Who Are the Two Libyans Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Senegal?


Salem Gherebi, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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:

“They call him ‘The General,’” Deghayes told me, “not because of anything he has done, but because he decided that life would be easier for him in Guantánamo if he said yes to every allegation laid against him.” Even so, as Deghayes also explained, this cooperation has been futile, as Khalifh has been subjected to appalling ill-treatment, held in a notorious psychiatric block where the use of torture was routine, and denied access to adequate medical attention for the many problems that afflict him, beyond the loss of his leg. As Deghayes described it, “He has lost his sight in one eye, has heart problems and high blood pressure, and his remaining leg is mostly made of metal, from an old accident in Libya a long time ago when a wall fell on him. He describes himself as being nothing more than ‘the spare parts of a car.’”

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Omar Deghayes told me about Khalifh when we were travelling around the UK showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, in which Omar features prominently, to student audiences, and I included his analysis in an article that same year after Khalifh, unfortunately, had his habeas corpus petition turned down.

Khalifh’s lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at City University of New York (CUNY), confirmed his physical ailments to the Miami Herald, explaining that he “has no right leg below the knee from a 1998 landmine accident in Afghanistan and a left leg held together by metal pins from a 1995 construction site accident in Sudan,” and that he “is blind in his left eye and has glaucoma in his right eye, as well as shrapnel in his left side.”

Kassem said, “I’m unsure why a man with only one eye left, one leg, one fully functioning arm, and whose only supposed crime was to oppose the Gadhafi dictatorship was not freed years ago. Now, he looks forward to receiving proper medical care for his ailments and starting the long process of rebuilding his life after more than a decade at Guantánamo.”

Less is known about Salem Gherebi (aka Salim Gherebi or Ghereby), the other man freed in Senegal, who was approved for release in January 2010 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. As I explained in a profile of him in September 2010:

Initially, it was alleged that he arrived in Afghanistan in 1995, having lost most of the fingers of his right hand in an explosives accident in Tajikistan the year before, and that he was an al-Qaeda operative in Kabul, who had “reportedly” trained at an al-Qaeda training camp in 1996 (an allegation that borders on the implausible, as Osama bin Laden only returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996). By 2006, the US authorities had dropped the claims about losing his fingers and being an al-Qaeda member in exchange for a new set of allegations, most of which centered on his purported links with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Deciding that his name was actually Rafdat Muhammed Faqi Aljj Saqqaf, the authorities alleged that he had lived in Pakistan in the early 1990s and then, fearing that talks between the Libyan and Pakistani governments would lead to the deportation of all Libyans from Pakistan, had moved back to Afghanistan, where he stayed in refugee camps.

In response to an email tonight, Omar Deghayes let me know about his relationship with Salem, describing him as “a friend of mine, married to a Pakistani woman, with two young boys and a daughter,” and “a great personality, kind, learned, generous and humble.” He added, “He taught me a lot inside prison when we were at Camp Five.” Modeled on a maximum security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and consisting of solid-walled isolation cells, Camp Five was used hold those who, at the time, were regarded as the most non-compliant prisoners, or those considered to have the greatest intelligence value (before 14 “high-value detainees” arrived from CIA “black sites” in September 2006).

Omar also explained that, “When the Libyans came to interrogate him, they were so frustrated that he refused to say a word despite all their threats, not even his name.” He added that, “although he kept much to himself when it came to the guards in Guantánamo, even so he was mistreated and put in Camp Romeo where his clothes were taken away.” Little discussed, Camp Romeo was a punishment block where prisoners were “stripped from the waist down,” and “often left naked for days,” as was reported in 2005.

Following his release, his attorney Rick Wilson said that Gherebi “looks forward to being reunited with his family as soon as possible … including a 15-year-old daughter who he’s never met in person,” as the Miami Herald explained, adding, “His wife is Pakistani but she and their three children have been living in Libya with the Gherebi family.”

Wilson noted that Gherebi “was also very interested in being in a country where Islam was practiced,” and in that respect Senegal is obviously a useful destination for his resettlement, being 94% Muslim. The Miami Herald also noted that “Senegal’s foreign ministry disclosed the weekend transfer on the occasion of Senegal’s 56th Independence Day following a military parade,” and that the Pentagon “soon followed with an official announcement.”

Rick Wilson also stated that, before Gherebi’s capture, he “was a grade school science teacher,” although he admitted that he did not know “exactly what he will do” with his new-found freedom. “His primary concern is his family, seeing them and being with them,” he said, adding, “The same for them. They are very anxious.”

Last week, the Washington Post broke the news that the Pentagon had “notified Congress that it intends to resettle nearly a dozen detainees,” including long-term hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah, who weighs just 74 pounds, and whose lawyers have been trying to get a judge to order his release. Reuters revealed in January that, shamefully, Ba Odah’s release had been prevented by the Pentagon, which had refused to share medical records with a country that had been willing to offer him a new home.

