Periodic Review Boards: Two Prisoners Recommended for Release from Guantánamo, Two Have Detention Upheld, Another Seeks Release


Yemeni prisoner Shawqi Balzuhair, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.It’s been a busy week at Guantánamo, with two Periodic Review Boards taking place, two prisoners being approved for release after reviews in April, and two others having their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld.

The Periodic Review Boards — which involve 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 established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men still held who are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this category), or who had not already been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which, in 2009, reviewed the cases of all the men held when President Obama took office.

71 men were originally eligible for PRBs, a number reduced to 64 when five men were freed, and two were charged in the military commissions. 41 of the men were described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which acknowledged, however, that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — meaning, of course, that it was not evidence at all, but, in large part, consisted of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, when the use of torture and other forms of abuse were widespread. 23 others had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed after a number of highly critical appeals court rulings, in which judges dismissed some of the few convictions secured in the troubled military commission system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress.

33 cases have so far been decided (see my definitive PRB list for details), and in 24 of those the review boards have recommended the prisoners for release, while upholding the detention of nine others. That is a success rate for the prisoners of 73%, which rather severely dents the credibility of the task force’s assessments, revealing them to have been seriously over-cautious.

Bashir al-Marwalah, member of a non-existent Al-Qaeda cell in Karachi, is approved for release

Guantanamo prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Four of those decisions took place last week. The first of the two men recommended for release was Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah (ISN 837), a Yemeni seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, the 1st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, on the same day that “high-value detainee” and alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized. Al-Marwalah was seized with five other men, who were all held and tortured in a CIA “black site” in Afghanistan before being flown to Guantánamo. Crucially, they were initially regarded as members of an active Al-Qaeda cell, planning an attack in Karachi, and were described as the “Karachi Six,” but when the first of the six, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836), had his PRB in February, it emerged for the first time, publicly, that the six men were nothing more than “elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

Ayub Salih was recommended for release in March, and in April Bashir al-Marwalah and another of the six, Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah (ISN 841), also identified as Said Salih Said Nashir, had their cases reviewed. A decision has not yet been announced in Hani Abdullah’s case, but on May 31, the board announced that, by consensus, as is required, its members had “determined that continued law of war detention of [Bashir al-Marwalah] is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In making its determination, the board members “considered that, despite some minimization regarding his prior associations, the detainee showed a relatively high level of candor regarding his reasons for traveling to Afghanistan and his activities while there,” and “also noted that [he] took personal responsibility for his actions and understands the impact of those actions.” This kind of recognition, on a prisoner’s part, of the significance of their alleged wrongdoing, coupled with demonstrable contrition, is a major factor in securing a recommendation for release, as would be expected from the closest analogy to the PRBs, which, in the federal prison system, is a parole board.

The board members also considered that al-Marwalah “has taken extensive efforts to improve himself in detention through classes and keeping up with his medical knowledge, has been highly compliant with the guard staff, has not committed any significant disciplinary infractions, and has never expressed anti-American sentiment or made comments supporting extremism” — this latter point, in particular, also being a major deciding factor in a recommendation for release.

The board members also noted that al-Marwalah “has credible plans for the future, has shown an ability to achieve those plans, and had extensive letters of support to include offers to assist with his integration in a new country upon transfer” — all of which, again, are factors that assure them that the prisoners in question are motivated to build a new life and have supportive families.

In addition, the mention of al-Marwalah’s “integration in a new country upon transfer” is required because, as with all the Yemenis, the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, because of the security situation in Yemen, and third countries must be found that are prepared to offer the a new home. in al-Marwalah’s case, the board also noted that his transfer “to a country outside of Yemen” is “consistent with [his] stated desire.”

On the same day that the decision was taken in Bashir al-Marwalah’s case, another of the six, Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (ISN 838), had his case reviewed, and I’m posting details of that at the end of this article. The last two members of the non-existent “Karachi Six,” Musab Omar Ali al-Mudwani (ISN 839), aka Musa’ab al-Madhwani, and Hail Aziz Ahmed al-Maythali (ISN 840) will have their reviews on June 28 and June 30.

