For Review Board, Revelations That Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before Capture

Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo taken before his capture in 2001.I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?

The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.

It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks.

If al-Qahtani was not to be prosecuted, then it is legitimate to ask on what basis he continued to be held — something that the PRB is belatedly getting round to asking. However, complicating matters further for the US authorities, his lawyers succeeded in getting an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Keram, to be allowed to visit Guantánamo recently to assess al-Qahtani, and what she found — evidence of severe mental health problems predating his capture, and that can only have been exacerbated by his torture in US hands — would seem to suggest that, if he is not to be prosecuted — if, indeed, he is mentally unfit to stand trial — then he should not continue to be held under the laws of war that the US draws on to justify holding prisoners without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and should be returned to his home country.

As the Washington Post described it before al-Qahtani’s PRB, “Saudi Arabia has agreed to resettle him, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry document,” and his lawyers were intending to argue that his “preexisting mental illness and the abuse he experienced at Guantánamo Bay should favor his release, as the prison is unable to provide adequate medical and psychiatric care.”

In its coverage of al-Qahtani’s PRB, the Post began with two startling examples of the mental health problems that plagued him before he ever encountered members of Al-Qaeda. Their article began: “Long before Mohammed al-Qahtani was suspected of planning to participate in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the 20th hijacker, Saudi police found him naked in a garbage dumpster in Riyadh.” it continued: “In another psychotic episode that took place in Mecca in 2000, Qahtani was involuntarily committed to a hospital after trying to hurl himself into the street. Doctors at the time said he was delusional and suicidal, according to medical and psychiatric records.”

As Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, whose legal clinic represents al-Qahtani along with Shayana Kadidal at the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained, “Mohammed was already mentally ill long before the time when he was alleged to have attempted anything. That fact calls into serious question the fairness of holding him responsible for any actions during that period of his life.”

In her analysis, Emily Keram, who spent 39 hours with al-Qahtani and an interpreter in May, described how he “has schizophrenia, major depression and persistent skin lesions,” and “will likely require lifelong mental health care.” In her evaluation, presented to the PRB and obtained by the Post, she concluded that he “cannot receive effective treatment for his current mental health conditions while he remains in US custody.” She explained that he had told her that “he had suffered a head injury after being ejected from a car when he was 8 and was injured twice more in car accidents,” and, in her evaluation, she concluded that he “developed psychotic symptoms in childhood that worsened as he grew older.” In Mecca, for example, “he was admitted to the psychiatric unit of the King Adbul Aziz Hospital and treated with antipsychotic medication and a sedative.” He also “told doctors that he wanted to kill himself,” and was assessed as being “delusional.”

Dr. Keram concluded that his “psychological and cognitive deficits” made him “vulnerable to ma­nipu­la­tion and coercion,” which, of course, is exactly what happened when he traveled to Afghanistan in 2000, where, according to the US military, “he received training at an al-Qaeda camp before meeting and swearing loyalty to Osama bin Laden,” who then “singled him out to participate in the 9/11 attacks.”

Dr. Keram also explained how, during the time of al-Qahtani’s torture at Guantánamo, he “thought he was dead and believed that he saw ghosts,” but “an imaginary bird reassured him he was still alive,” as the Post put it. Dr. Keram noted, “My interview of him was extremely disruptive to his sense of identity and induced deep feelings of anxiety and shame. He often wept. Over the days of our interview he reported experiencing increase in the intensity of frequency of PTSD symptoms.”

He also told Dr. Keram that, in the Post’s words, “he had two options when he was being tortured: compliance or suicide. Because he couldn’t kill himself, he told his interrogators what they wanted to hear.” As a result, Dr. Keram pointed out that “those statements were neither reliable nor credible.”

The Post also noted that, in 2008, al-Qahtani had told an administrative review board that he was a “different person now than he was in the summer of 2001,” and “stated he would not have participated in a mission that involved killing women and children.” That same year, however, military officials wrote that he was in good health and, “although publicly released records allege [he] was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention, [his] admission of involvement in UBL’s [bin Laden’s] special mission to the US appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.”

