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


Mahmud al-Mujahid (aka Mahmoud-al-Mujahid), in a photo included in the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners that were released in 2011.Last week, 15 prisoners were released from Guantánamo to the United Arab Emirates, the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, bringing the total number of men held to just 61. 12 of the 15 men are Yemenis, and the other three are Afghans. A third country had to be 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.

On Sunday I published an article about six of the Yemenis, who were all approved for release from Guantánamo in 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review the cases of all the men held when he took office and to decide whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial.

The other nine men were approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, which began in 2013, and which was set up to review the cases of men who had not already been approved for release, and are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category). The reviews started in November 2013, and, to date, 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, a 63% success rate. This is an extraordinary success rate for men previously described as “too dangerous to release,” by the task force, and it clearly establishes that the task force was unnecessarily cautious in its appraisal of the prisoners held when President Obama took office.

With last week’s releases, 20 of those approved for release by PRBs have now been freed, while 13 are still held. Importantly, the very first man to have his release recommended by a PRB, Mahmud al-Mujahid (ISN 031), is one of those freed, as it was becoming embarrassing that he was still held, over two and a half years since he was first told — in January 2014 — that he had been approved for release after having his case reviewed in November 2013 — although it should also be noted that the third man to be approved for release by a PRB, Ghalib al-Bihani, approved for release in May 2014, is still held, and this is a situation that needs remedying as soon as possible.

Born in 1980, al-Mujahid, a Yemeni, said he had traveled to Afghanistan to teach the Koran, but after his capture the US decided that he had been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden along with around 30 other men seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001, one of the so-called “Dirty Thirty.” These allegations never seemed particularly reliable, because, as with al-Mujahid, who was just 21 years old at the time, many of those seized were very young, and had only been in Afghanistan for a short amount of time, insufficient to allow them to have any kind of position of trust guarding the leader of Al-Qaeda.

Saeed Jarabh, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second of the nine, another Yemeni, is Saeed Jarabh (ISN 235), also identified as Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh, whose review took place in January 2015. Born in May 1978, he was approved for release in March 2015. In its detainee profile, the US military claimed that he had “possibly” fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan, but noted that there were “no indications he harbors strong anti-American sentiments relative to other Guantánamo detainees, extremist beliefs, or intentions to reengage.”

His personal representatives (military personnel assigned to help him prepare for his PRB) also noted that he particularly wished to “reunite with his wife, his aging parents, and especially with his 2 daughters,” adding, poignantly, “His oldest daughter is engaged to be married in the next two years and Saeed dreams of being there on this special day for his daughter.”

They also stated that, while detained at Guantánamo, he “maximized every opportunity available to him for personal growth and education,” and “led a detainee project which developed a formal business plan for an agrarian farming operation.” They also noted that “[h]is pursuit of the art of painting preserved both his sense of hope and love of life.”

Zahir Hamdoun, in a photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.The third of the nine, also a Yemeni, is Zahir Hamdoun (ISN 576), born in November 1979 and also identified as Zahar Omar Hamis bin Hamdoun, whose review took place in December 2015. He was approved for release in January 2016.

He was one of several prisoners seized in a variety of house raids in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, and, as I explained in another article, in August 2015, “the authorities tried to claim, improbably, that, although he was just 22 or 23 years old at the time of his capture, he was an al-Qaeda member, who had been a trainer in a military camp.”

Following his release, his lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights wrote that he “grew up in a tight-knit, loving family, the fifth of eight children,” adding, “He graduated at the top of his high school class in Yemen, then traveled to Afghanistan to teach Islam in 1999 while awaiting a college scholarship. During interrogations in Pakistan, where he was ultimately seized after 9/11, he made statements under duress that he later recanted, but which the US government relied upon to justify his detention.”

In a letter sent to CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei last year, which was published in the Guardian, Hamdoun wrote about his experience of indefinite detention. “I have become a body without a soul,” he wrote. “I breathe, eat and drink, but I don’t belong to the world of living creatures. I rather belong to another world, a world that is buried in a grave called Guantánamo.”

