Nine Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia; 80 Prisoners Remain


Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).Good news from Guantánamo, as nine prisoners have been released, bringing the remaining number of prisoners down to 80. The nine men freed are all Yemeni citizens, but all have a connection with Saudi Arabia. Four were born there to Yemeni parents, while the other five have close family members who live in the country.

Only one of the nine is at all well-known: Tariq Ba Odah, a long-term hunger striker, who, last year, asked a judge to order his release, via a habeas corpus petition, because of the precarious state of his health. After more than eight years on a permanent hunger strike, he weighed just 74 pounds, and, according to medical experts and his lawyers, was at risk of death. Disgracefully, the Justice Department challenged his habeas petition, and, at the end of the year, Reuters revealed that the Pentagon had prevented representatives from an undisclosed foreign country that was prepared to offer him a new home from having access to his medical records, so that the country in question dropped its resettlement offer.

The New York Times also discussed the long history of how Saudi Arabia came to take in the Yemenis, revealing how the move completed “a long-sought diplomatic deal ahead of a planned visit to Riyadh by President Obama in the coming week.”

As Charlie Savage explained for the Times, “The effort to persuade the Saudi government to take the prisoners began in the Bush administration and finally resulted in an agreement in February.” Cliff Sloan, the State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure from 2013-14, said, “There have been a lot of discussions with the Saudis over the last few years, and they have been emphatic that it was very important to close Guantánamo. They wanted to help with that. But the one thing they weren’t willing to do for a long time was actually accept Yemenis. That’s why this is a major breakthrough.”

Finding new homes for Yemenis approved for release — either by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009-10, or by the similarly high-level Periodic Review Boards, which have been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials since late 2013 — has been necessary because the entire US establishment has been unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis because of the unrest in their homeland.

As the Times explained, Saudi Arabia has “a rehabilitation program for Saudis who have drifted into militant Islamism,” which “tries to reverse their radicalization and help them reintegrate into peaceful society.” As officials described the program, it “enlists their relatives to help and has a record of reducing — though not eliminating — the risk of recidivism.”

Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010 revealed how, in 2007, US officials toured the Saudi rehabilitation center, in the hope that the Saudis would take in Yemeni prisoners with relatives living in Saudi Arabia. At the time, however, Prince bin Nayef, now the crown prince, “said this would not be possible, primarily for domestic political reasons.”

When Barack Obama became president in 2009, 99 of the 242 prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush were Yemenis. That spring, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and defense secretary Robert Gates mentioned the plan in separate visits to Saudi Arabia, but were again turned down.

The push for transfers to Saudi Arabia only resumed in 2013, after a widespread hunger strike caused renewed indignation about the prison’s continued existence. Officials told Charlie Savage that, at that point, “the main focus was an effort, led by the United Nations, to build a rehabilitation center in Yemen, where security conditions briefly appeared to be improving.” The Saudis apparently offered to help pay for it, but then conditions in Yemen deteriorated again.

In late 2013, Cliff Sloan “gave a list of 10 Yemenis with families in Saudi Arabia to a representative of Prince bin Nayef, who suggested that the families petition the Saudi government to take them,” and the Obama administration then “passed the word on” to the prisoners’ lawyers, while also working on finding other countries prepared to offer new homes to other Yemenis in other places — in Georgia, Slovakia and Kazakhstan at the end of 2014.

The Times also noted how officials explained how, in May 2015, “when leaders of several Arab states visited Camp David, Mr. Obama privately urged them to take some Yemenis.” Oman has now taken in 20 men, and the United Arab Emirates has taken five.

In July last year, Lee Wolosky became the new envoy for Guantánamo closure at the State Department, and “one of his first acts” was to commission a report about the prisoners who have relatives in Saudi Arabia, which was passed on to Saudi officials in August, part of a wider effort to “repair diplomatic relations after disagreements and tensions in recent years” with the Obama administration. When King Salman made a US visit last September, President Obama urged him to take in the Yemenis with relatives in Saudi Arabia. As the Times described it, “The new king indicated that he was willing to consider the idea, and Mr. Obama dispatched Mr. Wolosky to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in October.” Daniel J. Rosenthal, who was working on Guantánamo issues at the National Security Council, said, “Lee did amazing diplomatic work in making the argument to the Saudis that some of the key successes of their rehabilitation program exist for the Yemeni detainees — like strong family ties.”

In October, John Kerry, who had made several Saudi visits, made another visit, “but was told only that the Interior Ministry was still looking at the request.” Then came good news via Brian Neff, the lawyer for one of the Yemenis, Mashur al-Sabri, who was approved for release last April by a Periodic Review Board. As the Times put it, he “drafted a petition for his family to send to the Saudi government, asking it to take Mr. Sabri,” and that same month “his relatives told Mr. Neff that Saudi officials had visited them to study whether that plan would work.”

In January, during another Saudi visit, John Kerry was told by the king’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the Saudi government “had decided to proceed with the American request.” In early February, Lee Wolosky returned to Saudi Arabia to settle the final details, which included a letter of consent from Yemen’s government, in exile in Riyadh.

The Times‘ article also noted how, by March, defense secretary Ashton Carter had notified Congress that “he was satisfied with security arrangements” and would transfer nine of the ten men discussed, setting off the 30-day period that Congress requires prior to any releases from Guantánamo. The Times also noted that administration officials “are still deliberating over the 10th Yemeni,” who was not identified.

Who are the nine Yemenis freed?

As mentioned above, one of the nine men freed is Tariq Ba Odah (ISN 178), sometimes identified by the US as Tarek Baada, who is one of four of the Yemenis born in Saudi Arabia (in 1978). He is also one of six of the nine who were approved for release by Obama’s task force but continued to be held in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which, in 2010, required the security situation to improve in Yemen before they could be freed.

Writing after his release, his lawyer, Omar Farah of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated:

To protest his imprisonment, Tariq began an unbroken hunger strike in 2007 that has continued for nine years. He has endured unspeakable suffering at the government’s hands as a result. Over the last year of his hunger strike, he hovered at around 74 pounds, segregated from the other prisoners, weakened and in pain, but unwilling to break his protest. He leaves Guantánamo to begin what will surely be a long, slow recovery. But he leaves on his own terms, protesting to the end, unbowed by the torment he endured.

As the New York Times described it, Omar Farah “called it “unforgivable” that the Obama White House had refused to concede the case in court last year.” He also said that, “until the very end, Mr. Ba Odah doubted he would be freed.”

The Miami Herald also noted that Omar Farah said on Saturday, “Only good fortune allowed Mr. Ba Odah to survive Guantánamo. It certainly was not because of any intervention by the White House, which watched Mr. Ba Odah cling to life in the final stages of his hunger strike, rather than expedite his release and access to emergency medical care. I am confident the Saudi government will do better by him.”

Mashur al-Sabri, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Mashur al-Sabri (ISN 324), 38, also mentioned above, is another of the four men released who were born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. As mentioned above, he was recommended for release by a Periodic Review Board in April 2015, after a review the month before, when the high-level government board members had, as they put it, “considered the detainee’s low level of training, renunciation of extremist ideology, and lack of a leadership position in al-Qa’ida or the Taliban.” The board members “also considered the detainee’s positive leadership role, generally compliant behavior, and his efforts to take advantage of educational opportunities while at Guantánamo,” and “noted the detainee’s extensive family support including housing, employment opportunities, a potential marriage opportunity, and economic support.”

After news of his release was announced, his lawyer, Brian Neff, said his client “wants to get married, raise a family and live in peace.” He added, “Saudi Arabia is to be commended for stepping up and accepting detainees who have strong ties to the kingdom,” and predicted, as the Miami Herald put it, “that Sabri would ‘sail through’ the Saudi rehabilitation ‘with flying colors’ in a couple of months and join his family in Mecca.”

The New York Times added that Brian Neff said his client “was ‘ecstatic’ when he learned he would be sent to Saudi Arabia.” He said, “That is where his loved ones are, and everyone recognized that as the most appropriate living situation for him. He is anxious to get on with living a peaceful life.”

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Hikimi in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Ahmed al-Hikimi (ISN 30), born in 1972, is another of the released men who were approved for release by the task force, but who continued to be held in “conditional detention.”

He had been previously been recommended for continued detention by the military authorities at Guantánamo. In one of the previously classified assessments released by WikiLeaks in 2011, dated June 2008, it was noted that he had been a taxi driver, and had claimed he was in Afghanistan teaching the Koran. the authorities, however, regarded as one of the “Dirty Thirty,” Yemenis captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and, implausibly, I believe, alleged to have been bodyguards for Osama bin Laden.