The US case against Mohammed al-Qahtani

In its unclassified summary for al-Qahtani’s PRB, the US authorities ran through his story with only a few doubts newly interjected (and italicized below). On August 4, 2001, they wrote, he “attempted to enter the United States … after almost certainly having been selected by senior al-Qa’ida members to be the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks.” The authorities added that he “probably understood that he was intended to be used as part of a suicide operation, but he was probably unaware of the specifics of the attack.” However, he was denied entry “by Immigration and Naturalization Service officers who found the circumstances of his travel and his conduct to be suspicious.”

Previously, around September 2000, according to the summary, he had traveled to Afghanistan for the first time, meeting and swearing allegiance to bin Laden, “who told [him] he would be assigned a special mission,” and who directed him to meet with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who, it is alleged, “trained [him] on operational communications and told him to return to Saudi Arabia to obtain a new passport and visas for the US and UK.” He then traveled to the UAE and “met with al-Qa’ida financial and travel facilitator Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who also facilitated the travel of four 9/11 hijackers into the US.” Al-Hawsawi allegedly “provided [him] with money and a one-way ticket to Orlando, Florida,” where he was supposed to meet Mohamed Atta, “the tactical leader and hijacker-pilot of 9/11,” who “was almost certainly waiting at the Orlando International Airport for [his] arrival.” However, he “failed to clear immigration and was deported back to the UAE.”

He then returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan, “separately informing Mohammad and Bin Ladin [sic] about his failure to enter the US,” before traveling to Kabul “to fight on the frontlines against the Northern Alliance.” After the US-led invasion, he reportedly “fled to the mountains of Tora Bora and briefly rejoined Bin Ladin and his bodyguards before [his] capture.”

In Guantánamo, it was noted, he “has been mostly compliant with the guard staff,” although “he has not cooperated with his interrogators, repeatedly trying to disassociate himself from al-Qa’ida and using cover stories to account for his travels.” Those compiling the summary explained that “[h]is repeated denials of terrorism involvement limit our insight into his motivation for joining al-Qa’ida or his current mindset,” adding, “He is not known to have made any statements in the past 10 years renouncing the group or its ideology” — something he would need to do to stand any chance of persuading the review board to recommend his release (but see below for his lawyers’ assertions that this is indeed what he has done).

The summary also noted that al-Qahtani “has consistently said he wishes to be repatriated to Saudi Arabia to be reunited with his parents and siblings,” adding that his family has been supportive throughout his detention, “judging from their frequent correspondence and efforts to secure his release.” It was also noted that, helpfully, “None of his family members are known to have been involved in terrorism, although they probably are in contact with other former Guantánamo Bay detainees.”

The case made by al-Qahtani’s lawyers and his personal representative

Below, I’m making available the opening statement made by al-Qahtani’s personal representative (a military official appointed to help prisoners prepare for their PRBs), and a detailed statement prepared by his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem and Shayana Kadidal. The representative was “favorably impressed by Mohamed’s candor,” and noted that he had “proven forthright and honest,” and the lawyers provided a detailed analysis of the significance of Dr. Keram’s findings. In particular, I note how Dr. Keram explained that a key factor “precluding effective treatment of Mr. al-Qahtani’s mental illnesses” at Guantánamo “is his lack of trust in medical and mental health personnel” at the prison, “owing to their predecessors’ involvement in his interrogations and torture.” Dr. Keram also found that, “given the unique role of family in Mr. al-Qahtani’s previous episodes of psychiatric illness, it is imperative that his family members actively participate in his treatment.”

As the lawyers also explain — crucially, for a parole-type hearing — al-Qahtani “bears no ill will towards the United States or any other country or government,” as can, in part, be seen by “his record of compliance as a prisoner at Guantánamo and in his good relations with the guard force.” The lawyers added, “In numerous conversations with us over the years, Mr. al-Qahtani has also made it abundantly clear that he does not support al-Qaida’s ideology or its methods, and that he abhors wanton acts of violence against civilians, irrespective of their nationality or religion.”