Kebriaei also noted, “During a phone call before his release, Mr. Hamdoun said he felt happy and hopeful — a remarkable sentiment from a man who has lived through hell in Guantánamo and lost over 14 years of his life. Despite the tiresome political fear-mongering around every detainee transfer, the reality is that men like Mr. Hamdoun want nothing more than to put this wretched chapter behind them and try to move on.”

Writing of the decision by the entire US establishment not to repatriate any Yemenis, because of blanket fears abut the security situation in Yemen, Kebriaei wrote, “The United States has made Mr. Hamdoun a refugee, citing unstable conditions in Yemen on the one hand while fueling that very instability with the other. It must at least help ensure that Mr. Hamdoun can see his family — in particular his mother — without delay after his transfer, after depriving him of his loved ones for all these years. Even that much is not clear for the men just transferred. Release must mean not only physical transfer from Guantánamo, but the restoration of these men’s basic freedoms.”

Majid Ahmed (aka Majid Ahmad), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The fourth of the nine, also a Yemeni, is Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmed (ISN 041), born in June 1980, whose review took place in January 2016. Another of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” he repeatedly stated that he never met Osama bin Laden and also stated that “the attack on the World Trade Center was wrong because Islam did not permit people to kill innocent people.” He was approved for release in February 2016, with the board members noting his “relative candor in discussing his time in Afghanistan, acceptance of the mistakes he made, and a credible desire to not repeat those mistakes. Further, the board considered the detainee’s age when he went to Afghanistan and having matured since entering detention, the detainee’s compliance while in detention at Guantánamo, and that the detainee has taken opportunities to educate himself while at Guantánamo.”

Ayoub Murshid Ali Saleh, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The fifth and sixth — the last of the six Yemenis released who were approved for release by the PRBs —- are Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836) and Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah (ISN 837). Salih’s review took place in February 2016 and he was approved for release in March 2016, and al-Marwalah’s review took place in April 2016 and he was approved for release in May 2016. Both men had been seized in house raids in Karachi, Pakistan, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and had initially been regarded as members of an Al-Qaeda terror cell, the so-called “Karachi Six.” By the time of their PRBs, however, the US authorities had accepted that “this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and that it is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

Salih, born in April 1978 and also identified as Ayyub Murshid Ali Salih or Ayoub Murshid Ali Saleh, received a sympathetic appraisal by his personal representatives, who, as I put it, “noted that he has acknowledged that ‘he has made mistakes in his past, to include transgressions with the guards at a time when most of the camp was on a hunger strike,’ and stressed that he now ‘has a new outlook on life,’ and wishes only to resume his civilian life in peace.”

Guantanamo prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Al-Marwalah, born in 1979, was given sympathetic appraisals by his personal representatives and his attorney, Erin E. Thomas, who, as I described it at the time, “made a good case for his release.” I also stated:

The representatives described him as “a serious, thoughtful man” from “a large family that works in the medical field,” and stressed how he has retained his interest in medicine at Guantánamo, assisting his fellow prisoners and engaging with medical personnel, and has also learned English, and also noted how he “has learned from his mistakes and deeply regrets his actions in the past.” Erin Thomas also highlighted his regrets, his dedication to medicine, to learning English, and to art, and also described in detail the support of his family, including “working with the Red Cross to obtain a petition for his release, which has been signed by nearly 100 individuals attesting to Bashir’s good character.” She also described how he “has the personal qualities necessary to lead a successful and peaceful life,” adding, “I know him to be a kind, compassionate, and sincere person.”

Three other members of the non-existent cell have also been approved for release (see here and here), and will, presumably, be released in the coming months, while a decision has not yet been taken in the case of the sixth man.

Of the other three men, all Afghans, the first is Mohammed Kamin (ISN 1045), whose review took place in August 2015. Born in 1978, he was, as I repeatedly described him over the years, an “insignificant” prisoner, although that had not stopped the Bush administration from ludicrously putting him forward for a trial by military commission, even though, as I also described it, he was “an unworthy candidate for any kind of war crimes trial at all,” having been, at most, minor player in the anti-US insurgency in Afghanistan, who would have been freed long ago if he had continued to be held at Bigram rather than being flown to Guantánamo.