Karim Boston, an Afghan shopkeeper, is approved for release

Afghan prisoner Karim Bostan, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second prisoner to have his release recommended last week — on June 2 — was Karim Bostan (ISN 975), an Afghan shopkeeper and preacher regarded — implausibly, I have always thought — as the leader of an Al-Qaeda bombing cell. His case was reviewed a month ago, and two weeks ago his alleged accomplice, Obaidullah, was also approved for release.

In its final determination, the board, having again determined, by consensus, “that continued law of war detention of the detainee does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” made a point of stating that, although they recognized that Bostan “presents some level of threat in light of his past activities and associations,” and also noted that he “did not have a realistic vision for his post-detention life,” they “found that in light of the factors and conditions of transfer identified below, the risk [he] presents can be adequately mitigated.”

Those factors and conditions of transfer are that Bostan “has been highly compliant while in detention” and “has not expressed any intent to reengage in extremist activity or espoused any anti-US sentiment that would indicate he views the US as an enemy,” In addition, the board members noted his “expressed support for the Government of Afghanistan, the Constitution of Afghanistan, and reconciliation.”

The board members were also impressed by Bostan’s “credible statements regarding his commitment to live a peaceful life,” and had “also considered [his] efforts to improve himself while in detention and his ability to provide clear examples to the Board regarding how he has changed while in detention and his appreciation for the opportunities available to him at Guantanamo.”

In conclusion, the board recommended him for release “preferably to a country with reintegration support,” adding that, “[p]ending transfer,” he should “work on a realistic plan for reintegration.”

After unexplained ten-month wait, foot soldier Salman Rabei’i is recommended for ongoing imprisonment

Guantanamo prisoner Salman Rabei'i, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Of the two men recommended of ongoing imprisonment, the first was Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i (ISN 508), a Yemeni whose case was reviewed last July. A decision in his case was taken on May 19, but not announced until now, and, moreover, very little explanation was provided, just the mantra — “that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States” — and a note that he “will receive a file review as soon as practicable.” File reviews are purely administrative reviews that are supposed to take place every six months for men recommended for ongoing imprisonment, pending full reviews, which take place between one and two years after the initial review.

It is impossible to speculate accurately about why the board approved Rabei’i’s ongoing imprisonment, but it may have been because he wasn’t perceived to have shown contrition for his actions, even though he only appears to have been a foot soldier. What may also have been significant, however, is the perceived extremist sympathies of some of his family members.

Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, alleged Osama bin Laden bodyguard, is recommended for ongoing imprisonment

Yemeni prisoner Uthman Abdul-Rahim Uthman, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second man to have his detention upheld — in a decision taken on May 26, but not announced immediately — was Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 27). a Yemeni whose review took place a month before. Uthman is one of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” a group of men captured together in December 2001, crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan, who, implausibly, were described as bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, even though many of them were very young, and had only been in Afghanistan for a few months, and it was more sensible to regard them as, for the most part, nothing more than foot soldiers in the Taliban’s war with the Northern Alliance.

In its final determination, the board members, having determined, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” stated that they had “considered [his] past involvement in terrorist activities to include receiving combat training, staying in al-Qaeda guesthouses, fighting in the Tora Bora mountains probably against Coalition Forces, and his selection to be a bodyguard for Usama Bin Ladin.”

The board members also stated that Uthman’s “explanation for why he went to Afghanistan and what he did there was not credible,” referring, no doubt, to his insistence that he had traveled to Afghanistan to work as a missionary. They added that they “considered that [his] vague answers and almost complete lack of candor made it difficult for the Board to assess his current state of mind and intentions for the future, and that his prior statements suggests that he retains anti-US sentiments and is sympathetic to extremist causes.”

In conclusion, the board members stated that they were looking forward to reviewing his file in six months and, in the meantime, encouraged him “to continue to be compliant and take classes, to prepare a more detailed plan for the future, and to be more candid in future reviews.”

