Nine Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia; 80 Prisoners Remain

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).Good news from Guantánamo, as nine prisoners have been released, bringing the remaining number of prisoners down to 80. The nine men freed are all Yemeni citizens, but all have a connection with Saudi Arabia. Four were born there to Yemeni parents, while the other five have close family members who live in the country.

Only one of the nine is at all well-known: Tariq Ba Odah, a long-term hunger striker, who, last year, asked a judge to order his release, via a habeas corpus petition, because of the precarious state of his health. After more than eight years on a permanent hunger strike, he weighed just 74 pounds, and, according to medical experts and his lawyers, was at risk of death. Disgracefully, the Justice Department challenged his habeas petition, and, at the end of the year, Reuters revealed that the Pentagon had prevented representatives from an undisclosed foreign country that was prepared to offer him a new home from having access to his medical records, so that the country in question dropped its resettlement offer.

The New York Times also discussed the long history of how Saudi Arabia came to take in the Yemenis, revealing how the move completed “a long-sought diplomatic deal ahead of a planned visit to Riyadh by President Obama in the coming week.” Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri’s First Interview Since Being Released from Prison in Morocco

Former Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri points at the Atlantic Ocean during an interview with the Associated Press (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar).Finally freed from prison in Morocco on February 11, 149 days after he was released from Guantánamo, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) spoke to the Associated Press last week on the terrace of a cafe in his hometown, Safi, with his younger brother Ridouane, who was freed from Guantánamo in 2004.

I have been covering Younous’s story for many years, as I recognized in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, that he strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised, and in the years that followed nothing deterred me from this opinion, as I found out that Younous was one of the best-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and was also a Sufi Muslim, “whose form of religion,” as the AP described it, accurately, “is viewed with suspicion by extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.” See my archive of articles about Younous here and here.

In its interview last week, the AP noted that, according to unclassified US military documents provided by Younous’s lawyers at the London-based legal organization Reprieve, and submitted to the US authorities as part of Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings, “he suffered serious abuse at the hands of the United States, in detention in Afghanistan,” part of which “involved threats made against his younger brother, Ridouane.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo, Given New Homes in Oman; Now 93 Men Remain

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.As the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 15th year of operations, President Obama has been busy attempting to show that, with just one year left in office, he is determined to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009, when he promised to close it within a year. Last month, we heard that 17 men would be released in January, and the releases began just days before the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison with the release of two Yemenis in Ghana and the return to Kuwait of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison. On the actual anniversary, a Saudi was returned home, and two days after the anniversary ten more Yemenis were released in Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, to add to the ten Yemenis sent to Oman last year.

David Remes, who represents three of the men sent to Oman, said it was “a particularly good fit for them,” as the New York Times described it. “I’m sure that they are ecstatic just leaving Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s even better than that. They’ve been sent to Oman, an Arab country, whose language, culture and religion are their own. Oman is also one of Yemen’s neighbors, so their families will be able to visit them often.”

Three more releases — of unidentified prisoners to unidentified countries — are expected soon, and, after the release of the ten men to Oman, Lee Wolosky, the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, said, “We expect to be in a position to empty Guantánamo of all detainees who are currently approved for transfer by this summer.” Including the three men who are expected to be freed soon, Wolosky’s description currently applies to 34 of the 93 men still held  — 25 since January 2010, who were approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and nine in the last two years, by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »

Zahir Hamdoun, the 21st Guantánamo Prisoner Seeking Release Via A Periodic Review Board

Zahir Hamdoun, in a recent photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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.

Last Tuesday, the 21st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — Zahir Hamdoun, a 36-year old Yemeni — asked the board, 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, to approve his release from the prison. The board members communicate with Guantánamo by video feed, and hear directly from the prisoners and their representatives, although very little of what takes place is open to the media, and, by extension, the public.

The PRBs, which began in November 2013, were established to review the cases of 46 men deemed “too dangerous to release” in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, plus 25 others originally recommended for prosecution — until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny.