In al-Hikimi’s case, the implausibility can be seen from his file, where it is revealed that it was Yasim Basardah, Guantánamo’s most notorious liar, who “identified detainee as a UBL bodyguard who fought in Tora Bora.”

The file also noted, “Detainee is on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective. Detainee is in overall good health. However, detainee has a history of Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis with several admissions to the Behavior Health Unit for violent behavior and self harm attempts. No issues with this disorder noted since November 2007. Regardless, detainee is followed regularly by Behavior Health Unit for this condition.”

Abdul Rahman Naser, in a photo from the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Abdul Rahman Naser (ISN 115), born in 1980, is another if the prisoners approved for for release by Obama’s task force but held in “conditional detention.” He was previously recommended for “Transfer Out of DoD Control” on January 1, 2007.

Naser survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in November 2001, which, as I have previously described, “followed the surrender of the northern city of Kunduz, when several hundred Taliban foot soldiers — and, it seems, a number of civilians — all of whom had been told that they would be allowed to return home if they surrendered, were taken to a fortress run by General Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance. Fearing that they were about to be killed, a number of the men started an uprising, which was suppressed by the Northern Alliance, acting with support from US and British Special Forces, and US bombers. Hundreds of the prisoners died, but around 80 survived being bombed and flooded in the basement of the fort, and around 50 of these men ended up at Guantánamo.” With his release, only about seven of these men are still held.

As I explained in an article in September 2010, “He was accused of arriving in Afghanistan in January 2001 and fighting on the Taliban front lines for six months at Khawaja Ghar, prior to his capture,” but in his file dated October 15, 2008, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, he was “assessed to have been a common foot soldier supporting the Taliban, and to have received no specialized training.”

As I noted in an article in 2012, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, that file also stated, “Detainee is on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective but is in overall fair health. Detainee has a history of Major Depressive Disorder which is controlled with frequent follow up to mental health services but he refuses antidepressant treatment. Detainee had a history of H. Pylori (an infection) for which he completed treatment. He participated in hunger strikes and has chronic low body weight, but his medical problems are stable.”

Ali al-Raimi (ISN 167) is another of the prisoners approved for release by Obama’s task force but held in “conditional detention.”

As I noted in 2012 in Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, al-Raimi’s file was a ‘Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),’ dated October 29, 2004,” but after that  he was approved for transfer/release after Administrative Review Board Round One, which was held at Guantánamo in 2005; in other words, he was first approved for release over ten years ago.

In an article in September 2010, I explained his story as follows:

[He] was just 17 at the time of his capture, and has stated that he didn’t want to go to Afghanistan, because he had a job in a restaurant in Yemen, but his parents, who were living in Afghanistan, forced him to visit. He added that, once he was there, his father and brother told him that he could only return to Yemen if he agreed to attend al-Farouq (the main camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) for two months’ training. He said that he got sick at the camp, went to a clinic in Kabul, and then returned to resume training, but added that this was four days before 9/11, after which “the training stopped and the camp was closed down.” After the US-led invasion began, he said that he was unable to contact his family, so he crossed the mountains with some friends, and was in Pakistan for a few days before he was arrested in a car by Pakistani soldiers.

After his release, his lawyer Erin Thomas told the Miami Herald that “he got to Guantánamo as a teenager ‘and was cleared for transfer over 10 years ago.'” Now, she said, “he longs to finally begin an adult life as a free man” — “to marry and start a family of his own,” as the newspaper put it. At Guantánamo, she said, “he kept himself productive with drawing, painting, and sculpture,” adding, “Ali is interested in pursuing a career in woodworking or another craftsman field.”

Mohammed al-Hamiri, in a photo from the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Mohammed al-Hamiri (ISN 249), born in 1982, was approved for release by Obama’s task force, without any “conditional detention” tag.

As I noted in 2012 in Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, al-Hamiri’s file was a ‘Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),’ dated April 1, 2007.”

His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights described his story as follows:

Mohammed grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where his family still resides. Mohammed comes from a large, stable, and devoted family. As a boy, he was injured in an accident that left him with a cranial fracture. His family took him to the Saudi-German Hospital in Jeddah for treatment. A reconstructive metal plate was inserted into Mohammed’s skull. Physicians at the Saudi-German Hospital instructed his family that Mohammed would require follow-up treatment for his recovery to be complete. The cost was prohibitive, however, and Mohammed did not return to the hospital for additional care. Plagued by complications from his injuries, Mohammed traveled to Pakistan in 2001 in search of cheap medical care. While in Pakistan, he crossed the border into Afghanistan, but left in the wake of the US invasion. Like some many of the hundreds of current and former Guantánamo prisoners, he was then arrested by local Pakistani police and handed over to US custody where he remained until his release.

The US government has never alleged that Mohammed engaged in any acts of violence or that he engaged in any armed conflict. The government’s reflexive allegation that Mohammed supported the Taliban and Al-Qaeda rests on uncorroborated identifications from a handful of current and former Guantánamo detainees. The government’s own records reveal that the credibility of each is severely compromised, including in one case by a government-diagnosed mental illness. For his part, Mohammed has stated emphatically that he traveled to the region for only one reason — to obtain medical care — and that he never fought, trained, or associated in any way with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

Following his release, Omar Farah noted, “As Mohammed once said to me as we sat across a table in Guantánamo’s Camp Echo, his leg shackled to the floor, ‘Nothing is impossible in life, as long as you live and breathe. I’ve never lost hope that one day I will be free.'”

Omar Farah also stated, speaking of Tariq Ba Odah and Mohammed al-Hamiri, “My CCR colleagues Ibraham Qatabi and Aliya Hussain and I spoke to them last week. As we said our goodbyes, Tariq and Mohammed expressed deep gratitude to all of you who refused to forget their plight and who courageously shared their stories and dreams for a life of freedom. Before he hung up, Mohammed said, ‘When people are released we think about those who remain. It’ll be hard not to think of the other brothers.  God willing, this place will close with the help of your hands.'”

For al-Hamiri also, The Intercept tells us, in an article reproducing excerpts from some of his letters, “Writing was one of [his] greatest comforts during the 13 long years he spent at Guantánamo.” His correspondence includes the following: “I keep looking at the sun and hoping that, maybe, it will reveal a secret that would wipe away my tears. But I discover that it is pointing to the horizon, to tell me that it wants to leave and not be here to witness what destiny had in store for me. So I’m left alone with nothing but the moon and the moonlight shining on me, as everyone and everything else on earth has gone to sleep.”

The following three men were also born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents.

Ahmed Kuman, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Ahmed Kuman (ISN 321), 35, is one of the men approved for release by Obama’s task force but held in “conditional detention.”

As I noted in an article in September 2010, “Kuman, who was 20 years old when seized, was initially accused of traveling to Afghanistan in response to a fatwa, training at several camps including al-Farouq, and fighting against the US-led coalition in Bagram and Tora Bora. He was reportedly captured during Ramadan by the Northern Alliance. By 2006, the US authorities had built up a more detailed profile of his supposed activities, but it is unclear whether the allegations [were] necessarily reliable.”

Yasim Basardah, for example, the notorious liar, “alleged that he ‘claimed he was personal friends with Osama bin Laden’s son,’ that bin Laden ‘was like a father to him,’ and that he claimed he had access to bin Laden ‘at any time because of this relationship,'” which is obviously ridiculous, although in the early days it helped to keep him imprisoned, whereas the truth is that he was nothing more than a lowly Taliban recruit.

As I also stated in 2010, “Although there have been no reports about how Kuman has been treated in Guantanamo, it appears that he has been a consistent hunger striker. He weighed just 115 pounds on arrival, in May 2002, and at one point, in January 2004, his weight dropped to just 91 pounds.”

Abdul Rahman al-Qyati (ISN 461), born in 1976, was also approved for release by Obama’s task force but held in “conditional detention.”

As I noted in 2012 in Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, al-Qyati’s file was a ‘Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),’ dated September 10, 2004. He was also approved for transfer/release after Administrative Review Board Round One, which was held at Guantanamo in 2005; in other words, like Ali al-Raimi above, was first approved for release over ten years ago.

As I explained in an article in September 2010, he “reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in May 2001, trained at al-Farouq, and was a guard ‘for 39 high-level Taliban personnel’ at Kandahar airport, where he was seized in November 2001,” which seems to be a fair precis of his general insignificance.

Mansoor Qattaa, in a photo from the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Mansoor Qattaa (ISN 566), born in 1982, is the other one of the nine who, like Mohammed al-Hamiri, was approved for release by Obama’s task force, without any “conditional detention” tag. He had also been approved for release previously.

As I noted in 2012 in Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, Qattaa’s file was a ‘Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),’ dated June 9, 2007.”

