New Life in Uruguay for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?

Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.

Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.

The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who cannot be safely repatriated, and was willing to offer new homes to five men. The BBC reported that the 78-year old president told local media, “The US president wants to solve this problem so he’s asking several countries to host them and I told him I will. They are welcome to come here.” He also told Montevideo’s El Espectador Radio that the men in question were four Syrians and a Palestinian.

Subsequently, the Global Post published an article identifying the men, after working out, from a publicly available list of the prisoners cleared for release (see my article here, for example) that there is only one Palestinian still held at Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and four Syrians who have also been cleared for release.

The Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan, ISN 684), who, like the handful of other Palestinians held at Guantánamo and subsequently released, is essentially stateless, as he can only return with the blessing of the Israeli government, which has no intention of allowing any former Guantánamo prisoner to return home. I most recently profiled his case here, mentioning how he was not only cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009 (like 74 other men still held, including the four Syrians), but had also been cleared for release under President Bush in October 2007. I also mentioned how, sadly, he was one of three prisoners that the German government was planning to accept in 2010, but was the only one left behind in Guantánamo when, for political reasons, a decision was taken to accept just two men instead. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike

As part of my coverage of the huge, ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I’m delighted to make available the full text of a statement (actually an affidavit) made by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, based on a phone conversation that Clive had on March 29 with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. See here, here and here for reports made available to me by Shaker last year, and see here for an e-petition to the British government calling for renewed action to secure Shaker’s release — and here for an international petition.

As I have been reporting for many weeks (see here, here, here, here and here), the hunger strike began two months ago, in response to the renewed ill-treatment of the prisoners and their despair at ever being released, after President Obama promised to close the prison and then failed to do so, even though 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners — including Shaker — were cleared for release, at least three years ago, by an inter-agency task force that the President established shortly after taking office in 2009.

Shaker’s testimony, via Clive (and available here via Reprieve), adds important, and disturbing new information about the hunger strike, and the behavior of the authorities, as well as providing numbers — Shaker told Clive that there are “130 prisoners total on hunger strike in the whole prison,” and that, “Of the 66 prisoners in Camp V, 45 are recognized as being on strike, though more actually are doing it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January 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.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free

On Friday, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force’s final report was issued in January 2010.

Until now, the government has always refused to release the names, hindering efforts by the prisoners’ lawyers — and other interested parties — to publicize their plight.

The rationale for this was explained by Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, in June 2009, when he stated that “indiscriminate public disclosure of the decisions resulting from reviews by Guantánamo Review Task Force will impair the US Government’s ability effectively to repatriate and resettle Guantánamo detainees” under the executive order establishing a review of the prisoners’ cases, which was issued on President Obama’s second day in office in January 2009, at the same time that he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

At Guantánamo, Another Bleak Ramadan for 87 Cleared Prisoners Who Are Still Held

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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 Friday, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, 168 men still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba must have wondered if their long ordeal will ever come to an end. Now held for as long as the First and Second World Wars combined, these men — of whom only a handful are accused of any involvement with terrorism — have become scapegoats, the victims of a cowardly administration, a cynical Congress and fearful judges.

How else are we to explain the presence of 87 men whose release was approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama himself, when he took office in January 2009 and promised to close Guantánamo within a year? Consisting of around 60 representatives of the relevant government departments and the intelligence services, the Task Force concluded in its final report (PDF), issued in January 2010, that, of the 168 men still held, 33 should be tried and 46 should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, while the other 87 should be released.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are rigorously and implacably opposed to President Obama’s claim that it is acceptable to hold 46 men indefinitely without charge or trial, because it is fundamentally unjust to claim, as the administration does, that these 46 men represent a danger to the United States, even though there is insufficient evidence to put them on trial. What this means is that the so-called evidence is fatally tainted, produced through the use of torture, or other forms of coercion, and is therefore fundamentally unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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