Finally! Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed before he was handed over to US authorities in Mauritania, and sent for torture in Jordan and Guantanamo, where he is still held. On July 14, 2016, a Periodic Review Board approved him for release.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Great news from Guantánamo, as the torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, as has an Afghan prisoner, Abdul Zahir, who was charged in the first version of Guantánamo’s military commissions in January 2006 — although those charges were then dropped and never revived. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and, with these two decisions, 29 men have been approved for release and 13 for ongoing imprisonment, a success rate of 69%. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

This is remarkable — and an indictment of the Obama administration’s caution — when it is recognized that, back in 2009, when President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess these men’s cases, these 42 men and 22 others either awaiting reviews or awaiting the results of reviews, were described as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, or were put forward for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny in 2012-13.

Slahi (ISN 760), a 45-year old Mauritanian, was one of those initially — and incomprehensibly — recommended for prosecution by the task force. As I explained at the time of his PRB on June 2, he “was subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo, approved by Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and, though still imprisoned, is a best-selling author. While imprisoned, he wrote a memoir that, after a long struggle with the US government, was published in redacted form. Nevertheless, the power of Slahi’s account of his life, his rendition, his torture and his long years in Guantánamo, is such that the book, Guantánamo Diary, has become a best-seller.” Read the rest of this entry »

Penitent Pakistani Seeks Release from Guantánamo, as Two Yemenis and a Moroccan are Approved for Release and an Algerian’s Request is Denied

Pakistani prisoner Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On July 7, a Periodic Review Board took place for Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (also identified for the PRB as Abdul Rabbani Abu Rahmah), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (born in Saudi Arabia) who was seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002 and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. He was seized with his younger brother, Ahmad (aka Mohammed), who is awaiting a date for his PRB, and who, last year, sought assistance from the Pakistani government in a submission to the Pakistani courts.

The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as “too dangerous to release,” despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, made up of 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.

Around the time of Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani’s PRB, which is discussed at length below, four decisions were also taken relating to prisoners whose reviews had already taken place, when three men were approved for release, and one had his request to be released turned down. These decisions meant that, of the 52 prisoners whose cases had been reviewed, 27 have been approved for release, 13 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 12 decisions have yet to be made. 11 more reviews have yet to take place (and one took place last week, which I’ll be writing about soon). See here for my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and that I have been running since 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Two Yemenis Mistakenly Identified as Members of Al-Qaeda Cell Seek Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

Yemeni Musa'ab al-Madhwani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place at Guantánamo, bringing to 51 the number of prisoners whose ongoing imprisonment has been reviewed by the US government since the PRBs were set up in 2013 (the 52nd took place today, and I’ll be writing about that soon). To date, 24 of those men have been recommended for release, 12 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 16 others are awaiting decisions. 12 other men are still awaiting reviews. For further information, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website.

Last week’s reviews were for the last two of six men seized in Karachi, Pakistan on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the same day as alleged 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They were then sent to be tortured in a “black site” in Afghanistan, and were subsequently identified by the US authorities as members of an Al-Qaeda cell in Karachi. In the first of the PRBs for the six, in February, for Ayoub Ali Saleh, it was revealed that the authorities have since walked back from their claims, conceding that “it is more likely the six Yemenis were among a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

Saleh was recommended for release in March, and a second man, Bashir al-Marwalah, was approved for release in May, after a review in April. Decisions have not yet been taken in the cases of the other two — Said Salih Said Nashir, reviewed in April, and Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, reviewed in May, but it is reasonable to expect that, unless the men in question are unwilling or unable to demonstrate contrition, and a desire to resume peaceful lives, they will all be recommended for release. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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): Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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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