The description of 46 men as “too dangerous to release” sounds dramatic, but in fact the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put these men on trial, so instead of “too dangerous to release” a better description would have been “subjected to unreliable information, in many cases obtained through torture, or other forms of abuse, or bribery, or regarded as a threat because of their attitude while unjustly imprisoned for years without charge or trial.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011

Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.In an important concession, the US government has publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe former Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.

Chekkouri was repatriated to his home country of Morocco from Guantánamo on September 16, and, as his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve described it in a press release, just issued, “His transfer was subject to diplomatic assurances between Morocco and the US, which included agreements that there was no basis to charge him; that Morocco would not prosecute him; and that he would be detained no longer than 72 hours. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr. Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.”

At a court hearing tomorrow (October 22), the Moroccan investigating magistrate “will determine whether Mr. Chekkouri should be set free,” as Reprieve described it, adding, “It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr. Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (1/3): Ali Ahmad Al-Razihi, a Yemeni, Asks to Be Sent Home

In the last five months, five prisoners at Guantánamo — out of 46 men in total who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in 2011 by President Obama — have had their cases heard by Periodic Review Boards, to assess if their ongoing detention is regarded as necessary, or if they can be recommended for release. This article, the first of three, provides information about the third, fourth and fifth of these PRBs, conducted between March 20 and April 21.

The 46 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. The task force reviewed the cases of the 240 men still held when Obama became president, and recommended 156 for release, 36 for prosecution and 48 for ongoing detention without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

These recommendations, unfortunately, not only represented an alarmingly fundamental betrayal of the principles of justice, but also required the task force to take a credulous approach to the array of false and dubious statements that make up what purports to be the evidence against the majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo — statements that, under close scrutiny, ought to be revealed as being largely worthless, produced through the torture and abuse of the prisoners, or of their bribery with better living conditions, as detailed in my research into the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Where Unsubstantiated Suspicion of Terrorism Ensures Indefinite Detention, Even After 12 Years

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Last week, in a decision that I believe can only be regarded objectively as a travesty of justice, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of six government departments and intelligence agencies — recommended that a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi), should continue to be held. The board concluded that his ongoing imprisonment “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In contrast, this is how al-Rahabi began his statement to the PRB on January 28:

My family and I deeply thank the board for taking a new look at my case. I feel hope and trust in the system. It’s hard to keep up hope for the future after twelve years. But what you are doing gives me new hope. I also thank my personal representatives and my private counsel, and I thank President Obama. I will summarize my written statement since it has already been submitted to the board. Read the rest of this entry »

For the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo, US Relies on Unreliable Witnesses and Experts Find Evidence Unconvincing

171 men are still held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, even though an interagency task force established by President Obama concluded over two years ago that 89 of them should be released. However, it is now 15 months since the last prisoner left Guantánamo alive, and as the long struggle to resume the release of prisoners from the prison continues, attention has focused on a number of specific cases: on Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (please sign the UK petition and/or the international petition); on five Taliban leaders and the negotiations to release them as part of the Afghan peace process (or part of a prisoner swap); on Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner who was supposed to be released last November according to a plea deal he agreed the year before; and on the last two Kuwaitis, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah.

I have written extensively about Fayiz and Fawzi at various times in the last five years, and in February was delighted to be invited to Kuwait to step up the campaign to secure their release, which I wrote about here and here. I also posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for Fayiz and Fawzi. I was also there with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, and I met Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, and Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project.

I was also delighted to meet Jenifer Fenton, a journalist who has become fascinated by the Kuwaitis’ story in the last year or so, and has been undertaking the kind of research and investigations that, in general, have been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. Last week, I cross-posted the first of two articles that she wrote following our visit, based on interviews with former prisoners, and published on Al-Jazeera’s website, and I’m now cross-posting the second article, analyzing the weakness of the supposed evidence against Fayiz and Fawzi. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Three of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed later this year, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 33 of the 70-part series. 411 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. 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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