Trapped in Guantánamo: Haroon Gul, a Case of Mistaken Identity Silenced By Donald Trump

Guantanamo prisoner Haroon Gul photographed before his capture. Photo provided by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

To Donald Trump, with his simplistic and wrong-headed approach to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, none of the 41 men still held should ever be released, and, if he were to get his way, new prisoners would be added to the prison’s population.

Blinded by a deep-seated racism, and supported by officials and lawmakers who continue to be driven by a ferocious spirit of vengeance, 16 and a half years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Trump fails to understand that most of the men held at Guantánamo are not, and never were “the worst of the worst,” and fails to understand that holding anyone indefinitely without charge or trial, as it the case for the majority of the prisoners, is a fundamental and profound betrayal of the respect for the rule of law that was supposed to underpin the very creation of the United States of America, 242 years ago this July.

Of the 41 men still held, just seven are facing trials — or, to be more accurate, are caught up in seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings, with one having recently had his trial indefinitely halted by his judge — and with one other man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, having been convicted in 2008 (although most elements of his conviction have since been overturned). Two others have agreed to plea deals, one of whom was supposed to have been repatriated to continuing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia last month.  Read the rest of this entry »

Reviewing the Guantánamo Art Show in New York That Dared to Show Prisoners As Human Beings, and Led to a Pentagon Clampdown

Artwork by former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, shown in 'Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay', an exhibition in New York. This is a screenshot of the home page of the website.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

Back in November, a disturbing story emerged from Guantánamo — of how a ten-year policy of allowing prisoners to give away art they have made at the prison to their lawyers and, via them, to family members had been stopped by the authorities, in response to an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, which is known for its criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, and public affairs programs.

The Pentagon had taken exception to an email address provided for people who were “interested in purchasing art” from the artists featured in the show. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said on November 15 that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.’”

One problem with this position was that some of the art was by prisoners who are no longer at the prison,which surely raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon’s claimed “ownership” of their work, but the Department of Defense wasn’t interested in having that pointed out. Instead, a spokeswoman at the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” and Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents Guantánamo prisoners, said that one particular prisoner had been told that, if any prisoner were to be allowed to leave Guantánamo (which, crucially, has not happened under Donald Trump), “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Good News: Court Orders Trump Administration to Explain Its Position on Guantánamo After A Year of Shocking Inaction

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 11, 2002.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Two and a half weeks ago, on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 men still held at Guantánamo, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and other legal firms, filed a habeas corpus lawsuit with the District Court in Washington, D.C., in which, as I explained in an article at the time, drawing on a CCR press release:

[I]t “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

Read the rest of this entry »

As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention

After launching the new lawsuit against Donald Trump, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights came to the White House to join the annual protest against Guantanamo's continued existence (on the left, legal director Baher Azmy, and on the right, Omar Farah and Pardiss Kebriaei. In the center is Advocacy Program Manager Aliya Hussain (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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, including my current visit to the US.

 

January 11 was the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo, and as campaigners (myself included) were making their way to the White House to prepare for the annual protest against the prison’s continued existence — the first under Donald Trump — and, in my case, to launch the new poster campaign counting how many days Guantánamo has been open, and urging Donald Trump to close it, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve were launching a new lawsuit at the National Press Club prior to joining the protesters.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of eleven prisoners, and, as CCR’s press release states, it “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer: It is “Entirely Unprecedented” for Trump to “Take the Position That There Will Be No Transfers out of Guantánamo Without Regard to the Facts”

Abdul Latif Nasser and Sufyian Barhoumi, two of the five prisoners still held at Guantanamo who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Just before Christmas, in an article entitled, “Men due to leave Gitmo under Obama seem stuck under Trump,” the Associated Press shone a light on the plight of five men approved for release from Guantánamo by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who were not released before Donald Trump took office. I wrote about these men for Al-Jazeera in June, in an article entitled, “Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo,” but it was excellent to see an update from the AP, because there has been no progress from Trump, who, while not following up on his ill-considered urges to expand the use of the prison, has effectively sealed it shut, showing no sign that he has any desire to follow up on the decisions to release these five men by freeing them.

In my article in June, I focused in particular on the case of Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan prisoner who was approved for release in July 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process set up in 2013 by President Obama to assess the cases of men previously regarded as legitimate candidates for indefinite detention without charge or trial. They had been regarded as “too dangerous to release” by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which met once a week throughout 2009, although the officials responsible for the PRBs also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, a tacit admission that the evidence itself was profoundly untrustworthy. This was definitively established by the PRB process between 2013 and 2016, when 64 men had their cases reviewed, 38 were approved for release, and all but Nasser, and an Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, were freed.

As I explained in my article in June, Nasser missed being released by just eight days, because the Moroccan government only notified the US that it would accept his repatriation on December 28, 2006, 22 days before Obama left office, but 30 days’ notification is required by Congress before any prisoner can be freed. Read the rest of this entry »

Curator of Guantánamo Art Show Responds to Authorities’ Threats to Burn Prisoners’ Work: “Art Censorship and Destruction Are Tactics of Terrorist Regimes, Not US Military”

"Shipwreck," a 2011 painting by Djamel Ameziane, a Guantanamo prisoner released in 2013.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Stung by criticism of its paranoid and heavy-handed approach to Guantánamo prisoners’ art, the Pentagon now seems to be involved in a rearguard damage limitation exercise, but it may be too late.

