Last Tuesday, Mohammad Rajah Sadiq Abu Ghanim (aka Mohammed Ghanim), a Yemeni born in 1975, became the 38th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo. These 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 were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not 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, or were not facing trials. Just ten men are in this latter category.
Those eligible for the PRBs were 46 men described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which also, however, acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that is was not evidence, but unsubstantiated claims made by prisoners subjected to torture, abuse or bribery (with better living conditions), or that they were regarded as having dangerously anti-American attitudes (despite the fact that their appalling treatment may have inspired such sentiments).
18 others had been recommended for trial by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed when appeal court judges overturned some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system, pointing out that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted had actually been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Good news from Guantánamo, as another prisoner, Obaidullah, an Afghan, is approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Decisions have now been taken in the cases of 29 prisoners, with 22 recommended for release, and just seven recommended for ongoing imprisonment. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 76%, which is hugely significant, because, back in 2010, they were either recommended for prosecution or were described as “too dangerous to release” by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners held when he became president. 18 men were in the former category, and 46 in the latter.
The decision also means that, of the 80 men still held, 28 have been approved for release — 15 by the task force in 2010, and 13 by the PRBs (nine of those approved for release by PRBs have already been freed). 35 others are awaiting PRBs, or are awaiting decisions, and just ten men are facing trials — or have already had trials.
Obaidullah, who was just 19 years old when he was seized at his home in Afghanistan in July 2002, is one of the prisoners who had initially been recommended for prosecution — and is the second former prosecution candidate to be recommended for release by a PRB (three others have been recommended for ongoing imprisonment). He had been put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008, charged with providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy, based on claims that he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place for men held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The PRBs, which began in November 2013, are reviewing the cases of all the men still held who are not facing trials or were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
The PRBs that took place last week were for the 32nd and 33rd prisoners to have their cases considered. Of the previous 31, 20 have so far been approved for release, eight have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and three are awaiting results. Of the decisions taken, the prisoners’ success rate is 71%, a figure that is a stern rebuke to the task force, which either described them as “too dangerous to release,” while conceding that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, meaning that there are serious problems with the so-called “evidence,” or recommended them for prosecution in a system — the military commissions — that is so discredited that, after the task force made its recommendations, appeals court judges began overturning some of the few convictions achieved in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the prisoners had been convicted were not legitimate war crimes at all but had been invented by Congress.
Most of the PRBs to date have been for the “forever prisoners,” those mistakenly described as “too dangerous to release,” and last week’s PRBs were for two more from this group. Read the rest of this entry »
In a hugely significant court ruling on April 22, US District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush, in Spokane, Washington State, allowed a lawsuit to proceed against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. Both men had worked for the military’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which trains US personnel to resist torture, if captured by a hostile enemy, by subjecting them to torture techniques to prepare them to resist.
The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three victims of the torture program — Gul Rahman, who died, and Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who are both still alive.
As the ACLU described it, when Judge Quackenbush announced his ruling from the bench, he “gave attorneys in the case 30 days to come up with a plan for discovery, a first in a lawsuit concerning CIA torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Over ten years since I started working full-time on Guantánamo, there has been undeniable progress in some areas, and absolutely no movement in others. Hundreds of prisoners have been freed, which has been hugely important for a place in which only a few percent of the men — and boys — held there have ever, realistically, been accused of involvement with terrorism, and, after far too many years of delays and inaction, President Obama has been pushing to finally get the prison closed, albeit over seven years since he first promised to do so within a year.
Just 80 men are currently held, and while it is still unclear if the president will be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, as Congress will have to drop its ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason, or he will have to close it by executive action, which may or may not be practical or possible, it is conceivable that the end of Guantánamo is within sight.
And yet, for all of the men abused in Guantánamo, and elsewhere in America’s brutal “war on terror,” it is noticeable that no one has been held accountable for their suffering, and, for some of the 80 men still held, it also appears that no end to their suffering is in sight. I’m thinking in particular of some of the so-called “high-value detainees,” 15 men, including 13 who were brought to the US from CIA “black sites” — torture prisons — in September 2006, after up to four and a half years held incommunicado. One of those men — the first to be seized, in fact — may be the most unfortunate of all: Abu Zubaydah. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, as I reported here, a Periodic Review Board was convened to look at the case of Obaidullah, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, to see if he can be approved for release. The PRBs are a high-level, US government process, assessing the cases of prisoners who are not facing trials, and have not already been approved for release by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
31 men have so far had their cases considered, and in 20 cases have been approved for release, while eight men have had their ongoing imprisonment approved (although they are eligible for further reviews), and three are awaiting the results of their reviews.
The 31st prisoner to have his case considered, two days after Obaidullah, was Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah (ISN 841), a 46-year old Yemeni, also identified as Said Salih Said Nashir. He is one of a group of six men seized in house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, on the same day that alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized, who were then sent to CIA-run torture prisons for six weeks. They were initially regarded as recruits for a specific terrorist attack, although the government has long since walked away from this claim, as became apparent when the first of the six, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836), had his PRB in February, and was approved for release last month. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.
A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”
This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered and implemented the crimes committed by the United States since 9/11 in its brutal and counter-productive “war on terror,” victory has so far proven elusive, and no one has had to answer for the torture, the extraordinary rendition, the CIA “black sites,” the proxy torture prisons elsewhere, the shameful disregard of the Geneva Conventions and the embrace of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial that has been such a shame and disgrace for anyone not blinded by the violence and vengeance that have consumed so much of the US’s actions and attitudes in the last 14 and a half years.
In the US itself, President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he was looking forwards and not backwards when it came to accountability, as though sweeping the crimes mentioned above under the carpet would remove their poison from infecting US society as a whole. An early example of refusing to allow any victims of extraordinary rendition and torture anywhere near a courtroom was the Obama administration, in 2009 (and into 2010), invoking the “state secrets doctrine” (a blanket denial of any effort to challenge the government’s actions) to prevent the British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed and others from challenging the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen for its role as the CIA’s travel agent for torture.
In February 2010, President Obama also allowed a Justice Department fixer to override the conclusions of an ethics investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the 2002 “torture memos” that cynically purported to redefine torture so it could legally be used by the CIA. The investigation had concluded that they were guilty of “wrongful conduct,” but they received only a slapped wrist after Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this entry »
The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.
The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.
Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.
23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
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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