Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights

Tariq-Al-Sabah, from an interview conducted by BBC Alba after his release from Guantanamo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.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.

 

As part of my ongoing coverage of Guantánamo, I try, wherever possible, to keep track of the stories of former prisoners, especially those who were resettled in third countries, either because the US government refused to send them home, or because it was considered unsafe to do so — or, in the case of Palestine, because the Israeli government would not allow them to be repatriated, even if the US government wanted to.

Many of those resettled in third countries are Yemenis, and third countries had to be found for them because, since the start of 2010, the entire US establishment has regarded the situation in Yemen as too unstable from a security perspective to allow any Yemenis to be repatriated. Amongst those for whom repatriation was regarded as too dangerous are the Uighurs, 22 men from China’s Xinjiang province, historically oppressed by the Chinese government, who were found new homes around the world between 2006 and 2013, and a handful of men from other countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia.

In March, for Middle East Eye, the journalist Lidia Kurasinska wrote an article about Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian, who had been resettled in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the capital, Sarajevo, in January 2016. Before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Sawah had been living in Bosnia, where he had been granted citizenship, and had married a Bosnian woman, with whom he had a child, so this was not a random resettlement based solely on whichever country could be persuaded, through a combination of cash and favors, to give a former prisoner a home. Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously Ill Egyptian and a Yemeni Freed from Guantánamo in Bosnia and Montenegro; Another Refuses to Leave

Abdul Aziz-al-Suadi (aka al-Swidi), a Yemeni, and one of two prisoners freed from Guantanamo on January 20, 2016. He was rehoused in Montenegro.On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.

One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.

In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

As Last Egyptian Is Cleared for Release from Guantánamo, Another Yemeni Faces Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned, and, as a result, his health is severely threatened. Photo made available by his family.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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been campaigning, since we launched in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, for all the prisoners held at Guantánamo to be freed, unless they are to be charged and tried, and we are pleased to note that, as part of a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), established in 2013, seven men who had long been regarded as “too dangerous to release” have had those decisions overturned, and have had their release recommended.

Six of these decisions were taken last year, but the latest decision, which was taken on February 12 but was not reported until today, was for Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian in Guantánamo, to be released — which, we hope, will happen soon. I wrote about his PRB, on January 22, here, describing the 57-year old’s serious health problems, as well as the absurdity of continuing to hold someone regarded as having provided a wealth of useful information, and I find it entirely appropriate that the board has recommended his release.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated: Read the rest of this entry »

Progress Towards Closing Guantánamo, As Periodic Review Boards Resume with the Case of a Seriously Ill Egyptian

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned. Photo made available by his family.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.

The last three months have been a period of commendable progress at Guantánamo, as 27 prisoners have been released, reducing the prison’s population to just 122 men. On December 30, two Tunisians and three Yemenis were given new homes in Kazakhstan, and on January 14 five more Yemenis were given new homes — four in Oman, in the Gulf, and one in Estonia. All of these men had long been approved for release, having had their cases reviewed in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its final report in January 2010.

Obstacles raised by Congress — and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles — had led to these men being held for so long after the task force unanimously approved them for release, as well as a particular fear throughout the US establishment of repatriating Yemenis, because of unrest in their home country.

Two years ago, 86 of the men still held had been approved for release by the task force but were still held. That number is now down to 50, of whom 43 are Yemenis, and just seven are from other nations, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. 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 »

How the Egyptian Media Has Reported the Story of Tariq Al-Sawah, a Severely Ill Prisoner in Guantánamo

Last week I reported the story of Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian prisoner in Guantánamo, whose lawyers are seeking his release because “his health is too poor for him to pose any kind of threat.” Al-Sawah (also identified as Tarek El-Sawah), an explosives expert for al-Qaeda who became disillusioned with his former life and has cooperated extensively with the authorities in Guantánamo, is “in terrible shape after 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, a fact even the US military does not dispute,” as the Associated Press explained in a recent article. He is 55 years old, and as the AP also noted, his weight “has nearly doubled” in his long imprisonment, “reaching more than 420 pounds at one point, and his health has deteriorated as a result, both his lawyers and government officials concede.”

Al-Sawah’s request has not yet been ruled on, but, noticeably, it follows the recent success achieved by lawyers for Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese prisoner who is severely schizophrenic. In Idris’s case, the Justice Department decided not to contest his habeas corpus petition — a first for the DoJ lawyers who are notorious for defending every detention, even those of prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. Al-Sawah’s case is more complicated, because, although Idris was cleared for release by the task force, al-Sawah was recommended for prosecution – a decision that made no sense, as logic dictates that he should be released as a reward for his extensive cooperation, documented in this Washington Post article from 2010.

When I wrote about Tariq al-Sawah last week, I promised I would revisit his story to include further information from two detailed articles written by freelance journalist Tom Dale and published in the Egypt Independent in July last year and March this year, which shed more light on his case. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Seek Release from Guantánamo of Tariq Al-Sawah, an Egyptian Prisoner Who is Very Ill

Two weeks ago, when lawyers in the US Justice Department decided — for the first time — not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a prisoner in Guantánamo, it was a cause for celebration. The man in question, Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese man in his early 50s, is severely mentally ill, as he suffers from schizophrenia, and is also morbidly obese. As his lawyer Jennifer Cowan explained, “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated.”

As I explained in my most recent article, “Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews,” it is disgraceful that the Justice Department lawyers responsible for dealing with the Guantánamo prisoners’ cases have “vigorously contested every petition as though the fate of the United States depended on it.” I have long been outraged that, in particular, “petitions have been fought even when the men in question have been cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force,” as I described it.

I added:

I am unable to explain why there has been no cross-referencing of cases between the task force (which involved officials from the Justice Department) and the Civil Division of the DoJ, or why Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained the status quo, and no other senior official, up to and including the President, has acted to address this troubling lack of joined-up thinking. However, it is to be hoped that it signals the possibility for further successful challenges by prisoners who are ill — as well as opening up the possibility for cleared prisoners to call for their release through the habeas process. 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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