Shawki Awad Balzuhair, another member of the non-existent Al-Qaeda cell in Karachi, asks to be freed

In addition to the decisions mentioned above, two reviews also took place last week. The second of these, on June 2, attracted significant media attention, because it was for the Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a notorious torture victim and the author of Guantánamo Diary, a best-selling account of his rendition, torture and imprisonment. I’ll be writing about Shahi’s PRB in a separate article (and please feel free to listen to my radio interview about his case here), but for now I’m going to conclude this particular article by looking at the PRB that took place two days earlier, for Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (aka Shawki Balzuhair), a 35-year old Yemeni, and another of the non-existent “Karachi Six” Al-Qaeda cell I discussed in detail above.

Writing about his case in 2010, I stated:

In Guantánamo, Balzuhair was accused of traveling to Afghanistan in April or May 2001, attending al-Farouq [a training camp associated with Al-Qaeda in the years before the 9/11 attacks], and serving on the Taliban front lines near Bagram. In the most recent publicly available documents, it was noted that he “decided to go to Afghanistan after viewing a video about Chechnya, and became concerned about the Palestinian struggle for independence.” Balzuhair’s route out of Afghanistan apparently involved staying, in a variety of house with “about 20 others” from September to December 2001, and then living “wth a group of about 60 Arabs in the mountains of Afghanistan near Zormat.” From there, he ended up in Karachi, where, after an ill-fated diversion in Iran (as with Ayoub Saleh and Musa’ab al-Madhwani), he was seized after also staying in a house in Quetta for a month and “another house near a rail road track for another month.” As with the other five men, there were no allegations that he had engaged in combat at any point in his travels.

In its unclassified summary for his PRB, the government described him as “a low-level Yemeni militant who traveled to Afghanistan in mid-2001, received basic training at an al-Qa’ida camp, and served on the frontlines before 9/11,” adding, “Following the onset of Coalition operations, he fled to Pakistan where he met senior al-Qa’ida figures who were arranging his return to Yemen.” As with other members of the spectral “Karachi Six” cell, it was also noted that he and the other men seized “were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations,” and that Balzuhair himself “was probably awaiting a chance to return to Yemen when he was arrested at the Karachi safehouse.”

Turning to Guantánamo, the summary noted that Balzuhair “has been highly compliant with the guard force … since his arrival in October 2002 and has committed a low number of infractions compared to other detainees, according to Joint Task Force-Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO).” This will certainly contribute positively to his request  be recommended for release, but the summary was more critical of his cooperation — or lack of it — with interrogators, explaining that, “Early in his detention, he provided information of moderate value about the activities of al-Qa’ida leaders; however, he has also admitted to lying to interrogators based on his allegation of mistreatment and rarely participates in interrogations, suggesting he sees little value in cooperating.”

The summary also noted that he “has provided little insight into his views of extremism or violence, hindering our understanding of whether he would pursue extremist activity after detention,” although it is, I’m sure, significant that he “has not expressed or demonstrated any sympathy or support for al-Qa’ida, its global ideology, or other radical Islamic views.” The summary added that this was “probably” because of him “judging that this may improve his chances of release,” although I don’t see that as an interpretation that should be accepted uncritically, even though the summary also noted that, “[e]arly in his detention, [he] expressed hatred toward the US and said that he was being held unjustly.” Also of relevance is the assessment that he “does not appear to have any direct associations with at-large extremists.”

In contrast, it will no doubt be of concern to the board that, as the summary described it, Balzuhair “has not expressed a clear plan for how he would support himself if he left Guantánamo,” with the authors of the summary thinking that “he would struggle to acclimate to civilian life because he has admitted to dropping out of school and appears to lack vocational skills.”

In conclusion, the summary explained that Balzuhair “probably would prefer to be transferred to Yemen to be close to his family, but they probably are experiencing financial hardship because of Yemen’s ongoing conflict and we do not know if they would be able to support him financially.” This, however, is irrelevant, because, as discussed above, the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis, and, if recommended for release, third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them new homes.

