Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

More Farcical Proceedings at the Military Commissions 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.

Last week I published “The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues,” the first of two articles providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo.

The commissions were established under President George W. Bush in November 2001, were ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, revived by Congress in the fall of 2006, suspended by President Obama in January 2009, and revived again by Congress in the fall of 2009, but they have always struggled to establish any credibility, and should not have been revived by the Obama administration.

Last week’s article, as the title indicates, covered developments — or the lack of them — in pre-trial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, who were held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for years before their arrival in Guantánamo in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Prisoner Muhammad Al-Zahrani Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

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.

Last week, largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) took place — at a military location in Virginia — for Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, one of the last Saudi nationals held in the prison, who joined the board — and was visible to the handful of media representatives in attendance — via video link from Guantánamo. 44 or 45 years old, he was seized in a house raid in Lahore, Pakistan, at the end of March 2002.

The PRBs — which involve 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 established last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial — or for trials that were later dropped — in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009.

Those prisoners who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial had those designations made on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — highlighting, to acute observers, that there are fundamental problems with the so-called evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Board Approves “Forever Prisoner” Ghaleb Al-Bihani for Release from Guantánamo, But Also Approves Ongoing Detention of Salem Bin Kanad

Six weeks ago, I reported on the Periodic Review Boards for two “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo — Ghaleb al-Bihani and Salem bin Kanad — who are both Yemenis, and were regarded by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama to review all the remaining prisoners’ cases in 2009, as too dangerous to release, even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

The PRBs — involving 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by, or on behalf of the prisoners by video link from Guantánamo — took place to establish whether these two men should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

This category of prisoner — as opposed to those approved for release, or those recommended for prosecution — is particularly problematical, as it relies on a presumption that the so-called evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners is somehow reliable, when that is patently not the case. The files on the prisoners are for the most part a dispiriting collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — immediately after capture, in America’s notorious prisons in Afghanistan, or in Guantánamo, all places and circumstances where torture and abuse were rife; or, in some cases, where bribery (the promise of better living conditions, for example) was used to try to secure information that could be used as evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding

Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Prisoner Refuses to Attend His Periodic Review at Guantánamo, Complains About Intrusive Body Searches

On Monday, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani, refused to attend his Periodic Review Board, convened to assess whether he should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether he should be recommended for release. He refused to attend for a reason that his personal representatives — two US military officers appointed to represent him — described as “very personal and tied to his strong cultural beliefs.” The representatives explained that he “has consistently stated his objection to the body search required to be conducted prior to his attendance at legal meetings or other appointments,” adding that he regards “the body search as conducted, which requires the guard to touch the area near his genitals,” as “humiliating and degrading.” The representatives stressed, however, that his refusal to attend, because of his problems with the body search, does “not imply an unwillingness to cooperate.”

The PRBs were set up last year to review the cases of 71 of the remaining 154 prisoners. 46 of these men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review all the prisoner’s cases shortly after he took office in 2009.

The task force issued its report recommending prisoners for release, prosecution or ongoing imprisonment in January 2010, and in March 2011 President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of the 46 men, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (3/3): Salem Bin Kanad, from Riyadh, Refuses to Take Part in a System That Appears Increasingly Flawed

This article, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Salem bin Kanad, a prisoner held at Guantánamo since January 20, 2002, is the last of three providing updates about developments in the Periodic Review Boards, a system put in place last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners (out of the 154 men still held), who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, or designated for trials that will not now take place. The original recommendations were included in a report that was issued in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama had appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office in January 2009.

The task force recommended 48 men for indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though it was conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which means, of course, that the so-called “evidence” is no such thing. In March 2011, President Obama responded to the task force’s recommendations by issuing an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, although he did promise that the men would receive periodic reviews to establish whether they should still be regarded as a threat.

Disgracefully, the Periodic Review Boards did not begin until last November, after two of the 48 “forever prisoners” had died, and 25 other men had been added to the list of prisoners eligible to take part in them — men who, although recommended for trials, will not now be prosecuted, after appeals court judges overturned two of the only convictions in the military commissions at Guantánamo, on the basis that the war crimes of which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. The boards consist 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, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by video link from Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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