Last week, as I explained here, the Miami Herald reported that “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” a show of prisoners’ art in New York, featuring 36 works by eight prisoners, four of whom are still held, had led the US military to say that it would be stopping prisoners from keeping any artwork they have made, and to threaten to burn it, prompting widespread criticism.

In a powerful op-ed in the New York Times, which I’m cross-posting below, Erin Thompson, a professor of art crime and one of the curators of the show at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “Art censorship and destruction are tactics fit for terrorist regimes, not for the US military. The art poses no security threat: It is screened by experts who study the material for secret messages before it leaves the camp, and no art by current prisoners can be sold. Guantánamo detainees deserve basic human rights as they await trial. Taking away ownership of their art is both incredibly petty and utterly cruel.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner Calls Conditions “Hell,” Says, “We Are Getting Collective Punishment Because of the Hunger Strike”

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha in an updated photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and provided to his family, who made it public.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

The horrors of Guantánamo — ever present in a prison where men have been held for nearly 16 years without ever being charged with a crime, and with no notion of when, if ever, they will get to leave — seem to be being ramped up under Donald Trump, as we might have suspected from his aggressive stance towards the prison and the men held there, even before he took office in January, and from witnessing his racism, and glimpsing the violence that permanently seems to lurk beneath his blubbery exterior.

Despite threats to send new prisoners to Guantánamo — threats which have not, mercifully, transpired — Trump did nothing in his first eight months regarding the prison except shutting the door on it and refusing to contemplate releasing anyone, even the five men — out of the 41 still held — who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

Two months ago, however, according to hunger striking prisoners, whose story I reported before the mainstream media took an interest, Trump finally made his influence felt, changing the rules about the way they are treated. For over ten years, hunger striking prisoners were closely monitored, but now, according to those refusing food, new instructions, initiated from September 20 onwards, mean that they are no longer having their health assessed at all. Read the rest of this entry »

“When Will My Organs Fail? When Will My Heart Stop?”: Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Fears Death Under Trump’s New Policy

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s eleven days since prisoners at Guantánamo, represented by the human rights organization Reprieve, reminded a forgetful world of the never-ending injustice of the prison. Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani prisoner, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both long-term hunger strikers, told their lawyers that, since September 20, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I wrote about the plight of the hunger strikers — and Donald Trump’s disturbing new policy — in an article last Saturday, but at the time the rest of the world’s mainstream media showed no interest in it. It took another four days for the New York Times to report on the story, and even then Charlie Savage accepted assurances from the US authorities that “an 11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect,” an assertion that I regard as untrustworthy, because the US military has a long track record of being untrustworthy when it comes to telling the truth about Guantánamo.

Last Thursday, Reprieve followed up on its initial reporting by securing an op-ed in Newsweek by Ahmed Rabbani, entitled, “Dear President Trump, Close Guantánamo Bay and Give Us a Fair Trial”, which I reported here, and on Friday the Guardian gave Khalid Qassim the opportunity to comment. His article, “I am in Guantánamo Bay. The US government is starving me to death,” is cross-posted below, and I hope you have time to read it, and will share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Disturbing news from Guantánamo, via the human rights organization Reprieve. Yesterday, in a press release, Reprieve explained that the authorities at Guantánamo have stopped force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners, a practice that has existed for ten years, because of a new Trump administration policy.”

Hunger strikers have existed at Guantánamo almost since the prison opened, and in 2013 a prison-wide hunger strike drew worldwide condemnation for President Obama’s inaction in moving towards closing the prison, as he had promised on his second day in office. Inconvenienced by Republican lawmakers, who had raised considerable obstacles to the release of prisoners, Obama had chosen not to challenge the Republicans, and had, instead, done nothing. The hunger strike changed all that, but towards the end of 2013, after the release of prisoners resumed, the authorities at Guantánamo stopped reporting the numbers of men who were on a hunger strike.

According to Reprieve, since that time, some prisoners have continued with their hunger strikes, “peacefully protesting a lack of charges or a trial,” although very little has been heard about them, with just one example reported in recent years — that of Sharqawi al-Hajj, a Yemeni held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2004, whose case I reported on last month, when he weighed just 104 pounds, and when, after he refused to submit to being force-fed, he “lost consciousness and required emergency hospitalization.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner, and Two Others

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

Three weeks ago, in Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace, I looked in detail at the current state of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, a parole-type process that quietly dominated Barack Obama’s detention policy at Guantánamo throughout his eight years in office, when, despite promising to close the prison on his second day, he left the White House with 41 men still held, and Donald Trump threatening to send new prisoners there.

Trump’s threats, have, fortunately, not materialized — hopefully, because wiser heads have told him that federal courts are more than adequate for dealing with captured terrorists — and the Periodic Review Boards are still functioning, despite a call for them to be scrapped by eleven Republican Senators in February, although they have not recommended anyone for release since before Trump took office.

After Obama took office in January 2009, he set up a high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to assess what he should do with the 240 men he had inherited from George W. Bush. The task force recommended that 156 of the 240 should be released and 36 prosecuted, and that the 48 others should continue to be held without charge or trial because they were too dangerous to release — although the task force members conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was actually unreliable. 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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