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 »

Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and “Very Compliant” Prisoner, Faces Guantánamo Review Board

A photo of Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.I wrote the following article — as “Guantánamo Review Board for Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and ‘Very Compliant’ Prisoner, Kidnapped in Thailand in 2003” — 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 Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and, at 68 years of age, Guantánamo’s oldest current prisoner, became the 28th Guantánamo prisoner to have his potential release considered by a Periodic Review Board (see our full list here). This review process was set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) or already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, when almost two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — 156 out of 240 — were recommended for release, or, to use the task force’s careful wording, were “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures.”

Of the 28, five decisions have yet to be made, but of the 23 others the success rate for these men securing approval for their release is extremely high — 83% — with 19 men having their release recommended. What makes these decisions particularly important is that they puncture the rhetoric that has surrounded these men — both under George W. Bush, with the glib dismissal of everyone at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and under Barack Obama, with his task force’s conclusion (more worrying because of its veneer of authority) that 48 of those eligible for PRBs were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not reliable evidence at all.

In attempting to justify its decisions, the task force noted that its members had relied on “the totality of available information — including credible information that might not be admissible in a criminal prosecution — [which] indicated that the detainee poses a high level of threat that cannot be mitigated sufficiently except through continued detention.” Read the rest of this entry »

The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” Launches: Send in Your Photos Asking President Obama to Fulfill His Promise to Close the Prison

Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy in London supporting the new "Countdown to Close Guantanamo" initiative (Photo: Andy Worthington).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. In the photo here, former Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer supports the new “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” initiative. See more on the Celebrity Photos page and also the Public Photos page, and please send in your own photos — see below for details!

January 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the last year of the Obama presidency, and tomorrow (January 22) marks the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s promise to close the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009. To highlight the president’s last chance to fulfill his promise to close the prison, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign has launched a new initiative, the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo.”

The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” encourages celebrities, lawmakers and concerned members of the public, from the US and around the world, to take photos of themselves holding signs counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to close the prison before the inauguration of the next president on January 20, 2017.

Our first poster, reading, “President Obama, you have one year left to close Guantánamo,” was made available when the campaign launched, on Jan, 20. It is being followed, throughout the year, by posters counting down every 50 days — so “350 days” is on February 4, “300 days” will be on March 25, and so on.

Please print off the 350 days poster, take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to: info@closeguantanamo.org.

Read the rest of this entry »

Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo

A campaigner reminds President Obama of his promise to close Guantanamo on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

Supporters of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign have long been aware that the very existence of the “war on terror” prison at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is an affront to all notions that the United States respects justice and the rule of law, and we remember that as the closure of the prison becomes, yet again, an undignified game of political football, with Congress continuing to erect obstacles to the release of prisoners and the transfer of anyone to the US mainland for any reason, and the Obama administration trying to come up with a workable plan for the prison’s closure.

Although Congress, the week after the 9/11 attacks, passed a law — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that purports to justify the detention of prisoners without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and the Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the government can hold them until the end of hostilities, this thin legal veneer has persistently failed to disguise the fact that everything about Guantánamo is wrong.

The Bush administration established the prison to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and for nearly two and a half years the men — and boys — held there had no rights whatsoever. In a second decision delivered in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that they had habeas corpus rights, a decision that allowed lawyers into the prison, breaking the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the prison for all that time, enabling torture and other forms of abuse to take place. Even so, it was not until June 2006 that the Supreme Court, in another ruling, reminded the administration that no one can be held without rights, and that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” applied to everyone in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Mixed Messages on Guantánamo, as Justice Department Tells Judge Not to Intervene in Case of 75-Pound Hunger Striker at Risk of Death

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).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.

One day, when we’re looking back on Guantánamo and apportioning blame to those who contributed most powerfully to its cruelty, and to keeping it open long after the most senior officials in two governments conceded that it should be closed, a spotlight will be shone on the lawyers in the Civil Division of the Justice Department who have worked so assiduously to prevent prisoners from being released.

I have criticized these lawyers occasionally, but I have rarely heard any criticism of them in the mainstream media, and yet, from the moment that the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, they have been making life difficult for lawyers representing the prisoners, micro-managing their meetings with their clients and their travel arrangements, and often, it is impossible not to conclude, in an effort to obstruct the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients.

