Obama Releases 15 Prisoners from Guantánamo to UAE; Just 61 Men Now Left (Part 1 of 2)


Yemeni prisoner Mohsin Aboassy, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.There was good news from Guantánamo last week, as 15 men were released, to begin new lives in the United Arab Emirates. The release was the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, and takes the total number of men held at Guantánamo down to 61, the lowest level it has been since the prison’s first few weeks of its operations, in January 2002.

12 of the 15 men released are Yemenis, while the remaining three are Afghans. All had to have third countries found that would offer them new homes, because the entire US establishment refuses to repatriate any Yemenis, on the basis that the security situation in Yemen means they cannot be adequately monitored, and Afghans cannot be repatriated because of legislation passed by Congress. The UAE previously accepted five Yemenis prisoners from Guantánamo last November.

Of the 15 men, six — all Yemenis — were approved for release back in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office for the first time. This article tells the stories of those six men, while another article to follow will tell the stories of the other nine.

The six were part of a group of 30 Yemenis who were approved for release by the task force, but were then placed in a sub-category of “conditional detention” — conditional on a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen. No indication was given as to how this would be decided, and as a result those in the “conditional detention” group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, before last week’s releases, had led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia. Now just five men from this group are left.

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed al-Adahi, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The first of the six, Mohammed al-Adahi (ISN 033), born in 1962, and identified by the US as Muhammad Ahmad Said al-Adahi, was seized by Pakistani soldiers after accompanying his sister to Afghanistan to be married. As I explained in 2007 in my book The Guantánamo Files:

Married with two children, al-Adahi had never left Yemen until August 2001, when he took a vacation from the oil company where he had worked for 21 years to accompany his sister to meet her husband … As he told his tribunal [his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, a cursory review system established by the Bush administration in July 2004], “In Muslim society, a woman does not travel by herself.” After flying to Karachi, they traveled to Kandahar, where his brother-in-law was living. Al-Adahi stayed in Afghanistan for a month, “to ease his sister’s transition to life in Afghanistan,” and then made his way back to Pakistan, where he was arrested by soldiers while traveling on a bus. “They were capturing everybody with Arabic features,” he said. “I gave them my passport and that shows that I’m an Arab. They said, ‘why don’t you follow us, we need you at the Center.’ From that point on they brought us over here.”

It had always struck me as ridiculous that al-Adahi was not released, and, exactly seven years ago, on August 21, 2009, a US District Court judge, Gladys Kessler, agreed. As I wrote at the time:

Judge Kessler explained, “There is no question that the record fully supports the Government’s allegation that Petitioner had close familial ties to prominent members of the jihad community in Afghanistan.” The brother-in-law, it appears, was “a prominent man in Kandahar,” who had fought the Russians in Afghanistan, and Judge Kessler also noted that it was “undisputed” that Osama bin Laden “hosted and attended [the] wedding reception in Kandahar,” that al-Adahi “was briefly introduced to bin Laden,” and that “A few days later, al-Adahi met bin Laden again and the two chatted briefly about religious matters in Yemen.”

However, Judge Kessler refused to accept the government’s contention that these familial ties and the two brief meetings with bin Laden proved that al-Adahi “was part of the inner circle of the enemy organization al-Qaeda,” and accepted instead that there was no reason to doubt that al-Adahi’s visit was, as he stated, to accompany his sister to her wedding (and also to receive medical treatment for a back problem). She noted also that he had not tried to hide the fact that he had met bin Laden, and that he had, in addition, stated that it was “common for visitors to Kandahar” to do so.

As in May [2009], when she granted the habeas appeal of another Yemeni, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, Judge Kessler had serious doubts about the manner in which the government established its case, which focused primarily on its claim that its various allegations should be considered as part of a “mosaic” of intelligence, to be viewed as a whole, rather than being examined in isolation. Dismissing this approach, she stated that, although she understood that “use of this approach is a common and well-established mode of analysis in the intelligence community … at this point in this long, drawn-out litigation the Court’s obligation is to make findings of fact and conclusions of law which satisfy appropriate and relevant legal standards as to whether the Government has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Petitioner is justifiably detained.”

