Who Are the Four Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Saudi Arabia, Leaving 55 Men Still Held?

The four prisoners released from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in January 2017. From L to R: Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim, Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bawazir, Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad and Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work on Guantánamo over the next two months.

 

Good news from Guantánamo, as four men have been released to Saudi Arabia, reducing the prison’s population to 55, the lowest number since its opening weeks 15 years ago.

The four men are Yemeni citizens — although one was born in Saudi Arabia, but to Yemeni parents, meaning that he was not given citizenship. A third country had to be found that was prepared to take them in, because the entire US establishment agrees that it is unsafe, from a security perspective, to repatriate any Yemenis. The men will go through Saudi Arabia’s well-established rehabilitation program, although, to be honest, it is obvious upfront that none of these men can be regarded as a threat.

Two were approved for release by President Obama’s cautious, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, while the other two were approved for release more recently by the latest inter-agency review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which consider the prisoners’ cases in a manner similar to parole boards — except, of course, for the crucial fact that the men in question have never been convicted of any crimes.

The first of the four, whose case has rarely been discussed, is Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli (ISN 240), who, according to US records, was born in Jeddah on September 10, 1977. Al-Shabli was approved for release by the task force in 2009, but is one of 30 men the task force placed in a category of their own invention, “conditional detention,” which was only supposed to end when someone — it was not determined who, or how — established that the security situation in Yemen had improved. As I explained in August, when 12 Yemenis were released in the UAE, “those in the ‘conditional detention’ group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, before [the August] releases, had led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia.” Six of the 12 Yemenis freed in August were from the “conditional detention group,” and with the two releases to Saudi Arabia from this group, just three men from this group are left — plus another two men from the 126 other men approved for release by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Yemeni Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Did He Make the List of Prisoners Being Freed in the New Year?

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into 2017.

 

Just before Christmas, it was announced that Mohammed al-Ansi aka Muhammad al-Ansi (ISN 029), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, had been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. The decision made al-Ansi the 38th prisoner to be approved for release by a PRB, and the seventh to be approved for release not after a first review, but after a second review. The decision also means that, of the 59 men still held, 23 have been approved for release.

The PRBs — consisting 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 — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and 64 men have had their cases reviewed, with just 26, to date, having their ongoing imprisonment upheld. That’s a success rate of 59% for the prisoners, which rather undermines the alleged basis of their ongoing imprisonment when the PRBs were set up.

41 of the 64 men had been described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, while the 23 other men had been recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

Emptying Guantánamo: Obama to Release 17 or 18 Prisoners Before Trump Takes Over

Muieen Abd al-Sattar, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, who is not one of the men who will be released before President Obama leaves office, despite having been approved for release in 2009. The photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Excellent news from Guantánamo yesterday, as Charlie Savage, in the New York Times, confirmed what those of us seeking the prison’s closure had hoped — that the majority of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 men still held) will be freed before President Obama leaves office.

Because of requirements put in place over many years by a hostile Congress, the Pentagon must notify Congress 30 days before a release — a “transfer” — is to take place, and the deadline for securing releases before Obama leaves office was therefore this Monday, December 19. By late in the day, officials told the Times, the administration had secured homes for 17 or 18 of the remaining prisoners, who, crucially, will be sent to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf countries have all taken prisoners in the last two years — almost all of them Yemenis, for whom third countries had to be found because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis based on fears about the security situation in their homeland. Four were sent to Oman in January 2015, another six in June 2015, and five were sent to the UAE in November 2015. Another ten were sent to Oman in January 2016, and another 12 were sent to the UAE in August 2016 (with three Afghans, whose repatriation had been prohibited by Congress, based on fears about them ending up taking up arms against US forces). In addition, another nine Yemenis were sent to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Freed in Cape Verde: 59 Men Left in Guantánamo

Yemeni prisoner Shawki (aka Shawqi) Balzuhair, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Good news from Guantánamo, as the first prisoner to be released since Donald Trump won the Presidential Election last month has been freed in Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa.

Shawki Awad Balzuhair aka Shawqi Balzuhair (ISN 838), a 35-year old Yemeni prisoner, was approved for release in July, by a Periodic Review Board, a high-level government review process set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held who are not facing trials and had not already been approved for release.

Seized in one of a series of house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, Balzuhair and five other men were originally — and mistakenly — regarded as members of an al-Qaeda cell-in-waiting, and described as the “Karachi Six.” By the time the six had their cases reviewed this year, however, the US government had walked back from its claims, after “a review of all available reporting,” accepting that “this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and that it is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations,” and describing Balzuhair as “probably awaiting a chance to return to Yemen when he was arrested at the Karachi safe house.” Of the six men, five have been approved for release, and Balzuhair is the third to be freed. Read the rest of this entry »

Final Two Review Board Decisions Announced: 21 Men Now Approved for Release from Guantánamo

12 of the Guantanamo prisoners put forward for Periodic Review Boards. Top row from left: Mohammed Ghanem (Yemen, approved for release), Haji Hamidullah (Afghanistan, freed), Abdul Rahman Shalabi (Saudi Arabia, freed), Ayyub Ali Salih (Yemen, freed). Middle Row​: Yassin Qasim (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdu Ali al-Hajj Sharqawi (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Mauritania, freed), Mansoor al-Zahari aka al-Dayfi (Yemen, freed). Bottom, from left, Ravil Mingazov (Russia, approved for release), Abu Zubaydah (Palestine, not decided yet), Salman Rabei’i (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdul Latif Nasir (Morocco, approved for release).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

On September 9, as I reported at the time, the last of 64 Guantánamo prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board— Hassan bin Attash, who was just 17 when he was seized in September 2002 — had his case reviewed. A month later, a decision was taken in his case (to continue holding him), bringing the first round of the PRBs to an end, with two exceptions.

In the cases of two men whose cases were reviewed in April and May, the board members had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, and. for these two men, decisions were not reached until last week — November 21, to be exact. In the case of one man, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi, the board members approved his release, while in the case of the other man, Said Nashir, a Yemeni, a decision was taken to recommend his continued imprisonment.

The decisions mean that, of the remaining 60 prisoners, 21 have been recommended for release —seven by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the men he had inherited from George W. Bush, and 14 by the PRBs. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

In Contentious Split Decision, Appeals Court Upholds Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul’s Conspiracy Conviction

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo 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, 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, in the latest development in a long-running court case related to Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington, D.C. (the D.C. Circuit) upheld Ali Hamza al-Bahlul’s November 2008 conviction for conspiracy in his trial by military commission, but in a divided decision that means the case will almost certainly now make its way to the Supreme Court.

Al-Bahlul, a Yemeni, was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, and taken to Guantánamo, where, in June 2004, he was charged in the first version of the military commissions that were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration in November 2001, primarily on the basis that he had made a promotional video for al-Qaeda.

Two years later, the commissions were scrapped after the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, but they were subsequently revived by Congress, and in February 2008 he was charged again, and convicted in November 2008, after a trial in which he refused to mount a defense, on “17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism,” as I described it at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

How Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards Exposed Woefully Distorted Intelligence Assessments

12 of the Guantanamo prisoners put forward for Periodic Review Boards. Top row from left: Mohammed Ghanem (Yemen, approved for release), Haji Hamidullah (Afghanistan, freed), Abdul Rahman Shalabi (Saudi Arabia, freed), Ayyub Ali Salih (Yemen, freed). Middle Row​: Yassin Qasim (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdu Ali al-Hajj Sharqawi (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Mauritania, freed), Mansoor al-Zahari aka al-Dayfi (Yemen, freed). Bottom, from left, Ravil Mingazov (Russia, approved for release), Abu Zubaydah (Palestine, not decided yet), Salman Rabei’i (Yemen, approved for ongoing imprisonment), Abdul Latif Nasir (Morocco, approved for release).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.

Over the last three years, I’ve been monitoring the Periodic Review Boards, the most recent review process at the prison, set up to give some semblance of justice to the cases of men held year after year without charge or trial, and subjected to varying forms of abuse and, in some cases, torture. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

The first two review processes — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and the Administrative Review Boards — took place under President Bush. Consisting of panels of three military officers, they were essentially designed to rubber-stamp the men’s designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial. The prisoners were allowed to be present for the unclassified section of the hearings, but were not allowed to hear classified material, and often had no idea where the allegations against them had arisen.

The third review process, which did not involve any interaction with the prisoners themselves, took place in 2009, under President Obama. The Guantánamo Review Task Force was a high-level, inter-agency process in which the cases of the 240 men who were held when President Obama took office were examined, and decisions taken about whether to release them, to put them on trial, or to continue holding them without charge or trial. In its final report, in January 2010, the task force approved 156 men for release and 36 for prosecution, and designated 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release,” even while acknowledging that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Money Exchanger Approved for Release from Guantánamo; Former Child Prisoner and Pakistani Have Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.

The PRBs — consisting 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 — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.

The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

Former Child Prisoner at Guantánamo, Tortured in Jordan, Is the Last of 64 Men to Face a Periodic Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Hassan bin Attash, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 8, Guantánamo prisoner Hassan bin Attash, born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, who appears to have been just 17 years old when he was seized in a house raid in Pakistan and sent to Jordan to be tortured, became the last of 64 prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force) and were not facing trials (just ten of the 61 men still held), the PRBs have played an important role in reducing the prison’s population in President Obama’s last year in office.

Consisting 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 PRBs function like parole boards, assessing prisoners’ contrition, and plans for the future that will mitigate any concerns about them engaging in terrorism or military activity against the US after their release.

To date, 33 men have been approved for release by the PRBs (and 20 of those men have been freed), while 19 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld — although all are entitled to further reviews at which they and their attorneys can submit further information in an effort to change the board’s opinion. Purely administrative file reviews take place every six months, and, every three years, prisoners are entitled to full reviews, although in reality those that have taken place — for four men, who all ended up with recommendations for their release — have occurred sooner (between ten months and two years after their initial PRBs). See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details. 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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