According to the New York Times, following the release of the two Libyans, nine other men “are expected to leave in the next two weeks.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), and the 146 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2016 (by President Obama), whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Filesand for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (herehere and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; 2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana; 1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi; 10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro.

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, telling the stories of the two Libyans freed from ‪Guantanamo‬ at the weekend and given new homes in Senegal – Omar Khalifh, an amputee approved for release last year by a Periodic Review Board, and Salem Gherebi, a teacher approved for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force. 89 men are still held, but nine more releases are forthcoming soon, including seriously ill long-term hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Cortney Busch wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this extra insight from Omar, Andy! Much appreciated.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I was so glad Omar got back to me so promptly, Cortney, and shared his reflections about his friend.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    If you’re listening to the BBC World Service in the morning, I’ll be discussing the release of the two Libyans to Senegal on Newsday at 7.20am GMT.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    Progress, one person at a time. Less than 10 months left…..

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Rose Ann. The process of getting out of Guantanamo often seems to be akin to getting blood out of a stone.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Anyone interested in adding their voice to the Countdown to Close Guantanamo campaign I established in January via Close Guantanamo, reminding President Obama how many days he has left to close Guantanamo, is encouraged to check out the photos supporters have taken with posters – most recently marking 300 days to go on March 25:
    The next poster is for 250 days, and it’s on May 14. Please take a photo with the poster and send it to us (info@closeguantanamo.org): http://www.closeguantanamo.org/dyn/1458847751530/CloseGuantanamoCountdown250Days.pdf

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the website for Newsday on the World Service. My interview was 20 minutes into the show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00w940j

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Umm Maymoonah wrote:

    How many men remain now Andy?

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    89, Umm Maymoonah – and 35 of those 89 have been approved for release. We’re told that there will be nine more releases soon and in January the administration promised to release all those approved for release by the summer.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    Two more!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. Good news for these two men – and for everyone involved in the long campaign to get Guantanamo closed. Roll on the next nine releases – hopefully within the next couple of weeks.

  13. Anna says...

    Two more, drip drip, but even that we should be grateful for …
    Don’t miss Mehdi Hasan’s interview with Hayden.
    It makes you wonder what that creep would answer to the pertinent interview questions if he himself was waterboarded, rather than hide behind Bush’s lawyers’ redefinition of what torture is. That is the civilised version of the thoroughly un-christian vision which I admit crossed my mind – albeit fleetingly – when I watched their exchange.

    Otherwise I increasingly feel trapped in a cloud of aggressive soundbites from which I somehow try to make sense. But then there are the – few, but still – positive ones like leftist political uprisings in Greece, Spain or even Britain and now the Bernie phenomenon in the US, which amazingly proves that it is still possible – even in the US – to achieve political success, while – or by – having true empathy and being honest and consistent in your basic ideals and ideas. No flip-flopping here and at the age of 74, one rather does not change anymore beyond recognition. We never can be sure whether a candidate’s ideas and promises will be implemented – vide Mr Obama – but that applies to all of them.
    Bernie at least offers a positive vision, hope for meaningful change for his own citizens – not all that clear what he would mean for the rest of the world, but that can hardly be any worse than what the other candidates have in store for us.
    So one more small mercy – a twittering finch 🙂 – to be grateful for in the cacophony of negative noises surrounding us.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Good to hear from you, even though I concur with you that there is far too much darkness in the world.
    I haven’t watched Mehdi Hasan’s interview with Hayden yet, but I’ll make sure that I do. I have been told about it.
    As for signs of positivity, it’s certainly interesting that young people in the US and the UK are interested in Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, notwithstanding the fact that,a few days ago, a friend suggested that it was less because of their policies and more because they resembled grandfatherly figures.
    I actually don’t think that’s right, however. I believe that young people in significant numbers, as well as everyone else, also in growing numbers, realise that our traditional leaders are thoroughly untrustworthy, serving only themselves, the super-rich, the banks and the corporations, and that we need a true alternative.
    It it heartwarming to see that Jeremy Corbyn not only survived the outrageous efforts be the media to derail him in his first few months as Labour leader, but also that he is now getting increasing recognition as an alternative to the cruel and inept Tories, and it is also heartening to have him and John McDonnell regularly answering back to the government and pointing out their lies and failures on a regular basis – something that has been missing from the political debate here for far too long.
    We certainly need some glimmers of hope, as in other areas, of course, our trajectories are profoundly troubling – on immigration from Syria and elsewhere, for example, and, here in the UK, through the sad isolationism enthusiastically embraced by so many of my fellow citizens. Wish us luck for our EU referendum, as I hope for the downfall of your racist leaders!

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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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