The Stories of the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia

I wrote a version of the following article, under the heading, “Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia?” 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.

On Monday December 16, the Pentagon announced that two Guantánamo prisoners — Saad al-Qahtani and Hamoud al-Wady — had been released to Saudi Arabia over the weekend. In the Miami Herald, veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg noted that, ”according to government sources, the Saudi repatriations, carried out in a secret operation Saturday night, were voluntary.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for releasing these two men, as it shows a commitment to the promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo that President Obama made in May, after a two and a half year period in which just five prisoners were released, even though over half of the 160-plus prisoners held throughout this period were cleared for release in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. These releases bring the prison’s total population to 160 prisoners, of whom 80 have been cleared for release.

The release of prisoners had largely ground to a halt because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the Obama administration, requiring certifications to be made guaranteeing that no released prisoner would be able to take up arms or engage in terrorism against the US — promises that were extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. 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 »

Guantánamo Stories: 19 of the 43 Men Being Force-Fed in the Prison-Wide Hunger Strike

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This is my 2000th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator six years ago. Please donate to support my work if you appreciate what I do.

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo reaches its 128th day, we are still awaiting action from President Obama, who promised three weeks ago to resume the release of cleared prisoners (who make up 86 out of the remaining 166 prisoners), and to appoint new envoys in the State Department and the Pentagon to deal with the resettlement of prisoners.

In the meantime, conditions in Guantánamo are harsher than they have been at any time since President Obama took office, nearly four and a half years ago. Two months ago, the authorities staged a violent dawn raid on Camp 6, where the majority of the prisoners are held, and where they had been allowed to spend much of their time communally, and locked everyone up in solitary confinement.

Militarily, this may have restored order, but it has not broken the hunger strike, and morally and ethically it is a disgrace. The reason the men are on a hunger strike is not to inconvenience the guard force, but to protest about their ongoing imprisonment — in almost all cases without charge or trial, and literally with no end in sight, after their abandonment by all three branches of the US government. As a result, a lockdown, which involves isolating these men from one another while they starve themselves, and while many of them are force-fed, is the cruellest way to proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Season of Death at Guantánamo

Seven years ago, late in the evening on June 9, 2006, three prisoners — Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni, and Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, both Saudis — died at Guantánamo, in what was described by the authorities as a triple suicide, although that explanation seemed to be extremely dubious at the time, and has not become more convincing with the passage of time.

At the time, the prison’s commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., attracted widespread criticism by declaring that the deaths were an act of war. Speaking of the prisoners, he said, “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

I described the deaths in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul adman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May 30, 2007 (see here and here), and I wrote my first commemoration of the men’s deaths on the second anniversary of their supposed suicide, followed, in August 2008, with a skeptical analysis of the report of the deaths by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which took over two years to be made available.

The next year, 2009, the anniversary was overshadowed by the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih, another Yemeni.

I call this the season of death because all five men died in a two-week period at the end of May and the start of June, and to this day none of the deaths have been adequately explained. It is also, I believe, significant that all five men had been long-term hunger strikers. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering a Death at Guantánamo, Six Years Since I Began Writing About the Prison as an Independent Journalist

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Six years ago, on May 31, 2007, I posted the first article here in what has become, I believe, the most sustained and comprehensive analysis of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo that is available anywhere — and for which, I’m gratified to note, I was recently short-listed for this year’s Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In these six years, I have written — or cross-posted, with commentary — nearly 2,000 articles, and over 1,400 of these are about Guantánamo.

I had no idea it would turn out like this when I began writing articles about Guantánamo six years ago. I had just completed the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, which consumed the previous 14 months of my life, and which was published four months later, in September 2007.

I was wondering how to follow up on the fact that I had lived and breathed Guantánamo almost every waking hour over that 14-month period, as I distilled 8,000 pages of US government allegations and tribunal and review board transcripts, as well as media reports from 2001 to 2007, into a book that attempted, for the first time, to work out who the men held at Guantánamo were, to explain where and when they were seized, and also to explain why, objectively, it appeared that very few of them had any involvement whatsoever with international terrorism.

As I was wondering how to proceed, I received some shocking news. A Saudi at Guantánamo, a man named Abdul Rahman al-Amri, had died, reportedly by committing suicide. I knew this man’s story and decided to approach the Guardian, explaining who I was and why I felt qualified to comment, but when I was told that they weren’t interested, and would be getting the story from the Associated Press, I realized that the WordPress blog that my neighbour Josh had set up for me, initially to promote my books, provided me with the perfect opportunity to self-publish articles, and to see what would happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January 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.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free

On Friday, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force’s final report was issued in January 2010.

Until now, the government has always refused to release the names, hindering efforts by the prisoners’ lawyers — and other interested parties — to publicize their plight.

The rationale for this was explained by Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, in June 2009, when he stated that “indiscriminate public disclosure of the decisions resulting from reviews by Guantánamo Review Task Force will impair the US Government’s ability effectively to repatriate and resettle Guantánamo detainees” under the executive order establishing a review of the prisoners’ cases, which was issued on President Obama’s second day in office in January 2009, at the same time that he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri: The Torture Victim the US Is Desperate to Gag

A millionaire Saudi businessman accused of being the brains behind the terrorist attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is also a notorious victim of the torture program initiated by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.

No less a source than the CIA Inspector General noted in a report in 2004 on the “high-value detainee” interrogation program (PDF) that — while held in a secret facility in Poland after his capture in the United Arab Emirates in the fall of 2002 and his initial imprisonment in a CIA “black site” in Thailand — he was threatened with a gun and a power drill, while hooded and restrained, to scare him into talking, even though the federal torture statute prohibits threatening prisoners with imminent death. Moreover, in February 2008, then-CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that al-Nashiri was one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning.

In Poland, where al-Nashiri was moved in December 2002, he has been recognized by a prosecutor investigating the CIA’s secret prison on Polish soil as a “victim,” but in the US, since his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, he has been silenced, like the other 13 “high-value detainees” transferred with him, even though the Bush administration put him forward for a trial by military commission in July 2008, and the Obama administration followed suit in November 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Four of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed by 2013, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 34 of the 70-part series. 422 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released.

This, as I explained, was the period in which, after the prisoners won a spectacular victory in the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, when the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights (in other words, the right to ask an impartial judge why they were being held), lawyers were allowed to meet the prisoners for the first time, and the secrecy that was required for Guantánamo to function as an interrogation center beyond the law was finally broken. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Three of Ten)

Please support my work!

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed later this year, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 33 of the 70-part series. 411 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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