New Life in Uruguay for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Former Guantanamo prisoners released in Uruguay: from left to right, Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Mahmoud Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, pose for a picture after lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14, 2014 (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula, AFP/Getty Images).Good news from Uruguay, where five of the six men released from Guantánamo on December 7 and given new lives in Montevideo have been photographed out and about in the city. From left to right, in the photo, they are: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, photographed by Pablo Porciuncula, after eating lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14. See more photos here.

The sixth man, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian who became confined to a wheelchair whilst at Guantánamo, had been on a hunger strike and had challenged the US authorities in the courts, has not yet been seen publicly, but is apparently recovering from his long ordeal. His lawyer, Cori Crider of Reprieve, commented that he “had difficulty believing he would ever be released until he boarded the plane out of the US military base,” as the Guardian put it. Crider said, “You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”

Immediately after their arrival, the Associated Press reported that Michael Mone, Ali al-Shaaban’s Boston-based lawyer, said that, with the exception of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, “The other men are all up on their feet. They have big smiles on their faces and they are very happy to be in Uruguay after 12 plus years of incarceration.” As the AP described it, Mone was “accustomed to his client being shackled and strictly monitored during meetings in Guantánamo,” and said it was “an emotional experience to see al-Shaaban experiencing freedom for the first time in years.” The AP also reported that al-Shaaban “spoke by phone with his parents, who are in a refugee camp in a country Mone declined to identify, fleeing the turmoil of their homeland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Uruguay?

Photos of five of the six men released to Uruguay from Guantanamo - from L to R: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abdelhadi Faraj, Mohammed Taha Mattan and Abu Wa'el Dhiab. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and the collage is by LeaNoticias.com.Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.

In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »

Disappointment as US Judge Upholds Force-Feeding of Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and District Judge Gladys Kessler, who, earlier this year, ordered the government to preserve all videotapes of his force-feeding and "forcible cell extractions," and who, last month, ordered those videotapes to be publicly released. On November 7, 2014, unfortunately, she refused to order the government to change the way it force-feeds him, and to make it more humane.On Friday, in the latest twist in the legal challenge mounted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker at Guantánamo, District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C., disappointed Mr. Dhiab, his lawyers and everyone who wants personnel at Guantánamo to be accountable for their actions by denying his request “to significantly change the manner in which the US military transfers, restrains and forcibly feeds detainees on hunger strike to protest their confinement,” as the Guardian described it.

Mr Dhiab, a father of four who is in a wheelchair because of the decline in his health during 12 years in US custody, was cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office, but he is still held because of Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and because he needs a third country to take him in (and although Uruguay has offered him new home, that deal has not yet materialized). Last year, he embarked on a hunger strike because of his despair that he would never be released, along with two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and he also asked a judge to order the government to feed him in a more humane manner.

That request was turned down last summer, because of legislation passed under President Bush that was cynically designed to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, but in February this year the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — overturned that ruling and an allied ruling, determining that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” and that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Guantánamo Authorities to Allow Independent Doctors to Assess Health of Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Last week there was some good news regarding Guantánamo in the US courts in the long-running case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker who has spent the last 14 months attempting to get the US courts to stop him being force-fed, and who, in the last three months, briefly secured an order stopping his force-feeding, and also secured access for his lawyers to videotapes of his force-feeding and the “forcible cell extractions” used to remove him from his cell. In response, the authorities have now taken to confiscating his wheelchair, and, as Reprieve put it, “manhandling him to be force-fed.”

On August 12, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health “has deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.”

Mr. Dhiab is one of 75 men still held (out of the remaining 149 prisoners) who were cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force  appointed by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He has not been released because he cannot be safely repatriated and a third country must be found that will take him. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s Wife Calls for Videos of his Force-Feeding to be Made Public

Regular readers will know that one of the most prominent Guantánamo prisoners at present is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national, separated from his wife and his four children for over 12 years, who recently persuaded a US judge to order the government stop force-feeding him as a response to the hunger strike that he embarked on last year. Soon after, Judge Gladys Kessler reluctantly rescinded her order, as she feared that Mr. Dhiab might die if he was not force-fed, but she also ordered the government to release videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding — and of him being forcibly extracted from his cell — to his lawyers.

This was the first time a judge had ordered evidence of force-feeding and cell extractions to be released to any of the prisoners’ lawyers, and when lawyers watched the videos, in the secure facility in Virginia where they must travel to view all classified material, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Although the men’s lawyers are the only people allowed to see the videos, 16 mainstream media organizations recently submitted a motion calling for them to be made public.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, is one of 75 prisoners still held who were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009. This disgraceful situation has arisen because of Congressional obstruction, a refusal by President Obama to spend political capital overcoming that obstruction, even though he has the means to do so, and the US establishment’s collective unwillingness to release Yemeni prisoners, who make up the majority of the cleared prisoners, because of unreasonable fears about the security situation in that country. Read the rest of this entry »

For the First Time, A Nurse at Guantánamo Refuses to Take Part in Force-Feedings, Calls Them a “Criminal Act”

Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent a number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay revealed yesterday that a nurse with the US military at the prison “recently refused to force-feed” prisoners “after witnessing the suffering” it caused them.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner long cleared for release from Guantánamo, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his physical deterioration after 12 years in US custody without charge or trial, told his lawyer Cori Crider during a phone call last week (on July 10) that the male nurse “recently told him he would no longer participate in force-feedings.”

Dhiab reported that the nurse said, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

He added that, “after the man made his decision known, he never saw him again,” and Reprieve noted that he had “apparently been assigned elsewhere.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.'” Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest News on the Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes, and the Prisoners’ Ongoing Legal Challenges

A month ago, a federal court judge, Gladys Kessler, delivered a historic ruling on Guantánamo, ordering the government to stop force-feeding a hunger striking prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, and to release to his lawyers videos of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions,” whose existence had only recently been discovered by one of his lawyers. She also ordered the government to release his medical records, and to “file a list of all current Standard Operating Procedures/Protocols directly addressing enteral feeding and/or the use of a restraint chair at Guantánamo Bay.”

Judge Kessler lifted her stay on Dhiab’s force-feeding just a few days later, fearing that otherwise he would die, but, with a precedent established regarding the release of videos, another prisoner, Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three, who was held in CIA “black sites” before his transfer to Guantánamo in 2004, asked Judge Kessler’s court, the District Court for the District of Columbia, in Washington D.C., for a second ruling ordering the government to release videotapes of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions.”

As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve described it, “The requested tapes are thought to document a period of particularly ‘gratuitous brutality,’ in which Mr. Rabbani contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood and lose consciousness.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker

As I explained last week, the Guantánamo prisoners secured a massive court victory on May 16, when a federal court judge ordered the government to halt the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner. He is one of 77 men still held (out of 154 in total) who have been cleared for release from the prison, and he is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, in large part because of his despair at ever being released, despite being told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold him.

The judge in question, Judge Gladys Kessler, also ordered the government to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding, to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions” — in which guards in riot gear storm prisoner’s cells and move them to be force-fed if they refuse to go — and to preserve  all evidence of his “forcible cell extractions.”

This was the first time a judge had intervened to hold the government to account for its treatment of prisoners (following a helpful appeals court ruling in February), and on Wednesday Judge Kessler held a meeting with Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers and lawyers from the Justice Department at which she ordered the government to hand over videotapes and Mr. Dhiab’s medical records to his lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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