Judge Kessler also made reference to two unreliable witnesses in al-Adahi’s case, who were revealed, in his classified military file, which was subsequently released by WikiLeaks, as two of the most well-known unreliable witnesses at Guantánamo — Abd al-Hakim Bukhari (ISN 493), a Saudi tortured by Al-Qaeda as a spy, who “identified [him] as a supervisor in UBL’s security forces,” and Abd al-Rahim Janko (ISN 489), a Syrian who was also tortured by Al-Qaeda as a spy, who “identified [him] as a trainer at the al-Faruq [aka al-Farouq] Training Camp.”

The WikiLeaks file also revealed that al-Adahi has been very ill during his 14 years at Guantánamo, noting that he was “on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective,” and that, although he “is in fair health,” he “has chronic stable medical problems”: “hypertension, hyperlipidemia, migraine headaches, asthma, and gastro-esophageal reflux,” as well as “a history of depression and schizoaffective personality disorder.”

Yemeni prisoner Abdel Qadir Mudafari, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second of the six “conditional detention” prisoners, Abdel Qadir al-Mudafari (ISN 040) aka Abdel Qadir al-Mudhaffari, who was born in 1976, was regarded by the US authorities as one of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” allegedly bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, who were seized by Pakistani soldiers after crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan in December 2001. The “Dirty Thirty” scenario was always suspicious, however, primarily because so many of the men in question had been in Afghanistan for such a short amount of time that it was inconceivable that they would have been trusted with protecting al-Qaeda’s leader.

As I described it in a profile I wrote in September 2010, according to the US authorities al-Mudafari “apparently stated that he wanted a struggle or jihad and chose to travel to Afghanistan rather than Palestine,” but was subjected to several dubious allegations (beyond the most obvious — that he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden). It was also alleged that he was “identified as a trainer” at al-Farouq, and it was also stated that he was identified by “an al-Qaeda operative” as being “a friend of Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary,” and was also “identified as being at a Taliban Supreme Leader’s [sic] compound.” Confusing matters were notes that he had received instruction in Yemen from Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi (who was actually opposed to bin Laden), his own claims that he traveled to teach the Koran, and a claim by another unidentified source, who “stated that he did not think that the detainee ever fought with the Taliban because he was against the Taliban.”

Further details about these dubious allegations can be found in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

The third “conditional detention” prisoner is Mohsen Aboassy (ISN 091), identified by the US authorities as Abdul al-Saleh or Abd al-Muhsin Abd al-Rab Salih al-Busi.

Born in 1979, Aboassy was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre in November 2001, which, as I described it in an article in September 2010, “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.”

In that article, I also explained how:

[A]l-Saleh [Aboassy] said that he had answered a fatwa calling for young men to travel to Afghanistan, but felt that “the Taliban cheated him because he was fighting the Northern Alliance, which was not a cause that he believed in; therefore, it was not really a jihad for him.” He also denied knowing any members of al-Qaeda, and stated that, if returned to Yemen, he would “get married” and would “disregard anyone who suggests that he fight jihad.”

In a phone call just before his release, he told his lawyer, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, of Reprieve, “Over the time that I have been in Guantánamo, thirteen children have been born in my family. I miss playing with my nephews and nieces. I have a photograph of them and when I get sad, I look at the photo to cheer myself up. After almost fourteen years in Guantánamo I realise that when I leave this place it will just be a bad memory. Determination, will, and ambition will overcome any ordeal and any difficulty.”

Sullivan-Bennis also stated, “Mohsen, whose favorite movie is Kung Fu Panda, has never, for a moment, been a threat to our national security — something the Obama administration realized nine long years ago when it cleared him for release. Yet there he languished, a fate lived by many Yemeni detainees, while the government took its time finding him a suitable country in which to resettle. It is to his credit that he is full of enthusiasm; excited about his new life in the United Arab Emirates, about reconnecting with his family and about becoming a carpenter. How many of us could cope so well with such a senseless ordeal? What might Mohsen have achieved had he not lost fifteen years of his life? How many more lives are going to be wasted at Guantánamo Bay?”