At his PRB, Kamin’s lawyers, at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and his personal representatives described him, as I put it, as “a family man who wants only to return to his family, including his wife, and the 13-year old son he has not seen since he was an infant,” also discussing “his acknowledgement that he made mistakes in the past, and his behavior in Guantánamo.” In the government’s unclassified summary about him, it was noted that he “has been one of the more compliant detainees at Guantánamo and has committed few significant disciplinary infractions, most likely because the detention staff has treated him more humanely than he had expected.” He was approved for release in October 2015.

Haji Hamidullah, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second Afghan is Haji Hamidullah (ISN 1119), also identified as Hamid al-Razak, whose review took place in January 2016. Born in 1963, he had allegedly been involved in activities against the occupying US forces in Afghanistan, although it was not clear that that was the case. In Guantánamo, he was regarded as “highly compliant,” and the board members assessed that “he does not support al-Qa’ida’s jihadist ideology.” In addition, his attorney, Stephen D. Brown, described him as an “elderly man” with diabetes, plus “knee and back problems as well as memory loss.”

He was approved for release in February 2016.

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The third and final Afghan, and the last of the 15 men to be freed, is Obaidullah (ISN 762), whose review took place in April 2016. Born in 1980, he, like Mohammed Kamin, had been put forward for a trial by military commission, even though he too was a thoroughly insignificant prisoner, as I first stated in 2008 when he was first charged, in an article entitled, “Guantánamo trials: another insignificant Afghan charged.” I wrote:

[He] was charged with “conspiracy” and “providing material support to terrorism,” based on the thinnest set of allegations to date”: essentially, a single claim that, “[o]n or about 22 July 2002,” he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”

I also noted:

Despite the thinness of the allegations, and despite the fact that Obaidullah maintained his innocence, he then had his habeas corpus petition turned down, in October 2010, when Judge Richard Leon of the District Court in Washington, D.C. concluded, as I described it at the time, that “his account was full of evasions and inconstancies.”

Nevertheless, his lawyers refused to give up, and in 2011 a military investigator, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Pandis, visited Afghanistan, establishing a coherent narrative in which Obaidullah was innocent. To cite just one example unearthed during the investigation, the fact that dried blood was found in the back seat of his car — which the US authorities attributed to him carrying wounded insurgents — actually came about because, “two nights before the raid, Mr. Obaidullah’s wife had given birth in the car while on the way to the hospital.” The defense team added that he “had not volunteered that explanation about the blood” because of “a cultural taboo about discussing childbirth.”

Obaidullah was finally approved for release in May 2016, and I hope that it will now be possible for him to be reunited with his family, as with other men freed who have wives and children they have not seen for up to 14 years. Otherwise, of course, it will not be genuinely acceptable for the US government to claim that it has, in any meaningful sense, released them.

I look forward to writing soon about further releases — of some of the 20 other men still held who have been approved for release, inching the US towards a position where Guantánamo can be closed once and for all.

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 July 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.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, telling the stories of nine of the 15 men freed from Guantanamo last week and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates. All were formerly regarded as “too dangerous to release,” but were approved for release over the last 20 months by Periodic Review Boards. Six are Yemenis, and three are Afghans. Now just 61 men remain at Guantanamo, and 20 of them have been approved for release.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Also updated – my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards
    And the definitive prisoner list: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners
    And see my previous article about the six other men freed last week, who were all approved for release back in 2010: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2016/08/21/obama-releases-15-prisoners-from-guantanamo-to-uae-just-61-men-now-left-part-1-of-2/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hena H. Siddiqui wrote:

    Andy, you are a star. God bless you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Hena, for the lovely supportive message!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. As you know, it’s rare to have good news from Guantanamo. That said, it turns out I have now written about the release of 318 men, in the last nine years: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/category/prisoners-released-from-guantanamo/

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Now if that number can swell to 379 either released or humanely moved and given a real trial……

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh yes, that would work, Jan! So let’s keep up the pressure for justice for the 61 men left.

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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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