Below, I’m also posting the opening statement made by Balzuhair’s personal representative, a member of the US military appointed to help him prepare for his PRB. The PR explained to the board that his “temperament will aid in his transfer as he gets along well with others, as seen by getting along with both detainees and the guard force,” and that he has been studying to become a carpenter at Guantánamo, “a versatile occupation, capable of being used throughout the world wherever he may be transferred.” The PR also explained that he has a very supportive family, who have “created a nest egg for him” via a family inheritance. No statement was included from his attorney, but he is represented, as the PR noted that his attorney has provided him with “self-study books … to enhance his ability in carpentry projects.”

Periodic Review Board Initial Full Hearing, 31 May 2016
Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, ISN 838
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board. I am the Personal Representative for Shawqi Awad Balzuhair. I have met with Mr. Balzuhair multiple times in preparation for the Periodic Review process and I can attest that he has always attended each meeting. He is quite pleasant and is looking forward to answering your questions today in hopes of reuniting with his family.

What I have learned about Shawqi through my interactions with him is that his family has prepared for his return. They will continue to be a supportive family no matter where he is transferred. While the family has considered that Shawqi may not return to Yemen, they are preparing for him financially and have created a nest egg for him. There was an inheritance left to him which has been divided among the unmarried family members. In addition, while Yemen is experiencing much unrest, all members in his family continue to work and some have two jobs. Each family member has confirmed financial support for Shawqi after his release from Guantánamo. As we know, support comes in many forms. Shawqi’s family will also continue to support him emotionally and spiritually as they have done during his years in GTMO. Of course, once he leaves GTMO, they will have a greater ability due to the freedoms allowed from cellphone and internet contact. They will be able to encourage and help him more.

Shawqi is preparing for life after GTMO by developing his mind and his skill sets. While in Guantánamo, he has developed an interest in carpentry. Based upon an instructor’s recommendation, who noted that Shawqi was able to visualize objects in 3 dimensions, Shawqi has developed a passion for building. Shawqi added math classes and requested self-study books from his Private Counsel to enhance his ability in carpentry projects. He has also taken additional classes in English, Life Skills and Art. Carpentry is a versatile occupation, capable of being used throughout the world wherever he may be transferred.

Shawqi’s temperament will aid in his transfer as he gets along well with others, as seen by getting along with both detainees and the guard force. He has learned quite a bit about other cultures while he has lived in GTMO. As [with] most detainees, he is hoping to start his life after GTMO by finding a wife. He knows that he will have to work hard and he is willing to do so, with the help of his family and the active goals he is striving towards such as learning new skills.

So, he is here today to answer your questions openly. I will be here throughout if you have any questions for me. Thank you.

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the most recent news from the Periodic Review Boards at ‪Guantanamo‬ – the decision to approve two prisoners for release, and to approve two others for continued imprisonment without charge or trial. I also write about one of the two prisoners to face a PRB last week, Shawqi Balzuhair, a Yemeni. The other is Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture victim and best-selling author, and I’ll be writing about his PRB separately.

  2. the talking dog says...

    Seems… more good news? The number of forever prisoners is still being reduced at an overall rate close to 3 out of 4 (I assume this will go down by a bit as politically harder cases reach PRBs, but at this pace, another 15-20 men in the “too dangerous, etc.” category will be cleared for transfer). Obviously, we all hope that, at the other end, the political will is in place to actually transfer the “cleared for transfer” and someone in the Defense Establishment doesn’t get squeamish about that.

    Assuming they follow through on that, I will predict they will be left with 30-35 prisoners they won’t feel like clearing (around 10 involving the military commissions) by next January. which will mean around 95% of prisoners cycled through GTMO will have been released (now it’s 90%)… and the world hasn’t ended. I’m guessing that these prisoners will then be handed off to the next President, who I guess will be Hillary Clinton, and I’ll further guess that there will be no political will to remove the last three dozen or so out of Cuba, regardless of the wildly disproportionate cost of maintaining a garrison of well over 1,000 personnel just to tend to the never-ending detention operations for an ever-smaller prison population (now finally under 100 after over 14 years).

