With Donald Trump promising, in a draft executive order leaked to the New York Times, to keep Guantánamo open, to stop all releases until after a new review process has reported back to him, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” the last few days of the Obama administration now seem like ancient history, but it was just last Thursday — Obama’s last day in office — that the last four prisoners on his watch were released from Guantánamo, and sent to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The releases unfortunately leave five men approved for release still held at the prison, along with ten men facing (or having faced) trials, and 26 others eligible for ongoing Periodic Review Boards, unless Donald Trump scraps them. Three of the five approved for release had those decisions taken back in 2009, while the other two were approved for release last year, but it is worrying for all of them that Donald Trump has no interest in the fact that the decisions about them were taken unanimously by high-level US government review processes.
The fact that these five men approved for release are still held — and that 41 men in total are still at the prison — is a profound disappointment, to put it mildly, and Trump’s bellicose attitude already makes it apparent that President Obama’s failure to fulfill his promise to close Guantánamo once and for all cannot be considered an abstract failure, as it plays directly into Donald Trump’s hands. Had Obama prioritized closing Guantánamo much earlier in his presidency, and taken on Congress with the required forcefulness, it would have been closed, and Donald Trump would, I believe, have faced an impossible uphill struggle to reopen it.
So who are the four men who managed to escape from Guantánamo before Trump shut the prison door? Read the rest of this entry »
On September 9, as I reported at the time, the last of 64 Guantánamo prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board— Hassan bin Attash, who was just 17 when he was seized in September 2002 — had his case reviewed. A month later, a decision was taken in his case (to continue holding him), bringing the first round of the PRBs to an end, with two exceptions.
In the cases of two men whose cases were reviewed in April and May, the board members had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, and. for these two men, decisions were not reached until last week — November 21, to be exact. In the case of one man, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi, the board members approved his release, while in the case of the other man, Said Nashir, a Yemeni, a decision was taken to recommend his continued imprisonment.
The decisions mean that, of the remaining 60 prisoners, 21 have been recommended for release —seven by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the men he had inherited from George W. Bush, and 14 by the PRBs. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »
With just 168 days left for President Obama to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009, the reassuring news is that there are now just 76 men held, and 34 of those men have been approved for release. 13 of the 34 were approved for release in Obama’s first year in office, by an inter-agency task force he established to review the cases of all the prisoners held at the start of his presidency, while 21 others have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list here on the Close Guantánamo website.
The PRBs, another inter-agency process, but this time similar to parole boards, have been reviewing the cases of all the men who are not facing trials and who had not already been approved for release, and, to date, 56 reviews have taken place, with 32 men being approved for release (and eleven of those already freed), and 16 approved for ongoing imprisonment, while eight decisions have yet to be taken. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and ought to be a source of shame for the Obama administration’s task force, which described these men as “too dangerous to release” or recommended them for prosecution back in 2009.
In the cases of those described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but clearly failed to recognize that their recommendations were based on extreme, and, it turns out, unjustifiable caution. In the cases of those recommended for trials, embarrassingly, the basis for prosecution collapsed in 2012-13 when appeals court judges struck down some of the only convictions secured in the troubled military commission trial system on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place — the 48th and 49th — for the last Russian prisoner held at Guantánamo, Ravil Mingazov, and for Ghassan al-Sharbi, a Saudi. Both men were seized in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, on the day that Abu Zubaydah, regarded as a “high-value detainee,” was seized. The CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was initially developed for Zubaydah, who was regarded as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, even though it has since become apparent that he was not a member of Al-Qaeda, and had no prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.
Nevertheless, Abu Zubaydah remains hidden in Guantánamo, still not charged with a crime, and those seized on the same night as him — either in the same house, or in another house that the US government has worked hard to associate with him — have faced an uphill struggle trying to convince the authorities that they are not of any particular significance, and that it is safe for them to be released.
In May, three men seized in the house with Abu Zubaydah, Jabran Al Qahtani (ISN 696), a Saudi, Saeed Bakhouche aka Abdelrazak Ali (ISN 685), an Algerian, and Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), another Algerian, all had reviews, although no decisions have yet been taken about whether or not they should be released. Ghassan al-Sharbi (ISN 682) is another of the men seized with Zubaydah, and his review took place last Thursday (June 23), although he did not attend this hearing, or cooperate with the military personnel assigned to help him prepare for it, so it is certain that he will not be approved for release. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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.
Last week, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?
The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.
It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi national, became the 39th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo.
Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who were not facing trials (just ten men) or the rather larger group of men who had already been approved for release by the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, the PRBs 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, and, since January 2014, they have approved 22 men for release and have defended the ongoing imprisonment of just seven men, a success rate for the prisoners of 76%.