In an article in September 2010, I described the circumstances of his capture as follows:

Qattaa [was] accused of spending approximately nine weeks in Afghanistan — a month in Logar province “waiting for training,” after which he allegedly “walked to a fighting position and stayed for approximately five weeks” — before he made his way to Karachi via various safe houses. He reportedly spent three weeks in Karachi before his capture, in a house where, according to the government, “[t]here were approximately 15-16 people,” but no mention was made of any terrorist connections in the government’s allegations against him. Instead, “The home’s owner was reported to have been helping the detainee obtain a new passport so he could return home.”

His military file released by WikiLeaks highlighted his evident insignificance, noting that he “has provided no reportable intelligence,” and that “[n]o other detainees have provided any information about his activities while in Afghanistan.”

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 148 prisoners released from February 2009 to early April 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; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal.

21 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Following the weekend’s good news – that nine Yemenis have been freed from ‪Guantanamo‬ and resettled in Saudi Arabia where they were born or have family – I tell the stories of the men, who, in no cases, could be described as terrorists or “the worst of the worst.” Only one is known to all but the most dedicated Gitmo-watchers – Tariq Ba Odah, a long-term hunger striker who weighed just 74 pounds prior to his release and was at risk of death.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Updated to reflect the news – the definitive prisoner list on the Close Guantanamo website:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Sajida Habib wrote:

    …80 more to go! AND #FREEAAFIASIDDIQUI#

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sajida. Good to hear from you.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Sajida Habib wrote:

    Thanks for your updates.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Sajida​. And for anyone interested in Aafia Siddiqui’s case, her lawyer’s interview on Democracy Now! last April and an Al-Jazeera article from last July provide useful updates:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Marc Damien Rhodes-Taylor wrote:

    good news let’s hope things go well for the rest of them.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Marc. For the 26 approved for release, Obama officials have stated their intention to have them released by the summer. The problems are for the majority of the others. Just ten are facing trials, so it’s the rest of them (44 men in total) that we all need to keep focused on. They’re all eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but seven have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended (although their cases will be reviewed again), two are awaiting results, and 35 others are awaiting dates for their initial reviews. The big question is: how many of them will also be approved for release? Check out my definitive PRB list here:

  9. Martin says...

    “The big question is: how many of them will also be approved for release?”

    I think seven of the “indefinite detainees” at the least but I don’t know how many of the “prosecution” detainees would be approved for transfer since a lot of them are accused of planning IED attacks against soldiers, being the 20th hijacker, attacking civilians with a grenade, planning to fly a plane into a Navy ship, or being facilitators. Either way, the 15 high value detainees and would-be 20th hijacker Mohammed Qahtani will never see the light of day again.

  10. Martin says...

    Anyway, looks like Obama wasn’t kidding when he said the PRB hearings would be sped up. There will be eight hearings next month.

    Muhammed Ghanim’s hearing is probably set for next month but it says:

    “Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim (ISN 044) 3/10/2016 4/17/2016”

    Other new parole dates include

    Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025) 5/10/2016
    Abd Al-Salam Al-Hilah (ISN 1463) 5/12/2016
    Jabran al Qahtani (ISN 696) 5/19/2016
    Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694) 5/24/2016
    Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush (ISN 685) 5/26/2016
    Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (ISN 838) 5/31/2016

    Abdul Zahir and Balzuhair’s hearings have been pushed back. Maybe Zahir’s hearing will be in June now.

    Eight hearings a month now. Not bad. Obama wasn’t kidding when he said he would speed up the hearings. All of the non high value detainees should get hearings by August. I see three of the four “Faisalabad raid” have hearings. As you pointed out, Ghassan Sharbi has already admitted to being part of Abu Zubaydah’s network so there’s no hurry for him to get a hearing. Hopefully Hail Aziz Ahmad al Maythal and
    Musab Omar Ali al Madoonee will have hearings scheduled soon.,

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, we’ll have to wait and see, Martin. As I have mentioned previously, I believe, I have heard that intel insiders with knowledge think the total number of men against whom there is or ought to be any case is just 18 of the 54 men still held who have not already been approved for release.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. Very interesting, notwithstanding the rather frustrating mistakes and omissions, which don’t reflect well on the military’s competence, I have to say.
    Ghanem’s PRB wasn’t on Sunday (April 17) as listed, so when is it?
    Has Abdul Zahir’s PRB been rescheduled?
    Has Mohammed al-Qahtani’s PRB been rescheduled?
    Why is Slahi not listed, as we know his PRB is taking place on June 2?
    However, as you say, the announcements show a clear willingness to complete the first round of the PRBs before the end of the year.