    Unfortunately, no one can let up on the pressure on the Obama Administration with respect to either releasing cleared prisoners, or in conducting PRBs of unreviewed prisoners (and then releasing anyone subsequently cleared); each release of a prisoner in some condition other than dead is a victory, no matter how marginal it seems. Obviously, the story that Americans have been telling themselves about Guantanamo– it holds the worst of the worst, etc., the men there are violent terrorists who we need to be protected from, etc., is pretty much hogwash (yes, there are “high value terror suspects” there, but they would have been convicted long ago had not the pretense of their extreme dangerousness if moved to the United States for trial not been so enthusiastically offered by feckless politicians of both major US political parties).

    But the counter-narrative (the one supported by the facts), that even now, the majority of GTMO prisoners are just “chaff” caught up in the fog of war… doesn’t seem to have gotten through to the body politic (and, indeed, other than Mr. Trump suggesting that American forces need to commit even more war crimes, and even more hapless persons need to be housed at Guantanamo), what was a robust subject of the political debate in 2008 (with both constitutional-scholar Obama and former prisoner of war McCain both promising to close it faster than the other)… seems to be utterly not worth discussing in 2016. That indefinite detention is now comparatively old news (we have moved on, after all, to targeted killings by drone or otherwise)… seems problematic. The new normal of permanent war keeps getting ratcheted further into overall Western consciousness, and I fear, is building a consensus.

    And so, this is the challenge for people of goodwill: how can we establish a narrative that takes hold that people, many of whom aren’t old enough to remember a world not permanently in a “war on terror,” can understand. I look forward to the upcoming post on Mr. Slahi: his best-selling “Guantanamo Diary” has, at least to a large extent, cast light on a great deal of the simultaneous brutality and absurdity of what the American state is doing at Guantanamo and elsewhere… the government has been desperate to prevent the attaching of a human face to the men at Guantanamo, even as many of the men sometimes defy that policy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, TD, and thanks for your analysis, which largely reflects my thoughts. Obama reduces the numbers, Clinton inherits 30-35 men still there, at eye-wateringly ridiculous expense, but Congress maintains its ban on moving anyone to the US mainland and honestly, even as POTUS, how do you finance and ensure cooperation for moving men to the US mainland if Congress won’t support you?
    Article on Slahi coming soon. In the meantime, I do wonder, like you, how we get out of an endless war scenario that has been normalized in defiance of common sense and good governance. With drone killings replacing detention and torture, it’s not as though any progress has been made overall, even if it’s reassuring that Obama hasn’t sent anyone new to Guantanamo, but we are still no closer to seeing how we can scale down our warmongering. As you know, our kids have spent their whole lives with their countries at war – or, at least, since before they even became toddlers, and that simply shouldn’t be accepted as normal, and yet — the tumbleweed blows, and the indifference and the scale of the distraction is mind-boggling.

  4. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks again Andy for your dedication to covering the expensive on-going detention of these men.

    Your work isn’t just addressing a moral, human-rights issue, I think you address an important public safety issue. So much of the press reporting on Guantanamo fails to adequately question whether these men really merited being regarded as “terrorist suspects” in the first place. Lots of press reporting merely repeats the fantasy allegations leveled against these men, as if they were credible.

    You quoted from Bostan Karim’s final determination.

    “…has not expressed any intent to reengage in extremist activity or espoused any anti-US sentiment that would indicate he views the US as an enemy … expressed support for the Government of Afghanistan, the Constitution of Afghanistan, and reconciliation.”

    Lots of the Afghans sold to the USA by unreliable bounty hunters told there CSR Tribunals that they had never felt loyal to the Taliban, and welcomed the USA, because they anticipated the USA would help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure. I think both Bostan Karim and Obaidullah said that – and I believed them.