Whilst also acknowledging that they “have no reason to believe that the U.S. government knew of Mr. al-Qahtani’s debilitating mental illnesses at the time it took him into its custody, or that it deliberately exploited those ailments in its interrogations of Mr. al-Qahtani,” the lawyers also note that it remains true that “our government apprehended a severely mentally disabled man, brought him to Guantánamo, and intentionally and systematically tortured him there,” and they urge the board to transfer him for secure treatment in Saudi Arabia.

I am inclined to agree with them — because al-Qahtani does not seem ever to have been psychologically coherent enough to have been responsible for his actions, and was, instead, manipulated by Al-Qaeda, like other mentally ill individuals, because the US evidently cannot provide him with the necessary care, and because of his remorse, which strikes me as convincing. I have no idea, however, whether the review board will agree.

Periodic Review Board Initial Full Hearing, 16 June 2016
Mohamed Mani Ahmad Al-Kahtani, ISN 063
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. I am the Personal Representative of Mr. Mohamed Mani Ahmad al Kahtani. I will be assisting Mohamed this morning with his case, aided by Mr. Ramzi Kassem.

Mohamed has been overjoyed and eager to participate in the Periodic Review Process. He has maintained a record of perfect attendance for meetings with me and his Private Counsel.

I was favorably impressed by Mohamed’s candor. He has proven forthright and honest in his interactions with me.

Mohamed has proven to be engaging and extremely polite throughout his interactions and discussions with me. He is quick with a smile and exudes a warm personality.

Later, Mohamed will discuss both his past life and his desire for a better life for himself in the future. He wishes to be transferred to live his life with his family and parents. Mohamed also wishes to be married and start his own family. He is open to transfer to any country.

I am confident that Mohamed’s desire to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantánamo is genuine. I remain convinced that he does not pose a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am pleased to answer any questions you have throughout this proceeding.

June 6, 2016

Statement by Private Counsel for Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 063)
Periodic Review Board Hearing Scheduled June 16, 2016

Esteemed Periodic Review Board Members,

We serve as pro bono counsel to Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 063). The Center for Constitutional Rights has represented Mr. al-Qahtani since 2005. Professor Ramzi Kassem has represented Mr. al-Qahtani since 2010. We write to provide additional information to inform your decision as to whether Mr. al-Qahtani’s continued imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay is “necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States.”

It is well known that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured in U.S. custody at Guantánamo. In fact, Mr. al-Qahtani is the only prisoner whose torture has been formally acknowledged by a senior U.S. government official. In 2009, Susan J. Crawford, then the Convening Authority in charge of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Commissions, explained that she had refused to authorize Mr. al-Qahtani’s capital trial by military commission in 2008 because “we tortured Qahtani.” The torture left Mr. al-Qahtani in a “life-threatening condition,” again by Crawford’s admission. He was hospitalized twice during his interrogation at Guantánamo because he was on the brink of heart failure and death.

What is not well known, however, is that long before Mr. al-Qahtani was taken into U.S. custody, he suffered from a number of severe psychiatric disabilities. As the expert witness in this matter, Dr. Emily A. Keram, attests in her separate report, Mr. al-Qahtani suffered from schizophrenia, major depression, and possibly neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury. He was mentally ill not only prior to his imprisonment and torture at Guantánamo but also long before the period of time when he was alleged to have participated in criminal acts. Dr. Keram’s report is based on extensive conversations with Mr. al-Qahtani at Guantánamo, on a telephonic interview with his family in Saudi Arabia, and on her review of records of an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in 2000 that were independently obtained by his legal team.

