I wrote the following article 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.
In its latest “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination,” a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — a high-level review process involving 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 — decided, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention” of Suhayl Abdul Anam al-Sharabi (aka Zohair al-Shorabi, ISN 569), a 38- or 39-year old Yemeni, “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The decision, dated March 31, 2016, and following on from his PRB on March 1, is not entirely surprising for two reasons — firstly, because of allegations levelled against al-Sharabi, suggesting that he was actually involved with terrorists, unlike the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and, coupled with this, a failure on his part to show contrition, and to come up with a plan for his future.
In its determination, the board stated that its members had “considered the detainee’s past involvement with terrorist activities to include contacts with high-level al Qaeda figures, living with two of the 9/11 hijackers in Malaysia, and possible participation in KSM’s plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia. The Board noted the detainee’s refusal to admit the extent of his past activities, as well as his evasive and implausible responses to basic questions. Further, the Board considered the detainee’s defiant behavior while in detention, which has only recently changed to be more compliant, and the detainee’s lack of a credible plan for the future.” Read the rest of this entry »
On April 3, two Libyans — former opponents of Colonel Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011 — were freed from Guantánamo and resettled in Senegal, whose Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a statement pointing out that the two men were granted “asylum … in accordance with the relevant conventions of international humanitarian law, also in the tradition of Senegalese hospitality and Islamic solidarity with two African brothers who have expressed interest in resettlement in Senegal after their release.”
The two men — Omar Mohamed Khalifh, 44 (ISN 695), and Salem Gherebi, 55 (ISN 189) — are the first former prisoners to be resettled in the west African country, and with their release 89 men remain in Guantánamo, of whom 35 have been approved for release — 23 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, and 12 other approved for release since January 2014 by another high-level review process, the Periodic Review Boards.
Khalifh, also identified as Omar Khalif, went before a Periodic Review Board in June 2015 and was approved for release in September, bringing freedom within sight for an amputee with numerous other health problems who, as the Libyan-born British resident Omar Deghayes (released from Guantánamo in December 2007) told me in 2010, was not who the Americans thought he was: Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo made two decisions — to recommend one prisoner for release, and to recommend another for ongoing imprisonment. The decisions mean that, since the PRBs began in November 2013, 20 prisoners have now been approved for release, while five have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, a success rate, for the prisoners, of 80%.
This is all the more remarkable — and all the more damaging for the government’s credibility — because the PRBs were established to review the cases of all the men not recommended for trials, and not already approved for release (by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009) — men who were described as “too dangerous to release”; a description that, it now transpires, was patently untrue, as myself and other commentators remarked at the time.
The task force itself acknowledged that it had insufficient evidence to put these men on trial, which alarmed those of us paying close attention, as it obviously meant that what purported to be evidence was not evidence at all, but a collection of dubious statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, possibly involving the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or assessments that, because of their behavior, and threats they may have made while at Guantánamo, it was unsafe to release them. It should be noted that these assessments of the threat level may or may not have been true, because, of course, men treated as appallingly as the Guantánamo prisoners have been might not have posed a threat, but might only have been extremely indignant about the circumstances of their imprisonment. Read the rest of this entry »
The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.
The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.
Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.
23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
As the dust settles on President Obama’s plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay before he leaves office, and defense secretary Ashton Carter urges Congress to drop its ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, one key element of the plan — Periodic Review Boards, assessing, on a case by case basis, whether or not around half of the 91 men still held can be released — continue to deliver significant results.
Two weeks ago, a Yemeni, Majid Ahmad — once, I believe, mistakenly described as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden — was approved for release, and last week the Periodic Review Secretariat announced another release, bringing the total number of men approved for release to 19, out of 22 results, a success rate of 86%. 36 of the 91 men still held have now been approved for release, 24 since 2010, and 12 through the PRBs (to add to the seven men already freed as a result of the PRBs).
As I noted last week, the success rate “reveals the extent to which dangerous hyperbole has played such a significant part in the story of Guantánamo, as these are men regarded six years ago as ‘too dangerous to release’ by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, even though the task force also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial,” which “should have been a sign that the information used to continued imprisoning these men was profoundly unreliable, produced through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through bribing prisoners with better living conditions.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week — delayed for a week because of bad weather — the 24th Periodic Review Board took place at Guantánamo, for Yasin Ismail (aka Yassin Ismail), a Yemeni prisoner who is reportedly 36 years old — although, years ago, one of his lawyers stated that his year of birth had incorrectly been recorded as 1979, when he was actually born in 1982, which would mean that he is currently 33 years old. I note that no one, apart from Human Rights First, has actually written about this PRB.
The Periodic Review Boards were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that, in 2009, had reviewed the cases of all the prisoners held when Barack Obama took office. Alarmingly, these men — 46 in total — were given this description even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. In other words, rumor, hearsay and unreliable statements by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, hinted that they were dangerous, when that might not have been true at all.
25 other prisoners, initially recommended for prosecution, were also made eligible for the PRBs after the basis of their trials collapsed following a series of devastating rulings by the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., which ruled that Congress had invented a raft of war crimes, and had used them to illegally prosecute prisoners in Guantánamo’s already discredited military commission trial system. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.
Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.
Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.
Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.
One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.
In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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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