Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security

Four prisoners released from Guantanamo who have ended up in very different circumstances following the closure by Donald Trump of the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Clockwise from top left: Abu Wa'el Dhiab, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi and Ravil Mingazov.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners Endangers U.S. National Security,” 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.

The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has been an unmitigated disaster for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and any notion of justice regarding those held there, or, indeed, those freed from the prison over the years.

For Trump, the notion that there might be anything wrong — or un-American — about imprisoning people forever without any meaningful form of due process clearly doesn’t exist. Since he took office nearly two years ago, only one prisoner has been released, out of the 41 men still held at the prison when Obama took office; and that man, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi, was only released, and transferred to ongoing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, because of a plea deal he agreed to in his military commission trial proceedings back in 2014.

Trump, clearly, has no desire to meaningfully continue the parole-type process — the Periodic Review Boards — that Barack Obama initiated to release lower-level prisoners who could demonstrate that they didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. Indeed, his contempt for the process is such that he has shut down any possibility of the two men whose release was approved by Obama’s PRBs, but who didn’t get released before Obama left office, being freed by shutting down the State Department office that dealt with resettlements — the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Der Spiegel Publishes Detailed Profile of the Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Uruguay, Struggling to Adapt to a New Life

Three of the former Guantanamo prisoners resettled in Uruguay last December in their protest outside the US Embassy (Photo: F. Flores/El País Uruguay).Ever since it was first announced, over a year ago, that six Guantánamo prisoners would be resettled in Uruguay, I have followed the story closely. Uruguay was a fascinating choice for resettlement, with its humble, left-wing president who had also been a political prisoner, and in December, when the six men were freed, there was considerably more media interest that there usually is when prisoners are released — or, as with the six men freed in December, resettled, because they either couldn’t be repatriated at all (as was the case for one of their number, the last Palestinian at Guantánamo) or they couldn’t be safely repatriated (as was the case for the other five men, four Syrians and a Tunisian).

Since their arrival, however, the six men have had difficulty adapting to their new lives. This is unsurprising, given that they are almost certainly all suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that they are far from home in a Spanish-speaking country with almost no Muslim population, and, most crucially, that they are separated from their families. I had hoped that their transition to a new life would be smoother, and would have involved them being swiftly reunited with their families, but that has not happened, and instead they have gone public with their dissatisfaction — aimed, it should be noted, primarily at the US government, who, the men believe, is not doing enough for them.

In March, I wrote an article about how the men were struggling to adapt to their new lives, which included a request to the Argentinian government to follow Uruguay’s example and take in more prisoners approved for release from Guantánamo but still held. That request was made by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, one of the Syrians, and a well-known figure in Guantánamo circles, because of his effort, last year, to challenge the US authorities’ force-feeding methods through the US courts. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Uruguay Discuss Their Problems

Abu Wa'el Dhiab (aka Jihad Dhiab) photographed for the Washington Post by Joshua Partlow in March 2015, four months after his release from Guantanamo.

To donate to support the six men released in Uruguay, please follow this link to a Just Giving page set up by Cage for Reprieve.

A month ago, I wrote a well-received article, “Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom,” looking at the problems faced by the six former Guantánamo prisoners given new homes in Uruguay in December. The six men, long cleared for release, couldn’t be safely repatriated, as four are from war-torn Syria, one is from Tunisia, where, it appears, the US is now concerned about the security situation, and the sixth is Palestinian, and the Israeli government has always prevented Palestinians held in Guantánamo from being returned home.

As I pointed out in my article, and in a follow-up interview with a Uruguayan journalist, “Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay,” the former prisoners are struggling to adapt to a new country, in which they don’t speak the language and there is no Muslim community, and in which they are still separated from their families, over 13 years since they were first seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan by or on behalf of US forces.

Most of all, however, I believe that, while there have been murmurings in Uruguay about the men’s apparent unwillingness to work, those complaining are overlooking the fact that all six men are evidently grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their long ordeal in a experimental prison where abusive indefinite detention without charge or trial is the norm. Read the rest of this entry »

Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay

Andy Worthington speaking to Witness Against Torture activists in Washington D.C. in January 2013, on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the prison's opening (Photo by Justin Norman).Recently, I was delighted to be interviewed for the Montevideo Portal website by a Uruguayan journalist, Martin Otheguy, who wanted to know my thoughts about the situation facing the six former Guantánamo prisoners who were given new homes in Uruguay in December. I wrote about the negotiations for their release here and here, and I also wrote about the men following their release, here and here. In addition, I looked at the stories of their difficulties adapting to their new lives just a few weeks ago, which was the spur for Martin approaching me for an interview.

The interview is below. I translated it from the Spanish via Google Translate, and then tried to reconstruct it so that it reflects as accurately as possible the original interview, which was in English. I hope you find it useful, and will share it if you do:

Strangers in a Strange Land
Andy Worthington interviewed by Martin Otheguy for Montevideo Portal

Andy Worthington, documentary filmmaker and author specializing in Guantánamo, told Montevideo Portal that a dedicated team of psychologists should treat the men released from Guantánamo in December. “They are in a unique and horrible position in which nobody can understand what they went through,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom

Released Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab in a screenshot from an interview he did with an Argentinian TV channel in February 2015, two months after his release in Uruguay with five other men.In December, the release of six Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay attracted the attention of the world’s media — in part because Uruguay’s President Mujica was a former political prisoner, who had openly criticized Guantánamo and had welcomed the men as refugees.

At the time, the situation looked hopeful for the men — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — but that may just have been because of President Mujica’s attitude. After 13 years in Guantánamo, the reasonable expectation would have been that the released men would have post-traumatic stress disorder, and would find it hard to adapt to life in an alien country with no Muslim population.

In February, the most prominent of the former prisoners, Abu Wa’el Dhiab (aka Jihad Diyab) — a Syrian who had embarked on a hunger strike in despair at ever being released, and had fought in the US courts to prevent the Obama administration from force-feeding him — made what the Guardian described as “a surprising visit” to Argentina, Uruguay’s neighbour, to ask the country to take in other prisoners from Guantánamo, where 55 of the remaining 122 prisoners have also been approved for release, but are, for the most part, in need of third countries to offer them new homes. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening with Guantánamo?

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The short answer to the question, “What’s Happening with Guantánamo?” twelve years and eight months after the prison opened, is, unfortunately, “very little.”

Seventeen men have been released since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues last May, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

Of the 17 men released, eleven were cleared for release in 2009 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office. However, of the 149 men still held, 75 others were also cleared for release by the task force, and their ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace. Four others have been cleared for release in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force. 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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