The Impossibility of Being Released from Guantánamo

Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were 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.

For Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, a wish he has cherished for the last 12 years was granted on Wednesday, when a Periodic Review 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, recommended his release from the prison. The unclassified summary of the board’s final determination states, “The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined 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.”

However, in a vivid demonstration that the prison at Guantánamo Bay remains a profoundly unjust place, over 12 years since it first opened, it is not known when — if ever — he will actually be released.

Of the remaining 154 prisoners, almost half — 71 men in total — are undergoing Periodic Review Boards to assess whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial or whether they should be released. 46 of these men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, and President Obama endorsed these recommendations in March 2011, when he issued an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial. 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 »

Please Read “Guantánamo Forever,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera English

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Guantánamo Forever,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. It covers the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) at Guantánamo, convened to assess whether 46 prisoners designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the inter-agency task force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009, or 25 others designated for prosecution by the task force, should continue to be held without charge or trial, or whether they should be recommended for release  — even if, ironically, that only means that they get to join the list of 76 other cleared prisoners who are still held. The review boards began in November, and have, to date, reviewed just three of the 71 cases they were set up to review. The fourth, reviewing the case of Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni, takes place on April 8.

The number of prisoners cleared for release (76) includes the first prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, which recommended his release in January, although my Al-Jazeera article is my response to the most recent activity by the review boards — the decision taken on March 5 to continue holding, without charge or trial, a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, who has been at Guantánamo for over 12 years, and the review of Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, the third prisoner to have his ongoing detention reviewed, which took place at the end of March.

In the article I explain that the decision to continue holding Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, taken by 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, is a disgrace. 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 »

Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files 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.

Last month, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) delivered an important ruling regarding Guantánamo prisoners’ right to challenge their force-feeding, and, more generally, other aspects of their detention. The force-feeding is the authorities’ response to prisoners undertaking long-term hunger strikes — or, as Jason Leopold discovered on March 11 through a FOIA request, what is now being referred to by the authorities as “long-term non-religious fasts.”

The court overturned rulings in the District Court last summer, in which two judges — one reluctantly, one less so — turned down the prisoners’ request for them to stop their force-feeding because of a precedent relating to Guantánamo, dating back to 2009.

As Dorothy J. Samuels  explained in a column in the New York Times on March 11, revisiting that ruling: Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Experiment: A Harrowing Letter by Yemeni Prisoner Emad Hassan

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.155 men are still held at Guantánamo, and yet, despite the fact that most of these prisoners have been held for 12 years without charge or trial, many of them are completely unknown to the general public.

A case in point is Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner whose representation has recently been taken on by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose founder and director is Clive Stafford Smith. Reprieve recently received a letter from  Emad, after it was unclassified by the Pentagon censorship board that evaluates all correspondence between prisoners and their lawyers — and the hand-written notes of any meetings that take place — and decides whether it can be made available to the public.

When the cleared letter was released, Reprieve secured publication of it in the Middle East Monitor, where it was published to mark the 12th opening of the prison on January 11. In the hope of securing a wider audience for Emad’s words, I’m cross-posting it below, not only to let people know about Emad’s particular story — to humanize another of the men so cynically dismissed as “the worst of the worst” by the Bush administration — but also because of his detailed description of how hunger strikers at Guantánamo are being abused by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

US Appeals Court Rules that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Challenge Force-Feeding, and Their Conditions of Detention

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled yesterday that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it, further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

In summer, four prisoners, all cleared for release since at least January 2010 — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian and Nabil Hadjarab, another Algerian, who was later releasedasked federal court judges to stop the government from force-feeding them, but the judges ruled (see here and here) that an existing precedent relating to Guantánamo prevented them from intervening. The prisoners then appealed, and reports at the time of the hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court indicated that the judges appeared to be inclined to look favorably on the prisoners’ complaints.

As was explained in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent the men involved in the appeal, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in California, the D.C. Circuit Court “held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantánamo force-feeding was illegal.” They also “invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Stories of the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia

I wrote a version of the following article, under the heading, “Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia?” 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 Monday December 16, the Pentagon announced that two Guantánamo prisoners — Saad al-Qahtani and Hamoud al-Wady — had been released to Saudi Arabia over the weekend. In the Miami Herald, veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg noted that, ”according to government sources, the Saudi repatriations, carried out in a secret operation Saturday night, were voluntary.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for releasing these two men, as it shows a commitment to the promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo that President Obama made in May, after a two and a half year period in which just five prisoners were released, even though over half of the 160-plus prisoners held throughout this period were cleared for release in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. These releases bring the prison’s total population to 160 prisoners, of whom 80 have been cleared for release.

The release of prisoners had largely ground to a halt because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the Obama administration, requiring certifications to be made guaranteeing that no released prisoner would be able to take up arms or engage in terrorism against the US — promises that were extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. Read the rest of this entry »

Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera About the Problems with Guantánamo’s New Review Boards

Dear friends and supporters,

I do hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Guantánamo’s secretive review boards,” and to share it if you find it worthwhile. It was posted yesterday, and I’m glad to note that it has been in the top ten most viewed articles.

It deals with the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, established to review the cases of the majority of the prisoners who have not been cleared for release. Of the 162 men still held, 82 were cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, while the other 80 were either recommended for ongoing detention without charge or trial, or for prosecution.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing detention without charge or trial of 48 men based on the task force’s recommendations, on the unacceptable basis that they were too dangerous to release but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which meant, of course, that what purported to be evidence was no such thing, and consisted largely of dubious statements by the prisoners, produced in circumstances that were not conducive to truth-telling. Read the rest of this entry »

Will A Rehabilitation Center Lead to the Release of the Cleared Yemeni Prisoners in Guantánamo?

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about one of the enduring problems at Guantánamo — how to establish a situation in Yemen to reassure those who are concerned about the security situation in the country that it is safe to release the 56 Yemeni citizens still held at Guantánamo who were cleared for release nearly four years ago, in January 2010, by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shorty after taking office in 2009.

It is ridiculous, of course, that men cleared for release are still held, but that is the reality on the ground in the United States today, as it has been since the end of 2010, when lawmakers began passing legislation designed to prevent the president from releasing prisoners or closing the prison, as he had promised.

In fact, 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners in Guantánamo were cleared for release by President Obama’s task force, but while some of the other men need third countries to be found that are prepared to take them in because it is unsafe for them to be repatriated, and others — like Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — only need President Obama to flex his political muscles to send them back home, the Yemenis are a slightly more complicated matter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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