In addition, as I noted in an article in August, the Civil Division lawyers “have fought tooth and nail against every single habeas petition submitted by the prisoners, with just one exception — the severely ill Sudanese prisoners Ibrahim Idris, whose petition was granted unopposed in 2013.” I added, “Disgracefully, the Justice Department lawyers have repeatedly challenged habeas petitions submitted by prisoners whose release has already been approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” the high-level, inter-agency task force set up by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009, which issued its final report a year later, recommending 156 men for release, 36 for trials and 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the alarming basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco  on September 16, 2015 (Photo collage by Reprieve).I’ve been so busy with the news of the planned release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I have a few other stories to catch up on, one being the case of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan who was repatriated on September 16, but is now imprisoned and awaiting a trial, in defiance of the diplomatic assurances agreed between the US and Moroccan governments prior to his release.

Immediately after his release, as I wrote about here, Younous was imprisoned incommunicado, in an unknown location. His brother was then allowed to speak to him, and he “said he sounded OK and in good spirits.” However, on September 20, AFP reported that “he was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor,” noting that, in Morocco, terror suspects “can be held without charge for 48 hours, which is renewable once,” and Younous “could therefore appear in court on Monday [September 21].”

By September 21, he had has been “placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Morocco’s notorious Salé prison without bail.” He had been allowed to meet with a local lawyer, but the news was not good. Reprieve noted that he was “facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country,’” which Cori Crider, his lawyer in London, described as “utterly baseless.” Read the rest of this entry »

War Is Over, Set Us Free, Say Guantánamo Prisoners; Judge Says No

Guantanamo prisoner Mukhtar al-Warafi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration, in which they sought their release, on the basis that, as the lawyers put it, “Their continued detention is illegal because the hostilities in Afghanistan, the only possible justification for detention, have ended. Therefore, these individuals should be released and repatriated or resettled immediately.” They referred to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, on January 20 this year, at which the president said, “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

In my article, I also mentioned a federal court filing submitted on behalf of a Yemeni prisoner, Mukhtar al-Warafi, at the end of February calling for his release for similar reasons. I stated, “One of al-Warafi’s lawyers is Brian Foster, who, with colleagues at the law firm Covington & Burling, represents prisoners accused of being involved with the Taliban as well as others accused of having some involvement with al-Qaeda. Foster said they ‘chose al-Warafi’s case as a first test because he was only ever named as a member of the Taliban, offering a clearer argument for why he should be set free now,’ as opposed to men accused of having al-Qaeda connections.”

As I also discussed recently, al-Warafi was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but had his habeas corpus petition subsequently challenged by the Justice Department, in an example of a lack of joined-up thinking within the government. Al-Warafi’s habeas petition was subsequently turned down by a judge in March 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes, Condemns Government Delays

Former Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab after his release (in Uruguay in December 2014). This is a screen shot from a TV broadcast in Argentina, where Mr. Dhiab travelled in February, to call for the government to offer new homes to other Guantanamo prisoners.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.

Sick of delaying tactics, a US federal court judge has ordered the government to stop wasting time with “frivolous” appeals against her rulings, and to release videotapes showing a Guantánamo prisoner being brutally force-fed.

On October 3 last year, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to prepare for public release 32 videotapes of a Guantánamo prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, being dragged from his cell and force-fed. The tapes contained 11 hours of footage in total, and, as I explained at the time, Judge Kessler responded to the government’s concerns about the need for anonymity for US personnel by ordering them to be “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.”

That was over nine months ago, and on Friday (July 10), Judge Kessler ordered the government to “complete all national security-related redactions to the first eight tapes — which show Abu Wa’el Dhiab being forcibly removed from his cell and tube-fed — by August 31, and to complete other key redactions by September 30,” as Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers at Reprieve explained in a press release. Read the rest of this entry »

Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).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.

For the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, introduced by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987, a vivid reminder of the horrors of Guantánamo emerged the day before, when lawyers for Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner identified by the US authorities as Tarek Baada, sought “a court order granting his habeas petition and compelling the government to facilitate [his] immediate release” because of fears that, otherwise, he will die at the prison. The submission to the court is here.

Tariq, who was picked up in Pakistan by the local authorities at the end of 2001 and turned over to the US military, arrived at Guantánamo shortly after the prison opened in 2002, when he was 23 years old. He is now 36, and he is still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. He is one of 30 men, all Yemenis, who were placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” which was made dependant on perceptions of the security situation in his home country improving, although it was never made clear who would make that decision, or how it would come about.

However, since President Obama began finding new homes in third countries for Yemenis approved for release last November, the only obstacle to his release now is the difficulty of finding a country to accept him, as well as countries prepared to offer new homes to the 29 other Yemenis in “conditional detention,” and 13 other Yemenis approved for release by the task force — or approved for release in the last year and a half by Periodic Review Boards — but still held. Since last November, 18 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo to third countries. 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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