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 »

Who Are the Six Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo and Resettled in Oman?

Idris Ahmad Abdu Qader Idris, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.

They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.

Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Season of Death at Guantánamo

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death on June 9, 2006.On June 9, Joseph Hickman, a former guard at Guantánamo, posted the following tweet: “9 years ago today I was at Guantánamo Bay. Three detainees were murdered while I was on duty. All should remember those three men today.”

It was a poignant message, and a reminder of how, at Guantánamo, the years may pass but the injustices — horrible injustices involving unexplained deaths, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial — remain or are inadequately addressed.

On June 9, 2006, as Joe Hickman pointed out, three prisoners died at Guantánamo — 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, another Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. The Bush administration claimed that they died in a suicide pact, by hanging themselves, but that always seemed unlikely. How were men who were scrutinized incessantly supposed to get the materials to hang themselves and then do so without anyone noticing? And could it really not be relevant that all three men had been long-term hunger strikers, and a thorn in the side of the authorities at Guantánamo?

I wrote regularly about the men who died in June 2006 — on the second anniversary of their death, when no one in the mainstream media noticed, and in August 2008, after an official and unsatisfactory statement based on the NCIS investigation of the men’s death was released  — and then, in January 2010, came a dark and powerful revelation: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides,'” an article in Harper’s Magazine by the law professor and journalist Scott Horton, based on interviews with former guards, including, in particular, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who had been in charge of the guard towers on the night the men died, and who swore that the official story could not have been true. My immediate response to Horton’s article is here. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Asim Al-Khalaqi Dies in Kazakhstan, Four Months After Being Freed

The US flag at Guantanamo (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly/Huffington Post).Vice News broke the news on Thursday that Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, a Yemeni, and a former prisoner at Guantánamo, died in Kazakhstan, just over four months since he was freed, after spending 13 years in US custody without charge or trial.

The 46- or 47-year old, identified in Guantánamo as ISN 152, was one of five men freed on December 31, 2014, 13 years and one day after his capture, on December 30, 2001, in Pakistan. Three weeks later, he was flown to Guantánamo, less than two weeks after the prison opened.

As I explained in an article in 2012, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” al-Khalaqi was approved for release under President Bush, as well as by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009: Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff Sloan, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, On Why Cleared Prisoners, Including Shaker Aamer, Must Be Freed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture show their support for Shaker Aamer in an action outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. in January 2015.Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reawakened discussions about the future of Guantánamo, in an article entitled “Facing threat in Congress, Pentagon races to resettle Guantánamo inmates.” As I described it in my analysis of the article, the Post aired “the suggestion … that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.”

I was at pains to point out that, “[r]ealistically … it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario,” but I found it convincing that, “[a]s a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June,” and that one of these prisoners is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and I was reassured when a journalist friend explained that a source within the administration had told her that there was “cautious optimism” that these releases will indeed take place.

Following up on the story, Ian Woods of Sky News interviewed Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013. A veteran diplomat, Sloan left his job at the end of last year, but has continued to discuss Guantánamo, and the need for the prison’s closure, ever since. See his op-ed in the New York Times in January, for example. Read the rest of this entry »

As Gitmo Clock Marks 700 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners, 57th Man Is Approved For Release

The logo for the "Gitmo Clock" website, designed by Justin Norman.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.

Remember back in May 2013, when a prison-wide hunger strike was raging at Guantánamo? Promoted into action by international criticism, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of over two and a half years in which just five men had been freed.

That deadlock had arisen because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles, even though he had the power to do so.

After President Obama’s promise in May 2013, we at “Close Guantánamo” established the Gitmo Clock to mark how many days it is since the promise, and how many men have been freed. Read the rest of this entry »

Prisoners in Guantánamo Ask to be Freed Because of the End of the War in Afghanistan

Guantanamo prisoner Obaidullah before his capture, in a photo provided to his lawyers by his family in Afghanistan.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.

On March 30, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration asking for their clients to be released.

The five men in question are: Haji Hamdullah (aka Haji Hamidullah), ISN 1119; Mohammed Kamin, ISN 1045; Bostan Karim, ISN 975; Obaidullah, ISN 762; and Abdul Zahir, ISN 753.

The lawyers wrote, “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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Muaz al-Alawi (aka Moath al-Alwi), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In the long struggle for justice at Guantánamo — a prison intended at its founding, 13 years ago, to be beyond the law — there have been few occasions when any outside body has been able to exert any meaningful pressure on the US regarding the imprisonment, mostly without charge or trial, of the men held there.

One exception is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The IACHR has long taken an interest in Guantánamo (as this page on their website explains), and three years ago delivered a powerful ruling in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who was still held despite being approved for release (a situation currently faced by 56 of the 122 men still held). Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo: Another Yemeni Cleared for Release, Another Approved for Ongoing Detention

Guantanamo prisoner Saeed Jarabh, 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.

It was, on paper at least, a good week last week for Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh (ISN 235), a 36-year old Yemeni prisoner who has been held at Guantánamo for over a third of his life — since he was 23.

The good news on paper — almost certainly the best news Saeed Jarabh has received at Guantánamo — is that he has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, the review process established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who were not approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009-10 — with the exception of the ten men who are facing, or have faced trials. The review boards consist 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.

The Unclassified Summary of Final Determination for Jarabh, which was dated March 5, 2015, but wasn’t made publicly available until last week, stated that his review board, by consensus, determined that “continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »

13th Guantánamo Prisoner Seeks Release Through Periodic Review Board

Mashur al-Sabri, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 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.

On March 3, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) was held at Guantánamo for Mashur al-Sabri (ISN 324), a 37-year old Yemeni “forever prisoner,” born in December 1977 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. He is one of 71 men designated for PRBs in 2013 — 46 recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010 (on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial), and 25 others who had been recommended for prosecution, until the military commission trial system began to severely collapse following a devastating appeals court ruling in 2012.

The reviews began in November 2013, and twelve took place between then and February this year. Ten decisions have been taken to date, with seven men recommended for release, and two of those seven freed. See here, here and here for my archive of articles about the Periodic Review Boards.

Mashur al-Sabri’s PRB, on March 3, was the 13th case to be looked at by the board, which consists 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. It was the first time al-Sabri’s case had been looked at since February 2011, when his habeas corpus petition was denied, because the judge in his case, Judge Ricardo Urbina, concluded that he had received military training and had “traveled to the battle lines in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban or al-Qaida and remained part of those forces at the time of his capture in early 2002.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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