She also noted how he had stated in his recent phone call, “I would like to be a carpenter. I used to work like one here at Gitmo so I have learned things. I have used cardboard to make things like shelves and desks and so on. Making these things out of cardboard is very difficult. Outside, I will have wood and tools to make things so it will be easier.”

Yemeni prisoner Abdul-Rahman Sulayman, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The fourth of the “conditional detention” prisoners to be released is Abd al-Rahman Sulayman (ISN 223) aka Abdul Rahman Sulayman, born in 1979, whose habeas corpus petition was turned down by a US judge in 2010, the same year that President Obama’s task force recommended his release if security concerns could be met.

As I explained at the time, Sulayman had claimed that a facilitator for jihad in Afghanistan, Ibrahim Baalawi, had recruited him under false pretences with tales of the good life in Afghanistan. I wrote:

He “promised me that I’d be able to get married in Afghanistan. He may have had different intentions for me other than the marriage, but I didn’t know,” he [Sulayman] told his tribunal, adding that he was also told, “you can go to certain counties and they’ll give you a house, even if it’s an old house, and some financial assistance to get married. That’s without having to contribute anything at all. It’s a charity type of thing from these people. If you put yourself in my shoes, what would you do?”

However, in Sulayman’s habeas ruling in July 2010, Judge Reggie Walton turned down his petition after concluding, from his admission that he had attended the Taliban’s second lines, where he had received some weapons training, that, as I described it:

[H]e had been “part of” al-Qaeda or the Taliban, which is all that is required for the prisoners to lose their habeas petitions, even though much of the other supposed evidence was demonstrably false, and almost certainly produced by unreliable witnesses, either in Guantánamo or in other US-run prisons. These included ludicrous allegations that he was identified as a mortar instructor from a video made in the Tarnak Farms training camp in 2000 (before he arrived in Afghanistan), that he “was identified as an al-Qaeda spokesman and was part of Osama bin Laden’s entourage … during the escape from Tora Bora,” and that he was identified as a Taliban prison guard “who used torture techniques on inmates under his control.”

Further information about these claims can be found in his WikiLeaks file.

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed Khusruf, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The fifth “conditional detention” prisoner to be released is Mohammed Khusruf (ISN 509), also identified as Mohammed Nasir Yahi Khussrof Kazaz, who was one of Guantánamo’s oldest prisoners. Born in February 1950, he was 66 years old at the time of his release.

As I explained in an article in September 2010:

Khusruf, who was seized after a bombing raid in the Tora Bora region, said that he went to Afghanistan to teach the Koran, and asked, “Is it really reasonable that al-Qaeda or the Taliban, in bad need of men to fight, have to go to Yemen to find men at 60 years old to fight? Is this logical?” (according to US records, he was actually 51 years old at the time of his capture). He admitted training at al-Farouq, but said that he only did so because the man who arranged his travel told him he needed to be able to defend himself. He also explained that, after his arrest, he was moved from a jail in Jalalabad to “an underground prison” in Kabul — possibly the CIA’s “Dark Prison,” or else an Afghan jail — where “they would interrogate and beat us.” He added that those who were wounded “were also there” — presumably some of the other men rounded up in the Tora Bora region, who also ended up in Guantánamo.

Yemeni prisoner Jamil Nassir, one of 15 Guantanamo prisoners released last week, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The final “conditional detention” prisoner to be released is Jamil Nassir (ISN 728) aka Abdul Muhammad Ahmad Nassar al-Muhajari, who, it seems, had traveled to Afghanistan with his wife and children, and had ended up working for Al-Wafa, a charity once regarded by the US authorities as a front for terrorism, although those claims have evidently collapsed over the years, as almost all of the dozens of prisoners allegedly connected with Al-Wafa have been released.

As I explained in an article in October 2010, Nasser —presumably after making sure his wife and children safely escaped Afghanistan following the US-led invasion — accepted an offer of safe passage to a house in Faisalabad with two other refugees, Labed Ahmed (an Algerian, released in November 2008) and Ravil Mingazov, a Russian whose release was recommended by a Periodic Review Board just last month, where, they were told, it would be easier for them to leave the country.

