Sufyian Barhoumi, the Peaceful Algerian Cleared for Release But Still Trapped in Guantánamo

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.

 

In the long and sordid history of Guantánamo — open for 15 years and seven months, and still holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of domestic and international norms regarding imprisonment — it’s sometimes easy for people to forget the role played by lawyers in resisting the injustice of the prison, and in publicizing the men’s stories.

For over 12 years now, lawyers have generally been the only people outside of the various branches of the US government — and foreign intelligence services — who have had contact with the prisoners. Lest we forget, the men held at Guantánamo have never been allowed to have family visits, unlike prisoners held on the US mainland — even those convicted of horrendous crimes — and so often the lawyers have been the only people capable of filling the gap left by relatives, and, of course, bringing messages from the men’s families, which has happened time and again as lawyers have visited their clients’ families, and have subsequently been the bearers of their relatives’ communications.

Recently, a new lawyer brought some fresh insight and indignation to a role that many of those involved in must be struggling to keep fresh, after so many years, after the exhaustion of eight years of Obama that, in the end, left the prison open, and with Trump so uninterested in doing anything to bring justice to the remaining 41 prisoners, either by releasing them or putting them on trial in a valid, internationally recognized system, or working towards shutting the prison once and for all. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Five Men Still Held at Guantánamo Who Were Approved for Release Under Obama

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on June 30, 2017.Dear friends and supporters — and any casual passers-by,

I’m delighted to announce that my latest article for Al-Jazeera, Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo, has just been published, and I encourage you to read it, and to share it as widely as possible if you find it useful.

In it, I look at the cases of the five men still held at Guantánamo who were approved for release under President Obama, but who didn’t make it out before Donald Trump took over, with a particular focus on Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan whose government sought his release, but failed to get the paperwork to the US authorities in time. I also look at the cases of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni. The two other men, sadly, don’t wish to have their cases discussed.

It’s important for these men’s cases to be remembered, because, although Donald Trump has not followed up on threats he made after taking office to send new prisoners to Guantánamo and to reintroduce torture, he has effectively sealed the prison shut for the last five months, releasing no one, and showing no signs of wanting to release anyone, and those of us who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo must continue to do what we can to bring this deplorable state of affairs to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 first two 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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Algerian Approved for Release from Guantánamo, As Three Other Men Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Sufyian Barhoumi, in a photo taken at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available by his family.In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, in which prisoners recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a high-level task force six years ago are being given a parole-like opportunity to plead for their release. I’ll be writing about those reviews soon, but before I do so I’d like to sum up four other decisions taken over this same period —  one decision to approve a prisoner for release, and three others upholding prisoners’ ongoing detention. 62 reviews have now taken place, since the PRBs began in November 2013, and out of those reviews 33 men have been recommended for release, 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and ten decisions have yet to be taken. Two final reviews are taking place in the next two weeks.

The man whose release was approved is Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), an Algerian, born in July 1973, whose PRB took place on May 26. Seized in a house with the “high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah, whose review also took place recently, Barhoumi was alleged by the US authorities to have been a bomb-maker, and had been put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush, although the charges were later dropped.

For his PRB, however, his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights painted a compelling portrait of a ”natural diplomat,” popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sufyian Barhoumi, An Extremely Well-Behaved Algerian, Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Sufyian Barhoumi as a boy and as a prisoner in Guantanamo, in a composite photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Last Thursday, two days after Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, sought release from Guantánamo via a Periodic Review Board, a high-level, inter-agency US government review process, established in 2013, another Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, also went before a PRB to ask for his freedom, and was the 41st prisoner to do so. Of the 30 decisions already taken, 23 have resulted in recommendations for the prisoners’ release, while just seven have resulted in recommendations for the men’s continued detention — and even those are subject to further review. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 77%, thoroughly undermining the excessive caution and misplaced zeal for prosecution that, in 2010, led the previous high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to describe the men who were later made eligible for PRBs as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution.