  13. martin says...

    According to the PRS website, Ghanem’s hearing date is on May 17.

    “Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim (ISN 044) 3/10/2016 5/17/2016”

    Abdul Zahir’s date has definitely been rescheduled. I don’t think Qahtani’s date has been rescheduled. Qahtani and Slahi are not listed anymore because there’s no room on the page. They had to put the announcement of Mingazov and Rabbani. But anyway, nine hearings a month is good news. The PRB should finish all hearings by August.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin.
    Good to see they changed Ghanem’s date. Might be because I emailed them!
    As for Zahir and al-Qahtani, it seems to be because there’s a delay in compiling all the info required, so sometimes when a date is set it turns out to be premature.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Check out this photo of eight of the nine men released, posted by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald – the ninth isn’t there for some reason:

  16. Donald says...

    The ninth (Kuman) was giving an interview at the time.

  17. Martin says...

    “I have heard that intel insiders with knowledge think the total number of men against whom there is or ought to be any case is just 18 of the 54 men still held who have not already been approved for release.”

    That number is unrealistic. We have numerous dangerous detainees in the following categories.

    1: The 15 high value detainees who with the exception of Majid Khan (who plead guilty in exchange for release in 2030) will NEVER see the light of day again. Indonesia doesn’t want Hambali back so we’ll have to put him on trial.

    2: Convicted detainee Ali Bahlul who is serving life and Ahmed Dharbi who will be transferred to a Saudi prison in 2018 after he is sentenced in a plea deal.

    3: Detainees involved in terrorists attacks (20th hijacker Mohammed Qahtani and Abdul Malik who was the getaway driver for terrorists who tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in 2002).

    4: Terrorist financiers, facilitators, leaders, and recruiters (Sharqawi, Saifullah Paracha, Haji Wali Mohammed, Mohamedou Slahi, Abdul al Salam al Hilal, Haroon al-Afghani, Bostan Karim and the Rabbani brothers.)

    5: Detainees accused of attacking civilians or specific plots (Abdul Zahir, Zuhail Abdo Anamal Sharabi, Mohamedou Slahi, and Sanad Yislam al Kazimi)

    6: Detainees who continue to make violent threats or praise extremists in Guantanamo

    The PRB has already denied transfer for eight detainees for belonging to some of these categories and I have a feeling Said Salih Said Nashir hasn’t changed his ways judging by his unclassified intelligence assessment and will be denied transfer. The numbers adds up to more than 30 who will remain incarcerated.

    Judging by the wording of Sharqawi’s denial of transfer, I suspect Mohamedou Slahi will not be approved for transfer either due to recruiting and facilitating the travel of three of the 9/11 hijackers, participating in the Millenium plot and is suspected of involvement in a 2002 terrorist attack in Tunisia.

    Slahi has been a cooperative informant and model prisoner but he still claims innocence which won’t help in a parole-like hearing.

    Anyway, even the Obama administration said that they expect at least 30 to remain in prison, not 18. The only “prosecution” detainees that might have a chance are Obaidullah, Ravil Mingazov, Abdelrazak Abdelrahman, and Sufyian Barhoumi because they don’t have big mouths.

    Jabran Qahtani and Ghassan Sharbi are real pieces of work judging by their extremist comments.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Donald.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Martin.
    I don’t personally believe that there’s a case against Slahi, and I expect him to be approved for release, and I also think some of the others you’ve mentioned are not who the government claims they are, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.
    Mainly, now, I’m starting to worry that we’ll end up with indefinite detention without charge or trial for dozens of men, which doesn’t make me happy at all. I hope that eventually they’ll be able to challenge their detention again in the courts, and that the government will have to find a way to put them on trial. I an not in a position to accept indefinite detention without charge or trial under any circumstances.

  20. Martin says...

    I never said they should be held in indefinite detention. All of the remaining detainees not approved for transfer should be prosecuted. The problem is even if Obama closes Guantanamo, I don’t think the majority of detainees will face trial.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the clarification, Martin. Apologies if I had misunderstood you. I think they should seriously be looking at what they can come up with as the basis for prosecution for all the men they want to carry on holding. Abandoning the terminally discredited military commissions would be a good start.

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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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