    It really disturbs me that those on the PRB lack the moral courage to repudiate the DoD’s early disgraceful allegations, made largely to justify the initial detention.

  5. arcticredriver says...

    US Presidents have the authority to pardon individuals, or to commute their sentences. President Ford pardoned recently resigned President Nixon. There was a lot of speculation that George W. Bush would pardon Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby.

    Usually a President saves their pardons and commutations until the final months of their last term — after the election results are in.

    I was going to write that President Obama can’t even pardon the Guantanamo captives, or commute their sentences, as they have never been convicted in a court of law. But then I remembered Ford’s pardon of Nixon, who also hadn’t been convicted.

    Could Obama evade the Congressional ban on releasing captives, if he were to pardon them first?

    Those pardons might be so unpopular that Congress would amend the US Constitution to claw back the President’s power to pardon.

  6. Martin says...


    My guess is the PRB had concerns with Salman’s extremist and anti-U.S. statements. According to his unclassified profile:

    “He repeatedly has said that the US in particular and non Muslims in general are his enemies, and he possibly aspires to reengage in terrorist activities. He also has voiced
    admiration for extremists who die for their beliefs-notably his brother, Fawaz, who was killed in a shootout with Yemeni security forces in 2006.”


    Around 15 sounds about right if the detainees show candor and remorse. That would leave 35 indefinite detainees and 10 detainees facing trial or sentencing. There’s no way the high value detainees or alleged 20th hijacker are getting out.

  7. Martin says...

    Well, good news for Abdul Zahir. The allegations of the grenade attack aren’t mentioned in his intelligence profile. I guess being in the car wasn’t enough to justify a conviction.

  8. Martin says...

    Abdul Latif Nasir’s profile released. Looks like he has a chance at being transferred too. He has not expressed any extremist comments against U.S. civilians, only anger at his detention and his family is able to support him if he is sent back to Morocco.

    As for Balzuhair, I see no reason to keep him in custody. Like Nasir, he’s only expressed anger at his detention, not extremist comments against U.S. civilians, which is a positive sign for the PRB. And his family has promised to support him wherever he is sent. Anyway, I look forward to the upcoming intelligence profile and lawyer statements on Mohammed Qahtani (the alleged 20th hijacker).

  9. Martin says...


    My mistake. I mean 26 indefinite detainees and 10 detainees facing trial or sentencing.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Great to hear from you, as always. I appreciate your support.
    It seems to me, after ten years of working on this, that it’s often like punching sand trying to get the message across that the whole of the Guantanamo edifice is built on hysteria and exaggeration – nobodies seized by mistake were enemy combatants (and no mistakes were accepted), soldiers were terrorists, and no one really talks about how few genuine terrorist suspects there actually have ever been at Guantanamo. With these distortions permanently in place, the inaccuracies you talk about are easily spread, and believed. Why do we accept any talk of recidivism when we have so little evidence of prisoners having taken up arms against the US in the first place? And why, as you note, are descriptions of “reengaging” not questioned, to establish whether there was any reliable evidence of “engagement” in the first place. I think Karim Boston and Obaidullah are good examples.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting points, arcticredriver, but I don’t see it happening. The problem with how Bush seized people – with no safeguards and no proper evidentiary trail – is that it remains so difficult to establish who the prisoners are. It’s not just cynicism that means that no one is ever described as innocent (or “not enemy combatants,” as some were described, ever so briefly, in the summer of 2004, before they became “no longer enemy combatants”).

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. Yes, those are not helpful statements for someone seeking parole. We will see if he recognizes that he needs to change his perspective – or if he can – before his next full review, perhaps next year, or in 2018.
    Thanks also for your other comments about Abdul Zahir and Abdul Latin Nasir. Interesting. I didn’t anticipate that Zahir would be regarded as significant, but wasn’t sure how Nasir would be regarded.