As I proceeded to explain:

After being accidentally delivered to Shabaz Cottage, where [the alleged “high-value detainee”] Abu Zubaydah [for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was first developed] was living (and where Ahmed insisted on staying), Mingazov and Nasser were then moved to the Crescent Mill guest house, where they were seized after about ten days. Any doubts about [their] innocence should have been removed not just by the ruling but also because, during a military review board at Guantánamo, Labed Ahmed had stated that, because he, Mingazov and Nassir “did not have a connection or relationship with Abu Zubaydah,” they “should have been placed in the Yemeni house.” As I have explained previously, “This indicates that, although Abu Zubaydah had some sort of contact with the [Crescent Mill guest] house, it was not a place that had any connection with terrorism, and was, at best, a place where a few foreigners fleeing from Afghanistan could be concealed alongside a group of students.”

Nevertheless, over the years Nassir had to contend with a number of outrageous allegations — that, as I described it in 2010, he “had rented a house next door to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban,” and that he was linked by unknown sources to “the purchase of equipment used to assist al-Qaeda operatives in the production of biological weapons,” an allegation was levelled at numerous prisoners allegedly associated with Al-Wafa. As I also explained in 2010, “in light of his own claim that he traveled from Pakistan to Afghanistan to study and teach the Koran, it may be that the most reliable unidentified source is the one who stated that he was ‘not a guard nor affiliated with al-Qaeda,’ but a civilian who had ‘moved to Afghanistan with his wife and children.’”

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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). 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 161 prisoners released from February 2009 to June 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 Tajik2 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, 1 Palestinian and 1 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 Ghana1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’m back from holiday, and here’s my latest article, looking at the stories of six of the 15 men released from ‪Guantanamo‬ last week and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates. The six were all approved for release over six years ago, by President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, and it is clear that no serious allegations were levelled against any of them over the 14 years of their imprisonment. In a second article to follow, I’ll tell the stories of the nine other men – six Yemenis and three Afghans, all approved for release since 2014 by Periodic Review Boards.

  2. the talking dog says...

    Hi Andy. Hope you had a nice holiday, and welcome back.

    I was thinking about modifying an earlier prediction I made as to the size of the mess that Barack Obama will hand over to his successor (still likely to be Hillary Clinton, though by no means a certainty). We can be pretty certain that the location of the mess will remain in American-administered (or occupied, if you like) Cuba, I thought the final number– ten on trial presumably for the rest of their lives, and say, two to three dozen “Too Dangerous to Try but Too Muslim to Release” Forever Prisoners, or, say circa 36 to 48. Interestingly, my understanding is that there are 13 of the 61 still left who have been cleared for transfer by the earlier RBs or the new PRBs, so if they were all transferred out between now and January and not another single prisoner were cleared or released, that would be 48. I also understood that the Administration planned on releasing all of the cleared prisoners by the end of the summer, though I suppose technically there’s another month of summer to move them out, if that’s going to happen.

    I’m going to hedge, and say I don’t think that the Administration will get them released by the end of summer, but will get them out by the end of the President’s term in office in January. Maybe he’ll add three, maybe four more to the PRB released tally, and get them out… so I’m going to suggest that the 44th President will leave 44 prisoners at Guantanamo to his successor. Maybe we can use that as a “high- low” for some kind of grim contest. We obviously hope the number is “zero” (because all have been properly released to their home country or another safe location or because they have received fair trials)… but… we (you and I, to be sure, and most of your readership) are experienced, functioning adults, and we can assess situations based on evidence. Which takes me to the rant I’m about to unleash.

    We can look philosophically, at just what the hell went wrong with the “close Guantanamo within a year” “executive order.” And the thing is, it has so much in common with everything that is wrong with our miserable-excuse-for-a fix-to-our-overpriced-and-largely-ineffective-national-health-care, better known as “Obamacare,” and with so much else of his “governance” (such as his handling of the financial crisis, where he even wanted to shut down one of the most abusive “too big to fail” banks, but allowed his own Treasury Secretary to thwart him, just as he allowed his own Defense Secretary to thwart him on prisoner transfers) as to be quite frightening. And it requires a little history– career history, actually.