Mr. al-Qahtani developed psychotic symptoms in his childhood, which worsened as he grew into his teens and twenties. His mental troubles trace back to a string of traumatic brain injuries, beginning with one sustained in a car accident when he was only eight years old. His family recalled “episodes of extreme behavioral dyscontrol” over the years, including one when the Riyadh police contacted the family because they had found Mr. al-Qahtani naked in a garbage dumpster, spells of “auditory hallucinations,” and an incident where Mr. al-Qahtani threw a new cellular phone out of a moving car because he believed it was affecting his emotional state.

These symptoms persisted and, in late-May of 2000, Mr. al-Qahtani was involuntarily committed in Mecca for “an acute psychotic break.” Medical records from the hospitalization reviewed by Dr. Keram reveal that Mr. al-Qahtani was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric unit of a hospital for a period of days after local police arrested him as he was attempting to throw himself onto moving traffic. According to the hospital medical records, Mr. al-Qahtani expressed suicidal wishes, and was given antipsychotic medication and sedatives. As a result of this episode, counsel learned, Mr. al-Qahtani lost his job as a civilian driver at the Armed Forces Hospital in the Saudi city of Kharj.

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Keram concluded that Mr. al-Qahtani’s pre-existing mental illnesses likely impaired his capacity for independent and voluntary decision-making well before the United States took him into custody, and left him “profoundly susceptible to manipulation by others.” These findings call into serious question the extent to which it would be fair to hold Mr. al-Qahtani responsible for any alleged actions during that period of his life. They also cast doubt on any claims that Mr. al-Qahtani would have been entrusted with sensitive information about secret plots.

Moreover, Dr. Keram found that “Mr. al-Qahtani’s pre-existing psychotic, mood, and cognitive disorders made him particularly vulnerable to […] the conditions of confinement and interrogation” his U.S. captors inflicted on him at Guantánamo under the guise of the “First Special Interrogation Plan.” In fact, according to Dr. Keram, the combination of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding, amounting to “severely cruel, degrading, humiliating, and inhumane treatment” that Mr. al-Qahtani endured would have profoundly disrupted and left long-lasting effects on a person’s sense of self and cognitive functioning “even in the absence of pre-existing psychiatric illness.”

Applied to Mr. al-Qahtani, the torture and conditions of his confinement at Guantánamo were nothing short of devastating, exacerbating his pre-existing psychological ailments. Besides taxing him physically to the point that he was on the brink of death and had to be hospitalized twice, they caused psychotic symptoms that included repeated hallucinations involving ghosts and a talking bird. Mr. al-Qahtani also often soiled himself, cried uncontrollably, and conversed with himself and with others who were not present. It appears to be in significant part the undeniable impact that torture and imprisonment at Guantánamo had on Mr. al-Qahtani’s health that drove the Convening Authority for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Commissions, Susan Crawford, to drop the charges against him.

Today, Mr. al-Qahtani’s condition is exactly as one would expect for a man who suffered from severe psychiatric illness before being subjected to a systematic and brutal program of physical and psychological torture. “In addition to Mr. al-Qahtani’s pre-existing psychiatric diagnoses,” which have not subsided, Dr. Keram concludes, “he has developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” resulting from his torture, interrogation, and imprisonment. As a doctor with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs who has treated patients with PTSD secondary to both combat stress and Prisoner of War confinement for the past 14 years, Dr. Keram found that Mr. al-Qahtani’s PTSD symptoms are not only “consistent with those exhibited by survivors of torture,” but also that they “have been present for years.”

Given the present state of Mr. al-Qahtani’s mental health, Dr. Keram believes that he “will likely require lifelong mental health care,” at least initially in an “inpatient or residential” setting. In her view, “appropriate treatment” of Mr. al-Qahtani’s complex condition “requires a culturally-informed multi-disciplinary approach” that would include “supportive psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, skills-based therapy, and psychotropic medication.”

Crucially, Dr. Keram concludes “that Mr. al-Qahtani cannot receive effective treatment for his current mental health conditions while he remains in U.S. custody at GTMO or elsewhere, despite the best efforts of available and competent clinicians.” Among the factors precluding effective treatment of Mr. al-Qahtani’s mental illnesses in U.S. custody is his lack of trust in medical and mental health personnel at Guantánamo owing to their predecessors’ involvement in his interrogations and torture. Also, Dr. Keram finds that, “given the unique role of family in Mr. al-Qahtani’s previous episodes of psychiatric illness, it is imperative that his family members actively participate in his treatment.”

Dr. Keram’s conclusion, therefore, is that Mr. al-Qahtani would receive effective treatment if he is repatriated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Ministry of Interior’s custodial rehabilitation and aftercare program for former Guantánamo prisoners would provide Mr. al-Qahtani with the medical attention he direly needs on an inpatient basis, while access to his family would complement his treatment. We have obtained a written assurance from the Saudi Ministry of Interior addressed to the members of this Periodic Review Board, offering security and humane treatment guarantees regarding Mr. al-Qahtani and expressing its readiness to welcome him in its rehabilitation and aftercare program.

Turning to Mr. al-Qahtani’s family, as their sworn letters and the videos they recorded for the Board amply attest, they are prepared to provide him with all of the emotional, personal, and financial support and guidance he will need should he be repatriated to Saudi Arabia and committed in its rehabilitation and aftercare program. Mr. al-Qahtani’s family includes many relatives who are in the Saudi military and police or otherwise in government service. They have every interest in ensuring Mr. al-Qahtani’s successful reintegration into family life and society, if he is ever medically cleared for release from the care of the Saudi rehabilitation program.

Today, you will hear from Mr. al-Qahtani himself. He will probably tell you what he has often told us — that his only wish is to go home and lead a peaceful, steady life. Despite the horrific abuse that he barely survived in U.S. custody, Mr. al-Qahtani bears no ill will towards the United States or any other country or government. Proof of that can be found in his record of compliance as a prisoner at Guantánamo and in his good relations with the guard force. In numerous conversations with us over the years, Mr. al-Qahtani has also made it abundantly clear that he does not support al-Qaida’s ideology or its methods, and that he abhors wanton acts of violence against civilians, irrespective of their nationality or religion.

In sum, we have no reason to believe that the U.S. government knew of Mr. al-Qahtani’s debilitating mental illnesses at the time it took him into its custody, or that it deliberately exploited those ailments in its interrogations of Mr. al-Qahtani. The facts nonetheless remain the same: our government apprehended a severely mentally disabled man, brought him to Guantánamo, and intentionally and systematically tortured him there.

Perhaps more than any other prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani’s continuing imprisonment at Guantánamo represents everything about the prison that is inconsistent with our proclaimed national values, offending allies and critics alike the world over. To begin to turn the page on this ugly chapter in our country’s recent history, surely, our government must release from its custody the one man whose torture it has officially acknowledged.

This Board should repatriate Mr. al-Qahtani to Saudi Arabia, where he will be committed in one of that country’s advanced psychiatric facilities — an opportunity that he and his family sadly did not seize in 2000. Once there, Mr. al-Qahtani will receive the treatment that he has needed for far too long and he will not pose a threat to the United States or anyone else.

Thank you for taking into consideration the information we have provided. We remain at your disposal to address any questions you may have regarding Mr. al-Qahtani.

Very truly yours,

Prof. Ramzi Kassem
Main Street Legal Services, Inc.
City University of  New York School of Law

Shayana Kadidal, Esq.
Center for Constitutional Rights

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Radio: Andy Worthington’s Hour-Long Guantánamo Interview on Wake-Up Call Podcast

The logo for Wake-Up Call Podcast, run by Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros.Please support my work!

Have an hour to spare? Want to hear me talk in detail about Guantánamo? Then please listen to me on Wake-Up Call Podcast with Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros, who “interview experts on foreign relations, economics, current events, politics, political theory, and more every weekday.”

