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 »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).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.

 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Groundhog Day: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith Reports from Guantánamo After 70 Days of Trump’s Presidency

The concrete drums at Guantanamo featuring the words "Honor Bound", by the photographer Eugene Richards from a set of photos he took at Guantanamo in 2013.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.

Yesterday, March 30, marked 70 days since Donald Trump became president, and we hope you’ll join us in our photo campaign. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, we set up a page on the Close Guantánamo website featuring photos of supporters holding posters asking Donald Trump to close the prison, and, to join us, please print off a poster, take a photo with it, and send it to us.

Since Trump took office, there have been disturbing suggestions of new activities regarding Guantánamo, although nothing has yet come to fruition. A week after his inauguration, as I wrote about in an article entitled, Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”, a draft executive order was leaked, revealing that he intended not only to keep Guantánamo open, but also to send new prisoners there, and to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.”

Trump also intended to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites,” but immediately faced a huge backlash from the intelligence agencies, from lawmakers, and even from his own appointment as defense secretary, retired general James Mattis. In early February, another draft executive order was leaked, in which all mention of torture and “black sites” was dropped, and the focus shifted to a proposal to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Yemeni Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Did He Make the List of Prisoners Being Freed in the New Year?

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into 2017.

 

Just before Christmas, it was announced that Mohammed al-Ansi aka Muhammad al-Ansi (ISN 029), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, had been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. The decision made al-Ansi the 38th prisoner to be approved for release by a PRB, and the seventh to be approved for release not after a first review, but after a second review. The decision also means that, of the 59 men still held, 23 have been approved for release.

The PRBs — 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 — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and 64 men have had their cases reviewed, with just 26, to date, having their ongoing imprisonment upheld. That’s a success rate of 59% for the prisoners, which rather undermines the alleged basis of their ongoing imprisonment when the PRBs were set up.

41 of the 64 men had been described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, while the 23 other men had been recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Boards Approve Another Two Yemenis for Release from Guantánamo

Salman Rabei'i, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Attentive Guantánamo-watchers will recall that, in September, the first round of Periodic Review Boards was completed at Guantánamo, for prisoners assessed as being “too dangerous to release,” or as eligible for prosecution by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office for the first time in January 2009. For full details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

On both fronts, the decisions taken about these men back in 2009 were dubious. For those deemed “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, rather undermining the credibility of their assessment, because, if information cannot be produced at a trial, it is fundamentally unreliable and does not rise to the level of evidence — and with Guantánamo, of course, torture and abuse run through everything, distorting all manner of claims regarding the credibility of the US authorities’ information about the prisoners.

41 men put forward for the PRBs were regarded as “too dangerous to release,” while 23 others had been recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions at Guantánamo — in the much-criticized military commission system, dragged unwisely from the history books after 9/11 — largely collapsed as a result of a number of appeals court rulings, which overturned some of the few convictions secured in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men in question had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Ask Your MP to Tell Boris Johnson to Demand the Release of UK Citizen Andy Tsege, Kidnapped and on Death Row in Ethiopia

Andy Tsege, photographed with his family before he was kidnapped and illegally imprisoned by the Ethiopian government in 2014.Please ask your MP to demand action from Boris Johnson in demanding Andy Tsege’s release.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.

I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.

No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Money Exchanger Approved for Release from Guantánamo; Former Child Prisoner and Pakistani Have Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.

The PRBs — 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 — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.

The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Hunger Striking Pakistani Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2250) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 1, Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (also identified as Ahmad Rabbani, and known to the the US authorities as Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani), became the 63rd — and penultimate — prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. A long-term hunger striker, he was described as looking “frail” by Courthouse News, which also noted that he “has a long, thick black beard and wore a white covering on his head,”, and that, “Leaning forward with his arms folded on the table in front of him during the hearing, [he] seemed slight, especially when he raised his arm and the sleeve of the loose, white shirt he wore slid down his thin bicep.”

Seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002, with his brother Abdul Rahim, whose PRB took place on July 7, he was regarded as an al-Qaeda facilitator, and was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. The US still regards him as an al-Qaeda supporter, although his lawyers argue that he is a case of mistaken identity, and that he wishes only to be reunited with his family and live in peace.

The Periodic Review Boards, as I explained at the time of Abdul Rahim’s review, “were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as ‘too dangerous to release,’ despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.” Read the rest of this entry »

Algerian Approved for Release from Guantánamo, As Three Other Men Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Sufyian Barhoumi, in a photo taken at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available by his family.In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, in which prisoners recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a high-level task force six years ago are being given a parole-like opportunity to plead for their release. I’ll be writing about those reviews soon, but before I do so I’d like to sum up four other decisions taken over this same period —  one decision to approve a prisoner for release, and three others upholding prisoners’ ongoing detention. 62 reviews have now taken place, since the PRBs began in November 2013, and out of those reviews 33 men have been recommended for release, 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and ten decisions have yet to be taken. Two final reviews are taking place in the next two weeks.

The man whose release was approved is Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), an Algerian, born in July 1973, whose PRB took place on May 26. Seized in a house with the “high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah, whose review also took place recently, Barhoumi was alleged by the US authorities to have been a bomb-maker, and had been put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush, although the charges were later dropped.

For his PRB, however, his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights painted a compelling portrait of a ”natural diplomat,” popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.” 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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