    When Barack and I sat in front of Low Library in May of 1983 to receive our Columbia BAs, I was planning on attending law school the following fall. He had a job with an Economist owned entity called the Business Intelligence Service, or something that sounds perilously like the Other Government Agency based in Langley, Virginia… but whatever it was, it seemed to be the last real full-time job he had as an adult, because shortly after that he became a nebulous “community organizer,” before following me and so many others from our graduating class into law school, in his case, Harvard, where he successfully campaigned to be President of the vaunted Harvard Law Review, and rather than follow the path of what most people privileged enough to have reached that apex of the American legal hierarchy, and clerk for federal judges (including probably the U.S. Supreme Court), and then either serve in the government (usually the Solicitor General’s office), followed by legal academia, or maybe even a Wall Street law firm– any one of which (except legal academia, peculiarly detached from reality even among academic fields) provides that necessary “life experience” that functioning adults used to have to have in order to eat… except someone offered Barack– the first Black President of the Harvard Law Review– a million dollars to write a book about himself… which, btw, like his promise to close GTMO in a year, he was supposed to complete in a year, but managed to take, well, several years to finish it. But I digress. So he got his book money, and got a legal summer job, and then, I understand, some kind of associate job in some kind of law firm in Chicago in the nature of the nebulous “community organizing” again, although there’s not much of a record of what he did. And he got an appointment as “senior lecturer” at the University of Chicago Law School, where there’s not much record of what he did there either… ditto, he was a state senator in Illinois, without much record… a US Senator without much record (except as running for President, of course)… and then, he ran a fabulous and effective campaign that consisted largely of his not being Hillary Clinton (and then later having the good fortune to have had a financial crisis shortly before the election and Senator John McCain seemingly having gone mad and selected Sarah Palin as a running mate), and next thing you know, a man who had shockingly little “life experience” found himself in a job where he kind of needed it– President of the United States, at a somewhat fraught moment in our nation’s history… a financial crisis was brewing, which was followed by a severe recession; wars in Iraq and AFPAK were not going particularly well, just to name two things on a long list.

    The sad thing was that his wife– Michelle– who actually had to work as a real lawyer– had the kind of life experience that he could have used in the job… the reality of what actual lawyers (not cloistered in academia) have to do, or for that matter, business people, or journalists, or military officers, or almost any countless “real” occupations, and that is mobilize conflicting forces– your staff, your clients, your adversaries (or transactional counterparts), courts, government agencies, what have you, toward the outcome that you are being paid to make happen. Of course, Michelle was a woman of color, and was duly stifled for reasons of “optics” lest she be deemed “Stokely Carmichael in a Dress” as one commentator referred to her… and so, Barack, alas, had to, at least publicly, keep his own counsel. Which he was just not up to. And I don’t blame him, really… if someone paid me a million dollars to write a book about myself and avoid the slings and arrows of the New York legal world, I’d have likely taken it.

    Anyway, my point is, duly out of his depth because he did not have the actual life skills to do what is required of a President– like a (real) lawyer, to negotiate your desired outcome through hostile territory by mobilizing the appropriate assets– we found that he literally put Bush’s people in the three key “crisis portfolios”– Defense (Gates), the Central Bank (Bernanke) and Treasury (Geithner– a protege of Bernanke)… and personnel became destiny. His “solution” to Guantanamo was to issue a nebulous (there’s that word again) executive order, and then expect magical things to happen, rather than to ascertain what the necessary outcome required in terms of mobilizing assets (presumably his large Congressional majorities and the fact that he was President with a large mandate… not to mention, the detainees’ lawyers and a public and numerous allies looking to close Guantanamo), and ascertaining how to get around his adversaries (Republican opposition, entrenched Pentagon and military bureaucracy that liked the idea of being able to do what they wanted with captured prisoners)… but, lacking any meaningful life experience… executive order. Followed by crickets. And as we know, closing Guantanamo didn’t happen. We’re coming up on 150 days to go in his term of office… and the place just ain’t closing. And that executive order reminded me so much of Obamacare– no particular plan or mechanism– just do this vague thing that’s really big that he could put my name on and claim as an accomplishment– sound familiar? Almost childlike, when you think about it.