They decided to call the show “The Horrible Guantánamo Bay Facility,” which I think is accurate, as I was able to explain in detail what a thoroughly disgraceful facility Guantánamo is at every level.

I began by explaining why the naval base at Guantánamo Bay was chosen as the location for an offshore facility that was supposed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and how, of course, creating somewhere outside the law made it shamefully easy to begin torturing the men — and boys — who were swept up in the “war on terror” and held there.

See below for the interview on YouTube (and you can also listen to it here):

Following the introductory comments I mentioned above, I spoke about how the fundamental problem with the Bush administration’s detention policies in the “war on terror” was that, in seeking to establish a way of holding people without any rights whatsoever as human beings, senior officials decided, unwisely, that there was a third way to hold people beyond the established routes — that they are charged with a criminal offence and put on trial, or are taken off the battlefield, and held unmolested, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions, until the end of hostilities.

I proceeded to speak about the prisoners’ long struggle to secure habeas corpus rights, and how, briefly, that led to the release of dozens of prisoners, until politically motivated appeals court judges changed the rules governing the prisoners’ habeas petitions, effectively gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for those held at Guantánamo.

I then spoke about the forms of torture implemented at Guantánamo, and moved on from that to the shameful history of the military commissions, which have failed, throughout Guantánamo’s history, to deliver anything resembling justice to the handful of men who have faced trials. I also discussed the long and so far unsuccessful quest for accountability for the senior officials, up to and including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their lawyers, who implemented the torture, rendition and indefinite detention without charge or trial that were at the heart of the detention policies in the “war on terror.”

I proceeded to discuss how competent tribunals (also known as battlefield tribunals), to separate combatants from civilians, were not implemented in the “war on terror,” and how this was just one of the many mistakes that led to people being held at Guantánamo who were not even soldiers, let alone terrorists, and how, of course, the Bush administration’s disastrous policies dangerously and irresponsibly blurred the differences between civilians, soldiers and terrorists.

I also spoke about the story of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, freed last year as the result of a multi-faceted campaign, including my own contribution via the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I co-founded with activist Joanne McInnes in 2014, and, in connection with Shaker’s story, I also explained why the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011 are full of profoundly unreliable statements made by prisoners who were subjected to torture or other forms of abuse, or were bribed to make statements with the promise of enter living conditions.

I also ran through the history of Guantánamo under President Obama, explaining how unprincipled opposition from Republicans, combined with Obama’s reluctance to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles, has left him with less than six months to fulfil the promise he made on his second day in office, nearly seven and a half years ago, to close Guantánamo within a year.

There was much more in the show than I have described above, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo for Yemeni Subjected to Long-Term Sleep Deprivation in Prison’s Early Years

Yemeni prisoner Mohammad Abu Ghanim, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 41 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).

23 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 »

Insignificant Afghan Finally Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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. 23 men were in the former category, and 41 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 »

Two More Yemeni “Forever Prisoners” Seek Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards

Yemeni prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, victims of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program (photos made available by the ACLU).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 »

14 Years Incommunicado: Abu Zubaydah, Guantánamo Prisoner, CIA Torture Victim, and the Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t

"High-value detainee" Abu Zubaydah, in the first photo of him that was made publicly available.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 »

31st Periodic Review Board Takes Place, for Yemeni at Guantánamo, as 8th Prisoner Has His Detention Upheld

Guantanamo prisoner Hani Abdullah (aka Said Nashir), whose Periodic Review Board took place on April 21, 2016. The photo was included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 »

Photos and Report: Parliamentary Meeting for Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, April 19, 2016

The actor Toby Jones reading from "Guantanamo Diary' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi at a Parliamentary briefing on April 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here.

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 »

Fugitive From Justice: A Timeline of the Crimes Committed by Guantánamo’s Torture Chief, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, As He Fails to Show Up at a French Court

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, photographed in Baghdad on May 17, 2004 (Photo: AFP/Damir Sagol).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 »

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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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