The results are a damning verdict on the task force’s decision to describe 41 men facing PRBs as “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force members also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, it was not evidence, but unreliable information extracted from prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — including the CIA’s “black sites” — through the use of torture, other forms of abuse or bribery (with better living conditions, for example). It has also become apparent that another reason some prisoners were described as “too dangerous to release” was because the authorities regarded them as having a threatening attitude towards the US, even though it is, to my mind, understandable that some men confronted with long years of abusive and generally lawless detention might react with anti-social behavior and threats. Read the rest of this entry »
For Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, who turned 40 at the prison in 2015, there is finally justice, as he was released on Friday January 10 and sent back home, over 14 years after he was first seized in Afghanistan, where, he always maintained, he had traveled to engage in humanitarian aid work.
Fayiz’s release, and that of another prisoner, a Saudi, appears to provide a demonstration of President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, as four men have now been freed in the last few days, and 13 more releases are expected soon. Without a doubt, it also provides further vindication that the Periodic Review Board process at Guantánamo — established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials — is working. in the cases of both men, they were recommended for continued imprisonment after PRBs, but were then reviewed again, when they both worked harder to convince the boards that they pose no threat and want only to rebuild their lives in peace — as, it should be noted, do most of the 103 men still held.
Of the 18 cases so far decided in PRBs, 15 have ended with recommendation for the release of the prisoners — a great result when all were previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” — although the process is moving far too slowly. Those 18 cases took over two years, and 42 other men are awaiting reviews, which will not be completed until 2020 at the current pace. If President Obama is serious about closing Guantánamo, he needs to find a way to speed up the process considerably in his last 12 months in office. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday (September 22), the US authorities reduced the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay to 114 by releasing Abdul Rahman Shalabi, the prison’s most enduring hunger striker, who had been on a hunger strike for over ten years.
As I explained in an article in October 2010, he “weighed 124 pounds when he arrived at Guantánamo in January 2002,” but “rarely weighed more than 110 pounds [after] he began his hunger strike in August 2005, as part of the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history. At one point, in November 2005, he weighed just 100 pounds (PDF) … In September 2009, after four years of being force-fed daily, Shalabi weighed just 108 pounds, and wrote a distressing letter to his lawyers, in which he stated, ‘I am a human who is being treated like an animal.’ In November 2009, when his letter was included in a court submission, one of his lawyers, Julia Tarver Mason, stated, ‘He’s two pounds away from organ failure and death.'”
Shalabi, who is 39 years old, spent a third of his life at Guantánamo, and was one of 48 prisoners designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, whose remit was to recommend prisoners for release or for trial. In the end, the task force decided that 48 men were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. This was deeply problematical, because it meant that the evidence was no such thing — and was, for example, a collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, bribery (the promise of “comfort items” and better living conditions) or exhaustion as the result of never-ending interrogations. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Since November 2013, 17 prisoners at Guantánamo have had their cases reviewed by Periodic Review Boards, panels 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 review boards are — albeit slowly — examining the cases of all the men still held who are not facing (or have faced) trials (ten of the 116 men still held) or who have not already been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 (44 of those still held).
Of these 17 men, ten have been approved for release (and two have been freed), while four others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved, on the basis that “continued law of war detention … remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Three other decisions have yet to be taken, and 47 other men are still awaiting reviews.
In recent weeks, reviews have also taken place for two of the four men whose review boards concluded that they should continue to be held — Fayiz al-Kandari (aka Faez, Fayez), the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last July, and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Shumrani (aka al-Shamrani, al-Shimrani), a Saudi whose ongoing imprisonment was approved last October. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m just back from a fortnight’s family holiday in Turkey (in Bodrum and Dalyan, for those interested in this wonderful country, with its great hospitality, history and sights), and catching up on what I missed, with relation to Guantánamo, while I was away. My apologies if any of you were confused by my sudden disappearance. I was working so hard up until my departure that I didn’t have time to put up an “on holiday” sign here before heading off.
Those of you who are my friends on Facebook or who follow me there will know that I managed to leave a brief message there, announcing my intention to be offline for most of the two-week period — and encouraging you all to take time off from the internet and your mobile devices for the sake of your health!). While away, my Facebook friends will also know that I touched on one of the most significant Guantánamo stories to take place during my absence — the disgraceful revelation that, despite having been approved for release in 2010 by a thorough, multi-agency US government review process (the Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009), Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is still being held because of obstruction by the Pentagon, and, moreover, that the Pentagon has specifically been blocking his release since October 2013.
The story appeared in the Guardian on August 13, following a Washington Post article three days earlier, in which, during a discussion about the Obama administration’s quest for a prison on the US mainland that could be used to hold Guantánamo prisoners, it was noted that, in a meeting last month with President Obama’s top national security officials, defense secretary Ashton Carter “indicated he was inclined to transfer Shaker Aamer.” By law, the defense secretary must certify that steps have been taken to mitigate any possible risk posed by released prisoners, and provide Congress with 30 days’ notice of any planned releases. 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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