Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Guantánamo Hunger Striker for Ten Years, Is Approved for Release to Saudi Arabia

Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

I’m pleased to report that Abdul Rahman Shalabi (ISN 042), a Saudi at Guantánamo, who has, astonishingly, been on a hunger strike for ten years, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, which explained, in its final determination regarding Shalabi’s case, “The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRBs — which 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners who had neither been approved for release by the high-level, multi-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, nor had been put forward for trials.

Originally, there were 48 men in this category of prisoners neither approved for release nor for trials, but two died before the PRBs began. To these 46 were added 25 others, originally recommended for trials, until the trial system at Guantánamo began to unravel spectacularly, with a series of damning rulings, by judges in the generally quite conservative appeals court in Washington D.C. The D.C. Circuit Court judges established that what the government called war crimes were no such thing, and had been invented by Congress, thereby rendering the entire trial system of the “war on terror” to be only one notch up from useless and thoroughly discredited. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Season of Death at Guantánamo

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death on June 9, 2006.On June 9, Joseph Hickman, a former guard at Guantánamo, posted the following tweet: “9 years ago today I was at Guantánamo Bay. Three detainees were murdered while I was on duty. All should remember those three men today.”

It was a poignant message, and a reminder of how, at Guantánamo, the years may pass but the injustices — horrible injustices involving unexplained deaths, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial — remain or are inadequately addressed.

On June 9, 2006, as Joe Hickman pointed out, three prisoners died at Guantánamo — 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, another Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. The Bush administration claimed that they died in a suicide pact, by hanging themselves, but that always seemed unlikely. How were men who were scrutinized incessantly supposed to get the materials to hang themselves and then do so without anyone noticing? And could it really not be relevant that all three men had been long-term hunger strikers, and a thorn in the side of the authorities at Guantánamo?

I wrote regularly about the men who died in June 2006 — on the second anniversary of their death, when no one in the mainstream media noticed, and in August 2008, after an official and unsatisfactory statement based on the NCIS investigation of the men’s death was released  — and then, in January 2010, came a dark and powerful revelation: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides,'” an article in Harper’s Magazine by the law professor and journalist Scott Horton, based on interviews with former guards, including, in particular, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who had been in charge of the guard towers on the night the men died, and who swore that the official story could not have been true. My immediate response to Horton’s article is here. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Hunger Striker Since 2005, Asks Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

"Close Guantanamo": a campaigner holds a postcard promoting the "Close Guantanamo" campaign on January 11, 2012 in Washington D.C., the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.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 Tuesday, April 21, Abdul Rahman Shalabi became the 14th “forever prisoner” at Guantánamo to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs — which 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners who had neither been approved for release by the high-level, multi-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, nor had been put forward for trials.

At the time of the PRBs’ creation, 71 men were deemed to be eligible for reviews, but, according to my records, five of these men have been released, one other accepted a plea deal in the military commissions, and another was charged, leaving 50 more prisoners eligible for the process.

Progress has been slow, but, of the 13 cases so far decided, nine have ended with the boards approving the release of the prisoners in question, and just four have been approved for ongoing imprisonment. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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