  13. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, you and I are members of the small club of individuals who read thousands of pages of documents for ourselves. I tell people, in other fora, that I am convinced any fair-minded person who read a substantial number of the CSRT transcripts, for themselves, would conclude a large fraction of the captives weren’t combatants at all.

    I think I mentioned this thought about recidivism before — if you go by the dictionary definition of “recidivism”, before someone can be a “recidivist” they have to first be convicted. Up until recently there was a very short list of captives who had been convicted, and then released. Salim Hamdan, David Hicks, and less than a half a dozen others. If they had committed a crime, I am sure we would hear about it. But we had heard nothing, which I thought meant the actual recividivism rate was 0.0 percent.

    About a year ago, or a year and a half ago, the Court of Review for the Military Commissions refused to authorize travel funds for Ibrahim al Qosi’s official lawyer to travel to Sudan to inform him that other captives who had pled guilty to “material support of terrorism” had had those convictions overturned, because this was not a crime at the time they agreed they committed it, and that he too could have his conviction overturned, if he filed an appeal.

    Can a person still be a recidivist, if their initial conviction is overturned?

    More recently al Qosi has visited Yemen. Video of him is reported to have appeared in AQAP videos.

    On the strength of his appearance in those videos, he has been described as a recidivist.

    No description of how he came to appear in those videos has been described, or of what he said.

    Security officials are crazy in how quickly they escalate to mistrust of those they suspect of an association with terrorism. Mourad Benchellali, tricked into traveling to Afghanistan by his older brother, who may have been a criminal, actively denounces violent jihadism, and actively encourages young men to turn away from violent jihadism, can’t get a visa to travel to North American speaking engagements, even though such engagements would have a very positive effect on public safety.

    Well, al Qosi’s appearance in these videos has been characterized as a sign al Qosi is a recidivist, who has “re-engaged” in terrorism, or support for terrorism.

    Truthfully describing the conditions at Guantanamo, is not equivalent to supporting terrorism. It is free-speech, and should not be classed as “recidivism”.

    For all we know al Qosi may have agreed to have been interviewed by a regular journalist, and that AQAP videographers acquired the footage, maybe recording it from a regular news broadcast, and then re-cut it to make it sound like he was endorsing terrorism.

    Clearly, if AQAP re-cut and twisted video recordings of Benchalili denouncing terrorism, so it looked like he was endorsing APAP’s terrorism program, this would not make Benchalili a supporter of terrorism.

    On the other hand, al Qosi may have met with videographers he knew were from AQAP. He may have given a fiery call to terrorism and violent aggressive jihad.

    But the question I think should be asked is, what would have happened if the travel funds had been authorized for his lawyer to Sudan to tell him he would have his conviction overturned, if only he let her initiate an appeal? Maybe having his conviction overturned would have dulled his interest in traveling to Yemen?

    One of the questions legal experts asked about the charges against Baluchi, the captive whose crime was making what were described as Al Qaeda recruiting videos, was whether making those recruiting videos was a crime, in the first place, or whether it was free speech, protected by the US Constitution.

    Even if he willingly met with AQAP, and really did call for terrorism, or violent jihad, should that disqualify him for appealing to have his conviction overturned?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    You make some great points, arcticredriver. I’ve spent some time criticizing the description of prisoners as recidivists when there’s no proof that they ever did anything wrong in the first place that they then returned to, but you’re right, of course, to point out that for “someone to be a ‘recidivist’ they have to first be convicted,” and that, on that basis, there are only seven possible recidivists.
    I also think it’s interesting what you say about al-Qosi, although I can’t address it specifically as I haven’t examined the story in detail, although it has long been evident that there are many opponents of the US who are very interested in using ex-Guantanamo prisoners as their poster boys, and it looks to me on the surface that that’s what has happened with him.
    As you note, it is also counter-productive for public safety not to allow for prisoners like Mourad Benchellali to travel to spread a positive message opposing violent jihad, as has happened with Moazzam Begg (when he tried to visit Canada), and as also recently happened with Mohamedou Ould Shahi’s brother, Yahdih, when he tried to visit the States.

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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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