworthy for her contribution over many years is Caroline Lucas, our sole Green MP. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disturbing farce. Seven weeks ago, on September 17, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan prisoner at Guantánamo, approved for release since 2009, was repatriated, but as I explained at the time, from the beginning there were fears that the diplomatic assurances agreed by the US with Morocco were being ignored, as Younous was imprisoned on his return. 47 years old, he left Morocco at the age of 22, living in Pakistan, Yemen and Syria, and ending up in Afghanistan, where he worked for a charity that helped young Moroccans, and lived with his wife Abla.
As his lawyers, at Reprieve, described it at the time, he was “unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense — in 2009,” a decision that involved the conclusion that he “posed no threat whatsoever to either the US or its allies.”
Cori Crider, Reprieve’s strategic director and his lawyer, added, “There is no reason for the Moroccan authorities to prolong Younous’ detention after all he has suffered over 14 years.” Read the rest of this entry »
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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