The former were largely groundless claims, in a prison full of statements obtained through torture and other forms of coercion, while the latter was based on a mistaken understanding of what constitutes war crimes, spelled out in a number of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013, which humiliated the government by dismissing some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system on the embarrassing basis that the war crimes for which the men in question has been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.

Barhoumi, whose prisoner number is 694, is 41 years old, and, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explain, he was “born and raised in Algiers, where his mother still lives and his late father practiced law.” CCR also explain that, as a young man, he “lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France, and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years,” before traveling to Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he ended up in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

Alleged Al-Qaida Bomb-Maker Faces Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 »

Plea Deals in Federal Court Mooted for Guantánamo Prisoners in Next Year’s National Defense Authorization Act

A campaigner wearing a President Obama mask calls for the closure of Guantanamo in London (Photo: AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth).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.

Last week there was an interesting development in relation to President Obama’s hopes of closing Guantánamo, when the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that it had included a provision in its version of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which, as Charlie Savage reported for the New York Times, would allow Guantánamo prisoners to “plead guilty to criminal charges in civilian court via video teleconference,” and would also allow them to be “transferred to other countries to serve their sentences.”

Last November, a number of lawyers sent a letter to the Justice Department, which the New York Times discussed here, in which they “express[ed] interest in exploring plea deals by video teleconference — but only in civilian court, not military commissions.”

Lawyers for six prisoners said that they “may wish” to negotiate plea deals — Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA’s torture program was developed, Abu Faraj al-Libi, another “high-value detainee,” Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni who recently went before a Periodic Review Board, Abd al-Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani, Abdul Latif Nasser, the last Moroccan in the prison, and Soufian Barhoumi (aka Sufyian Barhoumi), an Algerian whose PRB is taking place on May 24. As Savage described it, the letter also “said several others are interested, and that Majid Khan, who has pleaded guilty in the [military] commissions system but has not been sentenced, would like to plead again, in civilian court.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

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.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo

Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention, as I reported prisoners’ accounts, and campaigned to get President Obama to release the 86 prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks, beginning with an article by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal in July.

Bravin, the Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the acclaimed book The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, wrote an article entitled, “Guantánamo Detainee Begs to Be Charged as Legal Limbo Worsens,” which perfectly captured the Alice in Wonderland-style absurdity of the prison, eleven and half years after it opened, with the remaining 164 prisoners no closer to securing justice than they were when George W. Bush set up the prison, which, at the time, was intended to be a place where they could be held without any rights whatsoever.

Highlighting one aspect of this ongoing injustice, Bravin looked at the case of Sufyian Barhoumi, identified in his article as Sufiyan Barhoumi, who, as he described it, “has decided to plead guilty to war crimes, throw himself on the mercy of the court and serve whatever sentence a US military commission deems just.” As Bravin added, however, “There’s just one problem: The Pentagon refuses to charge him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Torture: On Anniversary of Abu Zubaydah’s Capture, Poland Charges Former Spy Chief Over “Black Site”

Ten years ago, on the evening of March 28, 2002, the Bush administration officially embarked on its “high-value detainee” program in the “war on terror” that had been declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (more commonly identified as Abu Zubaydah), was captured in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

For the next four and half years, Abu Zubaydah, described on his capture as a senior al-Qaeda operative, was held in secret prisons run by the CIA, until, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” he was moved to Guantánamo, in September 2006, where he remains to this day.

After his capture, Abu Zubaydah was taken to a secret prison in Thailand, and it was there, in August 2002, that he was subjected to an array of torture techniques, including waterboarding (an ancient form of torture, which involves controlled drowning). The torture allegedly only began after John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch, wrote two memos (the “torture memos,” signed by his boss, Jay S. Bybee), which purported to redefine torture, and authorized the CIA to use ten techniques — including waterboarding — on Zubaydah. He was subsequently waterboarded 83 times. 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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