    Which takes us to Guantanamo. Handled in a not-very-adult-like way. And his “no drama” personality required paralysis by analysis, so a careful, pointless review of each prisoner dragged on, allowing opposition to mobilize while assets were squandered. Which, as you noted, proved incredibly pointless when his own Administration reviewed the same men years later, and found that so many of them that his own Justice Department had fought so hard to defeat in habeas proceedings… were no threat, and warranted release. Indeed, in one of the recent cases of clearance, was an actual “mistaken identity.” After over fourteen years. So frustrating.

    And so here we are. His inexperience (and dare I say it, arrogance to the point of thinking that his simply signing something might make it happen) has caused the present fiasco. Which will be handed to someone. Someone like himself, perhaps (that would be Donald Trump, btw)… that is, someone with no relevant life experience– a “businessman” who actually never ran a business (except into the ground) and simply inherited his place in the world… whose only mention of GTMO has been a promise “to fill it up” and to order US forces to engage in more torture. Or someone like Hilary Clinton, whose very loathsomeness put himself in the White House (although he hired her as his Secretary of State in a fit of either folly or genius… I’m still not sure which). But, nonetheless, she at least has that all important life experience (no, not her time in public life, but her time in the Rose law firm in Arkansas, representing Walmart, among others… on whose Board of Directors she served). Although she will have the uphill battle Barack handed her, she at least might have the life skills to do what needs to be done to close the place down… even if I don’t think she necessarily has the will. Of course, she presumably would want “the flexibility” to arbitrarily hold “forever prisoners.” Don’t know. Right now, unless Jill Stein becomes the President, it looks like in 2020, we’ll still be having some variant of this conversation (i.e., how many arbitrarily detained men are still held at America’s most expensive and most famous prison)… not even “the Spandau Number” of millions of dollars in cost per prisoner matters.

    Because, it seems, grown-ups haven’t been in charge for a really long time.

    Did I say that out loud? One tries not to despair. Each release is another victory, and fifteen releases, or twenty per cent of what had been the GTMO census, is a victory indeed. But we can’t let up; whatever motivates this government has to keep motivating it to release whomever we can pressure it to release.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    After my friend Jan Strain shared this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. I’m so glad to see these men freed finally. On reviewing their stories, I was really struck by how long this injustice has been going on. I first wrote about some of them ten years ago – and in a few cases, looking at photos of them, released by WikiLeaks five years ago, I realised that I hadn’t seen them before, and I was seeing, for the first time, men like Abdul Qader al-Mudafari, pictured here, who is now about nine years older than he was in this photo.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    how damaged they must be

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it, Pam, although I’m always surprised by how many of the men have been sustained by their faith – and, I think, the support they gave each other – and have emerged with a surprisingly positive outlook.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, TD – great holiday, yes, thanks; two weeks of barely thinking about anything serious, which was very good for my mental state! – and thanks for your detailed analysis of why Guantanamo is still open, despite that January 2009 promise, and, in particular, about Obama’s weaknesses.
    I couldn’t help but think of the idiots we’ve had here in the UK, ruling without any meaningful life experience – that would be George Osborne and David Cameron, whose arrogance and stupidity, of course, led to Cameron calling a referendum on the EU that should never have been called, while Osborne strangled our economy for five years without a clue as to the true impact of what he was doing.
    So here we are, 150 days to go, and what a long and disappointing presidency it has been regarding Guantanamo – and much else, as you mention – under the leadership of someone without the necessary life experiences. I regularly find myself thinking that he seems a nice enough guy, but that’s clearly not enough to provide genuine leadership, as was apparent to me on occasion when others provided the strength necessary – I’m thinking Greg Craig fighting back against Hayden regarding torture, even John Brennan at one point, defending his boss better than his boss could do himself.
    As you point out though, we need to celebrate every release, and we also can’t let up. Personally, I think Hillary Clinton will close it, but then we don’t know if she’s going to win, and we also have learned from experience that Guantanamo tests Democratic presidents and, on the evidence so far, finds them wanting.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Susie Sullivan wrote:

    It will take them a long time to adjust and to shed the damage done to them over this indeterminate time in a hell hole. However thank God they are free and let’s hope peace and love can help them on their way once with their families again. Thank you Andy for all you do.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Susie, and thanks for all the work you’ve done on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s behalf.

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo