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.

I have been compliant in the camp facilities and other detainees trust me. I have taken the opportunities for education and personal growth. I have been preparing myself for the life after Guantánamo.

When I return to Yemen, I want to resume my education. My father, who is a tailor, has a job for me in his shop. I have a wife who longs for me and 13-year-old daughter who badly needs me. She’s a light — she is the light of my life.

Being apart from Ayesha has been the hardest part of my detention. In our calls, she says I want you to take me to the park; I want you to help me with my homework. She sends me five or six letters at a time. I will never again leave Ayesha without her father, my wife without her husband, my parents without their son. I want to make up for the twelve years I have been away.

The PRBs were first proposed in March 2011, when President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 Guantánamo prisoners. These men had been recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Disgracefully, although President Obama promised regular reviews for these men when he issued the executive order, it took over two and a half years for the first PRB to be convened. In the meantime, two of the 48 men had died, but 25 others — originally designated for prosecution by the task force — were added to the PRB list, making 71 men in total.

The first PRB, in October, led to a recommendation that the prisoner in question, Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni, should be released — although the irony, of course, is that he merely joined 55 of his compatriots, who were cleared for release by the task force in January 2010, but are still held because of unreasonable fears about the security situation in Yemen.

In al-Rahabi’s case, although the Board “took into consideration [his] strong family support awaiting his return, including housing, employment opportunities, and a wife and daughter ready to support him,” they worried about other alleged problems — described as his “significant ties to al-Qa’ida, including his past role as a bodyguard for Usama Bin Ladin [sic] and a prior relationship with the current amir of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.” The board added, “Further, his experience fighting on the frontlines, possible selection for a hijacking plot, and significant training raise concern for the Board,” and also stated, “The detainee’s planned return to Ibb, assessed to have a marginal security environment, and ties to a relative who is a possible extremist, raises concerns about his susceptibility to reengagement.”

This would indeed be a worry, if any of it was true. Unfortunately, however, it has never been established objectively that there is any truth to the allegations. The most significant claim is that al-Rahabi was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, part of a group of men described as the “Dirty 30” — all alleged bin Laden bodyguards, captured crossing the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001.

See if you think this is plausible: al-Rahabi, who was born in 1979, would have been just 22 years old when he was seized. Is it really likely that, having arrived in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000, this young man rose to become a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden in such a short amount of time? In his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, witnesses queued up to accuse him, but all are suspicious — Sanad al-Kazimi, Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, Ahmed al-Darbi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Hassan bin Attash and Mustafa al-Hawsawi (a “high-value detainee”), who were all tortured, and Yasim Basardah, the most notorious liar at Guantánamo.

Moreover, the “high-value detainee” Walid bin Attash claimed that al-Rahabi was “a designated suicide operative,” who, in 1999, “trained for an aborted al-Qaida operation in Southeast Asia to hijack US airliners and crash them into US military facilities in Asia in coordination with 11 September 2001,” for which all the planned operatives swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden. However, there is no evidence that al-Rahabi was in Afghanistan in 1999.

Even more ridiculous is a claim by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Ali Muhammad Abdul Aziz al-Fakhri), the leader of the independent Khaldan training camp, who was held in a variety of CIA “black sites” before being returned to Libya under Colonel Gaddafi, where he died in prison under suspicious circumstances in 2009. Al-Libi reported that al-Rahabi arrived in Afghanistan in 1995, when he was just 16, staying until 1996.

It may be that these allegations are more trustworthy than my analysis suggests, but I doubt it, as they are typical of prisoners who were tortured, or, in Yasim Basardah’s case, provided false allegations against a shockingly large number of his fellow prisoners to improve his own living conditions at Guantánamo, prior to his release in 2010.

The fact that, over 12 years after his arrival at Guantánamo, al-Rahabi is still being judged as “a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” based on information that has never been subjected to any kind of objective scrutiny, is thoroughly unjust, and shows how little regard for the truth the Obama administration and the Periodic Review Board members have — or, to put it another way, how much regard they have for the hugely unreliable collection of lies and hearsay masquerading as evidence in the files on the prisoners put together at Guantánamo.

Al-Rahabi’s case will apparently be considered again in six months, when I hope the board takes a less credulous approach to his perceived dangerousness, but I doubt this will happen, as there seems to be no impetus for the board, or the administration in general, to take a realistic view of the prisoners, rather than one full of distortion, innuendo and outright lies.

POSTSCRIPT: On November 5, 2014, al-Rahabi had a second PRB, where the panel recommended his release. See the review page here.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Neil Mckenna wrote:

    Just appalling. How can this grim farce continue?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Neil. Thanks. I’m glad it’s not just me who finds the scaremongering and the lack of genuine evidence on the part of the US authorities to be a depressing combination.

  3. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy

    I fully agree that it is extremely unjust to use these untested and questionable allegations against captives.

    I suggest it is not only unjust — continuing to defer to shameless careerists, allowing them to lie, and hide behind national security to hide their failures to hide their incompetence is extremely damaging to public safety.

    Like most of your readers I have philosophical and moral objections to the use of torture. I know that lots of people have a lenient attitude towards torture, and extrajudicial detention. I think some of those people would stop being prepared to allow torture and extrajudicial detention if they realized how it damaged public safety.

    In the fair justice systems of civilized nations, law enforcement and justice officials aren’t allowed to indefinitely hold multiple suspects for the same crime, merely because they can’t find the evidence to narrow their suspicions to a single individual. But we know from the Guantanamo record that it was routine for Guantanamo analysts to hold multiple individuals when they knew that only one of them, at most could be validly accused of an act.

    Both Mohammed Yusif Yaqub and Abdul Matin were held on the allegation that they were really a Taliban leader known as Shahzada. My interpretation is that Mohammed Yusif Yaqub was released early, one of the earliest releases, because Abdul Matin, a clearly innocent man was able to prove his innocence, and, through really shocking incompetence, Geoffrey Miller approved the release of the wrong man.

    Abdullah Khan was held because he was accused of being Khirullah Khairkhwa — even though he would testify at his CSRT that he pled with his interrogators for a year and half to check the prison roster, so they would see they already held the real Khirullah Khairkhwa.

    Guantanamo analysts believed that al Qaeda had trained a 40 man unit of Taliban members to serve as an assassination squad. They believed the squad was trained in poisons and other high tech assassination techniques — a real squad of 007s.

    The Taliban does practice assassination, but it is more of the crude pull up next to a guy’s car and let loose with an AK47 variety.

    Guantanamo analysts had this 40 man unit be the funhouse reflection of assassination squads from Hollywood B movies. They believed it was headed by Abdul Wahid Raes, and the second hand was a guy named Abdul Razzaq. So they suspected every Afghan they captured, who was named Abdul Razzaq of being the 2nd in command of the assassins. They suspected Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, who you played an important role in exposing as an innocent man and a Northern Alliance hero. That list of 645 captives in Bagram included another dozen men named Abdul Razzaq, and I will bet they suspected all of them of being that 2nd in command.

    You are absolutely right that it is shameful DoD analysts never applied any sanity checking to the allegations they compiled. And, given how wasteful Guantanamo has been and how many wasteful wild goose chases have been triggered by taking tortured confessions and tortured denunciations at face value, it is not just shameful, it has put public safety at much greater risk.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Breeze Edwards wrote:

    Dearest Andy, I have followed you for more than a year now. I said EARLY on, that the promises made by Obama, were shallow at best. I campaigned for the man, to begin with, Because, of his promise during his First Run, for office! Like many Americans now, we see we have made a HUGE mistake! I believe now, the world is seeing what ” A Lame Duck,” he is turning out to be! We must deal with the fallout now, that he and his administration have saddled us with. The clock IS running out. In more ways then one.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Breeze. I think the problem, beyond Obama specifically, is that we can’t see evidence of anyone anywhere with proximity to power and responsibility who has any commitment to overturning the disgraceful flight from the law that began under President Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. We need some real leadership, but our major parties have sold us out.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great comments, arcticredriver. Thanks. I especially liked how succinctly you expressed one of the fundamental problems with Guantanamo: “In the fair justice systems of civilized nations, law enforcement and justice officials aren’t allowed to indefinitely hold multiple suspects for the same crime, merely because they can’t find the evidence to narrow their suspicions to a single individual.” At Guantanamo, however, this is very definitely one of the disgraceful developments introduced by the Bush administration.
    For further information, I provided a recap of Haji Shahzada’s story here:
    And here’s my front-page New York Times story, with Carlotta Gall, about Abdul Razzaq Hekmati:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    Im not sure what else and what more we want him to say ? what if the man hapen to be the left over from the war that many lives has been lost fighting for America and now they pay him back by puting him in cages like Animal crowling and begin one day was a hero for America and been sold by Iran russian and northern allience , the question is who is really the enemy of America honestly now , is it not the Muslim parliament great britain who wanted to kill salmon rushdi and all those who suported him is it not Russia and Iran who hat America the most ? why did Jack straw colected all evidence from Iran suply by ben laden friends in london in conection with Muslim parliament people like yassar al sirri and Massaari , he dont forget it was Jack straw advisor to Tony blair who convinced colonel powel and Rumsfield condlesa rise and president Bush to go to war , but the russian iran and norther allience who did all the killing ,now as we are witnessing they are killing people everywhere in Irak, Afganistan ,syria , chechnay ,crimea

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jamal. I do wonder, as you put it, “what more we want him to say.” What more can he say? 12 years and no possibility of freedom, on the basis of unsound and essentially untested assertions.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Gerry Lindgren wrote:


    On the night John Stoll was roused from his bed and carted off to jail, his attitude bordered on the cavalier.
    “Aren’t you worried?” His lawyer wondered.
    “Hell no, I ain’t worried,” John answered. “I didn’t do this. You can’t convict me of something I didn’t do.”

    It was more than two decades before John Stoll was free again.

    Executive Producer Sean Penn proudly presents “Witch Hunt,” a gripping indictment of the United States justice system told through the lens of one small town. It’s John Stoll’s story, but it’s also the story of dozens of other men and women who found themselves ensnared in a spiral of fear, ignorance and hysteria. These people are Americans, working class moms and dads, who were rounded up with little or no evidence, charged and convicted of almost unimaginable crimes. All sexual. All crimes against children. Years, sometimes decades later, they would find freedom again, but their lives and the lives of their children would be changed forever. This film shows viewers what the real crime in this case is, not molestation, but the crime of coercion. Viewers hear from the child witnesses who were forced to lie on the witness stand as they describe scary sessions with sheriff’s deputies in which they were told — not asked — about sexual experiences that happened to them. Their coerced testimony led to dozens of convictions. Many times their own parents were the ones they put behind bars.

    Soon after the trials, the children started to crack. They told adults of the lies they’d been forced to tell on the stand and hoped it would make a difference. It didn’t and the convicted continued to sit in prison. As the allegations grew more outlandish, California’s Attorney General wrote a scathing report on the court misconduct, but instead of being buried by criticism, Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels thrived, doing what he did best– putting people away. He boasted one of the highest conviction rates in the country. This strategy served him well. Jagels is still in office today. Through new interviews, archival footage, and unflinching narration by Mr. Penn, the filmmakers construct an intimate film that illustrates a universal point; when power is allowed to exist without oversight from the press, the community or law enforcement, the rights of everyday citizens can be lost for decades. National film critic Marshall Fine says, “This is a chilling story about American law-enforcement run amok and untethered. It’s particularly timely in the wake of revelations about the way the Bush administration has trampled American civil rights. A movie that can’t help but move you – to tears and to action.”

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Gerry. I found it online here:

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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